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 20, 2019
If you’re like me, you might be freaking out a little right now as summer approaches and the kids get out of school. What are you going to do with them? How will you get them off screens and make sure they’re having fun? Luckily, I’ve got a solution for you — I’ve got 65 solutions, actually! This is my 19th summer entertaining kids as a stepmom/mom and I’m pretty sure by now I’ve experienced pretty much everything for kids in Middle Tennessee! And now I’m sharing all we’ve discovered with you — Whether you have toddlers, teens, or somewhere in between, you’ll find plenty of ideas on this list to keep your kids occupied and have fun yourself, too. Have a fantastic summer, everyone!
This has become one of our favorite summer activities in Nashville. You’ll find Grand Ole Golf and Cotton & Snow right across the street from the Opryland Hotel. Grand Ole Golf has two inventive (and shady!) mini-golf courses that will keep your entire family entertained. Afterward, celebrate the season with treats at Cotton & Snow, which features Hawaiian-style shaved ice in many creative flavor combinations, locally-sourced ice cream, and an organic cotton candy bar. A few things to note: Grand Ole Golf also has go-karts, which I hear are the best in Nashville, and you might want to call ahead and make sure Cotton & Snow is open. A couple of times when we went, they had closed early — I’m assuming the couldn’t staff the place for some reason. I also recommend you do Grand Ole Golf in the daytime or on a weeknight if you can — It’s a lot more fun when fewer people are playing.
Whether your kids are just starting out or they’re bicycle riding pros, the Harpeth River Greenway is definitely the most family-friendly place to ride bikes in Nashville. This 12-mile stretch of greenway runs from Morton Mill all the way to Warner Park, with plenty of trailheads and parking areas along the way so that you can make the trip as short or as long as you’d like. The greenway goes through fields and forests and along the Harpeth River, and it’s completely flat. My favorite place to park is the public parking area inside the Harpeth Valley Golf Center parking lot. Turn left as soon as you pull into the golf center and you’ll see it.
Improv isn’t only for adults — At 10am on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, catch improv shows designed just for kids at Third Coast Comedy Club. Run time is about 60 minutes, no two shows are ever the same, and the kids in the audience get to participate. These shows are designed for ages 5-12, but adults are welcome too. Admission is just ten dollars for your entire family! Get tickets and more information on the Third Coast website.
We’ve picked strawberries, apples, peaches, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and more over the years — It has become one of our must-do activities each spring and summer. It’s currently strawberry season, but you’ll find various fruits and vegetables available for picking across Middle Tennessee all summer long. We love Bradley’s Kountry Acres for super sweet strawberries, the beautiful Shade Tree Farm and Orchard in Adams for peaches, and the Bee Sweet Berry Farm in Lewisburg for blueberries and blackberries. All are an easy and scenic drive from Nashville. Here’s a listing of even more pick-your-own farms in Middle Tennessee.
If you have little ones and haven’t been to one of the downtown library’s children’s programs, you’re missing out on something spectacular! Weekly storytimes (most Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9:30, 10:30, and 11:30) are a must for Nashville parents and kids. They feature an extravaganza of puppets, songs, juggling, and stories, and they’re 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 the great puppeteer Tom Tichenor’s extensive collection. Be sure and park in the library parking deck and get your parking ticket validated in the lobby so that your parking cost will be no more than $1.50, depending on how long you stay. You’ll also want to make time to explore the library’s second floor, which is for kids and their parents only and includes a large indoor play structure.
Did you know Middle Tennessee is home to an ecosystem unlike anything else in the world? It’s called a limestone cedar glade and a number of them are managed and protected by the state in Lebanon and Murfreesboro. Cedar glades are home to dozens of extremely rare plants and flowers, including the Tennessee Coneflower, which was thought to be extinct until a Vanderbilt ecologist re-discovered them in 1968. Read my full guide to visiting the Tennessee Cedar Glades here, then go visit one for yourself. The glades’ rare flowers will be blooming all summer long. The Couchville Cedar Glade State Natural Area offers parking and easy access to a large cedar glade with lots to see, and Cedars of Lebanon State Park has lots of lovely cedar glades along the park’s trails.
The Kids Bowl Free program offers kids 2 free games every day of summer at participating bowling centers — and there are many in Middle Tennessee. You might have to pay for shoe rental depending on which center you register with, but it’s still a great deal on a few hours of air conditioned fun in the summertime!
I’ve heard the new Tennessee State Museum is fantastic (also STILL FREE), and I’ve decided to save our first visit for one of the hottest days this summer. We loved the old state museum, but I have to admit the parking situation was pretty awful, so I’m very excited that the new museum has its own parking lot. The state has so many interesting artifacts, including a mummy, a lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair, a murderer’s thumb, and so much more — I can’t wait to see what’s on display now. Do note the museum is closed on Mondays.
This is truly an unforgettable experience and I think it may be my all-time favorite day trip out of Nashville. Ethridge, Tennessee is home to the most conservative branch of 250 Amish families in the United States. Head to the Amish Welcome Center (there are two, side by side, but you want this one with the owner named Diane) and sign up for a wagon tour — Chances are Diane’s son, Sam, will be leading it. He will take you and your family in a horse drawn cart to four or five Amish farms, where you’ll have the opportunity to buy produce, jams and jellies, fresh eggs, baked goods, furniture, birdhouses, and more Amish goods. The shopping is fun but what makes this tour unforgettable is seeing how the Amish live and work together without electricity, running water, a/c, or Internet. It truly is like stepping back in time 150 years and it is fascinating.
Although you can drive to the farms yourself to buy Amish goods (Diane has a map at the front desk), the wagon tour is worth it because Sam has grown up in this community and knows the families very well. Not only will he tell you all about their history and how they live, he has earned their trust and that’s very clear by the number of young people who run out to see him at nearly every stop. Sam and his mom have spent years helping their Amish neighbors with modern day needs and when we show up with him, I feel like we’re trusted and the experience is a good one. I have seen some incredible things on these tours and I can’t recommend the trip enough. Bring cash, because you will definitely want to make some purchases — We love the fried pies, the produce, the blueberry fudge, and their roasted peanuts in particular. And go on a day that’s not too hot — There’s very little shade on the farms. And remember — no pictures! It’s very upsetting to the Amish to have their pictures taken and goes against their beliefs. I took this picture at the Welcome Center and then I put my phone away.
We always follow up our Amish tour with a meal at Shaffer Farms Texas BBQ, which I consider to be the best barbecue in Tennessee. Stillhouse Hollow Falls is also nearby and it’s a great, easy hike for families, with plenty of places to play in the water. It’s a perfect spot to cool off on a summertime visit.
There’s so much to do at Adventure Science Center — Climb the Adventure Tower, check out the human body exhibit, or go on a Space Chase. There’s enough to do here to fill an entire afternoon. I will say that while there’s a toddler area, my kids found this place overwhelming when they were very small and we had better luck at Murfreesboro’s Discovery Center (check it out below). Adventure Science Center is perfect for grade school-aged children, and well worth the cost of admission at this age.
I think cave tours are best in the summertime, when your kids will really appreciate the natural coolness of the cave on a hot day — and one of the best and most informative cave tours in Tennessee is at Dunbar Cave State Park, just a short drive from Nashville. More than 8 miles of cave passages have been mapped at Dunbar Cave so far and the parts of the cave that are open to the public are absolutely fascinating. What’s most interesting to me, though, is this cave’s history — There’s evidence of human activity here dating back thousands of years, and you can actually see Native American petroglyphs and pictographs inside the cave. In fact, Dunbar Cave is the only publicly-owned cave in the US where you can view ancient Native American art! Tours are offered seven days a week this summer and include several different specialized tours. Reserve your spots and pay for your tickets ahead of time here. You’ll definitely want to have lunch in Clarksville before you go back home — Check out my favorite Clarksville restaurants here.
There’s always something good for dinner at the Nashville Farmer’s Market, and I’ve found my kids are a lot more likely to eat their vegetables if they’ve picked them out themselves!. The market is open from 8am to 6pm in the summer time and you’ll find local meats and cheese, fruits and vegetables, breads, and plants. Inside is the food court — It’s a great place for lunch with the kids. Don’t forget to get a scoop of Jeni’s ice cream for dessert! And make sure your kids have bathing suits on underneath their clothes, because on a hot summer day you’ll definitely want to spend time at the Bicentennial Mall’s Rivers of Tennessee Fountains outside!
Just outside the Nashville Farmers’ Market, you’ll find the Bicentennial Mall’s Rivers of Tennessee Fountains, one of my kids’ absolute favorite places to go when they were small. This is a great place for kids who aren’t strong swimmers to stay cool on a hot day — and if you go here before visiting the farmers’ market, chances are your kids will happily follow you while you’re doing your outdoor food shopping after they’ve gotten good and wet outside. Yes, I’m speaking from experience. Not that your kids will care, but the 31 fountains here represent Tennessee’s major lakes and rivers, while the water trough symbolizes the Mississippi River. All I know is that on a hot day in July, I’m running through the fountains, too!
After a friend took her family here recently and raved about the Tennessee Safari Park, I’m now determined to make the trip this summer with my kids. In Alamo, Tennessee, there is a drive-through safari park. You’ll drive 5.5 miles of roads in your car and feed animals along the way. My friend says the drive seems short mile-wise, but takes much longer than you’d think because so many animals come up to your car to eat. After your drive, you can go to the park’s Walk Through Zoo. There’s also a petting zoo, a playground for the kids, concessions, and a gift shop. Looks like fun to me!
One of the most unique Civil War tours in the country takes place each summer 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 make reservations well in advance of the tour. Check out the events section of the Stones River National Battlefield Facebook page to see the tour schedule and make reservations.
Each summer, Apple stores across the country offer summer camp sessions for kids, free of charge. My son attended one last summer and LOVED it — and I loved that he learned some new coding skills. 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.
This tour at Noble Springs Dairy in Franklin is designed to appeal to all ages and includes lots of fun activities. 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 includes many hands-on opportunities, like 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. Check the website for tour dates.
We did the Nashville Zoo’s Zoofari Slumber one year when my kids were small and it’s still one of my all-time favorite family activities — and I don’t even like camping! Twice each summer, the Nashville Zoo holds an overnight camping event on its property. You bring your tent, sleeping bags, and personal items to the zoo and set everything up in the big field… The zoo brings the entertainment. The animals are put away for the night, but that’s okay — There’s plenty to do! Activities include hayrides, carousel and zipline rides (until 8:30 pm), inflatables (until 9:30pm), an animal show, crafts, dinner and a marshmallow roast, and a full breakfast in the morning. It is so. Much. Fun. This year’s Zoofari Slumbers are May 25th and August 31st. Check out the zoo’s events schedule for all the details.
This is one of my favorite secrets — Nashville has a publicly-owned waterfall in the heart of West Meade! Drive to 404 Hathaway Court in Nashville and check it out. I recommend you go the day after a big rain for best results. This pocket park has even more surprises — You can check out my full post on the West Meade Waterfall here.
The Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program makes it easy for your child to earn a free book from B&N. Download the Summer Reading packet, fill it out (this year, your kids need to read and record eight books), and take it to Barnes and Noble between August 1st and August 31st to trade it in for your FREE book! Even better for you, if you bring your school’s summer reading list, you can get a free hot or iced coffee from the cafe. This makes for one great afternoon out! There is a special section of free books to choose from at the store, but there are some excellent selections available and kids are welcome to choose their free book from any reading level. This program runs through sixth grade.
Books-a-Million is offering a free Diary of a Wimpy Kid drawstring backpack to kids who read and record four books from its Summer Reading Adventure list. Get all the details and download your summer reading journal here.
Walk the many garden paths, take a riverboat ride, watch the stunning Aqua Fountain Show, feast on ice cream, and explore to your heart’s content, all in Opryland Resort’s climate-controlled atriums. But do wait until your children are old enough to walk on their own- This hotel is not stroller-friendly! Also, parking is super-expensive at the hotel, so park at Opry Mills and walk over — or take the free shuttle that runs between the mall and the hotel. For most of you, the walk will be easier — It only takes a few minutes, and a painted stripe on the ground guides you straight from the parking lot to the hotel’s entrance.
I love to get the kids outside in the summer, but I’ve learned that our outdoor activities are a lot more successful when there’s water involved! That means all of our summer hikes have to include a creek — and one of the best can be found at Montgomery Bell State Park. A wide, shallow, and very clear creek runs alongside much of the park’s trails and it’s perfect for a day of play. You can find the creek right beside the park’s nature center, but I think it’s best along the park’s Spillway Trail, which has its own parking area. The park’s lake spills into a creek — Walk beside the creek until it levels out and you’ll see plenty of great, shallow spots to play. Looking for a fun family hike? One of my favorites is at this park and at 5 miles, it’s great for older kids. I wrote a post with trail directions here.
Nashville Sounds games have to be the most family-friendly sporting event in town. The new stadium is clean and beautiful, it’s never too crowded, the entertainment between innings is very kid-friendly, the tickets are affordable (there are always deals available), and the seats are comfortable. What’s not to love? Plus, Von Elrod’s is right across the street, and their hot dogs are absolutely amazing. Consider this a perfect family evening out in Nashville.
We practically lived at Warner Park when my kids were small — There’s so much to do there! Start at the Nature Center, which is filled with educational toys and books and learning activities — On a hot day, this is a great way to keep the kids occupied for an hour or so. While you’re there, check out loaner backpacks for the kids and then head out onto the Hungry Hawk trail, a trail designed especially for kids that’s located at the trailhead just beyond the Nature Center. The backpacks are filled with all kinds of things designed to make your kids’ hike more fun and informative. The trail crosses a creek that’s perfect for splashing in on a hot day, but our favorite part of the trail is the bird blind, where you can put a scoopful of bird seed on platforms built for the birds and then stand behind the blind and watch the birds show up by the dozens.
You’ll also want to check out the playground in the field behind the Nature Center (my friends and I have always called it Dirt Park!), which has all kinds of natural features (like MUD) designed to encourage kids to play the old fashioned way. My kids spent hours playing here when they were young, and whenever we visited, I just brought two big beach towels and wrapped their muddy selves in them before strapping them into their car seats for the ride home.
The park staff lead TONS of really fun guided hikes and events every season. Check out the schedule on the Warner Park website and reserve your spots quick when registration opens — They fill up fast!
We finally got around to doing this a couple of years ago and I’m now convinced the Tennessee State Capitol has to have one of the most interesting backstories of any Capitol in the nation! Two men are actually buried in the walls, and they were mortal enemies. Why? You’ll have to take the tour to find out! Tours run 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.
Located in Kingston Springs just outside Nashville, this is a perfect first canoe ride for young children– In most places, the river is only a couple of feet deep and there are plenty of spots to stop for a splash — plus there’s a chance you’ll see some amazing wildlife. (I often see celebrities out on the Harpeth, too!) It does get extremely crowded on the Harpeth on weekends, so try and carve out a weekday for this float if you can. The entire float takes 2-3 hours. There are several outfitters to choose from — We like renting from Foggy Bottom.
Shelby Park is just five minutes from downtown Nashville, yet you’ll feel like you’re worlds away when you get on its trails. Walk along the Cumberland River or veer off into the wetlands and forest. I think the best way to enjoy the park is on a guided tour — We did a tour at dusk recently and spotted deer, heard a woodcock, and watched a very busy beaver population at work. (Find out how to spot these beavers on your own here– It’s pretty easy!) We’ve also gone to see the popular Mr. Bond’s Science Guys at the Shelby Park Nature Center — They perform for free there several times a year. Check the schedule to see all that’s happening at Shelby Park this summer– The programming here is excellent.
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 the month from 11AM to 4PM, hour-long workshops are offered all day long — The last group starts at 3pm. The workshops are $10 per child/participant and projects are adjusted for age and skill level (no minimum or maximum age). I consider Earth Experience a must-do for anyone with kids! While you’re in Murfreesboro, you might want to stop for a meal before or after the museum. You can find some of my favorite kid-friendly restaurants here.
What better place to learn and have fun on a hot day than at the Frist? This stately downtown museum has plenty of exhibits for adults to love, but kids will go crazy for the Martin ArtQuest Gallery, where a room full of innovative art-making stations will keep them occupied for as long as you’re willing to let them create. There are drawing, printing, and printmaking stations, a shadow theater, stop-motion animation, an interactive Everbright wall, a full-body animated digital painting experience, and much more. Admission is free for kids under 18 and everyone gets in free on Free Family Festival Day June 30th, so this is definitely a summer activity to make time for!
Harpeth River State Park is really a series of smaller parks, each with their own amazing features. The Hidden Lake Trail takes you high up on a ridge that circles a beautiful quarry lake with a rich history- It used to be the biggest swimming pool in the world! Today, the area has returned to nature, but evidence of its 1930s-era glory days still remains, making it fun for older kids and their parents to explore. Here’s more on Hidden Lake Trail and how to get there.
Located just outside Nashville in Kingston Springs, the short but steep Bluff Overlook trail will take you straight up to what I think is the best overlook in Nashville. Right across from that trail, you’ll find another short trail that leads to Pattison Forge, an amazing man-made tunnel built for Montgomery Bell by slaves back in the 1800s. I wrote more about both these trails and their rich history here.
Mound Bottom is accessible only on guided hikes offered by the park and it’s absolutely worth seeing — These sacred Indian mounds are breathtaking and standing on top of the tallest one is an experience you’ll never forget. And if you see a guided hike to May’s Mace Bluff on the park’s events page, jump on it — It’s a steep and kind of scary climb to the top, but you’ll get to see an ancient Indian petroglyph at another incredible overlook. This is another hike that’s definitely best for tweens and teens — but they will love it.
We’ve got a lot of historic sites in the city to choose from, but The Hermitage is definitely one of the best in the country. To add to the fun, The Hermitage has am interactive multimedia tour for kids that’s synced to play along with the adult tour. It includes touch-screen photos and games/activities at tour stops and when I visited with my daughter, she LOVED it. Both the kids’ and adults’ audio tours really add to the experience and are definitely worth the extra cost. Save The Hermitage for older kids — Tickets are on the expensive side and older children will get far more out of it than younger ones. Also, don’t miss the interpretive walk through the woods to the field where the slave quarters used to stand. It’s our favorite part of the experience.
This lush, shaded greenway trail beside the Cumberland River in Ashland City is 3.7 paved miles long, making for a perfect 7-mile family bike ride that’s comfortable even on a hot summer day. The Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail is completely flat and it’s absolutely beautiful — If your family enjoys riding bikes, consider this trail a must-do.
You don’t have to leave Nashville to find excellent 400 million-year-old fossils that are yours for the taking– In fact, they’re so easy to find that even your preschoolers will be filling their pockets after just a few minutes of searching. Read my post on fossil hunting in and around Nashville to learn where to go— This has become one of our favorite activities!
Take your fossils for identification to a Fossil Finders meeting at Fort Negley in Nashville, held on the second Saturday of each month from 10am-12pm. Geologists and other experts are on hand to help guide your search through Fort Negley’s own rich pile of fossils and answer any questions you might have.
I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this fantastic park in Murfreesboro. Not only does Barfield Crescent Park have more than 7 miles of beautiful wooded trails that take you rock-hopping through limestone sinks and along the Stones River, but the park’s Wilderness Station also holds weekly children’s programs and guided hikes throughout the summer that will teach even your smallest children all about nature and animals. You can find a schedule on the Outdoor Murfreesboro Facebook page. Pack a picnic and plan a day trip here for a nature program and time afterward to check out the park’s resident birds and amphibians and explore the trails. You won’t regret it!
This is another item on my family bucket list that I’m determined to check off this summer — Each year, the Nashville Symphony offers a surprising amount of free community concerts in some really beautiful locations all over Middle Tennessee. It’s a great way to expose your kids to classical music in a friendly environment. Bring a picnic, blankets, and lawn chairs and enjoy! Here’s this summer’s schedule:
Starting June 10, these 30-minute Camp Creativity craft sessions feature a different craft every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am-noon, with a new session every 30 minutes. The cost is $3 per child for ages 3 and up. The crafts are really fun and you can check them out online before you decide which sessions you want to attend – Parents must remain in the store, but do not need to be in the craft room with the kids during the session. Go here to learn more or check out your local Michaels calendar of events.
While I like the idea of family fun centers, they’re often so crowded/dirty/noisy/rough that I want to run pretty much as soon as I arrive. Happily, that is not the case with The City Forum in Clarksville. We spent an afternoon here recently and I can tell you it is 100% worth the drive from Nashville to get here. At The City Forum, you’ll find go-karts, bumper cars, laser tag, mini-golf, bowling, and a large arcade with games the entire family can enjoy. It is super-clean, very spacious, not too crowded, family-friendly, and I thought the activities were very fairly priced. About $25 per person will cover around two activities and arcade games. The City Forum also has two restaurants with far better food than you’d expect from a family fun center — but if you’re smart, you’ll convince your kids to head to Miss Lucille’s Marketplace afterward for lunch at the cafe and a little shopping time in what has to be the best antique mall in all of Tennessee. You can easily plan a day trip or staycation weekend in Clarksville that your whole family will love. Check out more things to do and some of my favorite Clarksville restaurants here.
The Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society holds public star parties throughout the summer all over Nsahville and Middle Tennessee. BSAS members bring their ginormous telescopes to the events so that anyone can look through them and get an explanation of what they’re seeing. We went to one and saw Saturn! Both kids have been begging for their own telescope ever since. This activity is always free and I consider it a summer must-do. For a complete listing of upcoming star parties, go here.
On certain Saturdays in the summer time, you can take a guided tour of the Stones River Battlefield with a Park Ranger– ON YOUR BIKE. Those in the know say the bike tour is the best way to see everything on this important Civil War battlefield, where stories include ‘the fighting in Slaughter Pen, the desperate stand of the Union army along the Nashville Pike, and the terrible climax to the battle that bloodied the banks of the Stones River.’ The tours are free, but you do need to call ahead to make a reservation. Check the schedule to find out when the next tour is taking place and reserve your spots.
There’s something for everyone at SOAR, a massive four-level climbing tower, which has 110 different climbing elements. Got smaller kids? Not to worry- The ground level features a special section built especially for kids ages 4-7, with 19 different elements. People rave about this place. Your more adventurous kids won’t want to miss it.
We took a day trip to see Cumberland Caverns for my birthday a few summers ago and I’m so glad we did — This is Tennessee’s largest cave system (32 miles of cave discovered so far) and it’s not to be missed! Walking tours depart on the hour seven days a week between 9am and 5pm. Go during the week in the afternoon (after the field trips have gone for the day) and you’re likely to have the guide to yourself! Be sure and read my post on Cumberland Caverns before you go— The history of these caves is fascinating and not easy to find online. I did some digging and found great information I wish I’d known ahead of time.
Zoovie Nights include games, inflatables, music, crafts, a DJ, and after-hours access to the carousel and zipline ride! When the sun goes down, the evening’s feature film will play on a large inflatable screen. Zoovie Nights are free for members and just $6 for anyone entering the zoo after 6pm. Check out the zoo schedule for details on upcoming Zoovie Night dates.
Summertime means sunflower time in Murfreesboro. After taking last summer off, this year Batey Farms has planted a field full of the famous flowers at The Grove at Williamson Place. Keep an eye on the Batey Farms Facebook page in July for updates on the sunflower viewing schedule — The sunflowers will be ready in late July or early August, depending on the weather, and they’ll only be in bloom for a short time. Batey Farms has planted sunflowers in the past and thousands have flocked to take pictures in front of them — It is truly an amazing sight, it makes for unforgettable family photos, and it’s on my summer 2019 bucket list!
Cheekwood is another one of those places where we practically lived when my kids were small, so I’ve learned a lot about it over the years. One of my favorite insider tips is that they offer two different scavenger hunts for kids — One is for the outside gardens, the other is for the mansion — it’s perfect for rainy or very hot days! Grab directions at the mansion’s front desk or at the visitor’s center and hunt for all the items on the list. It’s not easy, so you’ll have as much fun as the kids trying to find everything. This can take a good two hours and it’s a great way to expend some energy. The guards inside the mansion love to help out on the tougher ones.
Tired of the crowds on the Harpeth River? Drive an hour and a half to the Buffalo River for a serene float down the beautiful Buffalo River. Rent canoes or kayaks from Buffalo Bud’s in Linden for a 2-3 hour float or check out Crazy Horse Canoe Rentals in Waynesboro (they have kayaks available, too) for a 5-6 hour float that includes a rope swing and waterfall. For the beginners out there, I can tell you that even though the canoes look easier, kayaks are definitely the way to go. I have never flipped a kayak and we have flipped canoes many times — It’s hard to maintain balance with rowdy kids inside! We generally call ahead to make sure they have double kayaks available and ask them to set them aside for us once we’re on our way.
Every summer, Regal offers its Summer Movie Express family film series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am. G-rated and PG-rated films are both available and the options are always awesome. Daycares and camps often make use of these movies and they generally opt for the G-rated movie, so the PG option is going to be less crowded and quieter. You will also want to go early to be sure you get a good seat. See the full listing of movies and find the nearest Regal Cinema near you here.
AMC is offering its own version of this program for kids every Wednesday at 10am. For just $4 per ticket, your child gets admission to a popular movie AND a Kids Pack, containing popcorn, a drink, and fruit snacks. Tickets are available only at the box office.
The Customs House in downtown Clarksville has to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Tennessee — It’s also the state’s second largest general interest museum, and it has plenty to keep your entire family entertained. Here, you’ll find a diverse assortment of fine art, local history, and lots of interactive kids activities. The bottom floor of the museum is devoted to kids and includes toys, games, books, and arts and crafts. We especially loved the bubble cave, the model train room, and the LEGO wall, and I also loved that we happened to be in town on the second Saturday of the month — a free admission day at the Customs House! Regular admission is just $7 for adults, $3 for kids 6-18, and free for kids five and under.
Afterward, be sure and explore Clarksville’s incredibly charming downtown. Kids in particular will love the Humble Universe Disturbers Used Bookstore, which has an impressive young readers section that’ll make your kid want to curl up with a book there for a little while. The Downtown Commons is an emerald green lawn in the heart of Clarksville’s downtown that’s often stocked with outdoor games and foam building blocks for kids. Next door to the Commons, you’ll find Golly G’s, the best place in Clarksville to stop for ice cream and sweet treats. Other delicious and kid-friendly restaurants downtown include the Blackhorse Pub, the Yada Yada Yada Deli, and Strawberry Alley Ale Works. And there’s more for kids in Clarksville — We spent an entire weekend here and had a blast. Check out the post I wrote about it here.
This little-known waterfall is just over an hour from Nashville on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Park in the Fall Hollow parking area and you’ll find a paved walk to a platform overlooking a large waterfall. Keep going down the steep dirt path 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.
If your kids are getting older or need to burn off a whole lot of energy, Beaman Park is a great place for a day hike, especially in summer, when its crystal clear limestone-bed creek is a perfect spot for splashing. Beaman Park has a beautiful 3.5 mile loop trail through forest along Tennessee’s Highland Rim, as well as a small Nature Center with kid-friendly activities. Read more about hiking Beaman Park with kids here.
You’ll find tons of activities for every age and stage at Murfreesboro’s Discovery Center, 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 like We are Tennessee and the Science of Music! 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. I found it to be less intimidating for my kids than Nashville’s Adventure Science Center, especially when they were small, and just as fun.
Located by the riverfront in downtown Nashville, Cumberland Park 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. It’s a fun way to spend a hot day in downtown Nashville!
Radnor Lake State Park, is definitely one of the most beautiful trails in Nashville. It winds all the way around Radnor Lake and you’ll typically see lots of wildlife along the way. We like to take the South Lake Trail to the Lake Trail, which makes a loop all the way around Radnor Lake. The best time to go in summer is on a weekday (Its gets super crowded on weekends), preferably on Wednesday between 7am and 1pm, when the park’s aviary is open. The aviary includes a 550-foot boardwalk and nature center and houses four non-flighted raptors and one non-flighted American Bald Eagle. Sightings of American Bald Eagles in the wild are becoming more and more common at Radnor Lake in the summertime — The best place to see them is on the Lake Trail observation deck — They like hanging out at the large point in the middle of the lake. Here’s even more information on hiking Radnor Lake with kids.
Lucky Ladd Farms pretty much has it all — Tennessee’s largest petting zoo, pony rides, playgrounds, mega slides, wagon rides, gem mining, cedar glade trails, and a splash/bubble zone on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer. If you want a family farm experience your kids will go nuts for, this is definitely the place to do it. Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for kids ages 3 and up, and free for the two-and-under set. Certain activities at the farm cost extra.
Located just an hour and 15 minutes from Nashville, the Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky is definitely worth the drive and makes for fun-filled day trip. The boat tour itself isn’t too long, so it’s perfect for short attention spans (don’t worry, you only have to hunch over at the very start of the tour!) and you’ll also take a guided tour of the beautiful woods outside, where there’s a butterfly house and a mysterious blue hole. The Lost River Cave also has a zipline now and one of the best gift shops I’ve ever visited.
Surprise your kids by taking them to High Garden, a whimsical East Nashville tea room and apothecary that looks like something straight out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to order — The staff will happily help you pick out just the right brew.
Port Royal State Park isn’t far from Nashville and it includes a documented stretch of the actual Trail of Tears, where thousands of Cherokee Indians lost their lives on a forced march westward, away from their homes. Be sure and tell your children the backstory before you go- What we uncovered surprised us. You can read the full story about Tennessee’s Trail of Tears and what to expect at Port Royal State Park here.
You really don’t have to be a car enthusiast to appreciate Lane Motor Museum – Everyone I know who’s been has loved it. You’ll see nearly 400 cars, including the world’s smallest street-approved car as well as a car that’s the size of three semis parked side by side. You’ll see a wooden car, flying cars, and floating cars, and there’s even an indoor playground for little ones. Admission’s not bad, either– Adult tickets run $12, but kids ages 6-17 are just $3 and kids under six are free!
Currently on my summer family bucket list is a two-hour guided tour with Natchez Trace Stables. Located less than an hour from Nashville off the Natchez Trace Parkway, this family-owned stable offers guided daytime and night-time rides. Visitors rave about the experience and I can’t wait to check it out with my family! Call ahead to make a reservation: 931-682-3706.
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 is truly riveting. 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 — My children were fascinated by Davis, both because of his youth and his loyalty. Be sure and start with the short film in the museum, which tells his life story very well. His experience can spark some great conversations with your kids. Do note that the house is not air-conditioned — In the summer, you’ll want to tour it in the morning or on an overcast day.
People have strong opinions about cronuts — They either love them or they hate them. As for me, I’M OBSESSED and I think Five Daughters Bakery’s cronuts are particularly amazing. The bakery is owned and operated by Franklin couple Isaac and Stephanie Meek and named for their five daughters. With two locations in Nashville and one at The Factory in Franklin, 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 palate.
Here’s another top item on my family’s summer bucket list. Leipers Fork is an unforgettably quaint little town along the Harpeth River in Williamson County — I’ve heard the Leipers Fork Lawnchair Theater movie nights are awesome! Not only are the movie selections top rate this year, but from what I’ve read, the food at the concession stand is wonderful as well. Check out this year’s lineup:
One look at the events page for Tennessee State Parks will get you very excited about summertime! Parks rangers offer all kinds of activities for every age and stage. For little ones, there are Jr. Ranger camps, pontoon boat tours, and toddler hikes. For older kids, there are waterfall hikes, caving tours, full moon canoe floats, overnight backpacking trips for beginners, and much more. Check out the list and register well ahead of the event — These programs fill up fast and some are already full.
Every summer, the historic and very haunted Thomas House Hotel in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee holds ghost hunts on Friday and Saturday nights. Participants have dinner, learn about the hotel’s spooky history, take a guided ghost hunting tour, and then have the opportunity to ghost hunt all night long on their own, with a midnight buffet and breakfast in the morning. I’ve been waiting for my kids to get old enough to have fun doing this and this year’s the year — We’re going for my birthday! If you have tweens or teens who love a good harmless scare, this could make for a great mini getaway.