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 10, 2016
Ready or not, summer is coming– and if you want to have a great school break with your kids, you’d better be prepared. The good news? It’s easy to find fun things to do with your kids in and around Nashville, even if you don’t have a big summer budget. Here’s my massive list of all my favorite things to do with your kids in Nashville this summer, along with helpful hacks to make the most of your experiences. We’ve done most of these things ourselves over the years, and I’m thrilled to share with you all I’ve learned!
1. Visit a cedar glade, one of the world’s rarest ecosystems. Believe it or not, 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.
3. Spend the night at the Nashville Zoo! The zoo’s twice-annual Zoofari Slumber event is an unforgettable experience– We did this a couple of summers ago and it was worth every penny. Roast hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire, watch live animal shows, play in bounce houses, ride the carousel, and sleep in tents beneath the stars. This summer’s Zoofari dates are May 28/29. Another one is generally scheduled in late September.
4. Relive the era of Camelot at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival. This popular festival runs each weekend in May and everyone I know who’s gone ends up returning year after year. Here, you’ll find live jousting, Celtic music, comedy shows, crafts, food and drinks, and some very interesting people watching!
5. Set off on a Nashville mural scavenger hunt and photograph your kids in front of what you find. Nashville’s murals are one of the hottest things on Instagram right now, and I’ve decided to put the kids in the car one summer morning and photograph them in front of as many as we can track down. This ‘I believe in Nashville’ mural at Marathon Music Works is one of the most popular, but there are many more. Find partial listings here and here. Tip: You’ll have the best luck going on a weekday morning or early evening, when traffic is at a minimum and temporary streetside parking should be fairly easy to find– and go when it’s at least somewhat overcast– Squinty pictures are the worst.
6. Take the kids to see a $1 Summer Movie Express family film, offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am this summer at all Regal Cinemas. G-rated and PG-rated films are both available and the options are always awesome- Here’s the 2016 schedule:
—June 7, 8: The Lego Movie, Max
–June 14, 15: Goosebumps, The Iron Giant: Signature Edition
–June 21, 22: Pan, The Smurfs 2
–June 28, 29: Despicable Me 2, Home
–July 5, 6: Minions, The Peanuts Movie
–July 12, 13: Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip, Curious George
–July 19, 20: The Book of Life, Hotel Transylvania 2
–July 26, 27: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Shaun The Sheep
–August 2, 3: The Croods, The Lorax
7. Give the kids a close-up look at the stars and planets at a BSAS Star Party. The Barnard-Seyfert Astronomical Society holds public star parties throughout the summer all over 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 last summer and saw Saturn! Both kids have been begging for their own telescope ever since. This activity is free and I consider it a summer must-do. The next Star Party is May 13th at Bells Bend Outdoor Center; other summer Star Parties are taking place at Warner Park, Long Hunter State Park, and Bowie Nature Park. For a complete listing of upcoming star parties, go here.
8. Participate in a Summer Reading program. I highly recommend the Nashville Library’s Summer Reading Program— Everyone who participates (adults included) can get amnesty for their library fines, and so I rely on this program each year to save about $20. (Maybe more. I’m not saying.) You and your kids can also get free passes to one of several great participating Nashville destinations, which means another day of summer fun, financially COVERED. I usually use our Summer Reading certificates for a day at Adventure Science Center.
The other Summer Reading Program worth your kids’ time is at Barnes & Noble. Download and complete the reader’s journal, take it in to your local Barnes & Noble, and choose a free book from the summer reading section- and don’t worry, the selections are fantastic. My kids had trouble choosing.
To make summer reading more fun, I like to take the kids to different places around town, just to read. We’ve read on blankets at Cheekwood, in the tents beside the elephant exhibit at the zoo, on porch swings at Warner Park, and in comfy chairs at many, many coffee shops around town. Get creative! Your kids will love your reading adventures.
9. Expose the kids to art they can enjoy at Cheekwood’s International Playhouses exhibit. This installation opens May 21st and features six interactive playhouses designed to represent destinations around the world that the Cheek family visited in the 1920s and 30s. Playhouses were inspired by India, Scotland, Spain, Chile, and Japan. See if your kids can guess which playhouse represents which country!
10. Go on a fossil hunt. 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 and answer questions.
11. Head to Brownsville Saturday, June 4th, for the Hatchie Bird Fest. Brownsville is a two-hour drive from Nashville, but it’s totally worth it. This annual birdwatching event draws enthusiastic bird watchers from all over– and it jumpstarted my kids’ avid interest in birds. Sign up in advance for one of the Saturday hikes and learn from some of the best birders and conservationists in the nation. While you’re in town, don’t miss the Tina Turner Museum (It’s right beside the Heritage Center, where the Bird Fest takes place) or the completely outrageous Mindfield Cemetery nearby, which you just have to see to believe.
Some guy just up and built this, y’all, right in the middle of Brownsville.
On your way back from the Bird Fest, have lunch or early dinner at Dumplins in Jackson. And don’t skip dessert. Trust me on this one.
12. Watch high fliers at The Great Tennessee Air Show in Smyrna, June 4-5! If you’ve been to an air show, you know it’s a breathtaking experience you’ll never forget. Your kids will love it, too! This show includes the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the Breitling Jet Team, the Air Force F-22 Raptor and many more, as well as a Kid Zone for your little ones.
13. Enjoy a family-friendly outdoor activity at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary. Owl’s Hill events can be pricey ($10 per adult plus one child for many events) compared to similar events in Nashville, but my husband took the kids to Owl’s Hill on a free hike day recently and they LOVED it. My 11-year-old called it “a lifetime experience” and we’ll probably go back for the next Free Hiking Day on June 4th from 1-3pm.
What makes Owl’s Hill different from other parks in Nashville? The owls, of course! There are six non-releasable owls on the property, as well as trails, art classes, and guided tours. I can’t wait to see it for myself.
14. Cool off at Nashville Shores, a fantastic water park the whole family can enjoy. But be sure to read my tips about the park before you go — They’ll save you money and help you make the most of your visit!
15. In May, gather strawberries at a pick-your-own farm. May is prime growing season for Tennessee strawberries. Find a farm near you (There’s even one in Nashville now!) here. And always call before you go to make sure they’re not picked out. Read about our experience picking organic strawberries right here in Nashville— What a treat!
16. Don’t miss the Nashville International Puppet Festival, June 17th-19th. This puppet festival takes place at Nashville’s Downtown Library every three years and it’s one of my family’s all-time favorite activities. My adult stepdaughters are even coming home for the weekend, just to see the shows. Some of the best puppeteers from around the world come to showcase their art- Attending the (free!) shows is like traveling around the globe in just a few hours. Two important notes: Reserve your tickets in advance (available May 16th)– They go fast– and pay close attention to the age recommendations (clearly stated on each show’s information page) before taking your kids to a show. Some shows are great for preschoolers and young children. Some really… aren’t. And people in the audience won’t have a whole lot of sympathy if your three-year-old starts getting antsy in a show recommended for ages 10 and up.
17. Spend a day on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Check out this map to help you on your drive. Drive to Jackson Falls in Centerville (mile marker 404) and hike the short, paved trail 900 feet down to the base of the falls.
Continue on to the Old Trace drive at mile marker 403. From here, you can drive a two-mile section of the Old Trace, a major thoroughfare for soldiers and settlers 200 years ago. Old Trace rejoins the parkway at mile marker 401. Stop here for a ten-minute loop walk that will take you to a typical early 1900s tobacco farm.
Stop and tell the kids about Sheboss Place, located at mile marker 400. An inn, or stand, once stood here serving travelers on the Trace in the early 1800s. It was operated by Widow Cranfield and her second husband, a Native American who spoke little English. The story goes that when travelers approached with questions about accommodations, he would only point to his wife and say, ”She boss.”
Continue on to Fall Hollow Trail at milepost 391.9 in Hohenwald, where a five-minute walk will take you to a deck overlooking a waterfall. If you like, you can take a steeper trail down to the bottom of the falls.
At milepost 390, a short walk will take you to what’s left of the late 1800s phosphate mining town of Gordonsburg. You can still see an abandoned mine shaft, along with a long-forgotten railroad bend.
There are plenty of picnic areas on the Trace, or you can head into Hohenwald before you drive back to Nashville for burgers and fries at the popular Dairy Dip.
18. Enjoy family-friendly Movies in the Park each Thursday evening in June in Nashville’s Elmington Park. Hosted by the Nashville Scene, each event starts at 5pm and includes food trucks, vendors and games. The movie starts at sundown.
19. Sign up the kids for Vacation Bible School. I can personally recommend the ones at Bellevue Baptist Church, Bellevue Church of Christ (keeping it local, y’all), and Grace Community Church. I’ve also heard Forest Hills Baptist Church’s VBS is fabulous. PRO TIP: Sign up in advance- Some of the more popular VBSs fill up completely. We learned this the hard way.
20. Head downtown on a hot summer day and explore the Tennessee State Museum, where admission is ALWAYS FREE. Housed in the basement of TPAC, it’s one of downtown’s best-kept secrets– and I’ll bet you had no idea that this is one of the largest state museums in the nation! Exhibits cover 15,000 years of Tennessee history and feature fossils, a covered wagon, civil war artifacts, A MUMMY (that on its own is enough to get my kids interested!), and much, much more. Enhance the experience for your kids by following one of these online lesson plans, provided by the museum.
21. Teach your children about Hindu religion and culture with a tour of the Sri Ganesha temple. You can’t help but notice this ornate temple on Old Hickory Boulevard in Bellevue- But did you know they’re happy to give tours by appointment? Get a few families together and call 615-356-7207 to set up a tour.
22. Explore the quirky Historic Cannonsburgh Village in Murfreesboro. Located a block from downtown Murfreesboro, Cannonsburgh Village represents approximately 100 years of early Tennessee life, from the 1830s to the 1930s. The village includes a gristmill, school house, telephone operator’s house, the University House, the Leeman House, a museum, a caboose, the Wedding Chapel, a doctor’s office, a general store, a blacksmith’s shop, a well, and other points of pioneering interest, as well as a stream to splash around in and a nearby walking trail. And yes, all of the structures are authentic– Rutherford County solved its dilemma between land development and preserving historic buildings by simply moving many of its historic buildings to this location! Self-guided tours are free- Pick up a tour brochure inside the visitors center. (Want more fun ideas in Murfreesboro? Check out my post on Murfreesboro day trips.)
23. Give your children a kids’ eye view of the historic Battle of Franklin with a tour of the historic Lotz House. This tour is listed as the number one attraction in Franklin on Trip Advisor for a reason- the tour guides are phenomenal and the treasures inside this house are unforgettable. Of all the historic home tours in Franklin, I recommend this one for your kids because three children lived inside this house at the time of the Civil War and much of the tour is told from their perspective. I took this tour with my 11-year-old daughter and she could not stop talking about it afterward- She’s heard about the Battle of Franklin, many, many, many times, but because children figured into the Lotz House story, she was able to put herself in their shoes and really listen and GET IT. Awesome!
I would recommend this tour for kids 10 and up- some of the descriptions of the battle and aftermath are graphic and may trouble younger children. Also, the rooms are small and the antiques are priceless and very breakable- If you have a wiggleworm like my 8-year-old, you might not want to take your chances! Don’t have time for a tour, but want a cool Civil War souvenir? The Lotz House gift shop has actual Civil War bullets found on the battlefield for just $5 each! I bought one for each of my kids and they are now among their most prized possessions!
24. Go downtown to Cumberland Park by the riverfront in downtown Nashville, which includes a creative play experience for kids and adults like you’ve never seen before. Features include play equipment for children, spray-grounds and water jets, bridges, climbing walls, and unique paths winding through landscaped gardens.
25. Ride bikes along one of Nashville’s gorgeous greenways. This has become a favorite family activity for my family. The Shelby Bottoms Greenway and Harpeth River Greenway are two faves.
26. Visit Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, just an hour and a half from Nashville. It’s enormous and includes a wide range of inexpensive tours that are REALLY fun and interesting. We took the Historic Tour last summer and it was our favorite so far. Your kids will never forget visiting Mammoth Cave, and you won’t either. No need to beat the heat- It’s always nice and cool in the cave!
27. Take the whole family to a Nashville Sounds baseball game. Tickets aren’t terribly expensive and there’s lots of fun family entertainment between innings.
28. Enjoy beautiful views and explore ‘ancient’ civilization on Nashville’s Hidden Lake Trail. I call this the Best Trail You’ve Never Heard Of– and when you walk it, you’ll see why. Located just off I-40’s McCrory Lane exit, 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 kids (and adults!) to explore. Check out my full write-up on the Hidden Lake Trail and how to get there here.
29. Spend a Saturday in historic Granville, and stay for supper and the weekly Ole Time Music Hour show in the town’s general store that evening! May 28th is Granville’s annual Heritage Day, with historic re-enactments, kids rides, craft booths, Civil War living history demonstrations, a bluegrass festival, and more.
I actually shot this video in Granville and I’ve been itching to go back ever since. Granville is an incredibly charming town, and it’s only about an hour and 15 minutes from Nashville.
30. Make reservations to attend a Telescope Night, offered on the second Friday of each month at Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory. On these nights, the extremely high-powered Dyer Observatory telescopes are available for viewing and astronomers are on hand to answer questions. What a great opportunity for your kids! This summer, Telescope Nights are May 13, June 10, July 8, and August 12. Admission is $6.27 per person and can be made up to 30 days in advance. There is also a $5 parking fee. Make your reservations and learn more about Dyer Observatory here.
31. Teach your children about one of the darkest days in Tennessee history by walking the Trail of Tears. 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.
32. See a whole lot of cool, crazy cars at Nashville’s Lane Motor Museum. You don’t have to be a car lover to appreciate this 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. Admission’s not bad, either– Adult tickets run $12, but kids ages 6-17 are just $3 and under six are free!
33. Rent canoes or kayaks from Foggy Bottom in Kingston Springs and enjoy a lazy 2 or 4-hour float down the very tame Harpeth River. There are plenty of spots to stop for a swim and you’ll see some amazing wildlife!
34. Pack a picnic dinner and enjoy live family entertainment on Thursday nights in June and July at Cheekwood Botanical Garden’s Family Night Out. The evening starts with Kids Fitness, led by certified instructors from the Green Hills YMCA, followed by live entertainment. The special summer exhibit, International Playhouses, will also be lit up for evening play time.
35. Head to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana, a 2 1/2 hour drive from Nashville. You’ll find super clean water and amusement parks, free soft drinks, and tons of rides that will thrill small children, teenagers, and adults. We love this place and go every summer.
Last summer, we made Holiday World a weekend trip– We spent the first day at Mammoth Cave and spent the night in charming Owensboro, Kentucky, where the kids had a blast at this downtown playground/splashpad. The next day, we drove a short distance to Holiday World, then headed home that evening. We have also stayed in Tell City, Indiana– also fun, inexpensive, and close by Holiday World.
36. Step back in time at a 19th century vintage baseball game. In my opinion, the thriving Tennessee Association of Base Ball is one of the coolest things Nashville has going right now. This league was established to “bring the 19th century to life through base ball events that use the rules, equipment, costumes and culture of the 1860s.” Teams wear 1860s-era uniforms, play at historic sites around Middle Tennessee, and have great names like the Franklin Farriers and the Highland Rim Distillers. The season is already underway and games games are scheduled all summer long- See the schedule here.
37. Take the kids to Adventure Science Center. Climb the Adventure Tower, check out the human body exhibit, or see the new Wolf to Woof and Tinkering Garage exhibits.
38. Hike Nashville’s rugged Beaman Park for a more challenging trail for kids. If your kids are getting older like mine, 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 perfect for splashing around in. Beaman Park has a great 3.5 mile loop trail through beautiful forest, as well as a small Nature Center with kid-friendly activities. Read more about it in my Beaman Park post.
39. Get your adrenaline pumping at Monster Jam, coming to Nashville’s Nissan Stadium June 18.. I wouldn’t call us a monster truck kind of family, but we go to Monster Jam every single year. It is so much fun, y’all, and girls can enjoy it just as much as boys. Just don’t forget those earplugs, mkay?
Suburban Turmoil readers can get a $5 on tickets by using the code MJAM at checkout. I’m also giving away 4 Monster Jam tickets to one lucky Suburban Turmoil reader! Go here between now and May 22nd to enter.
40. Are you a YMCA member? Head to The Y at Maryland Farms for its AMAZING, full-size kids pool that looks like a children’s water park. The pool includes a grill for lunches and snacks and on weekends, a DJ plays kid-friendly tunes pool side and holds contests and games throughout the day.
41. Hike the forest trails at Radnor Lake State Park, which are filled with birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. On our latest visit, we spotted songbirds, hawks, geese, deer, turkeys, turtles, and lizards. We like the Lake Trail, a 1.3 mile flat trail that goes all the way around Radnor Lake.
Canoe floats led by a ranger are offered several times a week in the summertime, generally at sunrise or sunset. Also, be sure to check out the aviary for birds of prey- It includes a 550 foot boardwalk and aviary complex and houses four non-flighted raptors and one non-flighted American Bald Eagle.
42. Take a day trip to The Discovery Center, an interactive children’s museum in Murfreesboro— It’s well worth the drive. Your kids can look at animals, learn about tadpoles, do all kinds of arts and crafts and play at countless indoor learning stations. My children absolutely LOVE this place. Check the Discovery Center’s schedule online to see what kinds of special programs are happening. Be sure and take the Wetlands Walk outside while you’re there to see an actual Wetlands ecosystem.
43. Find a creek and let the kids cool off in it. We’re partial to the one at Belle Meade Plantation– so much so that I wrote an entire post about it. OH YES I DID.
44. Keep cool on a sweltering day at the new Ford Ice Center. Public Skate sessions are offered nearly every day– Adult admission is $7, youth admission is $6, and skate rental is $3. Check the Public Session calendar to decide when to go.
45. Experience another time and culture on a wagon tour of Amish farms in Ethridge, Tennessee. Of all the things I’ve done in Tennessee, this is honestly right up there at the top. Head to Granny’s Amish Welcome Center & Wagon Tours and sign up to go on one of their tours of local Amish farms. The tour guides are colorful and very knowledgeable and they’ll give you an inside look at an entirely different way of life, just an hour and a half from Nashville. IMPORTANT: Bring cash- You’ll want to buy things at the farms you visit. Go in the morning, the evening, or on a cooler day- You’ll be in a covered wagon, but it gets hot in those fields. Bring plenty of water. And on the way home, stop and eat at Shaffer Farms Texas BBQ in Summertown, absolutely the best barbecue restaurant I’ve ever been to.
46. Head to Zoovie Night at the Nashville Zoo. Zoovie Nights include games, inflatables, music, crafts and after-hour access to the carousel and zipline. When the sun goes down, the evening’s feature film will play on a large inflatable screen. Zoovie Nights are free for members. This summer’s schedule:
–May 27: Minions
–June 24: Kung Fu Panda
–Sept. 2: How to Train Your Dragon 2
47. Learn about the Stones River Battlefield on a Saturday morning Bicycle Tour. Every Saturday this summer from 9am-10:30am, 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 tour is free, but you do need to call ahead to make a reservation. This is a must-do on my family’s summer 2016 bucket list. If you’re going to be in Murfreesboro, check out all the other things you can do with your family while you’re there in this post.
48. Got a budding artist in your family? Don’t miss the Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery for kids, which includes 30 interactive stations designed to give kids a hands-on appreciation of art. It’s super fun! The Frist Center is very affordable if you’re only taking your kids- Adult tickets are $10, but kids are free!
49. Sign your child up for a summer day camp— Here’s a listing of what’s available. There are hundreds of day camps in the Nashville area- Some are full, but many still have a few spots open. We’ve done summer camps at Cheekwood, Nashville Children’s Theatre (love their Ensworth campus options, which save me a trip across town!), the Nashville Zoo, Traveller’s Rest Plantation, and Belle Meade Plantation and the kids had a blast!
50. Watch a classic movie while the Nashville Symphony Orchestra plays the score– Live! The symphony will perform along with three family-friendly films in June– Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Wizard of Oz, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
51. Read an age-appropriate biography of Andrew Jackson, then take the kids to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home. We’ve got a lot of historic sites in the city to choose from, but this is one of the best in the country. The Hermitage just debuted a new, 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. There’s never been a better time to go!
52. Bike the beautiful Cumberland Bicentennial Trail in nearby Ashland City. Summer is the perfect time to ride this mostly-shaded 7-mile bike trail, which was converted from an old railroad track and is straight and flat enough for beginning riders. This is probably my favorite Middle Tennessee bike trail.
53. Stay up late to see the best meteor shower of the year August 12th and 13th. That’s when the Perseid Meteor Shower can be seen in Nashville this year. The best meteor watching is midnight to 5am– We packed blankets and went to the Warner Park fields one late night to watch a meteor shower and the viewing was awesome. It was family experience we’ll never forget.
54. Spend the day exploring at the ginormous Opryland Resort. Travel the many paths through three elaborate atriums, take a riverboat ride, watch the stunning Aqua Fountain Show, feast on ice cream, and explore to your heart’s content. Note– Wait until your children are old enough to walk on their own- This hotel is not stroller friendly! Also, valet parking is super expensive here. Consider valet parking and getting a small snack-meal to share at one of the hotel’s nicer restaurants- That way, you can validate your parking ticket and pay nothing.
55. Too hot or rainy for you? One of our favorite indoor things to do is head over to Cheekwood’s historic mansion for an indoor scavenger hunt. Grab directions at the front desk (they have an outdoor scavenger hunt map, too) and hunt through the house to find all the items on the map.
56. Visit the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum in Dickson. Adult admission is just $4 and kids 14 and under are free! The museum tour gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor. Either start your Dickson adventure with breakfast at the super popular Dickson Donuts (don’t miss the apple fritters), or stop for lunch afterward at Tony B’s, said by locals to have the best burgers in town.
57. Spend a day at the Nashville Zoo– Keep cool with periodic stops at the playground, where a splash fountain will keep the kids wet and happy. The zoo has plenty of shady spots- On a super hot day, avoid the giraffe exhibit area and you’ll be able to stay in the shade for most of your visit. Get more info at the zoo’s website.
And if you haven’t been to the zoo in a while, you’ll be happy to know there are some new attractions, including a ‘Shell Station’ where kids can encounter 10 Sulcata tortoises, the Soaring Eagle Zip Line (can’t wait to try it!), a new ‘Macaw Encounter’ show, free-with-admission docent-led walking tours, and a brand new entry ‘village’ with a surprise animal exhibit in the men’s bathroom.
58. Watch Sergeant York with your family, then visit the Military Branch Museum in downtown Nashville, which (among many other things) has an extensive exhibit on Alvin C. York, Tennessee’s most famous soldier. The War Museum is in the War Memorial Building, across the street from the Tennessee State Museum. Other exhibits there cover Tennessee’s involvement in wars ranging from the Spanish American War to the Vietnam War. As for the movie, we watched it a few weeks ago with our 9 and 12-year-old kids (This $10 DVD has lots of bonus features about the movie, as well as three other great Gary Cooper films) and they LOVED it. It’s a great historic film, not just for its portrayal of World War I, but also because its release during World War II created patriotic fervor, making it one of the greatest propaganda films of all time. Lots to discuss here!
59. Check out a loaner backpack at Warner Park’s Nature Center and hit the Hungry Hawk Trail. Be sure and pick up a Hungry Hawk guide at the trailhead before you set off on your journey. The backpacks are filled with all kinds of things to make your child’s hiking experience fun and informative. We’ve hiked the Hungry Hawk Trail since my children could walk and its bird blind and animal tracking station never get old!
–Red Caboose Park’s Friday concert series is back every Friday in June from 7 pm until 9 pm. Bring chairs, blankets, and a picnic dinner and enjoy this incredibly popular Bellevue event.
-I’ve always wanted to go to Centennial Park’s Big Band Dances, happening every Saturday evening this summer from June 4 until August 27. Dance lessons are at 7pm and again from 8:30 to 8:50, and the music from a live orchestra starts at 7:30.
-At Cumberland Park, Tales at Twilight will be held just for kids on Friday nights in July, from 7pm-8pm. Here’s the lineup:
–July 8: The Happy Racers
–July 15: Mr. Chris Hip Hop Dance
–July 22: The Nashville Public Library Puppet Truck
–July 29: Sir Crazy Pants
-Also at Cumberland Park is Jazz on the Cumberland— These free concerts take place on one Sunday per month until October, from 5:30-8pm. Here are the dates for 2016:
–Sunday, May 8th
–Sunday, June 19th
–Sunday, July 17th
–Sunday, August 21st
–Sunday, September 18th
–Sunday, October 16th
–Musician’s Corner is also at Centennial Park on Saturday afternoons in May and June. This event includes live music, a kids’ area, and a plethora of food trucks. Bring your children and your dogs- All are welcome!
61. Sign up your kids for the Kids Bowl Free program and they’ll be eligible for two free games of bowling every day (until 6pm), all summer long! Find your nearest participating bowling alley at the Kids Bowl Free website and register your child now to participate.
Movies start at dusk and Friday and Saturday nights tend to be crowded, so either arrive early or go on a weeknight. Bring a picnic or buy dinner at the concession stand- The Stardust brags about its burgers and fries in particular! Tickets are $7.50, $5.00 for kids 6-11, and children 5 and under are free. Your ticket is good for a double feature, so stay for both movies if you can handle it! Check out the Stardust Drive-In website to find out what’s playing.
63. Hike the many breathtaking trails at Fall Creek Falls State Park, a natural wonder that no Tennessean should miss. Located on the eastern top of the Cumberland Plateau, it includes amazing waterfalls, cascades, gorges, and uncut virgin forests. Just a little over two hours from Nashville, Fall Creek Falls makes for a great day trip or overnight trip if you can swing it. Stay in one of the park’s cabins, at the kitschy hotel, or on the campgrounds.
64. Take the kids to the downtown library Tuesday or Wednesday at 9:30, 10:30 or 11:30 for the best Storytime EVER. There’s a reason our library’s children’s programs have the top attendance in the country– Weekly storytimes are a MUST among Nashville Moms. They include 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 Tom Tichenor’s extensive collection. Be sure and park in the library parking deck and get your parking ticket validated in the library lobby so that your parking cost will be minimal. Check the library website to see which puppet show is being performed each week.
65. Re-live the history of Tennessee farm life during Summer Saturdays in July at the Tennessee Agricultural Museum. Choose from ‘Horsing Around’ July 11, ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’ July 18, or ‘Goats Galore’ July 25, and enjoy traditional activities like wagon rides, butter churning, minature donkey rides, blacksmithing, weaving, and traditional music.
When you’re done, hike the museum’s Forest Discovery Trail. Grab a brochure and walk the self-guided forest trail to discover some of the valuable benefits of Tennessee forests. The path begins at the log cabins and has twelve designated points of interest.
66. Enjoy an affordable nature cruise on the Cumberland River with Blue Heron Cruises in Ashland City. Cruises depart from Riverbluff Park three times a day. Captain Jim Steele will make any tour kid-friendly, but if you can, go on the tour that’s specifically for children. It includes a stop on a sandy bank for some swimming time and other treats your kids will love.
67. Visit the Nature Center at Warner Park. It has lots of nature-related games, toys, books and activities for kids to enjoy, and it’s a great way to get them out of the house for an hour or two on a hot or rainy day.
68. Head to Hendersonville to tour the oldest structure in Tennessee. It’s called Rock Castle and it’s open for tours. What makes this historic home different from most others in the area is that it was built in the late 1700s – so your kids will get to hear about a different period in Tennessee’s history and see a different style of home. Tours are $7 for adults, $5 for kids, and you’re encouraged to call ahead to schedule your tour.
69. Put the kids in swimsuits and head to Bicentennial Mall, where the Rivers of Tennessee fountains will help them stay cool on a hot day.
Once the kids have had their fun, stroll through the Nashville Farmer’s Market next door and pick up local fruits, vegetables, bread, meat and cheese for your family meals. We like to do this several times throughout the summer!
70. Pack a picnic and see the symphony, FREE! The Nashville Symphony Orchestra will play a series of free community concerts all over the city between June 2nd and June 16th with pieces ranging from Dvořák to the Star Wars theme song. See the full listing of community concerts here.
71. Visit Bison Meadow, a 2 1/2 acre park at the intersection of Hillsboro Pike and Tyne Boulevard. Bison Meadow is located on an old terminal branch of the Natchez Trace, which was once used by bison and elk to travel to a salt lick on the Cumberland River. Today, nine topiary bison roam the fields and native prairie grasses are planted in memory of a landscape that used to be common in Middle Tennessee. It’s a fun place to read books, roam the pathways, and talk about the way things used to be in Tennessee.
72. On a hot or rainy day, head downtown for a guided tour of the Tennessee State Capitol. Tours are available Monday through Friday at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m., beginning at the Information Desk on the first floor of the Capitol, located on Charlotte between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
73. Sign up for one of the many special summer programs at local parks, including Warner Park in Bellevue, Bells Bend Outdoor Center, Shelby Bottoms Nature Center, Beaman Park or Bowie Park in nearby Fairview. Events on the summer schedules include night hikes, overnight camping, kayak lessons on the Harpeth River, and much more. Note: Spots fill up fast for these programs- Mark your calendar for the day registration opens and call that day to ensure you get a spot.
74. Tour historic Mansker’s Station, where your kids can experience what life was like on the Tennessee frontier during the 18th century. Tours run daily Monday-Friday and cover two areas: reconstructed Manskers Fort and the historic Bowen’s House, which was built in 1787. Special note: If you have a Triple-A card, you can get a discount on admission!
75. Spend a day at the horse races. Churchill Downs is just 2 1/2 hours from Nashville and the horse racing season runs through early July. The stands are MUCH less crowded on these race days than on Derby day- It’s easy to get a thrilling front row seat. If the day is warm, keep cool in the shaded seats- There are plenty of those as well. We took our kids to the races a few years ago and they LOVED the trip. Sunday, June 26th is Family Adventure Day at Churchill Downs. Check the Churchill Downs schedule for other races and be sure and take the museum tour while you’re there if you have time. Oh, and just a tip- Go to the earlier races in the day, as opposed to the later ones. The last few races are decidedly more drinky, less family-friendly, and more crowded in the stands.
76. Don’t miss the popular Tomato Art Fest in East Nashville on August 13th. Food vendors, tomato art, concerts, and a parade will all be part of this year’s costume-friendly event, which draws more than 30,000 people each year and is widely recognized as Nashville’s number one festival.
77. Take a day trip to historic Lynchburg, home of the famous Jack Daniels Distillery, a quaint and charming downtown, and my favorite, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House restaurant. Now in its 100th year of operation, you’ll sit at a large table with a hostess and enjoy the most amazing family-style southern food EVER. (You must make reservations in advance.) We took my older girls when they were 8 and 10 and had a great time enjoying lunch, window shopping downtown, and going on the distillery tour, which even they found interesting.
78. Enroll your kids in a Passport to Adventure craft class at any Michael’s store. Starting in June, these two-hour craft sessions feature a different craft every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and cost $5.00 per child. The crafts are really fun (particularly if your child brings a friend along) and give you a great opportunity for some downtime while the kids craft away– I believe you’re expected to stay in the area (I generally run errands at the stores right around our Michaels), but you do not need to be in the craft room with your kids. YAY. Go here to learn more or check out your local Michaels calendar of events.
79. Don’t despair once strawberry season is over in May– Go to one of the many pick-your-own-fruit farms Middle Tennessee for blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and more. Something’s always in season until fall! My kids LOVE doing this and for us, it’s a great way to get them to try new fruits. See a complete listing of pick-your-own farms here.
81. Go old school at the Brentwood Skate Center, which looks exactly like the skating rinks we went to as kids. Don’t worry if your kids aren’t skaters- The skate center has walkers on wheels, which help them get the feel of skating without hurting themselves. Got little ones? Opt for a weekend skate just for little ones. Check the website for the summer open skate schedule.
82. Hike to Narrows of the Harpeth, one of Nashville’s best-kept state park secrets. Take the hiking trail to a tunnel through an embankment that was built by slaves in 1818, and created enough moving water to power a forge. This trail can be hard to find- Here are detailed directions.
Nearby is Mound Bottom, 19 Native American mounds used by Indians in the Missippian Period between 700 and 1300 AD. Get a group of friends together and schedule a tour with a Harpeth River State Park ranger to access these mounds and climb to the top of the one where the temple and chief’s residence used to be. Mound Bottom is BREATHTAKING and panoramic and well worth the easy hike to get there!
83. Spend a few hours painting pottery at Brushfire Studio. It’s somewhat expensive, but my children really enjoy it and we generally end up going once or twice a year. Brushfire is also offering weekly day camps all summer long.
84. Just for fun, take your kids to a different library branch from the one you normally visit. Here’s a list of upcoming summer events at all branches.. I got this idea after our Bellevue branch opened a new branch last year. My kids BEG to go to our branch now, and eagerly check out books there like there’s no tomorrow- I realized then that going to a new branch every now and then just might re-spark their love for reading when it starts to wear off. Maximize the fun by going when there’s a special event for kids happening.
85. Introduce your children to the stars and planets at one of the fun daily shows at Sudekum Planetarium. My kids have just started becoming interested in astronomy, so this is a must-do for us this summer.
86. Take a kid-friendly walking tour through historic Franklin. The ‘I Spy Tour’ is a visual scavenger hunt through the downtown area, where kids count objects and find dates, learn about and draw historical doors, and look for architectural details on buildings around the Square and down Main Street. You can either buy the I Spy booklet at Landmark Bookseller and take the tour on your own or grab a group of nine or more and take a guided I Spy tour with Franklin on Foot. There’s also a family-friendly Haunted Franklin tour that’s offered nightly and sounds right up our alley!
87. Got a budding chef? Sign your little cook up for a Junior Chef class at your nearest Williams-Sonoma. Kids’ cooking classes are offered on various Saturday mornings throughout the summer- Go here for more information on your closest store’s schedule.
88. Introduce your kids to the fine art of mini-golf at Grand Old Golf, near Opryland Hotel. There are THREE different courses to choose from (along with go-karts and a blacklight arcade). My children are just now at the age where this would be really fun, so I think we’re going to have to make the trip one evening this summer!
90. Visit one of Middle Tennessee’s MANY farmers’ markets. The many area farmers markets are one of my family’s favorite summer traditions, and it’s worth visiting multiple markets– Each one has its own unique flavor and vendors. Some have food trucks and live music, others offer arts and crafts, even the smaller ones may have stands with the best muffins you’ve ever eaten or a secret jambalaya recipe that’s to die for. No matter where you go, your farmers market finds are sure to spice up your summer menu. See a listing of Middle Tennessee farmers’ markets here.
Whew! That should keep you covered this summer- but if you have more ideas, I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments– and have a great summer!