Famous for its annual and quirky celebration, Mule Day, Columbia is a fast-growing Tennessee town located about an hour south of Nashville. The town is a year-round destination filled with history, restaurants, craft brews, hiking, local shops and a brand-new arts district. If you haven’t spent a weekend in “Muletown, USA,” you are missing out on a celebration of small-town, Main Street America. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Columbia, Tennessee:
Fuel Up: Muletown Coffee
Any visit to Columbia begins on the iconic courthouse square, and any trip to the courthouse square begins at Muletown Coffee. Here, small-batch and ethically-sourced coffees are fresh roasted in a warm and cozy atmosphere that has visitors and locals alike coming back every single morning. The folks at Muletown Coffee will be able to get you fueled up with your morning coffee and breakfast, and get you going full speed for your weekend adventures.
President James K. Polk Ancestral Home
Meet the President: James K. Polk
Columbia is home to the only surviving residence (aside from the White House, of course) of America’s 11th president, James Knox Polk. Located just two blocks west of the public square, the original structure was built in 1816 by his father while the future president was away studying at the University of North Carolina. After graduation, he came home to live with his parents in Columbia until he married in 1824. During that time, he began practicing law and a career in politics, which eventually led him all the way to Washington D.C. Come see original family and personal possessions the family owned while living both in Columbia as well as during his term in the White House.
The Historic Athenaeum
Take your historical tour of downtown Columbia to the next level by visiting the beautiful Athenaeum. This historic rectory is located just a few blocks from the James K. Polk home and is the only building that remains of the multiple all-female educational institutions that were run here under various names and headmasters from the 1830s through the Great Depression. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and remains as one of Columbia’s most curious architectural destinations. The home is open for guided tours and can be booked to host private events.
Cafe & Quilts: Columbia Arts Building
The Columbia Arts Building - known simply as CAB - is in the heart of the city’s brand new, up-and-coming Columbia Arts District. While still under renovation, this approximately 12,000 square foot building is slated to become an artist’s community - full of galleries, shops, cafes, classrooms, cooperative office space and anything else that facilitates creativity. Yet for all that much of what CAB will offer is yet to be finished, no weekend in Columbia is complete without getting a bite to eat at CAB Cafe and stopping in to check out the modern home craft and quilt shop Needle & Grain. Oh, and did I mention the next storefront to open is rumored to be a donut shop?
Selfie with the Muletown Mural
Located within sight of the Columbia Arts Building is the now iconic Muletown logo mural. You’ll see him on the side of a warehouse one block away. A photo in front of the mural is the ultimate Columbia, Tennessee souvenir.
If you’re looking for a primetime weekend to visit Columbia, choose the first Friday of every month. The city has partnered with downtown’s restaurants and shops to stay open late on First Fridays, so that you can get the most out of your visit. Some of the highlight shops downtown include Bleu 32 Vintage Marketplace, a three story antique mall featuring eclectic craftsman and boutique vendors; Variety Records, an audiophiles paradise filled with brand new and pre-loved vinyl; Ted’s Sporting Goods, an outdoorsmen’s outfitters recognizable by its iconic upside-down sign that has been open since 1955; and the neighborhood bookstore Duck River Books, just to name a few.
Evening Spot: Southern Tre Steakhouse
From steaks and pork chops to fried chicken and burgers, Southern Tre Steakhouse is a whole lot more than the name suggests. It has quickly become Columbia’s go-to dinner spot. Located on the west side of the courthouse square, dinner and drinks in the beautifully lit courtyard as the sun goes down is the perfect way to relax after a day exploring town. They carry a full spirits list, as well as several regional beers on tap, including Columbia-local Asgard Brewing Company. And for dessert, stick with the presidential theme and order “the James K. Polk,” a Belgian waffle drizzled in chocolate, strawberry and fresh maple syrup, topped with berries and whipped cream.
Take a Hike: Cheek’s Bend Bluff
A morning or evening hike at Cheek’s Bend Bluff is the perfect way to begin or end any day Columbia. The trail climbs to the bluff heights above a bend in the Duck River, making it the most scenic of the six sections of the 2,135-acre Yanahli Wildlife Management Area. Most hikers will find this 1.9 mile out-and-back loop moderately difficult, if not easy. While you’re out there, be sure and try and find the hidden-in-plain-sight cave that runs beneath the trail at the top of the bluff. Local’s tip: Cheek’s Bend Bluff may seem difficult to locate the first time out. Queue your GPS to Higher Pursuits canoe rentals (3114 Cheeks Bend Rd, Columbia, TN) and follow the gravel road past them to the trailhead parking.
Meat-and-three: Puckett’s Grocery
This down-home country style restaurant has been a Middle Tennessee staple since the first Puckett’s Grocery opened in nearby Leiper’s Fork in the 1950s. And ever since they opened their Columbia location, locals adopted them as their own, and the hometown vibe inside is unmistakable. Known for barbecue and meat-and-three style platters, Puckett’s also regularly hosts live music nearly every weekend on their intimate stage. Local’s tip: if you’ve never tried fried green beans before, order up!
Hattie Jane's Creamery, Columbia Square
Sweet Treat: Hattie Jane’s Creamery
Part of the Puckett’s Grocery family, this artisanal ice cream shoppe cannot be missed. A rotating slate of in-house, scratch-made ice creams using local (including Muletown Coffee beans) and seasonal ingredients, there are rumored to be more than 100,000 possible flavor combinations. Pull up a stool and see how many you can knock out in a weekend.
Nightcap: Asgard Brewing Company
One or both nights in Columbia ought to be capped off with a cold brew - or two. As Columbia’s only brewery, Asgard is located above the river just a few blocks off the courthouse square. The patio is constantly buzzing with locals and visitors alike, sampling the smooth and refreshing Icelandic style beers served in the tap room. Almost every single night, a different food truck parks out front, bringing foods from all over Middle Tennessee right to the brewery door. Come early, stay late. But whatever you do, don’t miss out.
Waterfall hikes, cozy B&B’s and a wealth of history can all be found in Rugby, Tennessee, a small town tucked away in the Upper Cumberland.