Being a true-blue Tri-Cities gal, I’ve spent my whole life exploring every nook and cranny of our fair region, especially Johnson City and Elizabethton. I graduated high school alongside basically the same people with whom I graduated kindergarten. Throughout my 20s I bartended and mingled at all the JC hotspots and began noticing the same regulars at the same stops week after week. Even now it seems I have my 3-4 favorite places I frequent because I’m so familiar with what I like and don’t like here. Thursdays to Gourmet for dessert and drinks, Friday to Café One11 for Asian fare and wine, Sunday brunch at Label and bouncing back and forth between Wonderland and Tipton when I’ve stayed out past my bedtime and end up downtown. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this, but what’s a girl to do when she needs a fresh start and a breather from the same ol’ same? After a lifetime of living, working and playing within a 40 mile radius, sometimes you just wanna go where NOBODY knows your name.
I am queen of the weekend getaway. Whether it’s taking off on a Friday for a long weekend of relaxation or a quick 45 minute drive for a day playing in the mountains, if it’s under 4 hours away I am totally down. We are so conveniently located that there is a wealth of locations just waiting to be discovered right under our noses. And sometimes even skipping a town or two over can feel as foreign as a trip out of the country.
The first and easiest options to consider are Bristol/Abingdon. Make a day of it by starting out exploring Abingdon’s beautiful downtown. There are tons of places for shopping and eating, and you can’t miss grabbing a brew at Wolf Hills Brewery or taking in a show at the historic Barter Theatre. You can also mosey over to Bristol and peruse some of their endless antique shops, grab some sweets at Blackbird Bakery or enjoy a 5 star dinner in front of one of the fireplaces at J Franks. At the end of the night, take the elevator to the tip-top of the beautiful Bristol Hotel and admire the city lights from their rooftop bar.
Also just a hop, skip and jump away are multiple beautiful stops in Western North Carolina. What isn’t there to do right over the state line? On your way out of town, make sure you stop for photo ops along the banks of the sparkling blue waters of Watauga Lake. Even this time of year, the surrounding mountain views framing the lake make for stunning sunsets. You can also check out some exquisite dining in Mountain City. By far, some of the most delicious and authentic Italian cuisine I’ve had the pleasure of eating was at La Cucina, an unassuming white cottage on the side of the road. I highly recommend calling for reservations WELL in advance. Another hidden gem is the restaurant at the RedTail Mountain Resort. In the warmer months, I defy you to find a better dining ambiance than listening to live music on their expansive patio that overlooks the perfectly manicured greens of the golf course. When you finally reach the state line, you have endless options to choose from within minutes. Between Boone, Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, Lynnville Falls and Grandfather Mountain you can do everything from skiing to shopping, to wineries and everything in between. If you have a designated driver, make a day of hitting all 5 stops on the High Country Wine Trail (highcountrywinetrail.com.) If you can only do one at a time, point and choose. Each of these beautiful wineries offer breathtaking views of vines cascading down the mountainside, as well as music, munchies and gifts for all to enjoy. You could also rent a snowy cabin at the slopes and spend a weekend shredding some powder by day and warming your bones by fire at night. One of my favorite little spots for a weekend away is the bed and breakfast located above the Blowing Rock Ale House. You actually get to stay in a room on the second floor of the restaurant and brewery. Talk about convenience! There are outlets for shopping as well as a plethora of independent boutiques and shops for something one of a kind. You can also venture your way further south and hit Asheville. I would offer you my favorite stops there, but you literally need to just park your car and start walking. Asheville never disappoints with their endless selections of delicious cuisine, live music and unique boutiques and offers a new experience with each visit.
If you’re in the mood to get a little further away from it all and enjoy a bit of big city livin, Atlanta is by far my top pick. A short 4 hour drive is all it takes to enjoy a completely cosmopolitan experience. I am still trying new places each time I go, but I never leave town without a night of dancing at Johnny’s Hideaway. I’ve never been to a better bar with a broader variety of patrons where everyone is having a fantastic time. Just trust me on this, it’s the greatest bar in the world. Score some tickets to a pro sports game, spend the day exploring the aquarium, or make the short drive to Alpharetta and do anything and everything Avalon has to offer (experienceavalon.com.) If you can’t find something to do in the ATL, you might be a lost cause.
Within the 4 hour radius of the Tri-Cities you have your pick of big and small town experiences. Don’t forget how close we are to Chattanooga, Knoxville, Charlotte and Greeneville SC in addition to the dozens of surrounding quaint towns. Increase your iPhone storage, clear your schedule, fill your gas tank and get on the road to discovering a whole new world practically in your backyard. Sometimes a break from the norm is just what the doctor ordered!