We’re continually on the hunt for experiences that add richness to our lives. In the spirit of the revival of road trips, we are proud to feature a monthly section featuring destinations within driving distance of Charleston. We feel that our smart and savvy readers will find these trips interesting and entertaining.
Johnson City, TN
Driving a little over three hours forty minutes southwest of Charleston brings you to Johnson City, Tennessee, a beautiful mountain town mentioned in the iconic 1970’s Wagon Wheel song by Old Crow Medicine Show. Johnson City often shies behind its bigger state counterparts, Nashville, Memphis, and Gatlinburg. Still, it is a fantastic weekend getaway with a vibrant downtown, a tasty food scene, and arguably the best beer in the state. Here are recommendations for your visit.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN JOHNSON CITY, TN
The beer scene is alive and well in Johnson City, with nearly ten breweries, include Yee-Haw Brewing Co, one of the finest in the state. The taproom is comfy and welcoming, offering corn hole, games, and a massive fire pit. White Duck Taco Shop is next door so that you can enjoy delicious tacos and Mexican food with your beer experience. If cocktails are more your thing, the Windsor Speakeasy has a craft cocktail list with magical adult libation creations.
Johnson City has a historic, walkable downtown area filled with locally-owned shops, eateries, coffee bars, a gaming store, and photogenic murals. Founders Park is a lovely five-acre green space with a walking path, lovely rotating art installments, and a water feature that adds the icing on the cake, but was designed for stormwater retention.
A unique attraction is the Gray Fossil Site & Museum, home to the ongoing dig site outback that has turned up hundreds of Miocene-early Pliocene era artifacts. At the same location is The Hands On! Discovery Center, an exciting science center with a climbing apparatus, musical Tesla coil, and many hands-on exhibits for kids.
If you are a biker, Tannery Knobs will make your knees weak. This meticulously designed course is for beginners through pros, with varying levels of expertise for mountain biking and hiking. A pump track is also at the property and benches for great panoramic Johnson City views and picnicking.
You’ll find lakes and rivers in Johnson City, great for boating, fishing, and rafting. Warriors’ Path State Park even offers a campground.
Pamper yourself in the Austin Springs Spa & Salon, a luxury spa experience with skilled aestheticians. The spa is located inside the Carnegie Hotel and offers a variety of pedicures, manicures, facials, waxing, and body treatments.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
You’ll be amazed at the sheer number of delicious dining spots around Johnson City. For breakfast, look no further than Pal’s Speedy Service, which you’ll see when you drive into town. Pal’s is the turquoise building with a hamburger, hot dog, fries, and shake jutting out from it. The kitschy eatery is also a good lunch or anytime option. Don’t miss the cheddar rounds. Java Juice House is another, with açaí bowls, fancy toasts, and great coffee and tea options.
For lunch, Label is excellent for gourmet burgers, steaks, and the Cinnamon Oblivion dessert. It’s one of the town’s most popular eateries, so lunch should be less crowded. Another option is Gourmet and Company, with the Appalachian Cobb Salad, a popular choice with chicken, Benton’s bacon, tomato, pickled eggs, and avocado. If you need something heartier, the Tuna Melt was the best I’ve ever had, nestled between cranberry raisin bread and topped with cheddar and provolone.
Dinner options range from German to Indian, and one with an A+ for originality. At Freiburg’s, one of Johnson City’s international restaurants, try the German sausages or something more traditional like Schnitzel or Sauer Braten. For your Indian Fix, Sahib has all the favorites and impeccable service. Timber is themed after camping and National Parks, offering fried Brussels, succulent pork sandwiches, and a variety of vegetarian fare.
WHERE TO STAY
IN JOHNSON CITY
Deluxe accommodations in Johnson City are found at the stunning Carnegie Hotel. This AAA four-Diamond Hotel has loads of charm, a picturesque library with private seating nooks, and Wellington’s, a full-service high-end restaurant. The room’s sleigh bed featured high-thread-count linens and all the amenities you could wish for.
JOHNSON CITY: A CITY ON THE RISE
Hopefully, you will be as bowled over by the fun, hospitality, and pride of Johnson City as I was. This is a city that is getting noticed and growing by leaps and bounds. If you still need more to do, consider a 17-minute drive over to Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee. Happy travels.