Perhaps the greatest gifts of all are the ones that create memories. The kind you cherish and reminisce over year in and year out. Memories that make you pull the photo album out, gather on the couch and get so distracted in the nostalgia, you forget your phone is in the other room. East Tennessee is packed with incredible experiences you and your family aren’t soon to forget – the only thing you have to do is choose what speaks to you.
Enjoy your favorite band, performer or even Broadway show in this historic concert venue, also known as the Jewel of the South. Built in 1921, the Tivoli Theatre is one of the first public buildings to have public air conditioning and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Its iconic Beaux-Arts style architecture designed by renowned architect Reuben H. Hunt was restored in the late 1980s to make it a premier Tennessee performance venue and a linchpin in the heart of Chattanooga. But don’t let its beauty and historic significance fool you, visitors can catch the liveliest of concerts to the most intimate depending on what vibe they’re going for.
If a museum is more to your taste, the Museum of Appalachia delivers with a meticulously designed immersion into the hardscrabble life common to the folks who have made their homes in Southern Appalachia. The Smithsonian Affiliate’s mission is to preserve Appalachian artifacts and cultivate a greater knowledge of, and appreciation for, Appalachian heritage. This living history museum is situated on 65 picturesque acres and provides guests a representation of what it was like to live on a rural Appalachian pioneer mountain farm. Peruse the three onsite buildings that house tens of thousands of artifacts, including folk art, musical instruments, baskets, quilts, Native American pieces and more. The community includes 35 log cabins, barns, farm animals, churches, schools and gardens. On your way out, make sure to stop by the restaurant and two-story gift shop.
Luxury hotel stay or unique glamping stay?
Luxury and country charm come together at this peaceful Victorian-style farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Part bed-and-breakfast, part resort, Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn embraces the slower life, urging guests to take advantage of the scenery by picking wildflowers in a nearby field or taking a nap in a shady hammock. With 60 acres, there’s plenty to explore and truly get away from the stresses of life. Enjoy the nostalgia of being awoken by the smell and sounds of breakfast preparation by staying in the main house in one of the 12 individually decorated rooms, each with a special flair. If you prefer a little more privacy, the inn offers quaint cottages dotted throughout the property. Throw in extra dining options, a hot stone massage from the spa and a nightly dessert station, and you have yourself a truly luxurious stay with a personal touch.
If you’re looking for a little more grit to your time away, but still want the creature comforts of home, Camp LeConte has multiple options to choose from. The outdoor resort gives you major summer camp vibes with its luxury treehouses, themed retro campers and safari tents. A heated saltwater swimming pool, bathhouse, free Wi-Fi and outlets add to the glamping experience. Perfect for families looking for an outdoor getaway, but not too far from society, the campground also has a playground, ping pong, a trolly service to downtown and is located right outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s also less than 30 minutes away from another family favorite — Dollywood.
Relaxing at a spa or getting an adrenaline rush?
This sumptuous spa within the Blackberry Farm resort takes full advantage of its location in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Their aim is to provide personal attention to each guest while rooting every offering on their menu in the restorative peace of the mountains. Whether you are looking for traditional spa treatments like a deep tissue massage, rejuvenating facial or mani/pedi, or something a little more grounding like a vinyasa yoga flow, watercolor meditation or a healing hike in the woods, The Wellhouse will have that relaxation activity you are looking for.
A day at the spa isn’t for everyone, we get it. Some folks need the adrenaline rush provided by an excellent outdoor adventure. Outland Expeditions offers just that with its half-day and full-day trips through the beautiful and dramatic Ocoee River gorge in Cherokee National Forest. Even better, they provide thrills for all levels of whitewater rafting, so no skills required if you just need to get your blood pumping with something new. If you’d like the stay a little longer, their outpost offers comfortable group bunkhouses and tree-lined campgrounds with a bathhouse, volleyball and basketball courts, and picnic facilities.
History tour or food tour?
Experience what life was like in 1791 at the Rocky Mount Museum, which features tours led by character guides, exhibits and activities that explore the period including gardening, sheep for wool and flax, blacksmithing and wood shops. Built between 1790 and 1792 by William Cobb, the site is known for its service as the capital of the Southwest Territory in the early years of the nation. Imagine yourself as a guest of the Cobb family in this totally immersive living museum. Guests can also explore the beautiful, state-of-the-art museum filled with 18th and 19th century artifacts.
If you haven’t taken a seat at one of Knoxville’s many thriving restaurants, bakeries and otherwise outstanding eateries, then you may not have heard Knoxville is undergoing a culinary boom. Running since this dining renaissance began is Paula Johnson’s Knoxville Food Tours. Johnson is an East Tennessee native and has made herself an expert in Knoxville history as well as its cuisine, hole-in-the-wall eateries and hidden foodie hot spots. She has personally hosted guests from all over the country and the world on more than 1,000 food tours since her tour company began in 2010. With multiple accolades for Knoxville Food Tours, Paula has also become the food columnist for several publications, has partnered with the University of Tennessee as well as WDVX’s Tennessee Farm Table radio program and has written a book entitled “Lost Restaurants of Knoxville.”
Brewery stop or winery trail?
The finest German-style beer in the southeast flowed from the taps of the Chattanooga Brewing Company at the turn of the 20th century until Prohibition shut them down. Nearly a century later, a mutual love of beer brought the brewery back to life when two engineers aimed to brew something great in the historic Southside of Chattanooga. Rooted in the German-style ale and lagers that put its name on the map more than 100 years ago, visitors today can grab a smashed burger or ‘Nooga fish sammy with their choice of whatever is on tap. Bring your pup and hang out in their beautiful outdoor beer garden for Sunday brunch or stop by on a Tuesday for Joggers and Lagers.
Located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Rocky Top Wine Trail is comprised of five wineries offering more than 70 varieties — so plan to make it a multi-day adventure. Not only is the trail 100 percent free to do, but those who have completed the trail will receive a free gift at the third and final stop along the trail. Participating wineries include Mountain Valley Winery, Apple Barn Winery, Hillside Winery, Apple Barn Cider House and Mill Bridge Winery. For an added bonus, make time for a free tour of the wine cellars and tank rooms at Mountain Valley Winery and Hillside Winery.
Season tickets or theme park annual passes?
Let’s go out to a ball game (or several) to cheer on the Chattanooga Lookouts with season tickets at AT&T Field. The minor league “Looks” play in the Southern League, which is has been a Double-A Affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds since 2019. Opened in 2000, the ballpark seats 6,160 fans and is built atop Hawk Hill in downtown Chattanooga offering views of the rolling hills and mountains surrounding the city. With 70 exciting home games, a season ticket is an affordable way to enjoy professional baseball in the heart of Chattanooga.
The magic of Anakeesta will keep folks coming back to this glorious mountaintop adventure park, so annual tickets are a must. Take a scenic Chondola ride up 600 feet to the summit of Anakeesta Mountain where you will enter the whimsical Firefly Village. Or immerse yourself in the beauty of nature as you stroll through the canopy with the longest tree-based skywalk in North America. The kids will be delighted with the Treeventure Challenge Course where they can climb, swing, crawl and slide their way through three levels of treehouses. New to Anakeesta is the Astra Lumina attraction, an enchanted night walk among the stars with illuminating encounters of lighting, projection and sound. Of course, that is just a fraction of what Anakeesta offers, so it only makes sense to pick up an annual pass with 365 days of Anakeesta admission, unlimited express lane access, a free buddy pass as well as discounted retail and food.
ATV excursion or guided mountain hike?
Hiking in the Smoky Mountains is one thing, but have you ever been on a hike with a llama? This exceptional adventure hike is the perfect guided hike for you and the family — with a llama twist. Visit Smoky Mountain Llama Treks for an easy to moderate hike on the Padgett Mill Trail complete with a farm visit and lunch with the llamas. The hike takes up to two hours, offers a short or extended trek option and is perfect for kiddos over the age of five. For longer, more challenging hikes, sign up for the Moonshine or Trident trails, although with the llamas help carrying your gear, it might not be as difficult as expected. If you’re not in the mood for a hike, opt for just the llama farm visit to see where Kusco and his llama friends live.
If a more adrenaline-pumped mountain adventure is up your alley, then an ATV excursion with Ride Royal Blue ATV Resort and Campground might be just for you. At Tennessee’s largest ATV Resort and Campground, visitors can explore more than 600 miles of off-road trail systems with seven beautiful waterfalls as well as the famous Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing area. Trails range from leisurely treks for families to white knuckle obstacles for thrill seekers. A stay at the resort offers complimentary continental breakfasts on Saturdays, a general store for all your vacation needs as well as an ATV wash station for when your ATV needs a bath (and it probably will).