And while I’ve written a lot about Bonnaroo in the past—from the food to the fitness to the music (obviously) and what to expect from the festival itself—I’ve never given a snapshot of what to do in Manchester outside of the Farm.
Heading this way? Here’s a rundown of what to see, eat and experience in Manchester, Tennessee, whether you’re coming for ‘Roo or not.
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park
Just two miles from downtown, Old Stone Fort State Park is the largest and most complex hilltop enclosure in the South; it also contains a ceremonial site that was established during the Middle Woodland Period, roughly 2,000 years ago, and used through the 5th century A.D. But beyond the history, I love it for the cascading waterfalls that drop off the Highland Rim plateau. The 50-acre park is also one of my favorite places to go for a trail run.
Just 25 minutes from Manchester, the town of Bell Buckle is one of my regular stops on my show-tourists-my-favorite-parts-of-Middle-Tennessee route. It’s really just a small downtown square, but it’s packed with antique stores and other novelty shops, as well as the iconic Bell Buckle Cafe and the brand-new Wellness Emporium. It’s also, famously, the home of MoonPies and RC Cola. Want a dose of nostalgia? Get thee to Bell Buckle.
The Southern Magnolia Mural
I may be biased because SVV and I were involved with bringing mural art to the town square, but I think this beautiful Southern magnolia flag mural is one of the prettiest pieces of art in Middle Tennessee. Kudos to Tara Aversa for her vision and superior talent. Take a photo and post it on social media with the hashtag #DMAevents so we can see your best interpretation of it! Bonus points if you do so in a shark suit.
One of our favorite pet-friendly hikes in Tennessee to take Ella on is to Savage Gulf State Natural Area, due east of Manchester and about an hour by car, where the relatively flat and easy mile hike out to Stone Door promises grandiose views and fun slot canyons to explore. When you’re done, take a dip in Greeter Falls, which is about 15 minutes back toward Manchester in Beersheba Springs.
Sure I’m biased—I went to school there for two years after all—but I happen to think that Sewanee is one of the most beautiful colleges in the nation. But that’s not all to do there: There’s 13,000 acres of wooded terrain to explore on the campus alone, a Perimeter Trail, a giant cross overlooking a valley, and plenty of fun spots like Shenanigans and Sewanee Inn from which to enjoy a meal.
Serene Day Spa
Becca Franks Jones recently bought a building on the square right across from the courthouse and opened a full-blown day spa, complete with massages, skincare and nail services. There are a couple other massage therapists downtown who I love, as well, but I like that you can get an appointment at Serene with just a day or two notice (or day of if you want your nails done).
Beans Creek Winery
Located adjacent to the interstate and a stone’s throw from the Bonnaroo campgrounds, Beans Creek Winery is Manchester’s premier vineyard and a great addition to an area steeped in tourism. A collective of nine families banded together to bring wine to the community back in 2004, and for nearly 14 years, Beans Creek has hailed as one of the area’s top attractions. Former firefighter Josh Brown now runs the show after learning how to make wine from his late father and beloved community member, Tom. Best of all, unlike much of Manchester which closes up shop on weekends and many a Monday and Tuesday, as well, Beans Creek is open 361 days a year (i.e. every day but major holidays); it also hosts many special events with live music, food trucks and more, like my personal favorite, the summer Grape Jam series.
Though it’s recently undergone a name change, Cascade Hollow Distilling Co., George Dickel is the distillery’s most recognizable brand as it’s been around since long before Prohibition. It’s also well worth the trip “down into the hollar” because the setting is just so charming, and you get a true taste of the bucolic life of rural Tennessee. Of course, you can be really ambitious and hit a trio of Tennessee Whiskey Trail stops while in Manchester—then branch out and get all the Nashville distilleries, too, while you’re here.
Ole Shed Brewing Co.
When Tullahoma got its own brewery six years ago, the heavens opened up and the angels rejoiced. And while not technically in Manchester, Ole Shed is located on Highway 55 between the two. Ole Shed keeps a well-curated collection of a half dozen brews on tap—the Potbelly Porter is my favorite, while SVV always goes for the Southern Pale Ale—and the Bourbon Barrel Aged Pot Belly Porter is worth investing in a growler if they have any when you wander in. The taproom itself is only open on Friday and Saturday from 4 to 9pm, but you can pick up six-packs of Ole Shed at some of the area liquor stores like Manchester Liquors and Liquor Locker and Wine Shop in Tullahoma. It’s also on tap at West Main Brick Oven.
Half Hill Farm
Two years ago, SVV discovered the magical elixirs of Half Hill Farm, kombucha specifically, and the charming men behind it: Christian Grantham and Vince Oropeza. Meeting them introduced us to the fermenting empire that lives atop Short Mountain and around Woodbury (we’re also a fan of Short Mountain Cultures’ kimchi and tempeh, as well as Short Mountain Distillery’s bourbon and rye). We go to the Cannon County Arts Center on the regular to fill our growlers with seasonal kombuchas—like honeysuckle apple, tart cherry and ginger lemon—but they also sell their other bottled goods at the Wellness Emporium in Bell Buckle and Harvest in Manchester.
High Cotton Vintage Furnishings
Allison Jarrell Dotson and her mom Lynne opened High Cotton on the square several years back after noting a need for the women of Manchester to have access to boutique apparel and quality home goods, then moved a block down Spring Street when the opportunity to buy and renovate the historic Vaughan House—built in 1875 on lot one in Manchester—arose. The result is pure Southern charm. I’m a total dress girl, and High Cotton’s current summer collection makes me want to buy everything—plus, they’re constantly adding inventory, and the latest additions have been linens, pottery and other home goods that need to go in our Victorian. For those of you not local, you can still peruse High Cotton’s Instagram and see if they’ll ship out an order to you.
Foothills Craft & Gift Shop
If you like to take a piece of the local culture home with you, the art at Foothills Craft right off of I-24 is the place to do just that. Stocking an assortment of vetted, handmade goods—from wire-wrapped jewelry and quilts to jams and spices—this craft collective has been around since 1981 but recently went through a revitalization with a changing of the guard.
Harvest Local Foods
Ellen Briggs Fletcher dreamed up the Community Market many years ago as a way to bring local produce and goods to the Manchester community. She took the concept to a brick-and-mortar model this past winter when she opened up a storefront, Harvest Local Foods, on the downtown square. The result is a selection of quality meat, eggs, tempeh, water kefir and much more all from Tennessee producers, as well as a diverse assortment of non-perishables, like Frothy Monkey coffee beans, tonics from Half Hill Farm and Little Seed bath products.
Sprout Children’s Shop
The sign of a burgeoning community is a children’s store, and mother-daughter team Sharon Gilliam and Emily Skinner identified a hole in the fabric of downtown by opening Sprout two summers ago, stocked with kids’ apparel from some of my favorite brands like Milkbarn, as well as stuffed animals galore (is it wrong to be an adult and want to own everything Jellycat makes?). Warning: You will come out having purchased something, whether you have kids or not. Everything is just too cute!
Black Iris Arts
An arts collective on the square, Black Iris Arts not only sells original works by community members—paintings, ceramics, wooden sculptures wall art and more—but also regularly hosts events such as a stained glass painting workshop or a “Canvas and Cork Chillers” painting class.
Around for more than 50 years, Jiffy Burger is arguably the most iconic spot in all of Manchester. It’s a drive-in, old-fashioned-style, but also a dine-in. The team there is about as friendly as they come, and they’re always hustling burgers, fries, tots and baked potatoes with a side of Southern hospitality. There’s no alcohol here, but Jiffy Burger is one of the few places in town open six days a week (closed Sunday like nearly everywhere in town). If you’re feeling extra hungry, go big or go home with the Bonnaroo Burger.
photo credit: Phillip Fryman / Southern FATTY Photography
West Main Brick Oven
The whole town rejoiced when John Mancini and his wife Cathie opened West Main Brick Oven, an authentic Italian restaurant outfitted with a wood-fired pizza oven right in the heart of downtown two years ago. Open Tuesday through Friday starting at 4pm and all day on Saturday, West Main is the perfect spot to grab drinks with friends—they offer a rotating selection of craft beers and a great selection of Tennessee spirits—or a nice dinner with your date.
Think it’s weird to come to Manchester and try Mexican food? Well, then clearly you haven’t experienced Mercados Patty, which is not just the best Mexican food I’ve had in Tennessee, but holds up a torch of Hispanic culture to anyone. In the back of a grocery store, the owner Francisco’s wife cooks up some of the best street tacos, tortas and other traditional Mexican fare while Francisco tends to the cash register or slices up cactus leaves. Order a little of everything, but don’t leave without sampling the aqua fresca, of which there are usually at least six kinds. Mercados is closed on Tuesdays.
photo credit: Phillip Fryman / Southern FATTY Photography
The Mercantile/Sweet Simplicity
A pair of sisters bought this former antique store/restaurant on the Manchester square a few years back and gave it a much-needed makeover, reopening it under the original name, the Mercantile. The result is a traditional Southern meat-and-three restaurant with rotating specials and a killer dessert counter, Sweet Simplicity, with extended hours and fresh baked goods made daily. The Merc is open for lunch every day but Tuesday and Saturday. Owner Renee Holt also caters many a wedding and special event around Tennessee and often hosts a Friday fish fry at the restaurant, too.
My inner hippie was stoked when I found out about Jughead’z Juice opening a brick-and-mortar earlier this year after they’d previously only been a vendor at the farmers’ market. The husband-and-wife team have their own farm, make their own hemp juice and serve up an array of juices, smoothies and coffee drinks (Jughead’z is one of the only places outside of Starbucks where you can get a proper latte in Manchester). They’re located in a subterranean level right at the major Highway 55-41 intersection in a building catty-corner from Walgreen’s.
For more tips on travel to Manchester, Tennessee and its surrounds, see these posts:
- Traveling the Tennessee Whiskey Trail
- A Work of Street Art: The Best Murals in Nashville
- Visiting Tims Ford Lake State Park in Winchester
- Exploring Franklin’s Historic Downtown
- A Night Out at the Grand Ole Opry