Life as a special needs parent can be quite isolating. For several years, I didn’t go many places out with the kids, much less allow myself an outing or trip away from them. That idea was just so far-fetched for quite some time. As moms, we have many responsibilities at home and find less opportunities to travel or leave our family behind for an entire weekend. However, as my 40th birthday loomed, some of my best childhood friends and I wanted to do something epic to celebrate. My longest running friendships, these two gals have stuck with me since the 3rd and 4th grades. Though we are separated by distance, we are still as close now as we were at nine years old. With each of us turning 40 in the same year, we decided we needed to take a 40th birthday girls’ getaway trip. Our destination? Nashville, Tennessee, the land of the honky tonk!
This vibrant city is truly the ultimate location for an amazing girls’ weekend. I highly recommend you consider it if you are debating on a place to visit with your gal pals. There are truly so many things to do and places to see. Many people think of Music Row and the Grand Ole Opry when they think of Nashville, but there are also other unique experiences that make it perfect for you and your she-wolf pack! Weeks before our trip, we pulled our bucket lists together and scoped out our agenda for the weekend. I am excited to share with you some of our top hits from the trip.
Our first stop involved a tour of the downtown and Lower Broadway Street area. Our favorite spot for great views of the city from the get-go was along the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. This bridge spans the Cumberland River and is registered on the National Register of Historic Places for being the first in North America to use concrete arched trusses in its design. Though it used to carry vehicular traffic, it closed in 1998 due to being marked in “poor condition” by state inspectors, and was even scheduled for demolition. But, instead it was salvaged and converted to a pedestrian bridge (making for the most ideal Instagram-worthy photo ops, in my opinion).
Next, we strolled the streets of Lower Broadway, renowned for its country music and honky tonk joints. The area is known as Honky Tonk Highway, where live music can be heard from bar to bar from early morning hours through evening. Here, one can find everything from restaurants to dessert spots to retail shops to famous tourist attractions. A walk through this area is an experience in itself, knowing you are entering the very same establishments where many stars were born. Famous singers like Johnny Cash, Dierks Bentley, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton, to name a few, all were discovered in these same little bars along Broadway Street. Sometimes well-known artists still make an appearance here from time to time. And, don’t forget to check out the historic Printer’s Alley, a famous row of nightclubs and jazz venues that date back to the 1940’s.
If you were ever curious what it is like to hop aboard a pedaling pub, opportunities abound in downtown Nashville. These fun mobile entertainment tours seem a Nashville staple, as we witnessed at least three on every block. Each company trolley is different as far as the rules and prices go. The rate tends to differ depending on the cab you nab. Prices vary from $20’s and 30’s per person to $200-$300 per party tour. Some trolleys hold up to six people, while others cater to at least 12-15 at a time. It is certainly a fun and safer approach to a pub/bar crawl as you tour the streets of Nashville at the same time. Keep in mind that your legs might get tired from pedaling. But, if you consume enough hard beverages, you might not feel it anyways;-)
I would also caution you to pace yourself. If you are pedaling and drinking in the middle of a hot summer day, make sure you keep well hydrated. There is nothing worse than getting sick half way through your first day of your wonderful girls’ trip. I can tell you from experience it’s a little embarrassing to have 20-something-year olds taking care of you in the girls’ bathroom after puking your brains up at 40 years old….in the middle of the day. “Nashville will do that to you. It’s happened to the best of us,” they all commiserated. I wanted to tell them it really wasn’t from drinking but from the heat and dehydration, but I figured nobody would believe me;-)
After a full day of cruising the streets, we went in search of food and nourishment. There are so many restaurants to choose from downtown, including several rooftop bars. From the world famous Tootsies Orchid Lounge, to the newly opened Jason Aldean’s restaurant to the rooftop of the Redneck Riviera (owned by John Rich of Big and Rich), it was hard to narrow down. But, we certainly had to sample each spot. Who says you have to stick to one bar? We enjoyed a little progressive dinner as we scoped out the food, music and rooftops of each scene.
We finally settled in on the Wildhorse Saloon for our main entree. Owned by the same group as the Gaylord Opryland Center, the famous restaurant was opened to the public in 1994, where it was converted from an old warehouse into a large party/banquet venue and prime hot spot for country western line dancing. This is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat and catch some dance lessons while you wait for your order. Of course, we had to try it all out. I was very rusty on my boot-scooting moves. But, by the time our food arrived, the steps were all starting to come back to me. I’m a country girl at heart, so line dancing on the floor of the Wildhorse Saloon is one of those dreams come true! It’s even a venue where children are welcome. They may appreciate the horses that decorate the ceiling and the chance to line-dance alongside their families.
No trip would be complete without a visit to the nightlife along Honky Tonk Row. With the glaring neon lights, the array of live bluegrass belting from door to door, and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds lining the sidewalks, even just a drive through the main thoroughfare is an experience you don’t want to miss. This is the time the City truly comes alive. Of course, if you are in your forties like us, this is the time of night when you will really start to feel your age! At 1 or 2 am, we decided we were too old for this kind of late night partying and it was time to head to the hotel to rest our aching feet and bones!
The Gulch District
The Gulch district is an upscale, trendy neighborhood along the southern edge of downtown Nashville that was recently revitalized and transformed into a modern community of urban living, retail, office space, and for a blogger like myself: an Instragram haven! Several famous historical music landmarks reside in this district, including the Station Inn, the Mercy Lounge and the Union Station Hotel. The area is also home to one of the most popular art murals around: the “What Lifts You” angel wings. Visitors travel for miles around for the chance to nab the perfect photo with these wings. Of course, we waited in line for our own shot and the photos didn’t disappoint!
The Gulch District is also home to many excellent restaurants and fine dining experiences. Our late dinner selection was a wonderful Asian/sushi cuisine known as Sunda Nashville. While I selected the Rainbow Sushi, my friend ordered the Pad Thai. I can not recommend her dish enough! Hands down, one of the best Pad Thai dishes I‘ve ever sampled! For breakfast, we had to visit the famous hipster spot at the original Biscuit Love, where we positioned ourselves right under the popular “Nashville” sign. However, it’s pretty silly that I never ordered biscuits, since I tend to have issues with gluten at times. I opted for a nice fancy bowl of oatmeal instead;-)
The highlight of the Gulch neighborhood for us, however, was the amazing L27 rooftop lounge at the top of the Westin hotel. The sweeping views from this location are incomparable! There is even a pool and a very swanky rooftop terrace that will have you channeling your inner celebrity status! Entry after 5 pm is only allowed for those over 21 (and, at 40 years old, I was pretty darn excited to get carded! I even had to document the occasion!) The lobby of the Westin is a gorgeous luxurious experience, as well. The entire entry is comprised of marble floors and walls, as well as cascading fountains and waterfalls that simply take your breath away.
In Search of Celebrities
One of the most important items on my bucket list was to scope out the homes of the country stars that live in the Nashville area. The opportunity to actually meet a celebrity was an added bonus! Therefore, for the week leading up to our trip, I spent some time online investigating public property records in search of any notable names that I could find. We were successful and located the homes of Dolly Parton, Kenny Chesney, the subdivision belonging to Reese Witherspoon, and even one of my favorite soap opera stars all in the general section of Nashville, known as Brentwood.
To indulge me in my borderline stalking tendencies, my friends helped me roam the streets of Nashville and the surrounding areas in hopes of a celebrity sighting. The nearby town of Franklin, TN is home to many celebrities and its downtown square is lined with galleries, historic buildings, antique shops and restored Victorian homes. People like Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and Faith Hill frequent the quaint dining and shopping opportunities here often. Of course, we had to visit and spend a good part of our day shopping and exploring the little town, and I continued to browse the crowd in hopes of recognizing someone famous! We also chose that day to sport and show off our matching shirts that said “40 and Fabulous”, while we cruised and toured the streets of Franklin.
Finally, celebrity stalking paid off and we hit the jackpot when we drove to an indoor warehouse mall, known by locals as “The Factory.” When you first pull up, the rusty tower that looms over a very dilapidated looking set of buildings gives off the impression that you have driven up to a movie set straight out of The Walking Dead. But, it turns out there is a regular mall inside with shops and even eating options. At times, there are concerts and music festivals held there, as well. As it just so happened, we stumbled upon a music festical hosted on the grounds that very same day.
To our delight and surprise, we encountered Chris Kirkpatrick from the boy band NSYNC! Having been teenagers in the late 90’s when the band got it’s start, this was an epic sighting for us! For a few minutes, we lurked nearby, planning our strategy to approach him for autographs and pictures. Finally, we stopped hovering like vultures and just went for it! Turns out he is a very friendly, approachable guy. He even told us he couldn’t believe we were forty. You can’t imagine how my jaw almost hit the floor. That kind of made my whole life! I did, however, wait until he had left to let out my ecstatic scream….
The 12 South neighborhood is a southern girl’s paradise. This is another section a little further south of the Gulch District that has experienced rapid growth in recent years. Like the Gulch, this neighborhood transformed from its crime-ridden reputation into a trendy development strip with high-end retail stores and gourmet cupcake and doughnut shops. From the cute little flower trucks to the bungalow-style homes, the area truly takes me back to my southern roots. It is also home to another iconic mural known as the “I Believe in Nashville” wall art, offering the ultimate Instagram photo op location. Our first stop in this area was a visit to the notorious Five Daughters Bakery. This was one of the top priorities on my friends’ list, so we indulged and helped ourselves to their widely-acclaimed cronuts.
Next, I was dying to check out Draper James, the upscale boutique owned by Reese Witherspoon. You’ll find the shop right next door to the famous Nashville mural, so you don’t have to go far if you stop for a picture. However, when we discovered that most of the apparel was upwards of $300 a pop, we realized we probably couldn’t even afford a monogrammed sock. We pretended to be rich enough to shop there, however, just so we could experience the sweet tea they hospitably serve you when you first walk in the door! Such a cute touch, I couldn’t resist a picture;-)
Another great area for boutique shopping and vintage clothing stores can be found in Hillsboro Village. This district is situated southwest of downtown Nashville, close to Vanderbilt and Belmont University. With two universities in the area, it is a mecca for students and caters to the young hipster demographic. One of my favorite online boutiques has a shop in this region so we came here to shop till we dropped. Hillsboro Village is also home to the very popular Pancake Pantry, a restaurant that serves different scratch-made pancakes throughout the day. The diner is so popular, a line often wraps around the building most mornings in anticipation of their mouth-watering breakfast options. We definintely wanted to check this one out, but unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to visit.
Places to Stay
Many people opt for AirBnB’s when they come to town with their girlfriends. But, it just so happened that one of our friends travels frequently, and racked up a surplus of hotel and lodging points as a result. We ended up having no charge on our lodging because of her generosity! One night, her hotel points led us to the Hilton in the Brentwood area. There, we had a very nice room suite with a delicious, filling southern breakfast bar the following morning. The interior lobby and atrium were pretty impressive! Overall, it’s a great hotel stay if you’re ever near that area.
But, the ultimate and favorite choice of lodging by far was the Opryland Hotel! If you are unfamiliar with this venue, it is a wonderful resort full of things to do during the day in addition to the lodging at night. And, as an added bonus, we obtained access to an amazing balcony view! There is much to do just inside this hotel alone, from shopping to boat rides, to restaurants to concerts. It is a great place to come with a family. Don’t miss the nighttime light show with the colorful fountain light display of colors and music. It’s great to catch in person or from the deck of your balcony. Like with many resorts, however, the extra charges can add up. Though there are several eating options to choose from, dining is pricey and wait times are long. Tipping the valet and luggage service is also a must, as well as the cost of parking. You want to plan your stay accordingly.
Our grand finale of the trip was a late night visit to the Grand Ole Opry, located just beyond the Opryland Resort parking lot. With so many activities squeezed into our weekend, we were pressed for time fitting in this last very important tourist visit. But, we didn’t give up. With the venue so close to our resort, we decided to walk there for our own individual tour. It was a pretty epic time to visit the Grand Ole Opry, since we had the place completely to ourselves and the array of stringing lights made for an extra magical experience. We may not have been able to watch a show on the inside, but how many people can say they line-danced with their best childhood friends on the steps of the Grand Ole Opry? Yep, I’ll take that memory any day!
Saying goodbye to friends and to Nashville was very hard to do. It was the perfect time to be away before we started missing our kids and families too much. But, just enough time to soak in the girl time and comradery. We had not been able to spend that kind of time talking, listening and sharing with each other in years. It was so good for the soul. Friendship is truly a gem that is important to maintain and soak up the memories. The trip was such a priceless experience, I felt like I could face life again. It was truly one of the best ways to indulge in self-care for a weary mother needing something special for herself. The ability to escape for a short period with good friends carried me for a long time. If you haven’t done a weekend trip with your girlfriends, I encourage you to set a date. It is worth it. And, if you are trying to come up with the ultimate destination, I highly recommend Nashville, Tennessee.