Whether or not you're letting your babies grow up to be cowboys, you can still wrangle lots of family-friendly fun in Music City USA. And even if country tunes aren't your cup of tea, the charm and hospitality of this Southern hot spot will win you over. Check out why you should get to know Nashville.
It's a music mecca.
No doubt about it: Nashville is the center of the universe for honky-tonk fans. Just take a short walk down almost any street to see the countless clubs, bars, and restaurants made famous by country stars, past and present. And none of these venues is more legendary than the Grand Ole Opry (opry.com). Everyone who's anyone -- from Johnny Cash to Carrie Underwood -- has performed there. Introduce your kids to country music at a live concert, or let them show off their own singing skills on the stage during a behind-the-scenes tour.
Be sure to stop in at the nearby Country Music Hall of Fame (countrymusichalloffame.com). Grab the free "Fun for Families" pamphlet on the way in, which will guide you to all the museum's gotta-try kids' activities, including listening stations, workshops, and an exhibit that lets you design your own country-star outfit.
There's art and culture too.
Don't let the laid-back spirit of Nashville fool you. It's a mini metropolis that includes a state-of-the-art science center, botanical gardens, and a great zoo where your kids can climb a 14-foot catwalk to get face time with the Masai giraffes. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts ($8.50 for adults, free for kids 18 and under; fristcenter.org) has a huge exhibit called ArtQuest, which features more than 30 hands-on stations where educators will help your child paint, sculpt, or learn printmaking.
The city is also home to the oldest professional children's theater in the country (nashvillechildrenstheatre.org), and the owners had the brilliant idea to create a soundproof "cry room" with a great view of the stage -- which means you don't have to miss the show if your baby gets fussy or your toddler has a tantrum.
The fall foliage is fantastic.
Nashville has events year-round, but fall is definitely the best time for families. It's a lot less crowded, and the weather is mild, so you and your kids won't be zapped by the humidity. If you time your trip right, you'll be in town to catch the leaves changing color. The Ganier Ridge Loop Trail will take you through the Nashville hills, where trees turn amazing shades of red, gold, and orange. If you're up for a short hike, the city has four nature centers that have easy trails for kids.
You can sample down-home cooking.
Make sure at least one meal in Nashville includes slow-cooked BBQ. A favorite local joint is Jack's Bar-B-Que: It's cheap, quick, and delicious (jacksbarbque.com). Your kids will probably like the food -- and the fun -- at The Pfunky Griddle the best, though (thepfunkygriddle.com). The house specialty here is DIY pancakes: Each table comes with its own griddle, and you choose between white or multigrain batters and a slew of add-ins. If you still have room for dessert, head over to Gigi's Cupcakes (gigiscupcakesusa.com), which is just blocks from the Historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley recorded lots of his hit songs. Gigi's has about 36 different varieties of cupcakes made on a rotating basis, like the Hunka Chunka Banana Love (banana-nut cake full of chocolate chunks and topped with chocolate ganache frosting).
It's one big roadside attraction.
One of the great things about Nashville is that you never know what you'll find around the next corner; it could be an outrageous street performer or an entire museum devoted to Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard (cootersplace.com). By far, the most unusual, you've-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it attraction is the full-size replica of the Parthenon (nashville.gov/parthenon). Earning the city the nickname "The Athens of the South," this 1897 model of the historic Greek building contains a 42-foot statue of Athena and a collection of 19th- and 20th-century art.
Of course there's a theme park.
No family destination would be complete without one -- and just 10 minutes from downtown Nashville is A Cowboy Town (prices vary; tickets range from $14 for kids ages 6 and under to $46 for adults; acowboytown.com). This 116-acre Wild West attraction is full of activities that will turn your kids into little cowpokes, including gunfight reenactments, horseback rides (hayrides for the younger set), and a campfire cookout.
You'll find water adventures for every age.
The General Jackson Showboat is a 300-foot paddle-wheel riverboat with four large decks and a two-story Victorian theater where you can catch an interesting mix of shows -- everything from live music to the Peking Acrobats (packages vary; tickets start at $18 for adults, $14 for kids, generaljackson.com).
When the weather is warm, you can do some boating of your own. Choose among a variety of lake adventures at Nashville Shores, including kayaking, banana-boat rides, and a giant trampoline that floats. Big kids will love the nine wild water slides, and you'll have a hard time dragging your little ones out of the Wacky Pond Kiddie Pool ($24 for adults, $18 for kids under 47 inches tall; nashvilleshores.com).
Lots of lodging options.
Whether you like B&Bs or full-service resorts, Nashville has plenty of accommodations with rates starting as low as $89 (visitmusiccity.com). Each room at the new Homewood Suites by Hilton Nashville-Downtown comes with a fully equipped kitchen to save money on eating out, and there's even a complimentary grocery service so you can explore the city and come back to a full fridge (starts at $130; homewoodsuites.com).
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Parents magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.