This #MadeinTN post was written in partnership with the Rutherford County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
I’ve lived in Nashville for more than 15 years now, and while there’s lots to do in Music City, lately I’ve been looking for adventures outside city limits. I’m always on the hunt for great restaurants where I can actually get a table without making a reservation six weeks in advance, hiking trails that aren’t overrun with walkers and joggers, shops and boutiques that offer more than the same old stuff I see every season, and historic sites that offer a new perspective on Tennessee’s colorful history. In my quest for these things, I’ve found myself returning over and over again to one place — Rutherford County.
Located just southeast of Nashville, this county truly has a lot to offer, whether you’re a Nashvillian wanting to get away for a day or an out-of-towner looking for a destination that’s affordable and slightly off the beaten path. I started bringing my kids to Murfreesboro and its surrounding cities several years ago and we’ve been back dozens of times since — We come for its quaint diners and meat-and-threes, greenways, farms, historic sites, museums, shopping and more. Rutherford County has all the charms of Nashville and then some. It’s been our little secret, in my mind, anyway… at least until now.
Today, I’m showing you a few of my absolute favorite things to do in Rutherford County. This list is designed to appeal to just about anyone, whether you’re a Millennial in search of new Instagram opportunities, an active family in search of great day trips, an empty nester looking for a great girls’ weekend itinerary, an outdoorsman, or a history buff- Here are 20 ways to discover Rutherford County — Middle Tennessee’s best-kept secret.
Spend a restful staycation at the Carriage Lane Inn. This gorgeous historic inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and it’s also within walking distance of Murfreesboro’s public greenways, antique stores, shopping, bars and restaurants. Book a few nights inside the main inn or one of its cottages and enjoy all that Rutherford County has to offer!
Take a guided bicycle tour of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battlefields. A key Civil War battle took place on Rutherford County’s Stones River National Battlefield — The battle involved more than 80,000 soldiers and more than 23,000 of them ended up dead, wounded or missing. Today, the battlefield is a national park, and rangers say the best way to learn about the battle is on one of the bicycle tours offered on the second Saturday of each month between April and September. The tour is family-friendly, covers about seven miles, and lasts an hour and a half. Call 615-893-9501 to make a reservation.
Stop for an unforgettable meal at Miller’s Grocery in Christiana. Miller’s Grocery opened more than 75 years ago in the bustling whistle-stop community of Christiana — Today, it’s a popular meat-and-three worth the drive to get there. Go for the Sunday buffet or hear live bluegrass or Americana music at Miller’s on Friday and Saturday nights.
Take a rollicking tour of Murfreesboro’s Mayday Brewery with its quirky founder, Ozzy. He’ll tell stories and serve cheeseballs on this unique and unforgettable behind-the-scenes tour while telling you all about his brewery and keeping your souvenir pint glass filled with the popular brewery’s four core beers. Tours are every Saturday at 3pm, 4pm, and 5pm. They last about 30-45 minutes, cost $12 per person, and are Rated R. Reservations are not required.
Get down to great music at Murfreesboro’s annual Main Street Jazz Fest. Spend a weekend on Murfreesboro’s Main Street, eating, drinking, shopping, and listening to live contemporary jazz music. This year’s festival is May 6-7th. See the full schedule of events here.
Spend an afternoon exploring Murfreesboro’s fascinating Cannonsburgh Village. Rutherford County had a unique idea for what to do when development began threatening its historic structures throughout the county — It simply moved them to one central location. That’s the idea behind Cannonsburgh Village, an outdoor setting in the heart of Murfreesboro where you can explore an actual 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. The structures are open to the public between May 1 and December 1 and you can either take a free self-guided tour or pay a small fee for a guided tour. You’ll find plenty here to capture your attention– Trust me!
Savor down-home country cooking and live music at the newest Puckett’s Grocery in downtown Murfreesboro. This popular Middle Tennessee restaurant is a HUGE hit with locals, and now you can find one on Church Street, in the heart of historic Murfreesboro. From pulled pork sandwiches and cherry cobbler to cajun chicken and waffles, everything on the menu is pretty much guaranteed to be delicious — and yes, I speak from experience!
Browse through gorgeous home goods and accessories, gifts, clothing and more at Quinn’s Mercantile. This beautiful new store in Murfreesboro is worth spending some serious time in — In addition to its merchandise (which includes items made by local artisans), Quinn’s also offers classes in chalk and mineral painting and private painting studio time. Definitely worth a stop the next time you’re in Murfreesboro!
Go for a leisurely bike ride on the scenic Murfreesboro Greenway System. If you haven’t been on Murfreesboro’s bike trails, you are definitely missing out. Here, you’ll find 12 miles of paved trails that will take you to some of Murfreesboro’s most picture-friendly locations, including Cannonsburgh Village, the Stones River National Battlefield, Fortress Rosecrans, and the Stones River dam. Be sure and stop for lunch at The Green Dragon Public House while you’re on the trail. For a map and more information about what you can see on the trail, check out this online brochure.
Feast on a pupu platter at the Omni Hut in Smyrna. This beloved tiki restaurant has been open for more than 50 years and features a blend of Polynesian, Asian and Hawaiian recipes. Loyal customers love it for the food, the attentive service, and the retro feel of the place. Consider Omni Hut a Rutherford County must-do.
Check out one of Rutherford County’s incredibly rare cedar glades. You probably didn’t know that 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. These glades exist only in the central eastern United States– Most are in Middle Tennessee, 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!
Several protected cedar glades are located in Rutherford county, including Flat Rock Cedar Glades, and Elsie Quarterman Cedar Glade. 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.
Travel back in time on Free Day at Oaklands Mansion on Saturday, May 13th. Oaklands was built in 1815 and was the largest plantation in Tennessee during the Civil War. It served as headquarters for Confederate President Jefferson Davis while he visited Murfreesboro. A skirmish between Union and Confederate soldiers took place on its front lawn and the children of the house are said to have watched the fighting from an upstairs window.
On May 13th, the 19th Alabama Civilian Civil War Reenactors will be presenting civilian demonstrations outside. You can also see their campsite and tents, play period games on the lawn, take a nature walk to the spring, visit the heritage vegetable garden and tour the mansion, all for free.
Slurp down a milkshake at the Reeves-Sain Soda Shoppe. It’s not often that you find a soda shop inside a drug store these days, but the soda shop at Murfreesboro’s Reeves-Sain Drug Store is still going strong — and locals say they have the best milkshakes in town, as well as chess squares that are to die for. The Reeves-Sain Soda Shop also serves soups, salads, sandwiches, and other old-fashioned desserts like pies, banana splits, and ice cream sodas. YUM.
Watch a vintage baseball game on the lawn of the historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation March 19th, April 9th, or May 21st. The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball is a league of living history baseball teams from across the state, who bring the 19th century to life through base ball events that use the rules, equipment, costumes and culture of the 1860s.They play games at historic sites, including the Sam Davis home in Smyrna, a home built in the early 1800s that’s now open to the public for tours.
Take your family on a Wetland Walk. Murfreesboro has an excellent children’s museum called the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring (we actually like it better than Nashville’s Adventure Science Center), but my favorite thing to do at the museum in the springtime is go on one of its Wetland Walks outside. These are guided tours on raised walkways through the preserved wetland behind the museum, and you wouldn’t believe all there is to see. We’ve caught tadpoles and frogs, identified herons and songbirds, and even spied a family of raccoons living in the hollow of an old tree. It’s not often your kids have a chance to see a wetland up close in Tennessee — The Discovery Center may well be their best opportunity. Check the schedule of upcoming events to find out when the next walk is planned.
Take a hike at Murfreesboro’s Barfield Crescent Park. If you’re like us, you’re constantly looking for new trails to check out in Middle Tennessee– Barfield Crescent Park to the rescue! Locals rave about its five miles of backcountry trails, which wind through hardwood forest, along the Stones River, through limestone sinks and outcrops, and past 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. You can find a trail map here, or contact the Wilderness Station for more information.
Pick your own strawberries at Batey Farms. Farming experts say this winter’s warm weather means crops will be 2-3 weeks early this season, which means the strawberries should be ready for picking in April — and a favorite place to pick them is at Rutherford County’s Batey Farms. This 8th generation family farm offers a pick-your-own strawberry patch each year and it’s typically packed with pickers from across Middle Tennessee. Check the Batey Farms Facebook Page for up-to-date information on when the strawberries are ready.
Explore Murfreesboro’s charming and historic downtown square. Anchored by a courthouse that was built back in 1859, the downtown square is filled with some of the city’s best shops and restaurants — You could very happily spend a pleasant spring afternoon wandering around here. You’ll find trendy clothing, shoes and accessories at Bella’s Boutique and Sugaree’s, outdoor gear at Bink’s Outfitters, handcrafted ice cream and gourmet popcorn at Frozen Treats From Mars Theater, everything you need to make your own wine and beer at Let’s Make Wine, popular steakhouse The Alley on Main, old-fashioned home cooking at the City Cafe, and a whole lot more.
Dive deeper into Murfreesboro’s rich history with a free guided tour from The Heritage Center. There’s no better way to get to know Murfreesboro’s historic downtown square than with a guided tour. You’ll hear some of the history behind the city’s pre-Civil War courthouse and learn more about Murfreesboro’s sizable role in the War Between the States.
See some incredible fossils at Earth Experience: The Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History. This small but mighty Murfreesboro museum was the brainchild of MTSU professor Alan Brown, who wanted to share his extensive fossil collection with the public. Here, you’ll find everything from dinosaurs to crinoids, with a heaping helping of fossils, rocks and minerals found right here in Middle Tennessee. This museum is definitely worth a visit — The kids will love it!
I’ll be exploring Rutherford County more and writing about it over the coming months. In the meantime, if you know of any must-see destinations in Rutherford County, please feel free to share them in the comments!
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