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.
June 15, 2022
When you think of Franklin, Tennessee, your mind probably goes straight to its historic downtown, filled with shops and restaurants and Civil War-era homes and buildings. Much has been written about the downtown area and I’m definitely one of its biggest fans — but there’s so much more to do and see in Franklin and Williamson County, and today I want putting the spotlight on Franklin’s many hidden gems. All these spots rank high on my list and I’m just sure you’ll love them, too.
Possibly the most magical stop for sweets in all of Middle Tennessee is Sugar Drop, a dessert boutique and bakery with stunning Dream Shakes that are enormous and almost too pretty to eat!
In addition to Dream Shakes, Sugar Drop serves up amazing cakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and ice cream. And as if that’s not enough, Sugar Drop is also holding day camps for kids this summer and spots are still available. I just love everything about this place.
I’m always looking for parks that are as satisfying as Nashville’s massive Warner Park, but without the hordes of hikers, runners, and dog walkers. Marcelle Vivrette Smith Park in Brentwood perfectly fits the bill. This lovely, lush park has nine miles of mostly forested hiking trails, as well as a paved multi-use trail that connects to Brentwood’s extensive greenway trail system. You’ll also find the stunning Ravenswood Mansion here, which was built in 1825 and is available for private events. It’s an ideal spot to hike and commune with nature and it’s never crowded.
For a fun-filled afternoon, it’s hard to beat historic downtown Nolensville. You’ll find plenty of ways to fill a few hours while exploring this charming stretch of shops and restaurants. The Painted Dragonfly is one of my favorite shops in all of Tennessee — Located inside a 1930s farmhouse, it’s filled with a beautifully curated selection of home decor, gifts, baby gear, and more. You’ll find The Nolensville Toy Shop in the historic home next door. Filled with floor-to-ceiling toys in every room, it’s every child’s absolute dream. Afterward, head to the always busy Itty Bitty Donuts, conveniently located behind The Painted Dragonfly, for piping hot, made-to-order donuts and coffee.
Just down the road, step inside Nellamoon and you’ll feel like you’ve entered an Instagram shoot. Owned by an influencer, the boutique is filled with social media-approved clothing, jewelry, candles, and beauty products. Across the street, the Nolensville Feed Mill Amish Market couldn’t be more different, but it’s no less interesting! Here, you’ll find all kinds of Amish foods as well as made-on-the-spot sandwiches and the store’s famous chicken salad.
If you can swing it, go on a Saturday morning, when the Nolensville Farmer’s Market is open at the historic school house. We love the mix of vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, and locally-sourced meats.
A delicious new restaurant is making waves right now in Fairview. It’s called The Thompsons Kitchen and it’s an ideal place for a date night. From New Zealand Spring Lamb Pops to Gorgonzola Chicken Pasta, the entreés here are mouthwateringly decadent, the crowd is lively and local, and as an added bonus, there’s live jazz on Saturday nights. The Thompsons Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays on Fairview Boulevard.
Last summer, my family and I booked a session at The Rabbit Hole VR in Franklin and we all had an absolute blast. This 6,000 square foot virtual reality arcade has both arcade game sessions for 1-12 players and escape games for two players or four players. Kids ages eight and up can play the arcade games as long as they’re big enough to fit in the gear, and ages 10 and up can play all the games. This is such a fun activity for a hot or rainy day and a good way for everyone in your family to enjoy spending time together, no matter their ages.
Waldo’s Chicken is our new favorite ‘elevated fast food’ joint in Tennessee, and Franklin has not one but TWO locations. You can use the drive-thru and get your meal to go, but why not come inside and enjoy your chicken sandwich and fries with a beer or boozy slushie? What makes Waldo’s so awesome? Well, for starters, everything is made from scratch every single morning, from the sauces to the sides to the lemonade. Waldo’s fried chicken marinates overnight in a pickle brine and their fire roasted chicken is brined, coated with butter, garlic and parsley, and then roasted. But while we dearly love Waldo’s chicken sandwiches and their (many!) sauces, it’s the fries that have stolen my heart. They’re simply the best! Just try it for yourself and see if you don’t agree this place is all-around fantastic.
This Franklin secret is hidden in plain sight, and I just love telling people about it. In the heart of downtown Franklin, you’ll find St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, one of several historic churches that add to the downtown area’s quaint charm. This particular church is extra special for a few reasons. One, it’s open to the public 24-7, so you can always take a look inside. Two, construction on the church was completed in 1834, making it the oldest church in Franklin. And three, in the early 1900s, the church’s wealthy members donated eight stained glass windows made by Louis Comfort Tiffany. They are the three windows over the altar, the three windows on the right side of the church facing the altar, and two windows on the left side. The remaining windows were made by someone else because Tiffany took his glassmaking secrets to the grave. It’s fun to surprise your friends with a quick visit to the church while you’re out shopping or after dinner downtown.
This Franklin farm located just off the Natchez Trace Parkway sells its produce in a farm store that’s open Monday through Saturday from 9-4. Stop in and see what’s available or order online by Tuesday and pick up your order at the store on Saturday. The online offerings look pretty great — They include fresh herbs, rainbow-colored chicken eggs, edible flowers, oyster mushrooms, vegetables, and more. Red Thread Farm practices sustainable, regenerative farming methods and does not use toxic chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. This place has been on my must-try list for a while now and I can’t wait to check them out!
I’ve been hearing raves from parents about We Rock The Spectrum, a new indoor gym in Franklin that’s designed to be an inclusive play environment for kids of all abilities. Owners Samantha and Steven Komarnitsky initially opened the gym to give children on the autism spectrum a place to play, but they quickly realized that all children would enjoy the gym and learn important lessons about compassion and inclusion in the process of playing. The 5600-square-foot space includes a zipline, trampoline, swings, indoor play structure, toys, arts and crafts, and a calming room for when things feel overwhelming.
I realize that I go on and on and on here about Timberland Park, but still it remains one of Franklin’s best-kept secrets! You’ll find this park just beyond the Natchez Trace Bridge on the Natchez Trace Parkway. It has several great wooded trails and the park is rarely busy. My favorite trail is the Big East Fork Reserve Trail, a loop trail that takes you down through the forest and out into a meadow with a beautiful pond. Look close on the walk back and you might even spot a cave spring flowing out from some rocks at the bottom of a steep hill. If you get close to the opening, you’ll feel cool, underground air pouring out from the cave. To find the trail, be sure and grab a map at the visitors center before you set out on your hike.
Looking for authentic New York pizza? Nelly’s Italian Café in Spring Hill is worth the drive — and yes, I’m speaking from experience! This no-frills strip mall restaurant is typically packed with people, and when you taste the food here, you’ll understand why! In addition to the ever-popular pizzas, Nelly’s offers Italian classics like eggplant parmesan, lasagna, Stromboli pizza rolls, garlic knots, cannolis, and more. We stuffed our faces the last time we had dinner at Nelly’s and we can’t wait to come back!
One of the most popular summer activities in Middle Tennessee is kayaking the Harpeth River — but many of the most popular spots to rent kayaks are overrun with hundreds of people eager to head out for a float. My Franklin secret? Cumberland Kayak. Book one or two-person kayaks (great if you have kids) online and meet the outfitters at Harlinsdale Park in Franklin for a leisurely, 2-hour float down the Harpeth River, minus the maddening crowds you’d find on the Harpeth in Nashville! This is one of the best ways to spot wildlife and soak up Tennessee’s natural beauty.
You might not have realized that Brentwood has one of the best paved bike trail systems in Middle Tennessee. Eight different trails range in length from one to eight miles round-trip, and most of the trails are connected so that you can customize your ride according to your needs. As an added summertime bonus, many of the trails are shaded and if you start at the Brentwood Library, you’ll ride alongside the Little Harpeth Creek, which is perfect for a quick splash if your party is getting overheated. The trail system also runs past the Williamson County Recreation Center, the YMCA, and several parks and rec fields, so there are lots of parking lots and bathrooms available. Check out the Brentwood trail system map to plan your route ahead of time.
Culaccino is no secret to Franklin locals, but those living outside Franklin probably don’t realize that this delightful upscale Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown easily rivals any of Nashville’s hottest restaurants. For me, the restaurant’s most unforgettable dish is its grilled octopus — I know, I know, I’m not much of an octopus fan either, but this particular dish is tender and exquisite and absolutely unforgettable. Culaccino’s artisan pizzas are also superb — Their dough undergoes a three-day fermentation process before being topped with inventive ingredients like hen of the woods mushrooms and taleggio cheese and wood-fired in their pizza oven . And the made from scratch pastas and sauces are all spectacular. The place is always packed, so you’ll want to make your reservations in advance. I promise you that dinner here will be a night to remember.
Leiper’s Fork doesn’t feel like a hidden gem, because practically everyone in the area has heard of it — But it always surprises me how many locals have never actually spent a day there. And if that’s the case for you, I’m telling you now that you definitely need to go! You can easily see everything in a day, but if you really want to splurge, I highly suggest you book a couple of nights at Pot n’ Kettle Cottages — They have several cottages of all sizes that are gorgeously decorated and perfect for a cozy weekend getaway. You can even order a catered breakfast or lunch for your stay or hire a private chef to do a dinner experience in your cottage.
Leiper’s Fork has a few really good restaurants, including the original Puckett’s (now called Fox & Locke) and Country Boy. And it’s one of my favorite shopping spots anywhere — Every single shop on the village’s main drag is excellent, but special mention goes to Serenité Maison, an absolutely fabulous French-themed shabby chic antique store, and David Arms Gallery, home both to David Arms’ exquisite original paintings and the best men’s store I’ve ever been to in my life. I always say that if I were a man, I’d want to be the kind of man who owns everything in David Arms’ Gallery. If you know, you know! For more on Leiper’s Fork, check out the post I wrote about it.
Franklin has several antique malls and shops within easy walking distance of each other. They are slightly off the beaten path downtown and I’ve discovered that many people who live outside Franklin never realized they were there! People! These antique shops are wonderful and you’re missing out if you don’t make time to see them. You’ll find all the shops on the edge of downtown Franklin — I’ll use the Harpeth Hotel as a point of reference, since all are in easy walking distance from this point. The Winchester Antique Mall and T. Nesbitt & Co. are right across the street from the hotel. Turn right out of the hotel and you’ll soon see Riverside Franklin at the corner of 2nd and Bridge. Or, hang a left out of the hotel and it’s a five-minute walk to the Franklin Antique Mall, and JJ Ashley’s Antiques.
There’s no better time than summer to experience Franklin’s La Paleteria Ice Cream Shop, where customers rave about the scrumptious paletas (popsicles made with cream, sugar, and fresh fruit), ice cream, and milkshakes made with the exotic flavors that are so popular in Mexican desserts. If you’re looking to branch out, try a spicy cucumber popsicle or a Mangonada, a smoothie-like concoction with mango, chili powder, salt, sugar, and citrus juice.
I’m totally intrigued by this charming Upick flower farm in Nolensville. Menkveld Farm has all kinds of events that are open to the public, from tours explaining how they grow their lavender to Upick flower events throughout the summer to flower field photo sessions to date nights and family days. And yes, sunflowers will be blooming there this summer! The photos of this farm are absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to make a trip. The flower fields are in full bloom from June to October, so you have plenty of time to plan a visit of your own.
This hidden gem is on my Tennessee bucket list. Go with a guide on a half-day or full-day float in a drift boat down the Harpeth or Caney Fork River and learn the art of fly fishing for bass, rainbow trout, and more — All the equipment you need is provided! Franklin Fly Fishing Co. will also take you on a wading trip if you’d prefer, give you a one-on-one fly fishing lesson, or take you and your party on a pleasure cruise down the Harpeth through downtown Franklin. Fly fishing is something I’ve never tried before and I’d love to give it a shot. This would also make for a great birthday or Father’s Day surprise for the outdoorsman in your life.
The Nashville area has no lack of coffee shops, but I’ve had trouble finding the kinds of cafés I used to spend hours in back when I was in college — the kind with lots of cozy, worn reading chairs and baristas and customers who all knew my name. Most coffee shops these days are far more utilitarian, and filled with students and remote employees all glued to their computers. The one place I’ve found in all of Middle Tennessee that satisfies my old-fashioned coffee shop craving is The Good Cup in Franklin’s Grassland community.
It’s rare that I don’t see someone I know at this neighborhood coffee shop, and even though I don’t make it there all that often, I’m pleased as punch that the barista always remembers my name! The place is filled with the kind of seating that makes you want to curl up with a good book or spend time gossiping with friends, and plenty of people go there to do just that. And yes, the coffee drinks, pastries, and food are all wonderful as well. The Good Cup is one Franklin secret I’m happy to share with the world.
The historic Franklin Theatre is a great venue for concerts and shows, but I often forget that movies play here, too, and at $10 for adults, $8 for kids and seniors, they’re very affordable. Films include first-run movies like The Batman, classics like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and family favorites like The Goonies and I love that I can enjoy the old fashioned surroundings and have a glass of wine here while I watch. It’s always worth checking out upcoming live shows on the Franklin Theatre’s schedule as well — We’ve seen some excellent live performances here and ticket prices are generally much less expensive than they would be in Nashville.
I’m amazed by how many people still don’t know about Bowie Nature Park in Fairview. This gorgeous park has 17 miles of nature trails, multiple lakes and ponds, and a crystal-clear creek that’s a great spot for a splash. It also has a nature center and a brand new playground. When you visit, be sure to take a picture of the trail map before you head out — It’s easy to get turned around — and bring bug spray if you’re visiting during mosquito season. Lots of water means lots of bugs.
Matt and Ashlea Hogancamp were parents who cared deeply about the quality of the food they were feeding their families. They cared so much, in fact, that they quit their jobs, sold their house and furniture, and opened Herban Market, a grocery/health food/real food restaurant where the only food that’s sold is the kind of food that’s truly good for you and your family. I discovered this place when my daughter was taking classes across the street and became obsessed, not only with the market, but also with the fantastic food at the restaurant and the CBD Lattes in the market’s coffeeshop. Herban Market is a fantastic place for breakfast or lunch made with healthy, high-quality ingredients and the market always has plenty of interesting finds — I especially love the local produce and meats.