Meandering along the Cumberland Riverwalk, it’s easy to see what attracts people to Clarksville, TN. The views are bucolic, the people are welcoming, and there are numerous opportunities to enjoy time outside. This ability to stretch your legs and get your steps in is especially important as Clarksville also has some truly fantastic restaurants where you can find traditional, handmade southern dishes as well as modern, chef-inspired fare—all served in more than generous portions.
Located in Montgomery County, Clarksville includes the neighborhoods of Sango and Southside, as well as a bustling downtown area. Filled with murals, statues and fun, locally owned shops, the town has an artsy vibe that attracts those looking for live music, local festivals and eclectic architecture. A short drive outside downtown celebrates a more rural lifestyle and offers a chance for an up-close look at the area’s history.
At Fort Defiance Interpretive Center, for example, visitors can feel what it was like to live in Clarksville 161 years ago during the Civil War, when the Union Army captured what was formerly Fort Sevier on their way to vanquish Nashville. The land is still marked with earth forts dug by Confederate soldiers to protect them from enemy artillery; their story is explained in a short film within the interpretive center based on diaries from that time period.
Historic Collinsville in Southside shares what it was like to live in the area in the mid-1800s to early 1900s. A living history museum, the site includes an 1830s log cabin and 15 other buildings including a blacksmith’s shop, tobacco barn, smokehouse and schoolhouse. Once a month, the site hosts events—which may include a butter churning lesson—and it also holds special seasonal activities including lantern tours in October and an 1860s Christmas.
Tobacco played a big part in the region’s development. Clarksville was, at one time, the #1 tobacco exporter in the U.S. Many of the big homes in the area were built with tobacco money, and one area museum, the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center in downtown Clarksville, provides an in-depth look into the ‘dark-fired tobacco’ that made the area famous. The striking 1898 building, built in the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance Revival style, was created to house the large volume of foreign mail created by the city’s international trade in the plant.
The former post office includes displays on sports—including a celebration of hometown hero and Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph—local and national art exhibits and the Huff and Puff Express model train. There is also a children’s play area and numerous displays representing local Clarksville history.
You can go even further back in history at Dunbar Cave, which is the only cave in the world with visible 14th-century Native American art. Accompanied by a guide, you’ll learn the history of the area, which for many years served as a resort, as well as tour the cave that had been occupied by Indigenous people for over 14,000 years. The cave art was discovered in 2005, and visitors can view this as well as more than a hundred years of graffiti left by resort visitors who used the cave for dances and big band concerts.
Dining Options Abound
No matter what you’re in the mood to eat, Clarksville delivers.
You can start the day out right at one of Wild Flour Bake Shop’s two locations, where you can partake of their highly sought-after fresh-made breads, as well as brisket hash and banana bread French toast. Legends Smokehouse and Grill is the brainchild of Kevin Smith, a bigger-than-life personality who came up with his barbecue sauce recipe by testing it on his neighbors. Surprisingly, he’s never even tried it—he says he’d rather focus on how his customers respond! The morning menu features trash tacos and breakfast sandwiches, and he also makes delicious dessert tacos.
To get a healthy start on the day, head to Café 931, where you can find a variety of nutritious acai breakfast bowls and juices (which are named after employees), designed with fruits, vegetables, spices and more. Just be aware that the ‘handheld’ burrito, made for those on the go, takes both hands to hold.
Yada on Franklin is a simple yet sophisticated Italian restaurant that also offers healthy alternatives for lunch and dinner. Choices include everything from fresh-made wood-fired pizzas to meatball bowls and burrata sandwiches, and the sleek, modern vibe pairs wonderfully with its artistically plated food. The ceiling-high bar—ladder included—is especially impressive.
Strawberry Alley Ale Works is a great place to sample a beer flight while bingeing on street tacos and mason jar desserts—and their chicken bacon mac and cheese is a must-have. Blackhorse Pub & Brewery features huge sandwiches, flatbreads and a delicious fried green tomato appetizer, while Dock 17 provides the opportunity to enjoy burgers and brews along with live music. Dock 17 is attached to The City Forum, which is great news if you’re visiting with kids—this ultimate family destination includes two-story laser tag, high-speed go-carts, putt-putt golf, bowling, duckpin bowling and classic arcade games.
For a down-home southern dinner, The Catfish House offers a range of fresh fish, seafood and steaks—and you can pick up a gallon of sweet tea for $6! The Mailroom, located in downtown Clarksville in an old post office, offers made-from-scratch meals ranging from red beans and rice to Korean cauliflower steak, and is the perfect place to stop before attending a concert in the Downtown Commons across the street.
Coffee, Tea or Mead?
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, stop into La Costa Café & Lounge downtown or Pinky’s Up, which is the most glittery, pink, flowered tea room you can imagine. They not only offer numerous cold or hot tea selections, but decadent dessert tiers as well.
The Mad Herbalist is an eclectic mix of restaurant and craft opportunity. You can order lunch—sharable portions included hummus, soba noodle salad, grilled cheese, southwest eggrolls and chicken salad—and follow it with the chance to make your own body lotion, body oil or hand sanitizer right at the table. In addition to hot tea, you can also choose to mix one of their teas with beer or cider for a unique, tasty drink.
Trazo is Tennessee’s first licensed meadery, and The Vine on Franklin offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy international wines with charcuterie, cheese and other small bites. A must-stop is Old Glory Distillery, where they make their own vodka, gin, bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, moonshine, white rum and flavored shines. The roomy tasting area includes an enticing gift shop, and the distillery will soon be opening an expanded restaurant that will serve food made from its products.
Speaking of shopping opportunities, you can find whatever you want or need at Miss Lucille’s Marketplace, a 50,000 sq. ft. warehouse filled with makers, art, boutiques, antiques, collectibles, home décor, upcycled and repurposed items and more. You can spend hours wandering through the aisles of this family-owned business, and find the perfect way to take a little bit (or a lot!) of Clarksville, TN home.
For more information, check out www.visitclarksvilletn.com.