Spending time with my daughters is the most precious thing in the entire universe to me. Their laughter lights up my world. It is my absolute delight, creating a rich environment that’s full of time crawling, conversation designed to dig into their hearts and minds, and days spent actively engaged with them so that, when they become adults, they will look back and know I love them, because we took the time to play. To accomplish this lofty dream, I have spent the last eight years scavenging my city, and the ones closest to me. We buy season passes to multiple places each year so that we have a wide range of places to visit. A friend recently asked me for some ideas on venues that are good for parties and it got me to thinking about, and appreciating, the vast array of places that have acted as second homes to my children and I. I wanted to remember these places in words so I thought I’d create a list of all the places we love, and things we enjoy in and around Nashville. It is too difficult to choose a favorite, so the numbers are not in any particular order of preference but rather just as they came to mind. We have actually visited each of these places at least once—there are more in and around Nashville, but I only included the places we have been.

1. Divas and Dudes, formerly known as Sweet and Sassy, in Franklin, TN. It’s a children’s salon. We held the girls’ birthday parties there for at least two years in a row. FANCY stuff—nails, hair, make-up, dress-up clothes galore, a runway for the girls to walk down, dancing, you name it. This is the Princess’ dream come true. When my oldest daughter expressed a sagging confidence, I took her for a day of pampering here and it really helped.


2. Let It Shine Gymnastics. This place is a Christian-oriented gymnasium for children. They host a wide array of lessons. Both my girls took gymnastic classes here, where they learned to do things like cartwheels. They also host incredible parties and, on ocassion, sleepover events at the gym. Really, really, REALLY fun times.


3. Pump It Up. It’s an inflatable funhouse that also has a rock climbing wall.  It has 2 rooms of inflatables. Need I say more?


4. Discovery Center in Murfreesboro. This place rocks, especially for younger children. It’s really geared toward kids ages birth–6ish. It’s basically a science museum that includes an art room and changing exhibits. It also sits on a beautiful piece of property that hosts a trail you can walk around and as well as an outdoor playground. It’s a must see, a real treasure.

From inside the “Shadow Room” at the Discovery Center

5. Adventure Science Center, Nashville. This place has an awesome history. Did you know, for instance, that the Croft ladies who owned the property that the Nashville Zoo currently sits on willed their land and house to the children’s museum in exchange for the museum paying their bills, promising not to ever tear down their house and to use the surrounding land to educate Nashville about animals? It’s a fasincating story. Anyway, back to the museum itself. It’s huge. Massively huge. And sometimes loud. And my children weren’t very interested in the exhibits until they turned 5—only this year have they really been able to see the beauty and sheer brilliance of some of the exhibits. They have a planeterium that rocks, and they also host regular “star gazer nights.” They also have a Subway INSIDE the museum—awesomeness. My advice is to take your kid to the shows before they’re five but use the Discovery Center as the main science center until your child is at least 6.

 

6. Twinkle Tea — it’s a tea house. Dress-up clothes, real china, tea. What more could a fairy princess ask for? And they do host parties.
7. The Funky Griddle — a piece of genius. It’s a restaurant that’s primarly open for breakfast. Basically, there’s a griddle in the middle of your table and you get to make your own breakfast. Kids love it.

8. Natchez Trace Riding Stables, Lebanon. It’s a long way out, but it is by far the best horse riding stables around town. We’ve been to the one in Mt. Juliet and that was a sour experience. We’ve been to the one in M’boro, and that was okay, but the trail is so much better at Natchez Trace. They only do 2 hour rides, it’s $40 per horse (awesome deal, considering most trail rides are at least $30 for 1 hr) and the horses walk for a nice stretch IN water. Law mandates that children under the age of 18 wear a helmet, and the stables provide the helmets but if you’re nervous, parents can ride on the same horse as their child (a requirement until the child is 5). Horseback riding is an experience unlike any other. I love it and both my children have loved it since they were 3 years old. Tipping is expected at any horseback riding stables.

9. Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. It may not be one of the biggest zoos in the country but I love this zoo. The habitats are phenomenal. The animals always seem content and safe. The employees love the animals, and it’s obvious—they talk to them and treat them like pets. There is always some event going on at the zoo. During the summer, they host Zoovie Nights–basically a drive in movie type thing. They also have Ice Day every year where they bring in inflatables, face painting and free ice cream–not to mention huge blocks of ice posted throughout the park. They have a huge and wonderful playground. They currently have a special exhibit of Dinosaurs at the zoo; the dinosaurs will be there until the end of July. There’s a great outdoor auditorium where Keeper Talks are held. Keeper Talks are also held at exhibits throughout the day. They have train rides, carosuel rides and you can feed the birds. They also have campouts, where you pitch a tent and spend the night at the zoo. How cool is that?!

10. Dino World, Cave City, KY. It’s only about an hour and a half away, and it is TOTALLY worth driving some Saturday. It’s inexpensive ($12 for adults, $9 for kids.  Season passes are very inexpensive) and has about 150 life-sized dinosaurs. If you have a kid who likes dinosaurs, this is an absolute must-see.

11. Beech Bend, Bowling Green, KY. This is, max, a two hour ride away but, again, totally worth it. It’s Holiday World on a smaller scale, which means less people, less lines. It has a lazy river, a children’s pool/play area that is 3 stories high. It’s just awesome. I really, really recommend it. We live in Nashville and we bought season passes because it was so wonderful.

12. Nashville Shores. When my girls were little, the size of this place intimidated me. Now, it’s a much anticipated day when we get to go. The season pass covers itself in 2 visits–we went about 5 times last year. They do “nickle and dime” you—food is expensive, nothing is free, you’re not allowed to bring in outside food or drink. We usually spent about $30 dollars every time we went and that covered food and drink all day for 3 people. Really a very good water park.

13. Inside Out Playpark. It’s a park indoors. They’ve got a treehouse, they’ve got a track that goes all the way arond the perimeter of the play structures.  They have “balance bikes” (bicycles that have no pedals–you ride them by trying to balance yourself), a treehouse, jungle gyms and slides all indoors.   It’s really best for younger kids — 5 and under age range. But it’s cool.


14. Harvey Park, Spring Hill. Spring Hill is about 40 minutes from Nashville, but it’s worth the drive. It’s a sweet little town. And in the midst of it sits an unexpected treasure—the coolest playground you’ve ever seen. It has equipment that the parks in Nashville simply do not have. It has a trail. It has a creek that you can wade in. It is wonderful.

15. Marionette Puppet Shows at the library, Nashville. They’re free, and they usually take place every weekend. It is by far the coolest kid’s auditorium I’ve ever seen. Just go.

Also, putting on your own puppet shows for the neighborhood rocks.

16. Granny White Park, Brentwood. It’s just a favorite, and pretty.  It’s got great pavilions set up close enough to the playground that you can see your kids.  It’s set in a serene, quiet neighborhood, too.


17. Centennial Park. Ducks to feed. Two playgrounds designed for different aged kids, huge train, huge plane, free Shakespeare in the Park shows during the Fall and the Parthenon, as well as a beautiful garden. It’s a favorite.

18. Brillant Sky Toy Store, Franklin. Every weekend (check to make sure, though), they host Story & Messy Craft Time. Geared toward kids 7 and under. Free. Way cool. Also the place has really unique toys and educational games that you can’t find at, say, Toys R Us.
19. Fired Up. You go, you pick a piece of unfinished pottery, you sit there and paint it, then you leave it for them to glaze and bake and pick it up a week later. Very relaxed atmosphere and a cool “Mommy/Daddy and Me” day. Prices vary, depending on the piece of pottery you pick to paint; there’s usually a “studio fee” for each painter.
20. The Greenway, Murfreesboro. Creek. Trail. Playground. Good park.

 

 


21. Cheekwood Botantical Gardens. This place is serene. It is beautiful. They have a museum too and they host regular classes for parents/children. They have art camp. The grounds themselves don’t usually have anything out of this world to offer children—it’s really just a bunch of pretty gardens. But you can have a picnic, or bring a ball or, basically enjoy the quiet and peacefulness of the place. They do sometimes have exhibits, like once they had a really neat treehouse exhibit and around most major holidays, something is always going on: Easter hunts (and activities, games = really cool), lights, etc. Also has a restaurant on site.

22. Honeysuckle Hill Farm. By far, the best “Fall” farm around. We’ve been to several, and this is by far the largest and the most kid-friendly. Jump on the “popcorn jumper thing”, mine for real gemstones that you keep, huge pumpkin patches, 2 corn mazes, animals shows like pig racing and more. It’s just wonderful.

23. Pratt’s Orchard.  One of my favorite  things to do each year.  We go here every year to pick strawberries and apples. They are by far the most kid-friendly (some of these pick your own farms are definitely NOT kid friendly), and they have lots of really good fruit. It’s a drive out to Lebanon, but it’s worth it. It’s a memory that you pretty much really need to make with your kids. Plus, the farm itself is peaceful, quiet and beautiful.

24. Nashville Children’s Theater. Awesome. Just awesome. Typically their season coorindates with the school year, and they have different shows each season. My girls loved their “Junie B Jones” production. I remember going here on a field trip and my daughter took acting classes here.  For three people, tickets to a single show can run close to $40  but if you buy a subscription to multiple shows, it’s cheaper.  It’s a Nashville staple.


25. Goofballs, Franklin. Laser tag, bumper cars, huge arcade = big hit. Basically, it’s a bigger version of Chuck E. Cheeses plus bumper cars. Just like CEC, it can get expensive. But also just like CEC, it’s usually worth it.
26. Young Chef’s Academy. It’s exactly like what it sounds. The kids become chefs for a day (or a week or, you know, however long you decide to keep them in the classes). They have menus posted on their website so that you know in advance what the kids will be making. They have summer camps too.
27. Bi-Centennial Park, Nashville. The big attraction here is the fountains through which the children can run and play in their swimsuits.
28. Sips and Strokes, Franklin. You (and your child, if so desired) choose a painting from their website that you would like to create, then you spend 3 hours together with a class and, somehow, you really do end up painting the same picture you saw on the web. It’s really neat.
29. Stardust Drive in, Watertown. It’s about a 2 hour drive there. But it’s a drive-in and it’s a double feature—two movies. Right now, they are only open on the weekends (til summer hits) and are featuring several movies, including the Lorax. Get there EARLY.
30. Monkey Joe’s—inflatable fun house, probably the most open and friendly of the bunch.

 

 


31. The Y at Maryland Farms–the best one I’ve been to. They have an awesome outdoor pool/slide. Their rules are strict concerning children and the pool. Only 2 children per 1 adult. All children, regardless of age, must wear life vest UNLESS they pass the swim test (they must be able to swim—not dog paddle—the entire length of the pool without stopping) at which point their name is put into a little magic book that gets them a green wrist bracelet every time they come. Strict, but safe.

32. Lowe’s. Every Saturday, Lowe’s hosts a craft/project for the kids, free of charge. It’s always fun. We built a car, they’ve made music boxes.


33. Frist Visual Center for the Arts, Nashville. It has an upstairs that is dedicated to art created by children and it includes some pretty nifty things not typically found elsewhere, like teaching your child to listen draw to music, or print-making. I love it. Plus, the art is really nice too.


34. Nashville Symphony’s Pied Piper Series… introduces children to music and includes pre-show activities, like a musical petting zoo where the children get to touch and play the instruments.
35. Maggie Moos &/or Marble Slab Ice Cream Parlors, Nashville. This place is just so much fun.
36. The Sound Haven Recording Studios, Spring Hill. For about $50 dollars, you and your child can go to the studio, record a song just like they do in downtown Nashville and receive it on CD. Priceless memories.
37. Sunny Side Lights. This guy lights up literally two blocks at Christmas time. You should look up “Sunny Sight lights” and go see it in December.  Go early, though, because the traffic line is often very slow and long!

 

 


38. Standing Stone Farm, Gallatin. It’s a cheese making farm that offers parent-child workshops during the Spring and Summer. Milk a Nubian goat, bottle feed baby goats, turn the fresh milk into butter, then into mozzarella cheese, make little pizzas to eat the cheese you just made. It’s a 3 hr adventure and costs $60 dollars (that includes 1 parent, 1 child; additional children are $25).

39. TN Rennaissance Festival. The Wash Ladies are always hysterical. It’s not REALLY designed for kids, but if you take them, there’s plenty to see. Jousting competitions, magic shows, etc. And it’s really cool to see all the costumes and such. Only takes place on the weekends in May through Memorial Day.

40. Sportsplex—very low-cost pools, ice-skating rinks, tennis courts, etc. We visited frequently, until we got the membership for the Y. In related news, Brentwood Skating Center is the best skating rink.

 

 

41. Steeplechase—occurs every year in May, is super cheap (the general admission seats gets you front row as long as you get there early). It’s a day spent outside with each other while also watching some horses. Really fun.


42. Christ Church Nashville — This is my church. We have a vast array of opportunities for developing fellowship including a 3 story indoor playground, a cafe, bookstore, very special pastors and leaders and the best Kid’s Ministry I’ve ever been a part of! We’ve also got weekly classes, a beautiful prayer tower and peaceful and beautiful grounds. It’s a big campus, but don’t let that scare you away—-it’s my favorite place in town.


43. Monkey Treehouse, Bellevue. Best suited for children 5 and under but still worth the drive. I wish there had been such a place to play when I was a kid!

44. Have a lemonade stand. We’ve taken our lemonade stand to the parks several times, filled it full of fruits and lemonade and have had lots of fun. We don’t put a price on the items, we say it’s free. But, most of the time, people will give the girls a couple quarters or a dollar for a drink and a fruit. It’s classic, and I love it.


45. Chattanooga. Two hours away from Nashville sits a gold mine of treasures for children. There’s a UFO house. There’s the Chattanooga Choo Choo. There’s the Creative Discovery Museum. There’s the Aquarium. There are boat rides. There are fountains for the kids to run through. There is the river. There is a huge hill that you can roll or slide on a piece of cardboard down. There are numerous wax museums and awesome bed and breakfasts. Really, it’s hard to decide which is the best part of Chattanooga, although I think the CDM is a close call. Really, really worth the drive down.

The Nature Center in Chattanooga is very inexpensive and has this treehouse. Inside the treehouse is a huge swing. You can actually stay all night in one of the treehouses.

46. Make a clothesline for your kids and their doll clothes. Very easy. Take strong yarn or rope, tie it to two trees or chairs, buy a package of clothespins, set up two buckets–one of just water and one with water and soap, and let your kids wash their doll clothes and hang them out to dry. You’d be amazed at how fun this is.

47.   Long Hunter State Park.  Near Providence in Mt. Juliet,  we’ve seen deer at this park frequently.  It also sits on part of Percy Priest Lake.   Has a boat-shaped playground and a dock for fishing.  All in all, it’s one of my personal favorites of the parks.

48.  Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC):

I have taken the girls there to see “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Nutcracker” and we now seek out reasons to visit this place.  The shows are beautifully done and they almost always have something for children.  The tickets can  get a little pricey, but it is worth it.

 

I am so thankful for my girls and for the multitude of experiences my wonderful city of Nashville has offered us!

Take pictures—wherever you go, take pictures and share it!!!  My girls and I actually have “photo shoot days”  where they get some of their favorite toys, we go outside and take pictures of each of them.  They love it.  And so do I!!


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