I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
April 25, 2019
If you haven’t been to Clarksville, Tennessee lately, you’ll definitely want to schedule a visit. Just an hour’s drive from Nashville, this history-filled town has tons of outdoor activities, an increasingly sophisticated restaurant scene, and a newly-revitalized downtown that’ll have you dreaming of renovating a loft space and moving here ASAP.
We spent an action-packed weekend here and I can tell you Clarksville is now going to be a regular destination for the Ferrier family. From the best indoor game center I’ve ever experienced to an unforgettable cave adventure to a totally hip downtown shopping scene, Clarksville definitely deserves a top spot on your day trip or weekend getaway bucket list. Check out some of our favorite things to do in Clarksville and I guarantee you’ll be just as excited about this place as we are.
Did you know Clarksville has the second-largest general interest museum in Tennessee? The Customs House downtown has plenty to keep your entire family entertained, all housed in a stunning 1898 building filled with twists and turns and surprises around every corner. Here, you’ll find a diverse assortment of fine art, local history, and lots of interactive kids activities. We especially loved the bubble cave, the model train room, and the LEGO wall, and I also loved that we happened to be in town on the second Saturday of the month — a free admission day at the Customs House! Regular admission is just $7 for adults, $3 for kids 6-18, and free for kids five and under.
I honestly don’t understand how I’ve lived in Nashville for 17 years and never been to Miss Lucille’s Marketplace. Trust me when I tell you this place is worthy of a day trip to Clarksville all by itself — and I think my whole family would agree with me. You could call it an antique mall, but Miss Lucille’s is so much more than that. This ginormous space houses more than 200 vendors, all of whom have decorated their stalls to the hilt, so that you really feel like you’re shopping in 200 different stylish and eclectic boutiques. I could easily have spent the day here and can’t wait to come back with my girlfriends.
As if the marketplace weren’t enough, Miss Lucille also has a highly regarded cafe, with brisket sliders that are to die for. Seriously, do not leave Miss Lucille’s Marketplace without stopping in the restaurant for lunch. I think I’m going to have to have these sliders every time I come to Clarksville from now on. Full stop.
I have only raves for this indoor family fun center in Clarksville — I loved it so much that I’d say it’s absolutely worth driving from Nashville and spending the day at The City Forum rather than going somewhere closer to home. Inside this gigantic warehouse space, you’ll find 10 lanes of blacklight bowling, a large arcade with a fabulous combination of classic and cutting-edge games, laser tag, mini golf, go-karts, and bumper cars. What makes The City Forum stand out from other game centers? A LOT. Its stylish design makes it work just as well for a date night as it would for a children’s birthday party. It’s very spacious and clean with super-high ceilings, so it never feels overly noisy or crowded — my two biggest problems with most indoor game centers. The space includes two restaurants with a far more sophisticated and exciting menu than you’d normally expect. Most importantly, I thought everything was very reasonably priced, from the games to the activities. About $25 budgeted per person would easily cover two or three activities and plenty of arcade games. Another small detail families with kids will appreciate is that many of the games offer LOTS of tickets or prizes, and the ticket trade-in store has really wonderful options that don’t cost a bajillion tickets. We played at the arcade for about 20 minutes and my kids traded in their tickets for several good quality toys and two nice stuffed animals from the claw machine. They were thrilled!
I also loved that The City Forum is in the same building as Miss Lucille’s Marketplace. It was easy to convince the kids to indulge me in some shopping time and lunch at Miss Lucille’s after we’d spent time playing games and riding on go-karts.
If you haven’t been to Dunbar Cave, you’re missing out on one of the absolute coolest places Tennessee has to offer — literally and figuratively! More than 8 miles of cave passages have been mapped here so far and the parts of the cave that are open to the public are fascinating to behold. What’s most interesting to me, though, is this cave’s history — There’s evidence of human activity here dating back thousands of years, and you can actually see Native American petroglyphs and pictographs inside the cave. In fact, Dunbar Cave is the only publicly-owned cave in the US where you can view ancient Native American art! Thanks to a grant secured by Friends of Dunbar Cave, tours will be offered seven days a week this year starting May 1st and will include several different specialized tours. Reserve your spots and pay for your tickets ahead of time and go on a really hot day if you can — It’s so nice and cool inside the cave! I consider a cave tour to be a must-do if you’re visiting Clarksville. It’s that good.
Equally popular with locals are Dunbar Cave State Park’s above-ground trails, which take you around Swan Lake, through a lush forest, and out into a large, pastoral field. Park rangers have plans to turn this field back into its natural prairie state ca. 200 years ago, and I can’t wait to see it happen. It’s a lovely hike as is, though, and one I highly recommend if you like to ramble as much as we do. Grab a map in the Visitors’ Center and strike out on the trail. You won’t regret it.
This downtown brewery just celebrated its first year of business and I have a feeling Strawberry Alley Ale Works is going to be around for many years to come. I’m honestly not much of a beer drinker, but I loved the two in-house brews I tasted here — Both were crisp and flavorful. My husband and I split the chicken bacon mac & cheese (recommended by our server) and it was absolutely scrumptious. As if that’s not enough, the restaurant’s high ceilings, exposed brick walls and stylish modern decor make for a versatile space that works well for a dinner date, a family lunch, or drinks with friends. We also loved its location just a block away from the Riverview Inn, where we stayed.
On the second floor, Upstairs at Strawberry Alley just opened Thursdays through Sundays — It’s a late-night taproom that caters more to the bar crowd, with a large balcony, games like wall scrabble, corn hole, and shuffleboard, and a menu heavy on bar favorites like burgers and pizza.
I love a good historic downtown, but the truth is that many of them are a little disappointing when it comes to the shopping options. Happily, that’s not the case in Clarksville. You could easily spend a day here hitting all the downtown shops — Most are locally-owned and there’s a wonderfully diverse array of options. I didn’t have a whole lot of time for shopping during our family vacation, but here are a few that stood out to me in particular:
Humble Universe Disturbers Used Bookstore: I can’t wait to spend more time in this bookstore, which includes an especially inviting young readers section and has a very hip, friendly vibe.
&Vinyl: Used vinyl, turntables, band tees, and tons of vintage cameras? Yes, please!
Journey’s Eye Studio: This shop is absolutely lovely. It has one-of-a-kind pieces and vintage/modern furnishings and the owner has amazing taste. Bonus: On the last Saturday of each month, Journey’s Eye stays open late and features live music events.
Hey Noli: It’s known as ‘a curated space for the whole family.’ All I know is that everything I saw in the windows looked amazing and it will be the first shop I visit when I come back to Clarksville.
Couture Crush: Once again, I liked everything I saw inside this women’s clothing boutique. They manage to walk the ‘something for everyone’ line well, whether you consider yourself to be a trendsetter or you’re sartorially conservative.
Downtown Artists Co-op: This is my favorite kind of shop when I’m traveling – Browse and buy art created by local artists here, including paintings, drawings, photography, mixed media works, jewelry, ceramics and other items.
If you’re coming to Clarksville, be sure and check the schedule first to see what will be playing at downtown’s historic Roxy Theatre. Originally opened in 1913 as Clarksville’s first movie theater, The Roxy has survived several fires and an extended vacancy to eventually become the home of a professional regional theater company. Today, tens of thousands of visitors flock here annually to see plays, musicals, classic movies, and holiday shows. There’s always something going on here, and you know if it’s at the Roxy, it’s going to be good.
This family-owned New York style deli in downtown Clarksville has a little bit of everything, and it stays busy all day long. Whether you’re looking for a breakfast croissant, a healthy smoothie, ice cream, coffee, sandwiches, salads, or a handcrafted pizza dinner, you can find it at Yada Yada Yada Deli — They’re basically giving you no excuse to not step inside! I can personally vouch for Yada’s delicious Spanish coffee, as well as the absolute best salted caramel cookie I’ve ever tasted.
A ten-minute drive from downtown Clarksville, Rotary Park is a wonderful surprise if you’re a hiker or mountain biker. We took a morning walk here and fell in love with the lush trails, spring wildflowers, and the clear stream that tumbled alongside our path — It’s the perfect kind of stream, by the way, for kids to splash around in on a hot day. Rotary Park has more than 5 miles of hiking and biking trails as well a large ADA-accessible playground.
This no-frills watering hole is a Clarksville mainstay, popular both for its solid menu offerings and its highly regarded local brews on draft. We had lunch here with the kids and enjoyed a juicy, well-seasoned cheeseburger and Black & Bleu flatbread. But we’ll be back for the beer cheese dip, which tasted like fresh-baked liquid cheese bread, and the Big Cookie, a gooey chocolate chip cookie pizza topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Dennis and I came back for drinks the next evening and the place was packed with locals celebrating the weekend with beer on draft. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly restaurant or a convivial hangout for a round of drinks, Blackhorse Pub is your place.
I try to find a great spot for family photos on every vacation and in Clarksville, McGregor Park & the RiverWalk at sunset definitely fits the bill. Here, you’ll find a small park and picnic area, as well as a 1.5-mile paved riverfront trail. The views are gorgeous, and your kids will appreciate McGregor Park’s playground, which also overlooks the lovely Cumberland River. Want to get some exercise? Use the RiverWalk Trail to connect to the Upland Trail, which will take you past some of Clarksville’s beautiful historic homes and buildings.
When in Clarksville, it’s worth your while to make time for a sightseeing walk downtown — It’s chock-full of quaint historic details, fountains, statues, and eye-catching points of interest that photographers in particular will love. Make it more fun and educational for the kids by reading Visit Clarksville’s History Hunt before you go — It includes the fascinating backstories of several of Clarksville’s historic landmarks and buildings and it definitely adds to the experience of seeing these structures in person.
No matter where we go, we look for a cool coffee shop, and Clarksville’s got a great one. Plumb Line Coffee bills itself as a ‘third-wave artisan coffee shop.’ I have no idea what that means — I just know the coffee there is fantastic and it’s in a hip little space where you can see and be seen and capture the whole thing on Instagram. I have a problem with cold brew that’s not really cold brew, so I was extra happy that Plumb Line displays its elaborate cold brew device in the front window as evidence for persnickety people like me. Also, the coffee beans are ethically sourced — It means a lot to me to know the farmers who grow and harvest the coffee I drink have been paid fairly.
Clarksville has a sizable greenway system (9 miles and growing) that’s perfect for bike riding, as well as bicycles available for rent for a very reasonable price. Rent bikes at the Pollard Road Trailhead Bcycle station if you don’t bring your own — Bikes are just $3 for 24 hours, and you can check them in and out as often as you want during that time period. Do note that you will need to bring your own helmets. Your bike ride will take you through forest, past Heritage Park, and along the Red River. A map of the Clarksville Greenway is available here.
We stayed at the Riverview Inn during our Clarksville experience and I can’t think of a better place in town for a family to stay. Our room was clean and comfortable and the view of the river outside is spectacular, but what really makes this hotel win is its location. All of downtown Clarksville’s shops and restaurants are a quick walk away from the hotel’s front door. In my book, this is EVERYTHING. Do note that I strongly recommend staying on the hotel’s ‘Executive Level’ (pictured above). This floor has been renovated recently and it’s only $10 extra per night. The room upgrades are definitely worth the additional cost.
I really loved this New Orleans-influenced restaurant inside one of downtown Clarksville’s newly-renovated historic buildings, and I clearly wasn’t alone — The place was packed! Roux’s menu includes Cajun favorites like po’boys, crescent pies, shrimp and grits, and Étouffée, as well as traditional New Orleans drinks with a twist. Everything we tried was delicious, but our favorite dish had to be the boudin balls — pork & rice sausage balls fried and served with spicy remoulade. Delicious!
P.S. Don’t leave without visiting the restaurant’s hidden speakeasy upstairs!
I was utterly charmed by this emerald green lawn in the heart of Clarksville’s downtown, where children were playing with foam building blocks while their parents chatted and enjoyed ice cream and coffees from Golly G’s next door. If the weather’s nice, the Downtown Commons is a wonderful place to be. It’s also the site of lots of special events, including concerts, outdoor game nights (ping pong, cornhole, badminton and more all are set up on the lawn), yoga, free bounce night, town festivals, and more. And in winter, the lawn is transformed into an ice skating rink! Check the Downtown Commons schedule before your visit and see what’s happening during your Clarksville vacation.
Whether you’re looking for the best cinnamon roll in town, a coffee drink, or an ice cream cone, Golly G’s is the place to go to satisfy your sweet tooth. The bakery/ice cream parlor has a full-service location on Madison Street in Clarksville, but we were especially charmed by its newest walk-up window location next to the Downtown Commons. Ice cream and playtime on the Commons is a sure way to satisfy the kids.
Not far from Clarksville, you’ll find Port Royal State Park. It’s a small, quiet park and on first glance it will seem like there’s not much to it — but this site has an amazing history behind it. For one thing, it contains one of the few documented portions of the Trail of Tears. It also once was a major transportation hub for Tennessee, back when flatboats were an important method of transport. I researched this park a few years ago and shared it on my blog. Tell your kids the story and take them for a walk on the Trail of Tears path. It’s really beautiful in the summertime and it’s a great opportunity to experience an important part of our history that can’t be ignored. Oh, and good news: The new park manager has big plans to more fully interpret this park for visitors in the coming years. I can’t wait to see the changes.
Ask anyone in Clarksville where you should go when you visit and they’ll inevitably say “Silke’s Bakery.” This family-owned bakery specializes in artisan breads and European pastries, all made fresh daily without any unnecessary additives or preservatives. And if the bread tastes familiar, that might be because some of the most popular restaurants in Nashville use Silke’s bread! The bakery is closed on Sundays, but Silke’s Cafe, fortunately, is not. That’s where we went for Sunday lunch and enjoyed a German meat, cheese, and bread plate and an absolutely delicious fromage sandwich, slathered with an incredible homemade pesto. Silke’s Cafe has also transformed a corner of the restaurant into a small children’s play area, which as any parent knows immediately moves this restaurant to the top of the must-try list!
This post was written in partnership with Visit Clarksville. All opinions are my own.