In decades past, Knoxville, Tenn., ( www.knoxville.org) had its share of lemons, most of them lobbed at the Eastern Tennessee City in the form of negative national media, but Knoxville quickly learned to make lemonade – and very fine lemonade it has turned out to be.
In 1947, author John Gunther, referred to Knoxville, Tenn., as “America’s ugliest city” in his book “Inside USA.” Residents didn’t let hurt feelings stop them from the ultimate revenge: success. They took to planting trees and shrubs – redbud, wisteria and dogwood – and flowering plants. In 1955, the Knoxville Garden Club laid the civic foundation for what are now 60 miles of dogwood trails and an annual festival that energizes Knoxville each spring with blooms and hundreds of thousands of visitors. The Dogwood Arts Festival ( www.dogwoodarts.com) runs the entire month of April.
With its trees, remarkable restorations and renovations, Knoxville these days is welcoming record numbers of visitors to historical and recreational attractions as well as its arts and culinary scenes. The fact that it is home to the University of Tennessee represents added opportunity for the well-rounded town.
Knoxville sits by the Tennessee River and has the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop. The Urban Wilderness ( http://bit.ly/1dRsK5U) is a 1,000-acre corridor along the downtown waterfront that contains 10 parks and nearly 20 miles of recreational trails, three Civil War forts, historic settlement sites, diverse ecological features and recreational amenities.
Opportunities abound, with the Knoxville Zoo ( www.knoxville-zoo.org), the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame ( www.wbhof.com), the World’s Fair Park and Sunsphere (which has an observation deck with a 360-degree view of downtown; www.worldsfairpark.org), and the Ijams Nature Center ( www.ijams.org) a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary and environmental learning center.
The cultured life is never far away. Don’t miss the beautiful Tennessee Theatre ( http://bit.ly/QYam3q), the Official State Theatre of Tennessee. The Knoxville Museum of Art ( www.knoxart.org) impresses with celebration of the art and artists of East Tennessee in addition to guest exhibits. Stop in May 2-4 for GLASSFEST14 featuring the latest work of renowned artist Richard Jolley.
Where to dine? One memorable restaurant, The Orangery ( www.orangeryknoxville.com), is still impressing discerning diners. Trust your palate to one of the oldest restaurants in town, Bistro at the Bijou ( www.thebistroatthebijou.com), known for its fresh fish and pastas, or try Cru Bistro & Wine Bar ( www.crubistroandwinebar.com), Knoxville’s first small plate and wine bar concept. Mash comfort and taste at The Crown & Goose gastro pub ( www.thecrownandgoose.com). Treat yourself to a royal breakfast at The Plaid Apron ( www.theplaidaproncafe.com) or Pete’s Coffee Shop ( www.petescoffeeshop.com).
Newer on the scene is Stock and Barrel Gourmet Burgers and Fine Bourbons ( www.thestockandbarrel.com). Join Chef Matt Gallaher, former chef at the highly acclaimed Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., at Knox Mason ( www.knoxmason.com) for new twists on Southern staples.
Come hungry and get stuffed at the International Biscuit Festival ( www.biscuitfest.com; May 15-17), named the Best Food Festival in the nation by Livability.com. It features a biscuit breakfast, brunch, and bazaar offering biscuit products, bake-off, entertainment, and pageant. Stroll down the “biscuit boulevard” to taste signature biscuits from some of the region’s finest restaurants and bakers.
Shakespeare on the Square ( www.tennesseestagecompany.com) features two magnificent plays written by you-know-who. The free performances are staged the entire months of July and August.
More than 400,000 spectators come to Knoxville to experience one of the the largest Labor Day fireworks show in the nation at Boomsday. This downtown event takes place along the Tennessee River on Aug. 31.
Just when you thought the SUP (stand up paddle) craze was starting to take over waterways everywhere, the Billy Lush ( www.billylushbrand.com) guys bump it up a notch to offer land paddling. Think of a humongous paddle-powered skateboard to roll to wherever you want to go. Zenda Douglas