Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Knoxville, Tennessee: Posh Family Fun Meets the Smokies

Last week I had the pleasure of heading North to Tennessee and checking out the beautiful city of Knoxville, Tennessee. Knoxville is just under 3 hours from the Atlanta area and is a nice, relaxing country side drive North. I'll admit that when I got the invitation from Visit Knoxville, I wondered a little about what all Knoxville could offer a jaded family travel writer like me. Turns out, there is a lot in Knoxville to do and enrich your mind with. Our tour of the city was fast and furious at just about 24 hours but we got to get peeks at a lot of what the city has to offer.

First I will tell you about all the wonderful sites I was able to visit and take a peek at, then I will tell you about our culinary adventures in Knoxville later in the week.

The first stop on our tour was our hosting hotel, the Oliver. After I got checked in and went up to check out my room, I was immediately impressed with how well they had preserved the history of the old hotel but added those ever so nice modern day touches that we all seem to need so badly these days. Thinks like large, flat screen tvs and enough electrical outlets to power a house mixed with lush period furniture and a well appointed mini bar. Not to mention the plush king sized bed with plenty of soft, squishy pillows to surround myself with after a day of touring.

As soon as we got settled into our rooms, we had cocktails at the Peter Kern Library inside the Oliver and were treated to lunch by the adjoining Tupelo Honey Cafe. More on that later.

After we had stuffed ourselves silly, we took off on a caravan tour of downtown Knoxville. We passed the historic courthouses and theaters. Took a ride up into the Sunsphere and surveyed the beautiful spread of Worlds Fair Park. The Sunsphere itself is an attraction that warrants a good look over. Built in 1987 for the World's Fair, it is 266' of shiny, 24 karat plated glass that offers gorgeous views of the city with the Tennessee river winding through it. From the observation deck, you can see the smokies or your can see the bustling downtown area. Every where you look is a sight to be seen.

After that, we got a tour of the South's Finest Chocolate Factory. It was cool to see the inner workings of the chocolate factory that supplies caramels to Biltmore house. For 30 years this manufacturing facility and retail store, located in downtown Knoxville, has been open to the public and on any given day you can see a variety of candy making techniques in action. We got to sample some of the most amazing chocolate covered cherries I have ever tasted. This little hideaway of a candy kitchen is a must see for all those chocolate lovers out there.

Then it was a short walk up to the Knoxville Museum of Art. Free to the public, the museum celebrates the art and artists of East Tennessee, "presents new art and new ideas, educates and serves a diverse community, and enhances Knoxville’s quality of life". I can definitely agree with all of that. We witnessed the art of Knoxville's past and present in the upstairs galleries but the downstairs galleries were in transition. Guess I'll have to make a trip back up!

Of course after dinner at Knox Mason, it was time to waddle back to the hotel and prepare ourselves for a treat at the Tennessee Theatre. We were lucky enough to get to attend the opening night of the Broadway musical Mary Poppins. Now, if you have never seen the show, you need to. Seriously the most energetic show I have ever seen. The real treat though was the Tennessee Theatre. I shared a little last week about its history and similarities to the Fox here in Atlanta but I have to say the Tennessee's grandeur, although on a very different scale, could give the Fabulous Fox a run for its money. The Tennessee is easily half the size of the Fox, if not smaller but the attention to detail during the renovations is astounding. The colors are bright, the ambiance endearing, and the acoustics right on par.

The next morning we woke bright and early to a snow covered Knoxville. It was a beautiful and relaxing surprise but it did put a hamper on our plans for the day. We did get to do our tour of the Tennessee Theatre, which was still hauntingly gorgeous the next day. We got to hear about the renovations and how they came up with color schemes and how they had the carpet rewoven new to match the exact same pattern as it was before. It was a real treat to me considering history and theatre are two of my biggies.

We were supposed take a tour of the Knoxville Zoo after the theater but considering the snow, it got cut out. I have heard it is a definite must see if you are in the area though. Along with several other of Knoxville's little hidden treasures like the World's Largest Rubiks Cube or taking a tour on the river boat, the Star of Knoxville, down the grand Tennessee river.

Truth is, what ever you are looking for in a family vacation, you are likely to find it in Knoxville. They have a little of everything and it is in a central location that lends itself to a perfect weekend trip from just about anywhere. Honestly, I think it might be better for families with more of a middle to high school range aged children. The age that would appreciate the arts and history of Knoxville. Something they place great pride in and something that is well worth seeing. With a lack of younger children's attractions like a children's museum (which they say is coming soon), the little ones just might get lost in the mix.

To learn more check out Visit Knoxville online or down load the app to your smartphone. To learn more about each venue, simply click the highlighted link through out! Be sure to check back later this week for all about my culinary tour of Knoxville!

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