“Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
June 20, 2012 6:36 AM   Subscribe

ROAD TRIP! We're looking for a route from Buffalo to Nashville that lets us stop for great food, cheesy retro attractions and things each of us would enjoy.

Soon we'll be hitting the road, headed for Nashville (for Mas Tacos and the Bakersfield Sound Exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.) We've done this drive before, but about ten years ago, taking this route and stopping the first night in Columbus. The only thing we remember about Columbus is that we had a great dinner at a microbrewery's restaurant, but we don't remember what it was.

This year, the only thing we know we want to do for sure is spend our second night at Wigwam Village in Kentucky and hit Nashville in the morning. We'll also probably go on to Memphis, as (be still my heart) the kid wants to see Graceland.

Things I like:

Two-lane blacktop through small towns - but only if it adds an hour or two or three - not ten - to the trip. Used bookstores. Good pie. Yard sales. Stopping at farm stands for snacks. County fairs.

Things the kid likes:

Animals - small farm/petting zoos/refuges and weird Reptile places like this one we came across in PA. Hotels and motels with a pool are her #1 favourite thing. Scooped ice cream in interesting flavours. Funky stores with nice people who'll let her be proud of how she's learning to make her own purchases politely. Book stores with graphic novels. Anything Spiderman.

Things the husband likes:

Vintage guitar and clothing stores. Letterpress. Signage like cool neon and old hand-painted signs. Businesses where nothing has changed in sixty years. Diners and diner food. Live music in the rockabilly/bluegrass/honky tonk/garage punk (together or separate) vein. Mom and pop motels. Local breweries.

Please help us stay a little offbeat, and a little off the beaten path?
posted by peagood to Travel & Transportation around Nashville, TN (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a great site, Roadside America.

They have a routing map that you can use.

When you hit Nashville, be sure to have a meal at Monells. Seriously, fried chicken and peach preserves....so freaking good!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Won't threadsit - but I probably should have mentioned that I usually do check Roadside America, but sometimes the information there is out-of-date and their trip planner isn't bad - but we want to include places that just have local charm without being off-the-hook with quirkiness. I'm just as happy to find nice roads to drive along as I would be to find places to stop into.

Thanks for the Monells suggestion!
posted by peagood at 7:06 AM on June 20, 2012

Best answer: A letterpress fan will 100% guaranteed want to go into Hatch Show Print. They sell some Hatch stuff at the HoF gift shop, but you can buy other things in their store directly. It's within easy walking distance of the HoF area.

It's over on the west side of Nashville, but if you can make it to the Loveless Cafe for breakfast, it's definitely worth the trip.

Crazy ice cream in? Try Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles, also in Nashville.

For food in Memphis, you might want to hit Corky's for BBQ.

I'm most familiar with the small-town stuff on the east and south quadrants (that's where we live), but I think they'd be a bit too far out of the way. My experience with I-40 between Nashville and Memphis is pretty much confined to the interestate corridor. The only town of note along the way is Jackson, but there are signs for the Casey Jones Village and Loretta Lynn Ranch. The Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau has other attractions listed here.

Memphis is only a couple of hours from Tupelo, MS. It's a nice drive (or it was several years ago) and you can visit Elvis' birthplace to cap off the Graceland experience. It looks like you can head up 45 and catch I-40 from there.

Good luck, have fun and welcome back!
posted by jquinby at 7:16 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My Ohio geography is for shit. Where is Sandusky? Because it is home to Cedar Point, which is very retro (wooden coasters!) and very fun.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:19 AM on June 20, 2012

Since you say you're probably also going to Memphis:
BBQ - go to Central BBQ
If you like authentic diners, go to the Arcade. They've been in continuous operation since 1919. But go early - they close at 3pm.
Music & museums: The Stax Museum is really pretty awesome.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:27 AM on June 20, 2012

Best answer: The NYTimes just yesterday spotlighted the Nashville food scene, esp. East Nashville (East Nasty, according to Todd Snider):
If you're stircrazy from the drive, try the Zipline just west of Nashville!

Best barbecue in Memphis is actually at the Cozy Corner on North Parkway near downtown. Ride the trolley in Memphis, or go to the Memphis Farmers Market (all [relatively] local). Oxford, MS is even closer than Tupelo: you could go to world-famous Square Books.
posted by mmiddle at 7:35 AM on June 20, 2012

Kin to (and not that far from) Reptiland is Lake Tobias, a zoo-ish preserve in the middle of Pennsylvania. The safari ride is actually quite enjoyable.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:50 AM on June 20, 2012

Best answer: For a small detour between Columbus and Cincinnati, you could go to Young's Dairy and old school place that makes and sells its own ice cream and cheese and the like. They have some other kid friendly activities but it appears no petting zoo (although I suppose you might be able to see the cows). The dairy is located right outside of Yellow Springs, OH will definitely satisfy the desire for small, quirky locally owned stores.

On the east side of Cincinnati, you could stop at Terry's Turf Club for burgers. The restaurant is in a old house and the owner uses it display his collection of neon signage. Speaking of signs, you are passing through just in time to visit the American Sign Museum's new home. Near the museum would be Camp Washington Chili one of the many old diners around the city that serve the local specialty Cincinnati chili.
posted by mmascolino at 7:55 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi from Columbus, was the microbrewery Gordon Biersch? They are still around. While here you'll definitely want to stop at Jeni's for amazing ice cream (multiple locations). A fun bookstore is the Book Loft, in German Village. Sandusky is way out of the way but if you are thinking amusement parks, King's Island is on the way to Cincinnati. And I haven't been to the new American Sign Museum but I *loved* the old one! There are tons more places I could go on about but those are the top of what I know related to the points you mentioned. Feel free to MeMail if you have any questions. Have fun!
posted by PaulaSchultz at 2:52 PM on June 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone!

What's going to work for us:

We've been to Hatch (they did our daughter's birth announcements) and we're hoping to see Isle of Printing too. Las Paletas looks great, and is on the list! In Memphis we love the Arcade - last time I was there I ate two banana puddings and had to make the next leg of my trip with my pants unbuttoned. The NYT link means I'm going to have to pack my buffet pants, and I'm thrilled.

But it's the American Sign Museum that's the biggest draw - I never knew! So now I think we need to aim of Cincinnati the first night, spend most of the first day there, then aim for Wig Wam Village that night.

That means that a place to stay around there would be helpful - and breakfast suggestions!

PaulaSchultz, I'll check Gordon Biersch out and see. A neighbour recommended German Village there, so that, I'll try.

And I'd forgotten about the Loretta Lynn ranch - that looks great, because we love trail rides and some of the other activities there (and we love Loretta). We only ate at one of the restaurants last time we were through.
posted by peagood at 4:12 AM on June 22, 2012

Gordon Biersch is a chain, so I'm imagining you probably were at Barley's, Elevator or a number of other places, some of which will no longer exist from your prior visit.

If you want good ice cream, you need to come through Cbus again, and hit up Jeni's, which wouldn't have been here yet. Even if you don't hit Cbus, I think they now have a shop in Nashville too!
posted by pixiecrinkle at 3:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone - plotting and booking. And wondering if we had to pick just one of the cave tours in Cave City, Kentucky, which should it be...

As for the brewery in Columbus, I remember that the food and beer was so good we made sure to hit it on our way back. It was about ten years ago, so it would have to have been around then. And, it was near an area that looked like an open air market, because we walked around there a bit. It didn't seem like a chain. We sat in big wooden booths - it was a long and narrow and dim place.

Thanks for the suggestions. Also still looking for ideas about places to stay anywhere between Columbus and Cincinnati.
posted by peagood at 5:11 AM on June 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone. We had a great trip, for the most part. The storms in the Ohio area affected where we stayed, so aside from the Sign Museum and Terry's Turf Club in Cincinnati, we didn't do much at the midpoint either way. Those were fantastic suggestions - the people at each place really made the difference between an okay experience and feeling great about it. Terry's was especially great - loved the food, and we were invited to sit at the bar and chatted away with the great staff; and the kid was THRILLED to throw peanuts on the floor and play with the free pen with the built-in menu scroll they gave her. My husband loved drinking Little Kings beer and pretending to be a giant. On the way home, I had to drive twelve straight hours because there were no hotels to be found along our Ohio route, and it was not much fun and we couldn't find anything wonderful and impulsive to do.

We took some of the side roads, nosed into any towns that sounded interesting and found that much of small town America has been taken over by strip malls by the highway. Many thrift stores were "curated" and even antique shops were gathered up and settled into malls near off-ramps. The Kentucky Blue Grass Parkway was a really nice and scenic drive, but when we tried to follow the Bourbon Trail, we were frustrated and couldn't hit any of the distilleries early enough in the day to enjoy them.

But we ate a lot of good food, met some nice people, and for the record, one of my favourite places in Memphis was Gus's, where we ate of the wonderful chicken and could see the fireworks from the river from the sidewalk out front. The ducks at the Peabody were a treat, and my husband loved shopping at Lansky's. We also loved the food at Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana and they were SO NICE there. Mas Tacos in Nashville was indeed fabulous, though it was too hot to move around much. And on the way into town we pulled into the Cockeyed Pig in Gallatin by chance, and had some pretty great barbecue there - and did not have room for any of their huge slices of fabulous-looking pie.

Thanks, AskMeFi - our trip was better because of you all.
posted by peagood at 6:34 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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