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.
May 5, 2015
Summer is quickly approaching and if you’re like me, you’re scrambling to come up with plans to keep your kids busy and active this summer (as opposed to playing video games and eating lots of ice cream).
I’ve cut back on work obligations, which means we are on a strict budget this summer and I can’t rely on summer day camps like I have in the past — That’s why I’ve been on the hunt for fun, educational, and entertaining things for kids and families to do in and around Nashville. I figured you’d like to know about them, too.
This list has something for everyone (and every budget) on it- Okay, let’s be honest. It has a LOT of somethings. Consider yourself armed and ready for the Big School Break!
1. Go on a fossil hunt. The state of Tennessee has put together an excellent brochure that lists several kid-friendly sites around Nashville where amateur rockhounds can find 400 million-year-old fossils! And these rock formations aren’t at all hard to find– One is right next to Red Caboose Park in Bellevue, along a sidewalk. Another is next to the Target parking lot at Nashville West! The brochure includes drawings and descriptions of fossils so that you and your kids will be able to identify what you’ve found.
2. Show the kids how cars are made with a free tour of the Nissan plant in Smyrna. Public tours are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Nissan recommends requesting a tour at least four weeks before you’d like to visit. To request a tour, call (615) 459-1444, or e-mail email@example.com.
3. Explore Historic Cannonsburgh Village in Murfreesboro. Visitors on Trip Advisor rave about this place. Located a block from downtown Murfreesboro, Cannonsburgh Village represents approximately 100 years of early Tennessee life from the 1830s to the 1930s. The village includes a gristmill, school house, telephone operator’s house, the University House, the Leeman House, a museum, a caboose, the Wedding Chapel, a doctor’s office, a general store, a blacksmith’s shop, a well, and other points of pioneering interest, as well as a stream to splash around in and a nearby walking trail. Self-guided tours are free- Pick up a tour brochure inside the visitors center.
Want more fun ideas in Murfreesboro? Check out my post on Murfreesboro day trips – You won’t believe all there is to do!
4. Sign up for Zoofari Slumber and camp out at the Nashville Zoo overnight. We did this a couple of summers ago and it was worth every penny- It’s an experience your family will never forget. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire, watched live animal shows, played in bounce houses, rode the carousel, and slept beneath the stars. Zoofari dates this year are May 23/24 and September 5/6.
5. Check out a kids movie every Saturday at 10am at the historic Belcourt theater in Hillsboro Village. Movies are $5 a person- You can see a listing of what’s coming up here. June and July are perfect for older kids- The entire ‘Middle Earth Saga’ will be shown over a six-week period, from the first Hobbit movie to the last Lord of the Rings movie. Afterward, head over to Hot & Cold across the street for Jeni’s ice cream or a Las Paletas popsicle.
6. Check out a loaner backpack at Warner Park’s Nature Center and hit one of the park’s two kids’ hiking trails. The backpacks are filled with all kinds of things to make your child’s hiking experience fun and informative. We’ve hiked the kids trails since my children could walk and it never gets old!
7. Sign up your kids for the Kids Bowl Free program and they’ll be eligible for two free games of bowling every day (until 6pm), all summer long! Participating bowling alleys include:
-Tusculum Strike and Spare (Nashville)
-Oak Valley Lanes (Nashville)
-Donelson Plaza Strike and Spare
-Hendersonville Strike and Spare & Circus World
-Thunder Alley FEC (Dickson)
-Murfreesboro Strike and Spare
Find your center at the Kids Bowl Free website and register your child now to participate.
8. Spend a Saturday in historic Granville, and stay for supper and the weekly Ole Time Music Hour show in the town’s general store that evening! May 23rd is Granville’s annual Heritage Day, with historic re-enactments, kids rides, craft booths, Civil War living history demonstrations, a bluegrass festival, and more.
I actually shot this video in Granville and I’ve been itching to go back ever since. Granville is an incredibly charming town, and it’s only about an hour and 15 minutes from Nashville.
9. Rent canoes or kayaks from Foggy Bottom in Kingston Springs and enjoy a lazy 2 or 4-hour float down the very tame Harpeth River. There are plenty of spots to stop for a swim and you’ll see some amazing wildlife!
10. Give your children a kids’ eye view of the historic Battle of Franklin with a tour of the historic Lotz House. This tour is listed as the number one attraction in Franklin on Trip Advisor for a reason- the tour guides are phenomenal and the treasures inside this house are unforgettable. Of all the historic home tours in Franklin, I recommend this one for your kids because three children lived inside this house at the time of the Civil War and much of the tour is told from their perspective. I took this tour with my 11-year-old daughter and she could not stop talking about it afterward- She’s heard about the Battle of Franklin, many, many, many times, but because children figured into the Lotz House story, she was able to put herself in their shoes and really listen and GET IT. Awesome!
I would recommend this tour for kids 10 and up- some of the descriptions of the battle and aftermath are graphic and may trouble younger children. Also, the rooms are small and the antiques are priceless and very breakable- If you have a wiggleworm like my 8-year-old, you might not want to take your chances! Don’t have time for a tour, but want a cool Civil War souvenir? The Lotz House gift shop has actual Civil War bullets found on the battlefield for just $5 each! I bought one for each of my kids and they are now among their most prized possessions!
11. Take the kids back in time for a drive-in movie at the Stardust Drive-In in Watertown, Tennessee. Watertown is a charming little town less than an hour’s drive from Nashville- Its drive-in is open seven days a week between Memorial Day and mid-August, when the kids head back to school.
Movies start at dusk and Friday and Saturday nights tend to be crowded, so either arrive early or go on a weeknight. Bring a picnic or buy dinner at the concession stand- The Stardust brags about its burgers and fries in particular! Tickets are $7.50, $5.00 for kids 6-11, and children 5 and under are free. Your ticket is good for a double feature, so stay for both movies if you can handle it! Check out the Stardust Drive-In website to find out what’s playing.
12. Sign your kids up for enrichment classes through Metro Nashville Community Education. Your child can create pottery, weave baskets, learn to play guitar, or try their hand at badminton, among many other class offerings. My daughter recently took a 10-week youth fencing class for just $40– and all equipment was provided. She loved it! These classes are one of the best deals in town, and there are lots of adult options, too. The summer catalog for classes starting in June will be available at this link by mid-May.
13. Pack a picnic dinner and enjoy live family entertainment on Thursday nights in June and July at 6:30 during Cheekwood Botanical Garden’s Family Night Out program. (Here’s Cheekwood’s listing of upcoming family performances.) This is one of our favorite summer activities.
And don’t miss Cheekwood’s summer/fall installation, Human Landscape, created for Cheekwood by international superstar sculptor Jaume Plensa. We got an early tour of the installation led by the artist himself, and it had such an impact on my 11-year-old daughter that I shared all of the stories behind the sculptures in a separate post. Share these stories with your kids when you go- They will get so much more out of the visit.
14. Enjoy an affordable nature cruise on the Cumberland River with Blue Heron Cruises in Ashland City. Cruises depart from Riverbluff Park three times a day. Captain Jim Steele will make any tour kid-friendly, but if you can, go on the tour that’s specifically for children. It includes a stop on a sandy bank for some swimming time and other treats your kids will love.
15. Drive an hour and a half from Nashville to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It’s enormous and includes a wide range of inexpensive tours that are REALLY fun and interesting. Your kids will never forget visiting Mammoth Cave, and you won’t either. No need to beat the heat- It’s always nice and cool in the cave!
16. Sign up the kids for a Vacation Bible School. I can personally recommend the ones at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, Bellevue Baptist Church, Bellevue Church of Christ (keeping it local, y’all), and Grace Community Church. I’ve also heard Forest Hills Baptist Church’s VBS is fabulous. PRO TIP: Sign up in advance- Some of the more popular VBSs fill up completely. We learned this the hard way.
17. Cool off at Nashville Shores, a fantastic water park the whole family can enjoy.
18. Hike the many breathtaking trails at Fall Creek Falls State Park, a natural wonder that no Tennessean should miss. Located on the eastern top of the Cumberland Plateau, it includes amazing waterfalls, cascades, gorges, and uncut virgin forests. Just a little over two hours from Nashville, Fall Creek Falls makes for a great day trip or overnight trip if you can swing it. Stay in one of the park’s cabins, at the kitschy hotel, or on the campgrounds.
19. Spend a few hours painting pottery at Brushfire Studio. It can be pricy, but my children really enjoy it and we generally end up going once or twice a year. Brushfire is also offering weekly day camps all summer long.
20. On Saturday, June 20th, enjoy a free family festival and gigantic yard sale at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, across from Red Caboose Park! All proceeds from this event go to the Alzheimer’s Association and resources and events to help Alzheimer’s patients and their families here in Nashville. This is my church’s annual fundraising event and it’s going to be AWESOME.
21. On Thursdays in June and July, visit the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum in Dickson for free! (Even on regular days, adult admission is just $4 and kids 14 and under are free.) The museum tour gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor. Either start your Dickson adventure with breakfast at the super popular Dickson Donuts (don’t miss the apple fritters), or stop for lunch afterward at Tony B’s, said by locals to have the best burgers in town.
22. Take a day trip to The Discovery Center — an interactive children’s museum in Murfreesboro– It’s well worth the drive. Your kids can look at animals, learn about tadpoles, do all kinds of arts and crafts and play at countless indoor learning stations. My children absolutely LOVE this place. Check the Discovery Center’s schedule online to see what kinds of special programs are happening.
23. Ride bikes along one of Nashville’s gorgeous greenways. This has become a favorite family activity for us- We ride bikes together at least once a week when the weather’s nice.
Much of the greenway is along the Harpeth River, so there are plenty of opportunities to cool off!
24. Head downtown on a hot summer day and explore the Tennessee State Museum, where admission is FREE. Housed in the basement of TPAC, it’s one of downtown’s best-kept secrets– and I’ll bet you had no idea that this is one of the largest state museums in the nation! Exhibits cover 15,000 years of Tennessee history and feature fossils, a covered wagon, civil war artifacts, A MUMMY (that on its own is enough to get my kids interested!), and much, much more. Enhance the experience for your kids by following one of these online lesson plans, provided by the museum.
25. Load up the car and head to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, a 2 1/2 hour drive from Nashville. You’ll find super clean water and amusement parks, free soft drinks, and tons of rides that will thrill small children, teenagers, and adults. We love this place and go every summer.
26. Are you a YMCA member? The Y at Maryland Farms has an AMAZING, full-size kids pool that looks like a children’s water park. The pool includes a grill for lunches and snacks and on weekends, a DJ plays kid-friendly tunes pool side and holds contests and games throughout the day.
27. Take the whole family to a Nashville Sounds baseball game at the beautiful new First Tennessee Park. Tickets aren’t terribly expensive and there’s lots of fun family entertainment between innings.
28. Sign your child up for a summer day camp— Here’s a listing of what’s available. There are hundreds of day camps in the Nashville area- Some are full, but many still have a few spots open. We’ve done summer camps at Cheekwood, Nashville Children’s Theatre (love their Ensworth campus options, which save me a trip across town!), the Nashville Zoo, and Belle Meade Plantation and the kids had a blast!
29. Take a free history hike between the Cookeville Depot Museum and Cookeville History Museum on the second Saturday of each month. Pick up your entry (and eat some cookies) at either location and hike from one museum to the other through Cookeville’s charming downtown to find answers to trivia questions. Have your forms in by 3:30pm to be included in the prize drawing! Every participating child gets a free Kids Meal at the Cookeville Chili’s, or you might opt for lunch at our favorite restaurant in Cookeville, Spankie’s.
30. Just for fun, take your kids to a different library branch from the one you normally visit. I got this idea after our Bellevue branch opened a new branch a few months ago (and it is AWESOME, by the way- Just look at this play area!). My kids BEG to go to our new branch now, and eagerly check out books there like there’s no tomorrow- I realized then that going to a new branch every now and then just might re-spark their love for reading when it starts to wear off. Maximize the fun by going when there’s a special event for kids happening. Here’s a list of upcoming summer events at all branches.
31. Read an age-appropriate biography of Andrew Jackson, then take the kids to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home. It’s amazing!
32. Spend a day at the Nashville Zoo– Keep cool with periodic stops at the playground, where a splash fountain will keep the kids wet and happy. The zoo has plenty of shady spots- On a super hot day, avoid the giraffe and elephant exhibits and you’ll be able to stay in the shade for most of your visit. Get more info at the zoo’s website.
33. Spend a day on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Check out this map to help you on your drive. Drive to Jackson Falls in Centerville (mile marker 404) and hike the short, paved trail 900 feet down to the base of the falls. Continue on to the Old Trace drive at mile marker 403. From here, you can drive a two-mile section of the Old Trace, a major thoroughfare for soldiers and settlers 200 years ago. Old Trace rejoins the parkway at mile marker 401. Stop here for a ten-minute loop walk that will take you to a typical early 1900s tobacco farm.
Stop and tell the kids about Sheboss Place, located at mile marker 400. An inn, or stand, once stood here serving travelers on the Trace in the early 1800s. It was operated by Widow Cranfield and her second husband, a Native American who spoke little English. The story goes that when travelers approached with questions about accommodations, he would only point to his wife and say, ”She boss.”
Continue on to Fall Hollow Trail at milepost 391.9 in Hohenwald, where a five-minute walk will take you to a deck overlooking a waterfall. If you like, you can take a steeper trail down to the bottom of the falls.
At milepost 390, a short walk will take you to what’s left of the late 1800s phosphate mining town of Gordonsburg. You can still see an abandoned mine shaft, along with a long-forgotten railroad bend.
There are plenty of picnic areas on the Trace, or you can head into Hohenwald before you drive back to Nashville for burgers and fries at the popular Dairy Dip.
34. Go to one of the many pick-your-own-fruit farms in and around Nashville. My kids LOVE doing this and for us, it’s a great way to get them to try new fruits.
We love going to Blueberries on the Buffalo each summer. On the way, we stop for a short hike to Stillhouse Hollow Falls. You can get all the details about this daytrip experience here.
35. Too hot or rainy for you? One of our favorite indoor things to do is head over to Cheekwood’s historic mansion for an indoor scavenger hunt. Grab directions at the front desk (they have an outdoor scavenger hunt map, too) and hunt through the house to find all the items on the map.
36. Visit Bison Meadow, a 2 1/2 acre park at the intersection of Hillsboro Pike and Tyne Boulevard. Bison Meadow is located on an old terminal branch of the Natchez Trace, which was once used by bison and elk to travel to a salt lick on the Cumberland River. Today, nine topiary bison roam the fields and native prairie grasses are planted in memory of a landscape that used to be common in Middle Tennessee. It’s a fun place to read books, roam the pathways, and talk about the way things used to be in Tennessee.
Read more about our visit to Bison Meadow here.
37. Take the kids to the downtown library Tuesday or Wednesday at 9:30, 10:30 or 11:30 for the best Storytime EVER. It includes puppets, songs, juggling, and stories and it’s totally free! On Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 or 11:30, head to the downtown library for a free weekly marionette show, featuring puppets from Tom Tichenor’s extensive collection. Be sure and park in the library parking deck and get your parking ticket validated in the library lobby so that your parking cost will be minimal. Check the library website to see which puppet show is being performed each week.
38. Drive to Opry Mills for lots of children’s outlets and a very special lunch at kid favorites Aquarium or Rainforest Cafe.
39. Take the kids to Adventure Science Center. Climb the Adventure Tower, check out the human body exhibit, or check out the new Mazes exhibit, which includes more than 60 puzzles and full-body games.
40. Go downtown to Cumberland Park by the riverfront in downtown Nashville, which includes a creative play experience for kids and adults like you’ve never seen before. Features include play equipment for children, spray-grounds and water jets, bridges, climbing walls, and unique paths winding through landscaped gardens.
41. Got a budding artist in your family? Don’t miss the Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery, which includes 30 interactive stations designed to give kids a hands-on appreciation of art. It’s super fun! The Frist Center is very affordable if you’re only taking your kids- Adult tickets are $10, but kids are free!
42. Hike or bike the beautiful Cumberland Bicentennial Trail in Ashland City, which was converted from an old railroad line.
43. Did you know that the oldest structure in Tennessee on the Historic Registry is in Hendersonville, just a few minutes from Nashville? It’s called Rock Castle and it’s open for tours. What makes this historic home different from most others in the area is that it was built in the late 1700s – so your kids will get to hear about a different period in Tennessee’s history and see a different style of home. Tours are $7 for adults, $5 for kids, and you’re encouraged to call ahead to schedule your tour.
44. Put the kids in swimsuits and head to Bicentennial Mall, where the Rivers of Tennessee fountains will help them stay cool on a hot day.
Once the kids have had their fun, stroll through the Nashville Farmer’s Market next door and pick up local fruits, vegetables, bread, meat and cheese for your family meals. We like to do this several times throughout the summer!
45. In May or June, drive 2 1/2 hours to Churchill Downs in Louisville and spend a day at the horse races. The stands are MUCH less crowded than on Derby day- It’s easy to get a thrilling front row seat. If the day is warm, keep cool in the shaded seats- There are plenty of those as well. We took our kids to the races for the first time last year and they LOVED it. Sunday, June 21st is a Family Adventure Day at Churchill Downs. Check the Churchill Downs schedule for other races and be sure and take the museum tour while you’re there if you have time. Oh, and just a tip- Go to the earlier races in the day, as opposed to the later ones. The last few races are decidedly less family-friendly and more crowded in the stands, if you know what I mean.
46. Give the kids a close-up look at the stars and planets at a BSAS Star Party. The Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society holds public star parties a few times each month all over Middle Tennessee. Attendees can look through telescopes to see the rings of Saturn and other night sky points of interest. The next public Star Party is May 22nd from 8:30pm-10:30pm at Bowie Nature Park in Fairview. For a complete listing of upcoming star parties, go here.
47. Sign up for one of the many special summer programs at local parks, including Warner Park in Bellevue, Bells Bend Outdoor Center, Shelby Bottoms Nature Center, or Beaman Park in nearby Fairview. Events on the summer schedules include night hikes, overnight camping, kayak lessons on the Harpeth River, and much more. PRO TIP: Spots fill up fast for these programs- Mark your calendar for the day registration opens and call that day to ensure you get a spot.
Take the kids to see a $1 Summer Movie Express family film, offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am this summer at the Green Hills and Opry Mills Regal Cinemas (as well as across the country). G-rated and PG-rated films are both available and the options are GREAT this year- Here’s the schedule:
June 1: Nut Job
June 10: The Boxtrolls
June 16: Paddington
June 17: Turbo
June 23: Rio 2
June 24: How To Train Your Dragon 2
June 30: Mr. Peabody & Sherman
July 1: The Book of Life
July 7: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
July 8: Penguins of Madagascar
July 14: Madagascar 3
July 15: Dolphin Tale 2
July 21: Muppets Most Wanted
July 22: Alexander and the Very Bad Day (Save this one for older kids.)
July 28: The Lego Movie
July 29: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
Carmike Cinemas (Bellevue 8, Thoroughbred 20) offers summer kid movies every Thursday morning at 10am for $4 per ticket. Their schedule isn’t out yet- I’ll update this post when it is. Check out a listing of more cheap/free movies in the Nashville area this summer here.
49. Take a day trip to historic Lynchburg, home of the famous Jack Daniels Distillery, a quaint and charming downtown, and my favorite, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House restaurant. Now in its 100th year of operation, you’ll sit at a large table with a hostess and enjoy the most amazing family-style southern food EVER. (You must make reservations in advance.) We took my older girls when they were 8 and 10 and had a great time enjoying lunch, window shopping downtown, and going on the distillery tour, which even they found interesting.
50. Head out to a summer concert at one of Nashville’s family friendly parks. Here are a few of my favorite options:
-Dragon Park will feature Music Sundays each Sunday from May 17th to June 7th, from 4pm-6:30.
-Red Caboose Park’s Friday concert series is back every Friday in June from 3pm until 10:30pm. Bring chairs, blankets, and a picnic dinner and enjoy this incredibly popular Bellevue event.
-I’ve always wanted to go to Centennial Park’s Big Band Dance, happening every Saturday evening this summer from June 6th until August 29th. Dance lessons are at 7pm and the music from a live orchestra starts at 7:30.
-Musician’s Corner is also at Centennial Park on Saturday afternoons in May and June. This event includes live music, a kids’ area, and a plethora of food trucks. Bring your children and your dogs- All are welcome!
51. Don’t miss the popular Tomato Art Fest in East Nashville on August 8th and 9th. Food vendors, tomato art, concerts, and a parade will all be part of this year’s costume-friendly event, which drew 35,000 people last year alone and is widely recognized as Nashville’s number one festival.
52. Hike the forest trails at Radnor Lake State Park, which are filled with birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. On our latest visit, we spotted songbirds, hawks, geese, deer, turkeys, turtles, and lizards. We like the Lake Trail, a 1.3 mile flat trail that goes all the way around Radnor Lake.
Canoe floats led by a ranger are offered several times a week in the summertime, generally at sunrise or sunset. The new aviary for birds of prey just opened as well- It includes a 550 foot boardwalk and aviary complex and houses four non-flighted raptors and one non-flighted American Bald Eagle.
53. Tour historic Mansker’s Station, where your kids can experience what life was like on the Tennessee frontier during the 18th century. Tours run daily Monday-Friday and cover two areas: reconstructed Mansker’s Fort and the historic Bowen’s House, which was built in 1787. Got small children? Come Fridays from 10-11 for Pioneer Pals, special activities geared toward younger kids. PRO TIP: Got a AAA card? You’ll get a discount on admission!
54.. Go old school at the Brentwood Skate Center, which looks exactly like the skating rinks we went to as kids. Don’t worry if your kids aren’t skaters- The skate center has walkers on wheels, which help them get the feel of skating without hurting themselves. Got little ones? Opt for the Saturday morning skate for kids 8 and under, from 9:30-11am.
55. Introduce your children to the stars and planets at one of the fun daily shows at Sudekum Planetarium. My kids have just started becoming interested in astronomy, so this is a must-do for us this summer.
56. Take a kid-friendly walking tour through historic Franklin. The ‘I Spy Tour’ is a scavenger hunt where kids count objects and find dates, make a brass rubbing, learn about and draw historical doors, and look for architectural details on buildings around the Square and down Main Street. And the family-friendly Haunted Franklin tour is offered nightly and sounds right up our alley!
57. Find a creek and let the kids cool off in it. We’re partial to the one at Belle Meade Plantation.
58. Hike to Narrows of the Harpeth, one of Nashville’s best-kept secrets. Take the hiking trail to a tunnel through an embankment that was built by slaves in 1818, and created enough moving water to power a forge.
Nearby is Mound Bottom, 19 Native American mounds used by Indians in the Missippian Period between 700 and 1300 AD. Get a group of friends together and schedule a tour with a Harpeth River State Park ranger to access these mounds and climb to the top of the one where the temple and chief’s residence used to be. Mound Bottom is BREATHTAKING and panoramic and well worth the easy hike to get there!
59. Visit the Nature Center at Warner Park. It has lots of nature-related games, toys, books and activities for kids to enjoy, and it’s a great way to get them out of the house for an hour or two on a hot or rainy day.
60. Introduce your kids to mini-golf at Grand Old Golf, near Opryland Hotel. My children are just now at the age where this would be really fun, so I think we’re going to have to do it one evening this summer!
61. Give each of your kids $5 to spend (or better yet, bring their old books to trade in) at McKay Used Bookstore in Bellevue, then take them to a coffee shop for a cold drink and some reading time.
62. On Friday nights from June through August, head to beautiful Leiper’s Fork for Lawnchair Theater, where an outdoor family movie is shown downtown starting at dusk. Bring lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on- Dinner and snacks are available from the rustic concession stand.
63. Enjoy what’s got to be the best ice cream IN THE WORLD at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in East Nashville (1892 Eastland Avenue) or on 12 South.
64. Make reservations to attend a Telescope Night the second Friday of each month at Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory. On these nights, the extremely high-powered Dyer Observatory telescopes are available for viewing and astronomers are on hand to answer questions. What a great opportunity for your kids! This summer, Telescope Nights are May 8, June 12, July 10, and August 14. Admission is $6.27 per person and can be made up to 30 days in advance. I believe there’s also a $10 parking fee. Make your reservations and learn more about Dyer Observatory here.
65. On a hot or rainy day, head downtown for a guided tour of the Tennessee state Capitol. Tours are available Monday through Friday at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m., beginning at the Information Desk on the first floor of the Capitol, located on Charlotte between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
66. Teach your children about Hindu religion and culture with a tour of the Sri Ganesha temple. You can’t help but notice this ornate temple on Old Hickory Boulevard in Bellevue- But did you know they’re happy to give tours by appointment? Get a few families together and call 615-356-7207 to set up a tour. I’m planning to do this soon, after we read up a bit on Hinduism once school is out.
67. Check out the Historic Rural Life Festival, May 14th & 15th, 9am-12pm at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum. Kids can watch honey bees in an observation beehive, pet farm animals, and try their hand at butter churning, spinning, blacksmithing, weaving, pottery making, sheep shearing and more. Admission is $2 per person. Call (615) 837-5197 to make reservations for schools, organizations, or groups over five people.
When you’re done, hike the museum’s Forest Discovery Trail. Grab a brochure and walk the self-guided forest trail to discover some of the valuable benefits of Tennessee forests. The path begins at the log cabins and has twelve designated points of interest.
68. See an exciting (and free!) horse show, dog show, or rodeo at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum and Tennessee Livestock Center in Murfreesboro. The Tennessee Miller Coliseum’s summer schedule includes barrel races, Arabian horse shows, roping championships, dressage events, cowboy mounted shooting competitions and much more, while the Tennessee Livestock Center has several dog agility and obedience shows scheduled this summer. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon with the kids! Check the Tennessee Miller Coliseum calendar, the Tennessee Livestock Center calendar, for details.
69. Enjoy a family-friendly outdoor activity at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary. Owl’s Hill events can be pricy ($10 per adult plus one child for many events) compared to similar events in Nashville, but my husband took the kids to Owl’s Hill on a free hike day recently and they LOVED it. My 11-year-old called it “a lifetime experience” and we’ll probably go back for the next Free Hiking Day on June 6th. What makes Owl’s Hill different from other parks in Nashville? The owls, of course! There are six non-releasable owls on the property, as well as trails, art classes, and guided tours. I can’t wait to see it for myself.
Check out upcoming family events at Owl’s Hill Sanctuary here.
70. Spend the day exploring at the ginormous Opryland Resort. Travel the many paths through three elaborate atriums, take a riverboat ride, watch the stunning Aqua Fountain Show, feast on ice cream, and enjoy lunch at one of the hotel’s many restaurants (With kids in tow, we like -‘Stax’– a build your own burger joint. We get our meals and walk over to tables right beside the fountain show.) PRO TIP: Wait until your children are old enough to walk on their own- This hotel is not stroller friendly! Also, valet parking is super expensive here. Self park and save money!
Whew! That should keep you covered this summer- but if you have more ideas, I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments– and have a great summer!
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Thanks gor the great ideas… Have you ever visited the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville? Bruiser would probably like it and Punky too! http://www.lanemotormuseum.org/visit-lane-motor-museum
I second the Lane museum if you haven’t been there! I believe it’s free too.Be are to look out the back window to see what they have sitting there…
The Discovery Center in M’boro also has a garden and fountains, and the best- a boardwalk through wetlands right outside. We’re never ready to go home yet when they close, so we take a walk there and see ducks, geese, birds, and sometimes even an otter.
Pro Tip I I
As a former Opryland employee, the Hotel is actually wheelchair/stroller friendly. Stay on the paths with bricks on either sides and you can get through just fine! It is more fun to dart around, sure, but don’t miss out on a fantastic day just because someone with you is on wheels. Another tip is to call ahead and see which restaurants will validate parking. Or as long as you are ready to leave before 8pm, you can park for free at Opry Mills and take their complimentary bus over to the Hotel and back. It leaves from in front of the food court entrance on 15 and 45 past each hour.
Thanks for the input, Sarah! I’m going to stick with advising no strollers if they can be avoided- I did Opryland Hotel with a stroller a time or two when friends were in town and it was a nightmare. Just my personal opinion. 🙂
I love your advice on the restaurant validation. Thanks for sharing!
Also, there is a splash pad in Mount Juliet called Ava’s Splash Pad which is so much fun for the kids! Especially if you have toddlers because it takes the worry away of them actually being in standing water like a pool. It is fenced in so you do not have to worry about children running everywhere near the parking lot. It is located in Charlie Daniels Park which also just received a total make over with all new state of the art equipment for children to play on and run around. There are a few educational areas, like outdoor musical instruments etc., around the playground area as well. It is a large park. Lots of fun!
What a fantastic list! We live just an hour north of Nashville and love to visit. Will definitely be checking out many of these ideas. One addition to your list that I would recommend is Land Between the Lakes! It’s not that far from the city and it has a working 1800’s farm, a planetarium, a nature station, a bison and elk range, and tons of great camping places!
Awesome list! We have six grandchildren and I’m constantly looking for things to broaden their minds (video games are not allowed in our home!) This will help keep them busy all summer. Love that so many things on the list are freebies. Especially helpful that links to many of the websites are provided as well.
I’m exhausted just looking at this list! There is also a cruise on the Lebannon side of OHL that we plan on checking out this summer! http://www.cumberlandrivercruises.com/
Lots of great ideas! I’ve marked several events on my calendar and made reservations for the observatory already. One more for your list. The Drum Corps International competition in Murfreesboro is usually around the end of July. It can be a more expensive outing (tix $30-45), but it is an AMAZING spectacle as the marching bands perform incredible maneuvers and can push you back in your seat with the power of their brass. It’s a great family outing the kids will not forget. http://www.dci.org/schedule/details.cfm?event=419
Sounds fun, Kaci. Thanks!
The Wilson County Fair in Lebanon is one to experience. And with Fiddlers Grove Historic Village on the fairgrounds, it’s a cool place to visit. The fair is August 14-22.
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One free event that I am planning this summer is the Hallowed Ground lantern tour of the Stones River National Cemetery in Murfeesboro. http://www.nps.gov/stri/planyourvisit/hg.htm
This looks amazing!! Thanks!
One little place we love along the Natchez Trace is Garrison Creek, http://www.natcheztracetravel.com/natchez-trace-tennessee/leipers-fork-fly-tn/95-garrison-creek.html.
Since you are fairly close to Leiper’s Fork, it’s easy to grab a lunch there and then go.
There are restrooms, picnic tables, and a fantastic wading creek. It’s about knee high in most places. Shaded in most places near the picnic tables. Lots of tadpole and crawfish catching opportunities, easy, gently sloped banks. Pro Tip: Crocs or water shoes are necessary, because many of the rocks are sharp to our suburban, softie feet. Great place to go hang out for an hour or two, and since it’s free, you can go back again and again. We’ve rarely seen more than one other family there any time we’ve gone, so your kids can be loud and no one cares!
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Update: Metro Nashville Community Education does not offer fencing in the summer. 🙁
It does, but it’s the skill builder class, which is open to kids who’ve had the intro class. The intro class will be available again in the fall. 🙂
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You should include the free indoor 5 story playground at Cornerstone Church in Madison on Old Hickory. It is wonderful and open from 8 in the morning until 7 at night. We have been several times since finding it. A truly fun experience for parents as well since the playground is large enough that parents get to enjoy it as well. I climb right up inside with my kids and they truly enjoy it.
Fantastic list! Thank you for such amazing ideas! I’ll add the free Summer Saturdays at the TN Agricultural Museum / Ellington. The line-up looks really fun! http://tnagmuseum.org/summer.html
Shelby bottoms in East Nashville has some great summer programs, camp fires, picking parties and a great area for kids to do nature play. There is even a par three golf course that is great for young golfers.
[…] for fun (and hopefully, cheap/free) things to do and places to go in and around Nashville. (I also share my list with you guys, to save you some time.) Whether you’re into wacky roadside stops, historic homes, bike […]