Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, there seemed to be limited options for entertainment. In our high school years, my friends and I spent wild nights at the local Borders bookstore or chasing down a sweet treat at TCBY. It felt like I couldn’t get out of that town fast enough, on to bigger and better places. Since that time, though, the small city of Knoxville has grown into it’s own. Each time I return to my hometown, I’m amazed by all the new and fun offerings. And of course there are old favorites I love to revisit too. Every visit brings something different, but these were a few of our favorite spots and activities on our most recent trip to fabulous Knoxvegas.
I’m a sucker for a good farmer’s market, and the downtown Knoxville one does not disappoint. Though I’d say it’s more than a market; it’s a scene. If you find yourself in Market Square on a summer Saturday morning, you’ll be met with a bevy of vendors selling everything from produce, meats, and freshly baked goods to shirts, jewelry, and pottery. I loved stopping to buy a bouquet from Napping Cat Flower Farm, who arranged gorgeous flowers for my wedding many years ago. I cooled off with a refreshing lavender honey soda from The Burns and the Bees and treated myself to a cute new shirt for hiking from Burlaep Apparel. But our favorite vendor on a hot day was Milk + Honey Ice Cream. With handmade quality and unique flavors like honey-orange and blueberry-lemon sorbet, we were all fighting over the last bites. Don’t worry if the kids get sticky from all that ice cream, market square has a small splash pad that’s great for playing and cooling off after a morning at the market.
Summertime in Knoxville is nothing if not hot, so a body of water to cool off is a must. Mead’s Quarry is ideally located between Ijam’s Nature Center (one of my old favorite spots) and Forks of the River WMA, making it the perfect spot to cool off after a hike or sunflower walk. Since the quarry has a shallow beach, it was a great spot for my younger swimmers to play and feel safe, but there’s also plenty of deeper water, which my older swimmer enjoyed. Personally, I’d love to come back with fewer children and rent a kayak or paddle board to relax and explore the quarry more. But on this trip, it provided lots of play and splashing with the little ones, free of charge.
The growing city of Knoxville as done an amazing job weaving wilderness into it’s urban landscapes, and where the Tennessee River meets the French Broad, lies the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area. Each summer, this small segment of land is transformed into a world of yellow as thousands of sunflowers greet visitors hiking through the area. It was a short but pretty walk from where we parked at Mead’s Quarry to get to the gravel paths that lead through the flowers. Admittedly, we were about a week early to enjoy the peak bloom, but it was still a really beautiful family hike and we had the place almost to ourselves to enjoy the early bloomers.
Our family doesn’t need any excuse to indulge in more ice cream, but Cruze Farm Dairy is an experience, which makes it all the more fun. Cruze is farm-fresh ice cream with a throwback feel, complete with vintage decor, fun uniforms, and interesting environments. Though they have a more convenient downtown Knoxville location, we liked driving out to the Asbury House Dairy, where we sat on the sprawling front porch to enjoy our sweet treats. Cruze ice cream is soft-serve style and they offer a unique and ever-changing menu of flavors that you can order individually or combine into “swirls.” Beware though, the ice cream melts fast, so be ready to get your lick on!
5. Indulging in Coffee and Pastries
In the last couple decades, Knoxville has certainly upped it’s coffee shop game. I remember when the town got it’s first Starbucks, and it was a big deal. Since then, it’s come a long way. Today, there are no lack of people in the area who really love good coffee, and no lack of great places to get it. My two personal favorites, which I was lucky enough to enjoy multiple times on this trip, are K Brew and Wild Love Bakehouse. K Brew was a great place to bring the kids along for a breakfast of freshly-baked bagels, plus they have amazing swing chairs inside, which the kids loved sitting in and only sort-of broke the “no swinging” rule. Wild Love, on the other hand, I prefer to go to solo (though it’s very family friendly). But, they have the best baked goods – buttery croissants, flakey handpies, indulgent cookies – and I just selfishly don’t want to share those with grabby little fingers.
Honorable Mention: I’d be remiss not to mention Knoxville’s great brewery scene, especially since I have a deep appreciation for a well-brewed beer. I was lucky enough to have an amazing babysitter (thanks mom!) that enabled me to get out for a solo hike and try some local beers. First stop, Alliance Brewing Company, is a relaxed brewery that’s perfectly located to grab a refreshingly delicious IPA after adventuring in south Knoxville. On the other side of the river, Albright Grove Brewing offers a wonderfully diverse menu of flavorful beers. Having acquired my love for good beer while living in German, I was especially impressed with how true to form their European styles tasted. These two were the perfect spots to unwind, write, and feel like an adult for a moment.