As anyone who follows my IG or reads this blog knows, I love Nashville. I have always considered Nashville home, even as a kid living in Florida; we visited family here many times every year, and when I moved here after college, it felt so familiar and comfortable, even though I couldnt get around without a GPS. Now, more than a decade later, this place is more home than ever, and despite all of this city’s issues and growing pains, I love it.
But clearly I’m biased. 🙂
So I’m always interested in outside opinions. How do others see my beloved home? What does Music City look like through another’s eyes?
I decided to ask one of my besties, Charlotte, who has been visiting me here several times a year since 2009. I met her during my year abroad, where we both fell in love with Paris. After nearly a decade spent in Indiana where she went to grad school and received a Doctorate in Art History, she recently joined the other ~80 people who move here daily and is now a Nashville resident! Let’s see what she has to say.
Q: You’ve called Nashville your “home away from home” and have wanted to move here for years! What was the appeal of this city and what finally brought you here?
A: Well, this requires a little background. I grew up on the east coast of Virginia (basically the 95 corridor) which is one giant stretch of city. There’s no stop and start to the sprawl—it extends as far as Baltimore to the north (if not further!) and to Richmond to the south. Bloomington (where I lived in Indiana) was a nice contrast for a few years. It has finite boundaries where the “city” ended, quite abruptly in some cases, and farmland took over. In DC and the surrounding areas, it was a giant city/suburb that it felt like such a mishmash with no real distinct culture. There were so many different influences competing with and reacting to one another in a sprawl of suburbs filled with bureaucrats. (I definitely think this is a case of familiarity breeds contempt—I miss DC on the reg now). Your experiences could greatly vary based on your zip code. In Bloomington, there was a core identity, for better or worse, driven by Indiana University. I loved both DC and Bloomington, but to me they both had some negatives. DC was so big I got lost and had a hard time finding my place and my people. Bloomington, while I loved the small town vibe (even though, to many, Bloomington is the big city), it gets old once you’ve eaten at every restaurant in town; it takes months to get a doctors appointment because there are too few doctors nearby; and the closest “city” is an hour away. I wanted something that was in between.
Nashville seemed, from my observations of it over the years, to represent a kind of perfect medium. It doesn’t have the sprawl of DC and Northern Virginia, but it’s a proper city with its own identity. It’s growing and changing (for better or worse it seems, I’m learning all about New and Old Nashville). It’s got its Southern charm, but also its Southern problems. It has a boundary, but the entire city can’t be traversed in 10 minutes. There’s great food, great art and culture, great music (though I’m not much for country), and, maybe most importantly, people I care about.
Landing on Nashville as that option is perhaps not surprising. I watched Ashley move here in 2008 and make it her own. After visiting so many times, I saw the potential for roots. As someone who moved around so much growing up, I never felt like I belonged to any of the places I moved. In Nashville, I thought maybe I’d have a head start with lots of folks I already loved nearby. (This came with some anxieties though! I didn’t want to burden Ashley and interrupt her life or community, or over-rely on her or her friend group for my social interactions). I wanted a city that I could make a home.
I always joked that in order to move here, I’d need to get a job at Vanderbilt. Well, in May 2021, I started my job at Vandy and the rest is history. Here I am!
Q: Now that you’re settled and getting into a routine, how is the city living up to your expectations? Is it starting to feel like ‘home’ yet?
A: I love being in a bigger city, where I have *choices* — something I didn’t have a lot of in Bloomington. I think my little area is starting to feel like home. It’s definitely weird to move to a new city during a pandemic and to be working from home. (When I moved, we anticipated coming back to the office sometime this summer—that’s not happening and, as of now, we’re still working from home indefinitely.) There are a lot of things I still haven’t figured out largely because a) it’s still a pandemic and b) it’s still so freaking hot. There are a lot of little things I need to do before it feels like home. Like find a coffee shop that I like working in that serves the best americano. My favorite place to get gas. Restaurants that I really like for all types of moods and cravings! The best pizza! I have SO much exploring left to do and I kind of hope that feeling never ends.
Q: As an outsider who’s also a new resident and a frequent visitor to Nashville, what are your impressions of Music City?
There are lots of different Nashvilles and I am looking forward to getting to know them all.
A: Nashville has a lot to offer, and it’s so diverse. In my previous visits, I mainly got to know Ashley’s neighborhood and saw glimpses of other areas when we went out to eat. This means I have a lot to learn and lots of pieces to put together.
I am living in an area that I haven’t spent much time in prior to moving, mostly to be close to work (which will end up being really humorous if I never have to work in person full time). It is very bougie and getting bougier by the day and that’s something I didn’t really associate with Nashville until the past couple of years. This area of Nashville is so very white. There’s a Vineyard Vines right across the street from an Anthropologie for goodness sake, several cosmetic surgery offices and their billboards (telling folks they don’t need to go to LA for their procedures!). However, a street or two over, there’s an entire area where almost all of the signage is in Spanish. There are supermercados instead of Whole Foods. Tons of taquerias (that smell amazing). I hadn’t really seen that pocket of Nashville before. There are lots of different Nashvilles and I am looking forward to getting to know them all.
Q: The first time you visited me in Nashville was in 2009! (Omg, we’re getting old.) And you’ve visited mannnnnny times over the years. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve witnessed?
A: Oh gosh. I was living in DC when I first visited and Nashville seemed so much smaller then! I remember you took us on this tour of town and I distinctly remember driving on this one stretch of Demonbreun that is so built up now. Downtown most of all has really changed. Even though downtown was not really a main stop whenever I visited, I’ve been there enough to say I think that area has been the most changed in my view. I *remember* downtown before the transpotainment and celebrity honky tonks. When we went Honky Tonking in 2009, it was…kind of like visiting a place that had seen its heyday. This is not to say that what is happening now is its heyday, but it is definitely not the same downtown. It was not sleepy by any means in 2009, but entire sections of Broadway were not shut down to accommodate the revelers. The vibe was entirely different and felt a little old school? I mean, we didn’t get stuck in traffic behind a hot tub on wheels and school buses being pulled by tractors.
Q: What area of town do you live in and why do you love it?
A: Hahaha, I love that you just know that I love it. I live on the cusp of a few different neighborhoods. I’m close to 12 South, Melrose, Berry Hill, Green Hills, Belmont and Vandyland. I love that I have a YMCA, a library, and several choices of grocery stores within 5 minutes of my house. I love that I’m close to so many great restaurants. I love that I’m close (but not tooooo close) to Vandy and Belmont. I especially love that I can quickly get to most places I want to go and that I’m fairly centrally located, yet it’s still fairly quiet.
On the flip side, I don’t love that I probably will never be able to afford one of the gorgeous older houses in this area. I also don’t love the signs of recent gentrification that have taken place here (you have to look closely, and it’s more visible in one geographic direction than the other).
Q: What area of town would you like to get to know? What events or communities are you looking forward to exploring?
A: Hmm. This is a hard question, because I feel like I’m still kind of learning the lay of the land. Though over the years I have been to dinner a few times in East Nashville, I would say that is probably my least explored part of town and I’ve only been over there once in the driver’s seat with me as navigator. I want to go to a Preds game! I want to become a member at Cheekwood (it’s too hot right now!). I want to learn and see all of the different seasonal festivals and which to go to and which to avoid. I am a quilter and crafter, so I need to find alllll the fabric stores so they can go ahead and take my money. I think I am starting to feel like I have my sea legs, so that I can start to really explore the city. I do feel a little constrained by the fact it’s a pandemic though.
Q: You’ve already had several visitors during your short residency here! What sites, attractions, dining spots, etc. are on your Must See list for visitors? What do you actively avoid doing?
A: I’ll do actively avoid first: I don’t go out to Honky tonks or transpotainment. You wanna visit me and do that you’re more than welcome to, but I will probably tease you and tell you to have fun with the bachelorettes. I’m not a partier really so that scene just isn’t for me.
This Must See list absolutely reflects what I like to do, and also what I know. I know I have a loooot more to learn about Nashville’s hidden gems. I wouldn’t consider any of these hidden gems.
- Assembly Food Hall is a great stop. It’s a little touristy but on an off night it can give the visitor a great view of downtown without a lot of fuss and a chance to eat from local Nashville eateries like Princes Hot Chicken and Pharmacy (among others!). Plus it’s an easy enough way to accommodate different food tastes and eliminating that dreaded “what’s for dinner” conversation.
- Tennessee State Museum and Nashville Farmer’s Market for lunch. Free parking, free (new!) museum, and then the farmer’s market has another great food-hall-like place to eat, including the famous Jeni’s splendid ice cream, vegan tacos, and much more. Something for everyone
- The PARTHENON. It’s so freaking cool. It’s $10 bucks to visit the interior which is worth it, but not necessary. Centennial Park also contains some great views and vistas and a few memorials that are worth a peek. (Especially when it gets cooler.)
- Parnassus books. Literally the only reason I would take someone to Green Hills while they’re visiting. It’s one of the best bookshops owned by Ann Patchett that has a great selection of local, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC authors, plus really nifty gifts like some of the best, most hilarious, socks on the planet.
- McKays, if there’s time, and if the person is bookish or nerdish. Bonus if they have books they want to trade in for store credit or a list of books they want to get cheap.
- Five Daughters Bakery: A quintessential Nashville bakery, with their famous 100-layer donuts. They also have paleo and vegan offerings. Since they have so many fancy donuts and choices, this may sound counter intuitive, but I highly recommend the 100-layer Purist. It’s a “plain” glazed donut and the simplicity of it is just profoundly delicious.
Q: Describe your perfect weekend in Nashville.
A: Oh this is hard—I suspect this will change a lot over time. Right now, I would say it involves Five Daughter donuts, a few books from Parnassus, dinner/lunch at a new spot with some of my favorite people, and maybe a game night or some kind of show/activity. I am a woman of simple tastes. 😂 Let’s work on trying to figure out what that perfect weekend is.
Q: Any parting thoughts or words of wisdom for other Nashville newbies?
A: Hm. I still don’t know that I have any authority to offer advice or wisdom to other Nashville newbies. I would say to make sure you judge Nashville on its own merits as a place to live before you move here, not just as a place to vacation or party (or any place you want to move really). Maps can be deceptive when it comes to commutes. Live close to a highway and the pikes go in the direction of their name. Oh and most importantly, join this mailing list on work life balance by Randy Tarkington.
Thank you, Charlotte, for sharing your experiences with us! Now, let’s send her out with a Nashville To Do list! What does she need to check out in her neighborhood? What coffee shop might be a good working spot? Where’s the best local pizza? What events should she check out? Where do all of the cool quilters hang out?!
Follow Charlotte on her crafty Instagram and book-focused Instagram and read about her travels on her blog.