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.
September 18, 2018
There’s no getting around the fact that Nashville has seen a lot of changes over the last decade. As a Nashville parent, I miss the days when I could take the kids for ice cream on Lower Broad without paying $30 for a parking spot and worrying they’d see something that would scar them for life, and the weekends when we could hike on park trails without being surrounded by hundreds of other park goers.
We’ve adapted to the changes by spending more time with our kids outside Nashville’s city limits, and our efforts have paid off big time. We’ve found new bike trails, museums, theaters, playgrounds, historic downtowns, delicious restaurants, and more. And by far, the place that’s had the most to offer our family is Murfreesboro.
Murfreesboro feels a lot like old Nashville. It’s big enough to support a truly wonderful children’s museum and natural history museum, a major university, innovative restaurants, and possibly the best greenway system in the state, but small enough that everything is within easy driving distance, and also small enough to keep its many lovely historic homes and outdoor spaces intact and open to the public. We’ve found so much to do in and around Murfreesboro that we take regular day trips and weekend getaways here — It’s both fun and affordable. In fact, I’m just going to call it, right here and now:
There. I said it. And you know I only speak the #truth, people.
If you’re visiting Nashville, make time for Murfreesboro while you’re there. If you live in Nashville, I hope you’re already aware of how much Murfreesboro has to offer families — but if not, here are 35 awesome things to do with kids in Mufreesboro. Go through this list and I guarantee you’ll be as excited about Murfreesboro as I am.
From clogging and hayrides to arts and crafts and so much food — No one does fall festivals like Tennessee’s communities, and the Murfreesboro area has some of the best in the South. Here are a few of our favorites:
9/28-9/29: Depot Days, Smyrna
10/13: Fall Market & Craft Fair, The Gathering at Milton
10/27: Harvest Days at Cannonsburgh Village, Murfreesboro
10/31: Fall Fest at Cannonsburgh Village, Murfreesboro
Travel back in time as you enjoy music, clogging, pottery demonstrations, broom making, crafts, hayrides, and blacksmith demonstrations at the Harvest Days Celebration. An antique auto show will have you reminiscing of the “good ol’ days”, and the Murfreesboro Art League will showcase the artistic talent of our community. Tempting cuisine will be available to purchase from several food vendors. Fun and educational!
This 16,000 square-foot climbing center just opened and it’s bigger than either of Climb’s Nashville locations, which means there’s a lot more space for kids to climb and play. Kids’ activities include a climb-able foam cityscape, bouldering (children are required to take a lesson before they can participate in this one), climbing walls designed for games, a climbing tree, and a climbing bag. Climb Murfreesboro also has a birthday party room and even staffs overnight lock-ins!
I can’t say enough good things about this interactive children’s museum — It was a favorite with my kids when they were younger and I adored it as well. You’ll find tons of activities for every age and stage here, from toddlers up to about age 11. Run your own city in Tiny Town! Learn about the human body in the Five Senses exhibit! Go down the 2 ½ story super slide! Climb aboard the fire truck! Create art in the Creation Station! Participate in one of the special programs that take place each day! Check out one of the center’s rotating temporary exhibits (Clifford the Big Red Dog opens September 22nd!). And be sure and check out the playground and wetlands trail out back, which are worth visiting on their own (and they’re free!). This place is definitely worth the drive from Nashville or surrounding cities!
No trip to Murfreesboro’s historic downtown is complete without a visit to Hattie Jane’s. Ice Cream is made from scratch in-house using locally sourced ingredients and includes inventive flavors like Peanuts & Coke and Rose Water, as well as standard favorites like Nana Puddin’ and Cookie Jar Supreme.
This new retail development offers plenty of fun your entire family, including locally-owned boutiques, popular eateries like Burger Republic, Nothing Bundt Cakes, and Fuzzy Taco, and fun family activities out on the lawn. You can enjoy a free outdoor movie every Friday night at 8pm through October, and on Thanksgiving weekend, the lawn is transformed into a public ice skating rink.
Personalize a special present for another family member or create your own unique family sign at this DIY wood sign workshop at Fountains at Gateway. The possibilities are endless — and best of all, you’ll end up with something you actually want to hang on your wall at the end of the day!
No Fountains at Gateway experience is complete without a visit to The Soda Bar. This inventive dessert shop includes specialty ice creams, craft sodas, floats, Hawaiian shave ice, coffees, and edible cookie doughs. An indoor-outdoor bar lets you enjoy your order without missing any of the fun going on outside.
I have to be honest — I drag my kids to a lot of historic sites (Can ya tell?), and I have to say the Sam Davis House was one of their favorites. 21-year-old Sam Davis was a Confederate soldier who chose to be hanged rather than give information to Union troops. He’s famous for saying, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend,” and his story absolutely fascinated my kids. You can tour Smyrna’s Sam Davis Home and visit his grave as well as a museum built in his honor, and it’s an experience I highly recommend — Be sure to start at the museum and watch the short documentary on Sam Davis’s life so that your kids know the backstory. It’s also worth noting that the house is not air-conditioned, so if you’re visiting in the summer, opt for a morning tour or go on an overcast day.
Most people don’t know Middle Tennessee is home to a globally unique, almost desert-like ecosystem known as the limestone cedar glade. Here, cacti, rare and endangered wildflowers, and succulents thrive and a vast network of caves lies just beneath the rocky limestone surface. Most of these glades are in Middle Tennessee and several are in Rutherford County — and ours are different from any on earth. In fact, they’re so special that Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro has a Center for Cedar Glade Studies entirely devoted to them! Rutherford County glades include Flat Rock Cedar Glades and the Elsie Quarterman Cedar Glade. I’ve also heard there’s a glade at Lucky Ladd Farms! The best way to see them for the first time is on a guided tour — Check Long Hunter State Park’s list of upcoming events to find one.
Did you know one of the most amazing Civil War tours in the nation takes place at Murfreesboro’s Stones River National Cemetery? On this one-hour ranger-led tour, you’ll walk through the cemetery by lantern light and hear letters read by men and women dressed as the soldiers and civilians who wrote them. It is a very solemn, moving experience and best for older kids. It’s also a great way to personalize the Civil War experience for young minds. One note – This tour is extremely popular, so you’ll want to call and make reservations the moment the phone lines open at 9am on the Monday before the tour you want to take. Check out the tour schedule for more information.
When only a burger and fries will do, Jack Brown’s is the place to go. Our kids love the creative burgers here like The Greg Brady, which is topped with housemade mac & cheese and Martin’s BBQ Potato Chips. And we adults like the selection of 100 craft beers. It’s a win-win!
This popular pumpkin farm in Smyrna is an annual tradition for thousands of Middle Tennessee families — It’s open to the public this year from September 22nd until October 31st and includes pumpkins (of course!), gourds, Indian corn and straw for sale, hayrides, farm animals, a play area for kids with a corn maze, hay mountain, and 40-foot slide, and favorite fall foods like roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin fudge, and funnel cake.
Located in the heart of Murfreesboro, Cannonsburgh Village has got to be one of my favorite educational things to do with kids in all of Middle Tennessee. Here, you’ll find more than a dozen historic Rutherford County structures including log cabins, doctor’s offices, and a schoolhouse, all built between 1830 and 1930. Inside these buildings are all kinds of interesting historic artifacts donated to Rutherford County over the years. The variety here will keep kids interested and entertained, and best of all, it’s free! Be sure and pick up a tour brochure at the Visitors Center when you arrive. Located right next to a trailhead on the Stones River Greenway, Cannonsburgh Village makes a perfect stop on a family bike ride in Murfreesboro.
Whether you’re looking for fresh baked bread, local produce, flowers, or grass-fed beef, you can find it at one of Murfreesboro’s farmers’ markets. You’ll find Murfreesboro’s Saturday Market on the courthouse square each Saturday from through October, 8am to noon. Tuesdays and Fridays from 7am to noon through October, the Rutherford County Farmers Market takes place at Murfreesboro’s Lane Agri-Park in the open-air community center. This is a producer-only farmer’s market, meaning all of the produce comes from Tennessee and is sold by the people who’ve grown it. Next door to Murfreesboro, Smyrna has its own Saturday morning farmers market at the train depot on Front Street from 8am to 12pm through September.
Did you know Murfreesboro has the only natural history museum in Tennessee? Earth Experience includes the vast fossil collection of MTSU professor Alan Brown, who digs with his students for dinosaur bones in Montana every summer. It’s also filled with rocks, gems, minerals, and archaeological relics, many of which are from Tennessee. Earth Experience is open Thursday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm. On the last Saturday of each month, hour-long workshops are offered each hour with hands-on projects for all ages and skill levels. I consider Earth Experience a must-do for anyone with kids!
Miller’s Grocery opened more than 75 years ago in the then-bustling whistle-stop community of Christiana — Today, it’s a popular meat-and-three worth the drive to get there — Just take a look at all the people waiting for a table on a recent Sunday morning! If you love down-home Southern cooking, this is definitely the place for you. Go for the Sunday buffet or hear live bluegrass or Americana music on Friday and Saturday nights. And if you’re bringing the kids, bring things to do while you wait for a table, because trust me, you will be waiting for a table!
This free archaeology festival is right up my family’s alley! There will be archaeology displays, hands-on crafts and activities, games, and archaeology experts on hand from across Tennessee. If you’re as fascinated by Tennessee history as we are, this event is a must-do. It’s happening Sunday, September 23rd from 1-4pm at The Pavilion at Oaklands Park.
This might just be the best-kept secret for kids in Middle Tennessee right now. The Smyrna Outdoor Adventure Center is filled with all kinds of family fun, including an exhibit hall featuring everything you ever wanted to know about turtles, an Adventure Zone with climbing walls for all ages, and a Discovery Den where you’ll find crafts, games, and stories. Special programs include coding classes for kids, parents nights out, homeschool programs and critter encounters, so be sure and check out the schedule before you visit.
Rangers say the best way to get an overview of this historic battlefield is on a bike and every Saturday morning between April and October, you can take a two-hour bike tour and learn the story of one of the Civil War’s most important battles. This tour is on my family bucket list — I’ve heard great things about it! Check out a tour schedule and reserve your spots here.
Having a major university in town means plenty of opportunities to expose your kids to the arts without spending a fortune on tickets. More than a hundred performances will take place on MTSU’s campus this year, including dance recitals, concerts, and theatrical productions like 9 to 5 and Noises Off! Check out the MTSU Arts calendar to see what’s coming up this season.
This Civil War-era home has a rich history, which you can learn about on a tour of the mansion. Homeschoolers will want to sign up for Autumn in the Oaks Educational Field Day on September 20th, when kids can participate in clothes washing, butter churning, quill writing, and rug beating among other 1860s activities. Artisans and living history demonstrators will be on hand to share their crafts and talents. In October, ‘Mansion in Mourning‘ tours are offered October 19-31 and Flashlight Nights are October 24th-October 27th. On Flashlight Nights, visitors can tour the museum at night by the light of their flashlights — This event is on my Family Bucket List!
Hickory Falls in nearby Smyrna is a solid place for lunch or dinner, but what really makes this restaurant stand out is its carrot cake. Trust me when I tell you they make the best carrot cake you’ve ever tasted — It’s so popular, in fact, that you can buy it by the slice or by the cake!
We love this place so much, we drove nine boys here from Nashville for my son’s birthday party. AND IT WAS AWESOME. There’s bowling, bumper cars, tons of arcade games, and an indoor foam dart arena — and we found this place to be very family friendly compared to some of the others we’ve visited. Also, compared to other kids’ birthday party venues, the rates here are fantastic. My kids are begging to come back here for a family night.
In days of yore, pharmacies almost always included a lunch counter. That’s still the case at the Murfreesboro’s Reeves-Sain Drug Store — Its Soda Shoppe serves up soups, salads, sandwiches, cake and pie, plus milkshakes that locals swear are the best in town. It’s a fun stop for any Murfreesboro day out.
This popular family farm is just minutes from Murfreesboro and has tons of family-friendly activities, including a giant corn maze, playgrounds, wagon rides, hands-on farm animal encounters, pony rides, tractor train, mega slides, and much more. Lucky Ladd’s pumpkin patch opens September 22nd and its Family Fun Fall Festival runs through October 31st.
If you haven’t bicycled on Murfreesboro’s beautiful greenways, you are definitely missing out! 13 miles of trails wind through the heart of Murfreesboro and take you through lush forests, past a small scenic dam, through historic Civil War sites, and along the Stones River. We especially love this greenway because you can use it to get places, like the Stones River Battlefield, Cannonsburgh Village, and one of our favorite restaurants, the Green Dragon (see below). Check out a map of the greenway system before you get started, and consider printing off a Greenway Scavenger Hunt before you go for even more fun.
Located right off the Stones River Greenway, this is a favorite lunch stop for us on our bike rides. Stepping inside this cozy pub feels just like entering the pages of The Lord of the Rings, and that’s just what the owners have in mind. Not only is the food healthy and delicious, the place is also family-friendly — There’s a nook filled with books and games to keep the kids busy and a dart board in back. We can’t get enough of this place!
While you’re in Murfreesboro, you’ll definitely want to make time to let the kids stand smack dab in the middle of the state of Tennessee. The geographic center is marked with a monument and landscaping and can be found at 307 Old Lascassas Road, near the MTSU campus.
You can have a full day of fun at this place! Activities include go-karts, mini golf, a driving range, batting cages, and an arcade that has a max flight simulator. Go USA Fun Park is open seven days a week
This is another item on my Family Bucket List — The families I know who’ve gone on this free tour rave about it. Smyrna’s Nissan plant is the highest-volume Vehicle Assembly Plant in North America, producing up to 640,000 vehicles a year, and the company offers motorized tours of its plant every Tuesday and Thursday for ages 10 and up. One note — You’ll need to make reservations at least a month in advance — It’s a very popular tour!
This hip downtown bakery has delicious baked goods as well as soups, salads, and sandwiches. But the French Macarons are their specialty — and they’re to die for! Grab a bag to go — You’ll definitely want to save some for later!
At this Murfreesboro park, you’ll find five miles of family-friendly backcountry trails taking you through hardwood forest, alongside the Stones River, past limestone sinks and outcrops, and beside an old stone wall believed to have been built during the Civil War. There’s even a paved Tree Trail and a Sensory Trail for the kids, as well as a Wilderness Station with ongoing family programs including kayak floats and family hikes. Critter Encounters are scheduled every Saturday at the Wilderness Station from 1:30pm-2pm. You can find a trail map here, or contact the Wilderness Station for more information.
This is THE place to go in nearby Smyrna for takeout lunch or dinner and when you taste their burgers, shakes, and ‘kustard,’ you’ll understand why! It’s old-fashioned roadside diner food at its best and worth the wait for a meal. My kids give Karin’s an A+++.
One of my favorite Murfreesboro secrets is the Tennessee Miller Coliseum, where dozens of horse competitions take place all year long — and almost all of them are free! If you have a child who loves horses, this is a great family activity you can all enjoy together. Check out the coliseum’s schedule for upcoming events.
There’s a room for every skill level at Murfreesboro Escape Rooms and your team will have 60 minutes to come up with a way out. Teens in particular LOVE escape rooms, so if you haven’t tested your wits in one yet, here’s your opportunity! Each room features a different scenario and set of clues — Choose a room based on your confidence and expertise.
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This post was written in partnership with the Rutherford County CVB. All opinions are our own.
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Aloha Lindsay ~
Love the new look of your blog, great photo of you! Thanks for all the good suggestions for Murfreesboro!