Since COVID-19 has forced our travel hands and limited summer trips to more local destinations, we’ve opted to explore spots that can serve as a day trip. It’s quite nice, actually, having this opportunity to visit places nearby that we would usually overlook for the reason that “we could just go there anytime.”
On a pleasantly non-humid June morning, we headed to our first such destination: Columbia, Tennessee. Located just 45 miles south of Nashville, Columbia often boasts of its small-town, Main-Street-Americana appeal – and it’s not wrong to do so; its downtown streets are filled with local shops and restaurants. Familiarly nicknamed Muletown, Columbia weaves this identity into its booming cultural scene which includes the 170-year-old annual Mule Day celebration each May and First Fridays music and art street festivals.
Columbia is located in Maury County, which allegedly has more antebellum homes than anywhere else in the state of Tennessee. Along with your exploration of the restaurants and shops in town square, you should take a walk through the surrounding streets to check out the gorgeous architecture. If history is your thing, there are plenty of spots to explore, as well.
As with everything else during these pandemic times, Columbia was not exactly open for “business as usual” during our visit; much was still closed or operating with limited hours. We parked on W 8th Street, just off the main thoroughfare of Garden Street that brings traffic into Columbia but not directly through town square, and from this starting point, it’s easy enough to walk to explore the area.
The Maury County Courthouse stands in the middle of town square, at the roundabout of W 7th and Main Streets. Muletown Coffee offers a dependable cup, roasting locally since 2013; they even offer a subscription service to get small-batch bags delivered directly to your door. Also in historic downtown, the Variety Record Shop boasts a huge amount of vinyl and music memorabilia; Duck River Books serves as Columbia’s independent book shop, featuring both new and secondhand books.
A good portion of Columbia’s draw is entirely historical; its buildings, whether the commercial brick of Main Street USA or residential antebellum decadence, generate a huge amount of visual appeal. The town is birthplace of 11th U.S. President James K. Polk, his home designated a National Historic Landmark and open as a museum. The Historic Athenaeum served as a girls’ school from the 1830s until the Great Depression, and the architecture is just stunning. We tried to visit for a tour, but it was unfortunately closed as well.
While there are usually many spots for dining around town, options were limited on a pandemic weekday. We headed back to town square for a lunch at Puckett’s, a well-known local chain with a dependably satisfying menu of southern fare. Afterwards, we capped off our filling lunch with treats from Hattie Jane’s Creamery right next door (a debatable necessary decision, as ice cream usually is).
During this visit, I know we only got the smallest taste of all Columbia has to offer. I look forward to revisiting post-pandemic for an even closer look.