I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
May 15, 2014
With just two weeks of school and an endless stretch of summer ahead of me, I’m pulling a list together now of fun things to do in and around Nashville over the next few months. Last year, I shared my list with you and many of you are now requesting a look at it again. So here you go- with additions and updates for 2014!
1. Sign up for Zoofari Slumber and camp out at the Nashville Zoo overnight. We did this last summer and it was worth every penny- We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows over an open fire, watched live animal shows, played in bounce houses, rode the carousel, and slept beneath the stars. Zoofari dates this year are May 24/25 and August 30/Sept. 1.
2. Pack a picnic dinner and enjoy live family entertainment on Thursday nights in June and July during Cheekwood Botanical Garden’s Family Night Out program. (Here’s Cheekwood’s listing of upcoming family performances.) This is one of our favorite summer activities.
3. Enjoy a nature cruise on the Cumberland River with Blue Heron Cruises in Ashland City. Cruises depart from Riverbluff Park three times a day.
4. Drive an hour and a half from Nashville to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It’s enormous and includes a wide range of inexpensive tours that are REALLY fun and interesting. 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!
5. Load up the car and 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.
6. FREE: Sign up the kids for a Vacation Bible School. I can personally recommend the ones at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, 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.
7. FREE: 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.
8. Cool off at Nashville Shores, a fantastic water park the whole family can enjoy.
9. Spend a few hours painting pottery at Brushfire Studio. It can be pricy, 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.
10. 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.
11. Ride bikes along one of Nashville’s gorgeous greenways. This has become one of our favorite family activities.
Much of the greenway is along the Harpeth River, so there are plenty of opportunities to cool off!
12. Are you a YMCA member? The Y at Maryland Farms has an 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.
13. 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.
14. Sign your child up for a summer day camp— Here’s a great 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, and Belle Meade Plantation and the kids had a blast!
15. FREE: Check out a loaner backpack at Warner Park’s Nature Center and hit one of the park’s two kids’ hiking trails. The backpacks are filled with all kinds of things to make your child’s hiking experience fun and informative. We’ve hiked the kids trails since my children could walk and it never gets old!
16. Read an age-appropriate biography of Andrew Jackson, then take the kids to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home. It’s amazing!
17. 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 and elephant exhibits and you’ll be able to stay in the shade for most of your visit. Get more info at the zoo’s website.
18. Go to one of the many pick-your-own fruit farms in and around Nashville. My kids LOVE doing this and for us, it’s a great way to get them to try new fruits. Here’s a full listing of pick-your-own farms in Middle Tennessee.
19. Rainy day? One of our favorite 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.
20. 20. 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 enjoy lunch at one of the hotel’s many restaurants (With kids in tow, we like -‘Stax’– a build your own burger joint. We get our meals and walk over to tables right beside the fountain show.) PRO TIP: 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- Self-park if you possibly can.
21. FREE: Take the kids to the downtown library Tuesday or Wednesday at 9:30, 10:30 or 11:30 for the best Storytime EVER. It includes puppets, songs, juggling, and stories and it’s totally free! On Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 or 11:30, head to the downtown library for a weekly marionette show, featuring puppets from Tom Tichenor’s extensive collection. Check the library website to see what’s playing each week.
22. A short walk from the downtown library, stop at Peace, Love and Little Donuts in the Arcade, where donuts are made fresh daily and include flavors like maple bacon, apple pie, strawberry shortcake, and smores. YUM.
24. For indoor fun, take the kids to Adventure Science Center. Climb the Adventure Tower, check out the human body exhibit, or check out the new Mazes exhibit, which includes more than 60 puzzles and full-body games.
25. FREE: Head downtown to the brand new Cumberland Park by the riverfront, 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.
26. Got a budding artist in your family? Don’t miss the Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery, which includes 30 interactive stations designed to give kids a hands-on appreciation of art. It’s super fun!
27. Hike or bike the beautiful Cumberland Bicentennial Trail in Ashland City, which was recently converted from an old railroad line.
28. FREE: Put the kids in swimsuits and head to Bicentennial Mall, where the Rivers of Tennessee fountains have FINALLY re-opened!
Once the kids have had their fun, stroll through the outdoor 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!
29. FREE: Sign up for one of the many special programs on the summer schedule at Warner Park in Bellevue or Beaman Park in nearby Fairview. Events on the summer schedule include night hikes, an owl prowl, International Mud Day, and a fishing expedition where kids make poles out of bamboo and learn how to fish on the banks of the Harpeth. PRO TIP: 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.
30. CHEAP: Take the kids to see a $1 Summer Movie Express family film, offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am this summer at the Green Hills and Opry Mills Regal Cinemas (as well as across the country). G-rated and PG-rated films are both available- Check the cinema’s website closer to the start date for movie listings. PRO TIP: Get there early (the theaters fill up fast) and choose the PG option if you can– The theater is typically at least a little quieter than the G-rated theater. Check here for local listings.
31. FREE: Head to your local library branch and let the kids check out a few DVDs. I only allow my children to check out DVDs in the summer, so that it’s a treat. Then we spend the afternoon watching what we’ve brought home.
32. 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.
33. Grab $10 in quarters and take the kids on a claw machine adventure. Go to all the nearby spots you know that have claw machines and try your luck until each kid wins one. We do this every summer and the cheap stuffed animals end up being some of my kids’ most prized possessions!
34. Enjoy a picnic dinner and free concert at Red Caboose Park (home to one of the best playgrounds in Nashville) every Friday night in June from 7-9pm.
35. 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. You’ll see some amazing wildlife! TIP: Try the one or two-person kayaks– I guarantee you’ll never go back to canoes again!
36. FREE: Hike the forest trails at Radnor Lake State Park, which are filled with interesting wildlfe. Be sure and print out the park’s educational brochures on amphibians and reptiles before you go, so that your kids can be on the lookout for them.
37. 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 Mansker’s Fort and the historic Bowen’s House, which was built in 1787. Got small children? Come Fridays from 10-11 for Pioneer Pals, special activities geared toward younger kids. PRO TIP: Got a AAA card? You’ll get a discount on admission!
38. 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 the Saturday morning skate for kids 8 and under, from 9:30-11am.
39. 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 the night sky, so this is a must-do for us this summer.
40. Take a kid-friendly walking tour through historic Franklin. The ‘I Spy Tour’ is a scavenger hunt where kids count objects and find dates, make a brass rubbing, learn about and draw historical doors, and look for architectural details on buildings around the Square and down Main Street. And the family-friendly Haunted Franklin tour is offered nightly and sounds right up our alley!
41. FREE: Find a creek and let the kids cool off in it. We’re partial to the one at Belle Meade Plantation.
42. Hike to Narrows of the Harpeth, one of Nashville’s best-kept secrets and a favorite swimming hole in the summertime. It’s a tunnel through an embankment that was built in 1818 to create enough moving water to power a forge.
Nearby is Mound Bottom, a Native American burial mound used between 700 and 1300 AD.
43. Introduce your kids to mini-golf at Grand Old Golf, near Opryland Hotel. My children are just now at the age where this would be really fun, so I think we’re going to have to do it one evening this summer!
44. Check out a kids movie every Saturday at 10am at the historic Belcourt Theatre in Hillsboro Village. This year, movies include Frozen, a collection of favorite Saturday Morning Cartoons from our childhood, and my absolute favorite animated film, Spirited Away (I am SO THERE). Afterward, head over to Hot & Cold across the street for a deliciously unusual Las Paletas popsicle.
45. Give each of your kids $5 to spend (or bring their old books to trade in) at McKay Used Bookstore, then take them to a coffee shop for a cold drink and some reading time.
46. On Friday nights from June 6 through August, head to beautiful Leiper’s Fork for Lawnchair Theater, where an outdoor family movie is shown downtown starting at dusk. Bring lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on- Dinner and snacks are available from the rustic concession stand.
47. Enjoy what’s got to be the best ice cream IN THE WORLD at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in East Nashville (1892 Eastland Avenue) or on 12 South.
48. CHEAP: Make reservations to attend a Telescope Night the second Friday of each month at Dyer Observatory. This summer, Telescope Nights are June 13, July 11, and August 8. No admission cost, but there is a $10 parking fee. Make your reservations and learn more about Dyer Observatory here.
49. CHEAP: Sign up your kids for a Passport to Adventure session at any Michael’s store. Starting in June, this two-hour, 7-week-long adventure is offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and costs just $2.00 per child. Kids will learn about different countries around the world and create crafts inspired by what they’ve learned. Passport to Adventure is suggested for kids ages 5-8. Go here to learn more.
50. FREE: Got dogs? Round them up for a trip to one of Nashville’s dog parks, and get the kids AND the pets some exercise!
Got more ideas? Add them in the comments!
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