City of Columbia

Maury County, Tennessee: Mules, Music & More

This Made in Tennessee county pays homage to its heritage, local attractions and —mules.

This time of year, visitors flock to the mid-sized city of Columbia by the tens of thousands. The purpose? Mules, mules and even more mules.

But first, let's get a couple things straight: A mule is not a horse. A mule is not a donkey. A mule is its very own breed, a combination of the two, the hybrid offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Now that you know the basics, you'll be able to enjoy your Mule Day sans faux pas.

(Photo courtesy of City of Columbia, TN) 

Dating back to the 1840's, Mule Day originated from breeders bringing their livestock to show in what was one of the largest markets in the world. Nowadays, the celebration spans the better part of the week—this year, it begins with the wagon train departing on March 28 and arriving at Maury County Park on March 30, with events running through April 3—and is one giant fest of street food carts, music, square dancing, and arts and crafts. There's also gospel music, church services, pool tournaments, chili suppers, and one of the South's favorite pastimes: clogging, in addition to a myriad of contests like "working mule" and "best of breed," Mule Day Queen and even mule pulls.

The shindig culminates on Saturday with the epic Mule Day Festival, accented by floats and prizes galore; as you watch the parade, gawk over the gorgeous Antebellum homes decorating the West 7th neighborhood surrounding you. It's a feast for the senses in every possible way.

And if you can't swing a day trip to Columbia this week, that's OK, too: You'll find plenty to keep you occupied in the Mule Capital of the World the other 51 weeks out of the year.

Eat + Drink

Puckett's Downtown Columbia
Puckett's Downtown Columbia

(Courtesy of Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant, Columbia, TN)

Leiper's Fork-born franchise Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant has brought its Southern-fried goodness to Columbia, serving up the same great regional fare—from pulled pork barbecue to Redneck Burritos—with a side of roots-y tunes in its location on the square.

Similarly, at Columbia's newest hangout, Venue Tenn, you can eat, drink and listen as local acts take the stage on weekend nights and other special occasions (or settle in for beers on the spacious patio, appropriately dubbed "Whiskey Alley"). For a quicker bite, the soups and sandwiches at Square Market & Café are popular lunch items, and Muletown Coffee keeps the java addicts satiated and well-caffeinated with its high-quality, batch-roasted coffee.

Stay + Play

Downtown Columbia is booming with a number of family-friendly attractions like the interactive Muse'um Columbia Children's Museum with plenty of hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages.

Allow for some retail therapy time, as the independent shop scene is thriving thanks to clothing boutiques and homes and gifts stores such as Lily Jane, The Faded Farmhouse, Oak & Lace, Ye Peddler, Itty Bitty Children's Boutique, Variety Record Shop and Southern Exposure Clothing & Apparel.

(Photo courtesy of City of Columbia, TN) 

History buffs will geek out over the Greek Revival mansion and historic Civil War home, Elm Springs, as well as the President James K. Polk Home & Museum, his only surviving residence and the house he lived in with his parents between college and getting married.

For outdoors lovers, it doesn't get any better than getting around via Columbia's Duck River Walk, the $4.5 million greenway of verdant, multi-use trails connecting downtown to the river.

Many of the hotels in Columbia are standard big-name chains, but if you want a charming B&B in which to get some R&R after a long day of exploring, check into The Inn at Bigby Creek. Built by the former mayor of Columbia in 1960, this three-room inn is surrounded by an acre and a half of lush gardens and boasts one of the best country breakfast spreads around.