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 25, 2021
After what had to be the longest school year of all time, summer is finally here! Now that everything’s opening up again, it just might be the best summer ever — There’s nothing like spending a year at home to appreciate normal, everyday life and all the activities that come with it, right? I’ve spent the last several weeks coming up with lots of ideas to keep my kids entertained all summer long and thought I’d share my favorites with you, starting with things to do with kids in Franklin, Tennessee.
Franklin has always been my little summer secret. It takes me the same amount of time to get to most places in Franklin as it does to get to places in Nashville and every summer, I’ve found myself gravitating more and more to the Franklin side with my kids. Why? Everything’s more spread out in and around Franklin, so it’s less crowded — plus, there’s ALWAYS PARKING! FREE PARKING! Who knew this would be come such an important part of my life? 😂
Whether you live in Franklin or within driving distance, I’ve got TONS of ideas on this list to keep you and your kids, tweens, and even teens occupied — We’ve done almost all of these things ourselves, so I can pretty much guarantee a great time. Enjoy, and have an amazing summer, y’all!
There’s nothing like harvesting your own fruit in the summertime — It’s one of the few family activities our kids have loved from the time they could walk right up to the present day. Franklin has two great ‘U Pick’ options: At the Golden Bell Farm on Clovercroft Road, you can pick your own blueberries in June and July and at Boyd Mill Farm in July, you can pick your own blackberries. Obviously, it gets hot in the summertime, so I like to bring a spray bottle of water to mist on the kids (and myself!) while we pick so that everyone stays reasonably cool. Picking times depend on the weather, so be sure and call the farm or check their Facebook page to find out when the berries are ripe.
Franklin on Foot founder Margie Thessin knows a LOT about downtown Franklin and how to make its fascinating history interesting to kids. That’s why she developed an I Spy workbook to help parents and children alike take a delightful self-guided walking tour through the downtown area. You can find it at Landmark Booksellers on Main Street.
Another great option is to get a group of friends together and sign up for a guided tour with Franklin on Foot – Your guide will gear the tour to your group’s specific interests. Tweens and teens will enjoy Franklin on Foot’s popular and family-friendly ghost tours, which are extremely popular and scheduled several times a week during the summer season. With all that’s happened in Franklin over the last 175 or so years, you’d better believe the ghost stories here are first rate! Here are just a few I shared recently on the Visit Franklin blog.
We are farmer’s market freaks, so I can tell you with confidence that Franklin has some of the best farmers markets in Middle Tennessee. The Franklin Farmer’s Market happens every Saturday morning year-round outside The Factory. Here, you’ll find a dizzying array of delicious local produce, meats, plants and flowers, baked goods, arts and crafts, food trucks, and more. It’s a big favorite of ours and we typically go at least once a month, no matter the time of year.
Another of my favorites is the Nolensville Farmer’s Market. Vendors change here depending on the week, but we’ve found some really wonderful foods here, from fresh baked pretzels to exotic mushrooms to some of the best prepared desserts I’ve ever tasted. Check the website for a map of vendors–it’s updated each week.
Finally, there’s a new weekday farmer’s market in town! The Franklin Five Points Farmer’s Market is now open every Tuesday from 4pm-7pm on 5th Avenue North, featuring local produce, handmade products, and artisan goods. Vendors include Ellie’s Doughnuts, Fireflour Bakery, RC Farms, and Kelly’s Berry Farm. Follow the market’s Instagram account for updates.
Franklin’s Noble Springs Dairy offers a tour that’s extremely popular and designed to appeal to all ages. On it, you’ll learn about farming and farm animals, see the goat milking parlor and cheese making facility, and learn about how cheese is made. According to the website, the tour also includes lots of hands-on opportunities, which include feeding and cuddling baby goats! You’ll also get to sample Noble Springs products and buy them if you’d like. Tickets are $10 per person and can be booked online – something I’d recommend because these tours often sell out! Check the website for tour dates.
We just visited Sugar Drop’s new location on Franklin Road a few weeks ago (on Harry Potter week, no less) and y’all, this place is OUTRAGEOUSLY good. The Dream Shakes are loaded with candy, baked goods, and ice cream and I’m here to tell you that they are out. of. this. world. They’re almost too pretty to eat (and you will definitely be photographing your shake for the ‘Gram) and so big that you could easily (and probably should) split one between two or three people. I will absolutely be surprising my kids with another trip to Sugar Drop one afternoon this summer.
In addition to Dream Shakes, Sugar Drop serves up amazing cakes, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, and ice cream, as well as scratch-made biscuits and other hot breakfast menu items. 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.
SOAR is a massive, outdoor four-level climbing tower with no less than 110 different climbing elements for every age and stage. Even smaller kids can get in on the action – The ground level features a special section built especially for kids ages 4-7, with 19 different elements. Not a fan of climbing? SOAR also has an 18-hole mini golf course, as well as a new bar where parents can kick back and enjoy a beer.
Each month this summer, a free family movie will be shown at Pinkerton Park, located at 405 Murfreesboro Rd. for an evening movie! Concession items will be available or bring blankets and chairs and your own picnic dinner. July’s movie is Fievel Goes West; August’s movie is Hotel Transylvania 3.
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs through some of the most beautiful countryside in Franklin. Keep going toward Natchez once you get on the Parkway and in just over an hour at mile marker 391.9, you’ll see a sign for Fall Hollow. Park in the parking area and you’ll find a paved walk to a platform overlooking a large waterfall. Once you’ve stopped to take in the view, keep going down the very short, steep dirt path into the woods and you’ll encounter several more waterfalls, including one that’s perfect for small children to play in. It’s a great way to cool off on a hot summer day. For more information, read my full write-up on Fall Hollow here.
Located in the heart of downtown Franklin, the Franklin Theatre is one of my family’s favorite places for a movie or show. Upcoming events this season include family-friendly movies (like The Goonies!), a magician, live theater, dance troops, and even a Halloween-themed acrobatic circus! We’ve seen so many fabulous live shows and family movies here — The ticket prices are always reasonable, parking is easy to find, nearby lunch and dinner options abound, and for all those reasons, I can’t recommend this theater enough.
We all scream for ice cream from time to time, and Franklin has several yummy options. Inside The Factory, you’ll find Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams with seasonal flavors that are out of this world, although I have a hard time ordering anything other than a scoop of Jeni’s classic Brambleberry Crisp and another of the Brown Butter Almond Brittle — Sooooo good. Hattie Jane’s Creamery has made a name for itself all over Middle Tennessee with its made-from-scratch ice cream, and now they’ve opened a new location in Franklin. With sweet southern-inspired flavors like ‘Nana Puddin’ and Goo Goo and Jack, you really can’t go wrong here, no matter what you try.
You’ll find me this summer at Franklin’s La Paleteria Ice Cream Shop, where customers are raving about the delicious popsicles, ice cream, and milkshakes made with fresh fruits and the exotic flavors that make paletas so popular in Mexico. Check the reviews and you’ll be as excited to try this place out as I am. Another ice cream shop with a cult following is Whit’s Frozen Custard in Franklin’s Berry Farms neighborhood. I’ve heard more than one frozen custard fan swear that Whit’s reigns supreme and I suppose we all owe it to ourselves to find out if that is indeed the case. And in downtown Franklin, you’ll find the classic Kilwins, which proudly boasts an ‘Original Recipe’ ice cream as well as the world’s best Mackinac Island Fudge.
Drive past Franklin’s Westhaven community and you can’t help but notice that there are almost always families out in kayaks, canoes, and SUPS on the miniature lake at the front of the neighborhood. Most of them have rented their water gear from Paddledog Adventures right beside the pond and Paddledog’s hourly rental rates are very reasonable — $15 for canoes and kayaks, $20 for stand up paddle boards. If you’re hoping to go kayaking or canoeing with the kids on a river soon, this is a great way to teach them the ropes in a controlled environment and get them comfortable on the water. It’s also a great way to convince your kids that kayaking is MUCH easier than canoeing — Our kids resisted this concept for far too long and it was a huge relief when they finally agreed to try a kayak and discovered how much easier it was to navigate and stay upright!
Looking for a memorable summer activity? I don’t think it gets any more unique than a private alpaca experience! At Franklin’s Mistletoe Farm, you can book a half-hour or hour-long session for your family with a herd of adorable alpacas. All you need is a camera and you’re good to go! Half-hour sessions are $50 for up to five people and hour-long sessions are $100 for up to ten people, so grab a few friends and this could be one very reasonably priced, very interesting summer day trip.
If you’ve never had a cronut before (a donut-croissant hybrid), you’re in for a treat! Five Daughters Bakery has made a name for itself in Franklin with its fabulous cronuts in all kinds of delicious flavors. The bakery is owned and operated by Franklin couple Isaac and Stephanie Meek and named for their five daughters. With plenty of parking at its location inside The Factory, it’s never been easier to take your kids for a surprise cronut run on a hot summer day. One piece of advice from me — Although the cronuts with cream and icing look divine, I believe the plain versions are superior — Keep this in mind if the fancier cronuts are too sweet for your tastebuds.
You’ll be the coolest parent on earth if you surprise your kids with a session at The Rabbit Hole VR. This 6,000 square foot virtual reality arcade offers 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 an especially good option if you have a family with a wide array of ages — My kids and stepkids range in age now from 14 to 30 and virtual reality games are one thing we all LOVE doing together.
As a travel writer, I’ve tried a lot — and I mean a LOT — of standout cookies. Every town in America seems to have its very own to-die-for cookie shop! But I have to say my all-time favorite cookies just might be the ones at Crumbl Cookies, which has a location in Cool Springs. Crumbl’s rotating menu means you get to choose from different flavors each week (flavors this week, for example, include chocolate with Andes Mints and Kentucky Butter Cake) and all I can say is that these cookies are PHENOMENAL, they raise the bar on what makes a cookie great, and you’ve just got to try them for yourself to understand my devotion.
Once you’ve discovered Bowie Nature Park, you’ll keep coming back. It’s hard to beat this super-sized park in Fairview with 17 miles of nature trails, several lakes and ponds popular with fishermen, and a crystal-clear creek that’s perfect for splashing around in. The park is flat, which makes it ideal for family walks — We love this park so much that it feels like my kids practically grew up here. 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.
The most important summer question on the mind of every mother of young children: Where is the best playground? The Franklin area’s best playgrounds can be found at Pinkerton Park and Crockett Park. Pinkerton Park boasts two playgrounds – the Tinkerbell playground is the highlight– as well as restrooms, picnic tables, and grills. And the community playground in Brentwood’s Crockett Park is another great option — Shaded by large trees, it includes castle architecture, lots of slides, tire swings, rubberized paths, and shaded picnic tables.
I was surprised to find that one of the things I missed most during the pandemic was the Brentwood Library. I loved it so much, I paid $65 a year to be an out-of-city member, just so that I could write there and search the stacks in peace — It is absolutely gorgeous, huge, and never too busy and it was a true haven for me. But I have to admit the very best thing about this library is its children’s room — It’s so lovely and so fun for little ones to explore that it’s worth adding to your summer activity list, even if you don’t check out a single book. There are so many nooks and crannies and surprises for kids in the children’s section, and it’s never crowded. You don’t have to be a member to visit, so if you have littles who are picture book-aged, go with a plan to simply explore, read three or four books aloud, and leave empty-handed.
I particularly love the Lotz House tour for kids (I’d say it’s best for ages 10 and up) because the family who lived inside this downtown Franklin home during the bloody Battle of Franklin had children who heard and saw everything. Their story is riveting, and it’s likely to keep your kids interested a lot longer than most other historic home tours would. I took this tour with my daughter when she was 11 and she could not stop talking about it afterward- Because of the children involved, she was able to put herself in their shoes and really listen and understand the Battle of Franklin in a way she hadn’t before.
On a hot summer day, Urban Air Adventure Park in Cool Springs is a godsend. At this indoor trampoline and adventure park, your kids can enjoy trampolines, virtual reality, climbing walls, a ropes course, dodgeball, a playground, a battle beam, and more. My kids were good for about two hours here (while I enjoyed a good book, I’m not gonna lie) and then they were exhausted for the rest of the day — It was a win all around! Because of Covid, advance reservations are required right now — No walk-ins are allowed.
The Nolensville Toy Shop is everything a toy store should be. Located inside a lovely historic home in the heart of downtown Nolensville, every room here is absolutely loaded with toys, games, costumes, dolls, gifts, books, and a whole lot more. Your children will be thrilled by a visit here, but you’ll probably want to set a budget limit ahead of time!
Right next door, you’ll find the popular Itty Bitty Donuts — It’s a perfect place to stop for a snack before heading home. We love their piping hot donuts drizzled in chocolate and the specialty coffee drinks are wonderful as well.
Did you know Brentwood is home to one of the best paved bike trail systems Middle Tennessee has to offer? 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 splashing around in. 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.
Still looking for day camp ideas? Williamson County Parks and Rec has plenty to choose from. Whether your child is interested in art, sports, theater, or dance, or even cooking, there’s a day camp tailored to their interests — but jump on this now because spots are filling up fast and many of the camps already have waiting lists.
For just $15, you can play all kinds of arcade games all day long at the new Pixel Planet Arcade in Nolensville. The space includes 50 arcade games like Ms. Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as pinball, skee-ball, air hockey, and ticket redemption games. You can even leave for lunch and come back if you like – Your admission is good for the day, no matter what. This could be a great summer option if you’re looking to get tweens and teens out of the house, especially on a rainy day.
Just a few minutes from Franklin, Thompson’s Station has one of the best-kept secrets in all of Middle Tennessee: Preservation Park. Take the trail from the parking lot across a bucolic field and up to the top of a grassy hill with 365-degree panoramic views of the gorgeous Williamson County countryside. It can be hot in the summertime, so I think a sunset hike to this point would be fantastic and make for some seriously awesome pictures. It’s also an amazing spot for a picnic. After the hill, the trail descends into some woods and then loops back around the base of the hill to return you to where you started. I recommend taking a picture of the map at the trailhead to help guide you along the way.
I have such fond memories of The Monkey’s Treehouse. My children adored this imaginative indoor playground when they were between the ages of 2 and 6 and we spent many happy hours here. Kids can play in the multi-roomed treehouse or town village or they can enjoy the car and train tables, doll houses, baby nursery, and puppet theater. There’s also a section here just for toddlers 24 months and under, with age-appropriate toys and activities.
Need to get something done while the kids play? The Monkey’s Treehouse offers two childcare options for 1-3 hour intervals — You can work in a workspace onsite while employees watch your kids or you can drop your kids off and return later. Both options are available at very reasonable hourly rates.
Stopping for donuts at the Tiny Little Donuts vintage Airstream trailer in downtown Franklin has become a local tradition — especially because the donuts are so popular that they sell out almost as soon as they can make them, so you have to keep an eye on their social media feeds and get there fast. Flavors include plain, glazed, cinnamon sugar, dark chocolate glazed and more, as well as seasonal flavors. Can’t make it to the Airstream? Tiny Little Donuts has a second location in Franklin at Alexander Plaza on Murfreesboro Road.
Not only does the Franklin Family Entertainment Center get high marks from local families for cleanliness, affordability, and a great staff, it also has a program allowing kids to bowl one game per day for free between February and August — no strings attached! Just fill out the form here to get them enrolled. The center includes 24 lanes of traditional bowling, six lanes of mini-bowling, a large arcade that includes ticket redemption games, and bumpers for kids controlled by the lanes’ scoring systems. Cosmic Night Bowling is offered twice a week — The lights get turned down and the music gets turned up.
I always try to work in at least a few educational tours and experiences each summer and Franklin has some excellent options. The Battle of Franklin Trust includes three different historic sites in Franklin and Spring Hill and each home has its own unique Civil War-era story. Carnton and the Carter House both are right next to downtown Franklin and the families who lived there during the Civil War had harrowing experiences during the Battle of Franklin. Rippavilla in Spring Hill sits on 100 acres of farmland and includes an 1855 mansion, a Civil War battlefield, a Freedmen’s Bureau school, and more. Tour one or all of them with your kids to keep them sharp during the summertime — In addition to the traditional tours, each site now offers tours focusing on the enslaved people who once lived there, which adds some much-needed context and perspective on what exactly was going on in Tennessee in the 1860s. Level up by downloading the lesson plans offered on the website ahead of time to help you and your kids get the most out of the visit.
Looking for a way to cool off on a hot summer day? You’ve got plenty of options in Williamson County. Check out the Williamson County Parks and Recreation website to find the pool or splash pad that’s closest to you. There are public pools in Franklin, Brentwood, Fairview, Nolensville, and Spring Hill and splash pads in Franklin and Brentwood. Head over to the Parks and Rec website to find pool hours, special activities, and location addresses.
I could always convince my kids to read a book in the summertime if the activity is accompanied by a sweet drink from a coffee shop. Lucky for us, Franklin has two of the absolute best coffee shops for reading in all of Middle Tennessee. The Coffee House in downtown Franklin is located inside a lovely little historic home with shady porches and several atmospheric rooms to settle down in. My kids adore the baked goods and Nutella crepes here, so we’ll often order lunch or snacks to go with our hour of reading.
Over in the Grassland community you’ll find The Good Cup, a cozy neighborhood coffeeshop that was tailor-made for book lovers — Here, you’ll find cozy chairs and sofas, and there’s even a mini-library in the corner!
Floating down the Harpeth River in a canoe or kayak is a quintessential Middle Tennessee experience and you can do it in Franklin with Paddledog Adventures. On Saturdays and Sundays, Paddledog does two 2-hour Harpeth River floats — one at 8:30am, one at 12:30pm. You’ll meet at the Westhaven boathouse and they’ll provide all the gear, take you to the river, help you get in your canoes or kayaks, and pick you up downstream two hours later. This is one of my all-time favorite summer family activities and Paddledog is a fantastic option — The Harpeth River floats in Nashville have gotten so crowded on summer weekends that they’re not even fun anymore. Do note that you need to make your reservations at least seven days in advance.
Did you know that if you sign up your kids for Barnes & Noble’s summer reading program, they can easily earn a free book from the store? The program is open to kids from kindergarten through sixth grade and easy to complete. You’ll simply download a summer reading packet from the website, read and record eight books over the summer, and take it to Barnes & Noble in Cool Springs some time in August to trade it in for a free book. There’s a section of books to choose from that always includes some excellent kids’ books you’ll recognize – and children are welcome to choose their free book from any of the reading levels featured.
Now that we can safely go to see movies again (yay!), I want to remind you that tickets are only $5 on Tuesdays at many AMC movie theaters, including Franklin’s AMC Dine-In Thoroughbred 20. You do have to be an AMC member to get the discount, but membership is FREE! You can bet we’ll be taking advantage of this situation — I still haven’t seen Raya and the Last Dragon and I’ve got to fix that, pronto! And just to be on the safe side, I just logged into my free AMC Stubs account and tickets on Tuesdays are indeed STILL $5.
Every summer, Apple stores across the country offer summer camp sessions for kids, free of charge. My son attended one a few summers ago and LOVED it — and I loved that he learned some new coding skills. Obviously, camp happened at home last summer but it looks like they’re planning on doing this summer’s camp in the stores again. Sign up here to receive an email when registration opens, and when it does be quick to register your kids for one of the sessions — Spots go fast! There are a few different camps to choose from and the three-day sessions each last 90 minutes. I used the time to get some shopping done at the mall.
That’s all for now! You can keep up with our summer adventures by following me on Facebook and Instagram. Got feedback or ideas of your own? I’d love to hear from you! Use my contact form to get in touch!
This post was written in partnership with Visit Franklin, which has lots more great ideas for summertime fun. All content in this post is my own personal opinion. 🙂
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