Summer is vacation time! Sunny days and breezy nights mean you can stay outside all day (and night) if you want! Big trips often mean a big budget. A “staycation” is an affordable and trendy alternative to leaving town. With the city of Knoxville in a constant state of growth, now is the best time to explore some of the spots you haven’t discovered yet. Recently ranking in the “Top 100 Places to Live” in the U.S., locals rave about the recreational, cultural, and historical attractions in our beautiful city. I take visiting friends and family to my favorite, cool places. Some are hidden gems, while others have already made a name for themselves. Let’s plan a long weekend in the city together…
Airbnb? Luxury Hotel? Camping? Knoxville has it all! If you’ve decided to splurge a little, a stay at The Tennessean should be at the top of the list. Bursting with Southern charm, this pet-friendly downtown hotel boasts spacious suites, luxury touches and “The Drawing Room” — a wonderful spot to enjoy locally sourced bites and tasty cocktails. Nearby, The Oliver Hotel is a historic landmark in the heart of Market Square. The hotel restaurant, Oliver Royale, is one of the city’s best. Even better, tucked behind a sliding door in the lobby, you’ll find Peter Kern Library. This speakeasy serves up truly
elegant cocktails named after famous
literary characters (my favorite is the Mr. Darcy) in a room with book lined walls and cozy seating.
Airbnb is a great option for those that want to enjoy the amenities, location or size of another home. Williamswood Castle is a quirky find in South Knoxville. Yes, you read that right, a castle! While it doesn’t have a moat, modeled after a Scottish hunting lodge this home offers balconies overlooking the Tennessee
River, halls (and ceilings) covered in
artwork, and is surrounded by trees. This 4,500 sq ft beauty is perfect for a group of friends–they’ll thank you for finding such a cool spot!
If camping is more your style, Norris Dam State Park is just 30 minutes from downtown and has spots for tents and RVs. Rates start as low as $8 per night. With a boat you can explore the multiple islands near the boat ramp or if you’re looking for total privacy put up your tent there. Don’t miss out on the awesome bike trails nearby, as well!
Eat and Drink
I’m a foodie and can’t get enough of what Knoxville has to offer. For breakfast, pop into OliBea in Old City. This little gem packs a big punch with simple, local,
seasonal ingredients — don’t miss out
on the decadent lemon buttermilk pancakes. The Plaid Apron, in Sequoyah Hills, serves a weekday brunch menu from Tuesday through Saturday that brings the community together through farm-focused dishes. The veggie and grain bowl topped with a poached duck egg and goat cheese fondue is one of the best brunch dishes I’ve ever tasted!
Lunch should be short and delicious so you can get back to the fun! If your adventures take you to the south side, SoKno Taco Cantina is a breath of fresh air in this up and coming community. The nasty nachos paired with a house frozen margarita won’t break the bank, and the tequila selection is top shelf, pun intended. The drink menu is playfully named after South Knoxville landmarks, and the beer selection is always rotating. Closer to downtown? Balter Beerworks is an old service station turned scratch kitchen and brewpub with a beautiful patio and fire feature, house and local beer, and signature cocktails. Ride your bike in and get a buck off a house draft, which pairs well with the gruyere grilled cheese or their famous fried chicken sliders with house pickles. Need a caffeine boost? Stop into Honeybee Coffee in South Knox or Awaken Coffee in Old City for some java and a sweet treat.
Dinner is where it gets tough. There are too many wonderfully original restaurants to choose from, but for a long weekend, here are three you should not miss. If your first evening out is casual, stroll through the shops in Market Square before heading to Stock & Barrel for a gourmet burger and duck confit fries. Every burger on the menu is a winner, but I always come back for The Bernie — with fried jalapeños, blueberry jam, bacon, and goat cheese. Bourbon and hand crafted milkshakes make Stock & Barrel even better. Pizza lovers, hear me…Knoxville is home to so many great pies, but only one can reign supreme (my only bad pizza joke, I swear). A Dopo Sourdough Pizza holds the crown. Residing in the Old City, A Dopo’s wood-fired oven is a masterpiece in itself, but the bubbly-crusted pizza it produces is true art. Unique toppings, small batch gelato, and a great selection of wine and beer on tap keeps the small dining room full. If your staycation calls for an elevated dining experience that won’t break the bank, head to Emilia for an unforgettable Italian dinner. The house-made pasta is reason enough to come, but chef Matt Gallagher ups the ante with locally sourced ingredients, a cozy atmosphere, and legendary hospitality. I’ve never visited without ordering the steamed mussels to start, and the carbonara featuring Benton’s bacon is always a home run. Sound too pretentious? Not at all. Chef always keeps bottles of cold Miller High Life on the menu. If a walk down Gay St. makes room for dessert, head to Cruze Farm Downtown for the best soft-serve around. This local “cult dairy” churns up unique flavors that can be dipped and sprinkled to your heart’s delight.
Knoxville is a city bursting with creative energy and a bustling outdoor recreation scene. With hundreds of acres of greenways, bike and hiking trails, quarries, rivers, and lakes, it can be hard to pack it all in. Ijams Nature Center is a great South Knoxville destination. On a hot day walk, bike, or drive down to Mead’s Quarry and rent a paddle board, kayak, or canoe from Riversports Outfitters outpost at Ijams and enjoy the water. During the summer, SUP Yoga (stand up paddleboard) classes are often happening midweek. Check out the Ijams website for schedules. If you feel the need to burn off some of those delicious meals mentioned above rent a mountain bike from Tennessee Valley Bikes and hit the trails at Baker Creek Preserve or find a Pace rental bike location (they are all over the city) to explore the greenways or downtown. Visit the Legacy Parks Foundation website for a map of the Urban Wilderness trails all over Knoxville. There are options starting at family friendly and casual through advanced for those that wish to shred.
When you’ve burned off that energy, slow down with a yoga class offered by Rigazzi Mobile Wellness at various brewery locations. Most classes include a beer afterwards. Or stroll through the Knoxville Museum of Art in World’s Fair Park which is FREE. If you have a crafty side, one of the newest additions to the Knoxville beer scene is Beercraft TN. A fun project that started as “crafting with a beer” has quickly taken over local breweries, where Drew Justice introduces people to leather stamping, screen printing shirts, and relief printing! Check our their Facebook page to find a class near you! End your evening with a stunning sunset with the skyline of downtown as your backdrop at the cliffs above the River Bluff Wildlife Area, complete with a swing. This view may be the best in the city!
There are so many other amazing places in Knoxville that are turning heads and making waves, and we can’t wait to see the growth continue. Squeezing them all into one article would require another issue dedicated just to that! In the meantime, kick back, stop stressing over expensive flights, long drives, or pricey hotels. Create a true itinerary and see Knoxville in a new light. A Knoxville Staycation will allow you to experience our beautiful city as a tourist and remember why you love living here.
Photo by Jess Maples