People come from all over the world to visit Music City, to hear the best music – country to indie rock – from the stages to the streets. For music lovers raring to hit the road, why not make your tour all about the tunes?
From Tennessee to Louisiana, from Graceland to Frenchmen Street, the American South is full of must-see destinations and icons of music history, as well as lazy rivers, breathtaking waterfalls, wide-open lakes and lush forests, perfect for camping and outdoor pursuits along the way to round out the trip. So, pack up the car, cue up your travelin’ playlist and check out our picks for the perfect music-themed road trip.
START well rested at Hotel Preston. After a good night’s sleep on our deliciously comfy beds, you’re energized and ready to get on the road.
Head out east on I-40 towards Knoxville and watch the skyscrapers of Nashville shrink in your rearview. After a little less than an hour, you’re probably starving for breakfast, which is perfect, because The Rose Garden Restaurant serves a ridiculously good one — crispy bacon, flaky, buttery biscuits, peppery white gravy. Gotta fortify yourself for the road ahead! Take exit 273 and drive to Old Baxter Rd.
Once you’ve filled up on down-home cooking, head back to I-40 and keep driving for about two hours to TN-66, then another 25 minutes until you reach Pigeon Forge.
You’re in Dollywood! Perched in the picturesque Knoxville-Smoky Mountains, Dollywood is an amusement park, water park, resort, dinner theater and music venue founded by the legendary Dolly Parton. Just like the singular icon herself, Dollywood is full of energy, camp and positivity — and, of course, music! Take note — the park is following COVID-19 safety protocols, and some areas are currently closed to the public.
After spending much of the day wandering among animatronic eagles and riding roller coasters, you’re probably ready to relax. Head back to the I-40 and go west again, explorer, because we’ve got a little more adventure in store. In Van Buren County, you’ll find Falls Creek Falls State Park, one of the most beautiful natural jewels in Tennessee. There are 222 campsites in five different areas here, all of them magnificently scenic. Set up camp, set up some hot dogs and s’mores, and make sure you get some rest!
If you love the outdoors, don’t be afraid to spend a whole extra day and night at Falls Creek Falls State Park. There are a plethora of activities available within the park, like boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, a canopy challenge course and 18-hole golf, or you can drive an hour to Cummins Falls State Park, our absolute favorite hike in Tennessee, which culminates in an absolutely magnificent punchbowl waterfall.
Once you’re all hiked out, hop back in the car and hop back onto the trusty ol’ I-40, heading west again — and again through Nashville! Check back into Hotel Preston for a mid-point refresh. Splash in the pool, order some poolside cocktails, play some board games with the fam, indulge in a hot shower! Or you can simply stop in town for lunch. We love The Loveless Café for comforting Southern favorites.
And, you guessed it, back on I-40 again, we’ll head west for a couple of hours until we hit Brownsville. Take Tennessee State Route 19 towards Nutbush, and you’re driving on the Tina Turner Highway. You should definitely sing along to “River Deep, Mountain High” while you drive this stretch of sacred road. Tina Turner grew up in Nutbush, Tennessee, so if you’d like, you can pull over and explore the tiny town further, or you can quest on.
If you’re hungry again, and we don’t blame you — there’s something about road trips that really piques the appetite — stop in Brownsville for some serious Memphis-style BBQ. Helen’s Bar-B-Q is owned and operated by one of the few female pit cooks in the country, and Helen doesn’t mess around. The meats are slow-smoked and saucy, and the sides are sensational.
Keep on heading down that highway toward Memphis. Feel free to stop and explore, as Memphis is full to the brim with music history, but we’re going to direct you to the south of the city and Graceland, Elvis’s former home and current museum. It’s important to note that mid-August is “Elvis Week” at Graceland, and visitors will take part in special events designed in tribute to the King.
And in honor of the King, next, you’ll drive down I-22 to Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis Aaron Presley was born. At exit 87, you’ll continue onto Tombigbee Lake State Park, where you can either set up camp or choose a rustic lakefront cabin for the night.
Feeling rested after a night under those Mississippi stars, the next morning, you’ll stop off for an excellent breakfast at the Brick & Spoon before leaving Tupelo. An inviting brunch spot not far off the highway with beignets rumored to be as good (or better) than Café du Monde’s, you can fill up on Gulf- and Southern-style favorites, like Bayou Benedict and shrimp and grits. Also before you leave town, you might consider picking up a bottle of local honey in homage to Van Morrison.
Now hop onto the US-45 and savor the free feeling of that open road! Open all the windows and let the warm wind blow through your hair, you’ve traveled so far! Merge onto I-59 towards New Orleans, our final musical destination. After a couple of hours on the road, you might be ready for lunch, so pull off in Hattiesburg and head to Cotton Blues Kitchen and Marketplace. This restaurant is a little more upscale and a little more focused on fresh ingredients than those you’ve been frequenting on this road trip thus far, but after all that barbeque and gravy, you might be craving a salad right about now!
Feeling refreshed and healthy, you hop in the car for a quick jaunt down I-59 to New Orleans, ENDING your epic musical journey at The Old No.77 Hotel & Chandlery. Streeeetch, take a quick rest, then head downstairs for a thoroughly luxurious dinner at Compère Lapin. Then take your time to explore the legendary jazz and blues clubs of Frenchmen Street, Bourbon Street and beyond. Laissez les bons temps rouler!