You can always tell when the football team has a home game as thousands of fans flood the streets in vibrant orange, but Knoxville is so much more than just the home of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The birthplace of the Tennessee River is also known as the Red Panda Capital of the World, home to the only hall of fame dedicated to women’s basketball, and site of the 1982 World’s Fair. With over two hundred years of history The Marble City has seen it all but today it thrives as a tourist destination with great local eateries, one of the best farmers’ markets in the country, and arts and culture around every corner. The most difficult part about spending a weekend in Knoxville is what to do this time and what to save for when you inevitably return later.
Visit Knoxville Visitors Center: 301 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, TN | 865-523-7263 | www.visitknoxville.com
1Dinner at Calhoun’s on the River 7p.m.
Any trip to Knoxville needs to include a meal at the iconic Calhoun’s. This particular location on the waterfront offers stunning views of the mighty Tennessee River that you can enjoy from outdoor seating, or stay inside and enjoy the view through large picture windows. They’re known for the best BBQ, ribs, and steaks in Tennessee (and I think they’re right).
400 Neyland Drive, Knoxville, TN | 865-673-3355 | https://calhouns.com/
2Catch a Show 8p.m.
Downtown Knoxville is an active and vibrant place even after the sun goes down. Walk along South Gay Street (the “Main Street”) and you’ll see plenty of restaurants, bars, and entertainment. The flashing lights of the Bijou Theatre and Tennessee Theatre are sure to catch your attention and just might provide you with a great show. The Bijou Theatre, built in 1909, features musical performances from bands and orchestras throughout the year while the Tennessee Theatre, the state theater of Tennessee, also features classical films, musicals, and theater productions. They also play the Rocky Horror Picture Show every year just before Halloween and encourage people to “come dressed to impress as your favorite character.”
Parking: There is limited amount of street parking along S. Gay Street. The best place to park is the SP+ Parking Garage at 700 S. Gay Street.
Bijou Theatre: 803 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, TN | 865-522-0832 | https://knoxbijou.com/
Tennessee Theatre: 604 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, TN | 865-684-1200 | www.tennesseetheatre.com/
3Breakfast at The Plaid Apron 9a.m.
Any Saturday in Knoxville should be started off with brunch at The Plaid Apron. This little hole in the wall cafe in the Sequoyah Hills neighborhood is worth the short drive. They open at 7a.m. and by 8 there is a bit of a line waiting to place an order but that’s okay; the staff is quick and efficient so you won’t have to wait very long. Grab a comfortable seat indoor or snag a table outside on a nice day while you enjoy your herb and cheese omelet, smoked beef sandwich, or The Special: sausage on a griddle cake topped with two over-easy eggs and maple syrup on the side.
1210 Kenesaw Avenue, Knoxville, TN | 865-247-4640 | https://theplaidapron.co/
4Shopping at the Market Square Farmer’s Market 10a.m.
From May through November each year Market Square is transformed into one of the best Farmers’ Markets in the country. Local vendors come out to set up festival-style booths to display their arts and crafts, fresh local produce, baked goods, clothing, and more. It takes almost an hour just to window shop the dozens of booths. If you’re lucky your nose might catch a whiff of Dale’s Fried Pies set up on the side of the market; be sure to grab one of these delicious desserts as you walk the market.
While you’re exploring the Farmers’ Market be sure to pay attention to the various shops and restaurants lining the market. You’ll find unique shopping at places like Fizz, Bluetique, Earth to Old City, and Earthbound Trading Company. If you happen to get a little hungry after all the walking and shopping you’ll find some of the best eateries in the city right here on the market. Grab something to eat at The Tomato Head, Not Watson’s Kitchen + Bar, Soccer Taco, or Tupelo Honey Cafe.
Parking: Most street side parking is reserved for vendors and handicap during the market. The best place to park is the Republic Parking Garage at 507 S. Gay Street or the Market Square Garage at 406 Walnut Street.
501 Market Street, Knoxville, TN | 865-805-8687 | https://nourishknoxville.org/market-square-farmers-market/
5Find the Red Pandas at Zoo Knoxville 1p.m.
Did you know Knoxville is also known as the Red Panda Capital of the World? That’s because Zoo Knoxville is the home of the premier breeding program for the red pandas and once they reach maturity ships them to other zoos around the world. But the adorable little pandas are not the only thing to see at this amazing zoo. Feed the giraffes (but look out for their 12″ tongues!), take a walk through the bird cage, go for a ride on a camel, or just sit back and enjoy the view of elephants, zebras, and more. There is a nice splash pad for the kids and plenty of shade, benches, and snacks.
3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive, Knoxville, TN | 865-637-5331 | https://www.zooknoxville.org/ | Admission is $19.95 for Adults, $16.95 for Children ages 4-12, $16.95 for Seniors ages 65+, and Free of Children under 4 | Parking is $5 per vehicle
6Explore the Outdoors at Ijams Nature Center 4p.m.
If you want a little outdoor adventure Ijams (pronounced I-yams) Nature Center is the place to go. Featuring hiking and biking trails, kayaking and canoeing, a tree top adventure course, and the only rock climbing in the city, you won’t go bored at this outdoor destination. Start at the visitor center where you can buy a map for the hiking trails or rent a bicycle to head out on one of the greenway trails. One of my favorite things to do is walk the short and easy River Boardwalk that hangs out over the Tennessee River along a cliff wall.
Visitors love to get out on the water (and so do I) with kayak, canoe, and SUP rentals from River Sports Outfitters. Renters can head out on Mead Quarry Lake, a lake formed in the basin of a former marble quarry. If that isn’t enough adventure for you head next door to Navitat for a challenging tree top adventure ropes course that is fun for all ages (yes that is a squirrel hanging from a line on their website).
2915 Island Home Avenue, Knoxville, TN | 865-577-4717 | http://ijams.org/
7Dinner at Downtown Grill & Brewery 7p.m.
The well-worn wooden floors blends seamlessly with the mahogany and copper bar in the center of this two-story restaurant and brewery. Pictures showing Knoxville through the ages adorn the walls and tables are left spread out more than enough to allow you to breathe. Sit back and enjoy a delicious steak, seafood, or chicken meal, or delve into a pasta or Mexican meal. Sit at the gorgeous bar to see a selection of their beer on tap or ask the waitress for a list of the craft beer made right there within sight of your table.
424 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, TN | 865-633-8111 | www.downtownbrewery.com/
8Drinks at the Sunsphere 9p.m.
You can’t visit Knoxville without visiting the Sunsphere. This iconic destination was built for the 1982 World’s Fair. The 266′ tall structure stands out along the city skyline but the best part is you can still visit inside. There is a small museum area to explore during the day with amazing views of the city, but at night you’ll want to visit Primo Ristorante Italiano (formerly Icon Ultra Lounge). This Italian restaurant has some pretty good food and decent service, but what you really want is to grab a drink and sit at one of the tables to enjoy the view of the city at night (all the tables face outward toward the windows).
810 W. Clinch Avenue, Knoxville, TN | 865-249-7321 | https://www.yelp.com/biz/primo-ristorante-italiano-knoxville
9Coffee at Old City Java 10a.m.
Start off your final morning in The Marble City with some great coffee at the locally owned Old City Java. The wooden floor creak with every step, the ceiling is painted like an Edvard Munch work of art, and the menu is written on a chalkboard. These are just part of the charm of the little coffee shop; the coffee is fantastic and you can fill up pretty fast with the delicious muffins and pastries.
109 S. Central Street, Knoxville, TN | 865-523-9817 | www.oldcityjava.com