Nashville, Tennessee’s 12South neighborhood is a one-stop hotspot for eating, drinking, playing and shopping. credit: VisitMusicCity.com

Best of the Southeast: Explore Tennessee like a local

You don’t want to travel like a tourist. You want to be in the know. In the AJC’s annual Best of the Southeast travel special section, we give you the lowdown on where locals eat, drink, play, relax, shop and discover.

Get the scoop on the Volunteer State, from killer shopping in Nashville to barbecue pizza in Memphis to luxury treehouses in Gatlinburg.

Shop: 12South neighborhood in Nashville

Nashville (visitmusiccity.com, @visitmusiccity) is home of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the world’s largest songwriter community, the longest continually running live radio show (“The Grand Ole Opry”), and so much more. Music is the city’s best-known beat, but the 12South neighborhood hums its own tune and is a one-stop hotspot for eating, drinking, playing and shopping.

If you’re in the market for sheet music, a guitar and musical accessories, don’t miss Corner Music Store (2705 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-297-9559, cornermusic.com), where the pros shop.

Even if you can’t strum like a star, you can still imitate Nashville style thanks to fashion boutiques like Emerson Grace (2304 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-454-6407, emersongracenashville.com), which stocks contemporary women’s clothing and accessories in a mix of brands, including some local designers, across a range of prices. Find men’s and women’s T-shirts and custom-made jeans stitched onsite at Imogene & Willie (2601 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-292-5005, imogeneandwillie.com, @imogenewillie), and you may spot some celebrities hanging out. Watch artisans in action at Judith Bright Jewelry (2307 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-269-5600, judithbright.com) and pick among quality designs featuring interesting gemstones.

Country artist Gary Allan’s the Label Nashville (2222 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-915-0722, thelabelnashville.com) stocks cutting-edge designer menswear (plus a few ladies’ items), jewelry and home furnishings; many lines are exclusive to the store. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James (2608 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-997-3601, draperjames.com, @draperjames) is a bright shop bursting with timeless Southern-style clothing and housewares, all inspired by Witherspoon’s favorite things. White’s Mercantile (2908 12th Ave. S., Nashville. 615-750-5379, whitesmercantile.com, @WhitesMerc), opened by Nashville songwriter and Hank Williams’ granddaughter Holly Williams, is a modern general store and a convenient place to pick up kitchen staples and gadgets alongside wardrobe essentials, beauty products and other goodies.

Hope S. Philbrick, for the AJC

Relax: Treehouse luxury in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

At Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Resort (1739 East Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tenn. 865-436-8831, campleconte.com, @CampLeConte) on Raccoon Ridge, you can take glamping to another level by securing a luxury tree house. These open-air tree houses offer deluxe accommodations with tree-top views of Mount LeConte and the Great Smoky Mountains. Outfitted with a queen-size bed and sleeping lofts for two, the tree house offers a good mix of rustic adventure and modern conveniences. A private bath is the trade-off for no air conditioning (there’s a large fan), but the openings feature screens that let in the fresh mountain air.

You won’t have to worry about packing a lot of gear for your stay. Along with a cooler filled with complimentary ice and bottled waters, you’ll be met with fresh towels, linens, a small toiletry kit and electrical outlets. And, yes, there’s Wi-Fi. These are decidedly not primitive tree houses.

A covered porch provides an ideal spot for reading or napping, and when it’s time for supper, you’ve got a handy fire pit with a charcoal grill. Note that the owners want to keep this boutique campground pristine, so there’s no smoking allowed in the tree house — not even on the porch — and pets aren’t allowed, either.

The camp also features a heated salt-water swimming pool that’s open from mid-April to early October. Directly across the street from Camp LeConte, you’ll find riding stables. Note that Camp LeConte closes after the Thanksgiving weekend and reopens in March.

Sabine Morrow, for the AJC

Eat: Coletta’s Restaurant in Memphis

Most Memphis, Tenn., natives know Coletta’s for its red-and-white tablecloths, its air-licking candlelight, and its murals of Italy spanning across the walls. The third-generation owners of the original location on South Parkway claim it to be the oldest restaurant in town and the first to bring pizza to the Bluff City. Some locals say the area can be a bit rough and tumble, so consider visiting before dark.

The kitchen staff basically whips up everything from scratch. Bulging lasagna, fresh sauces and overstuffed cannoli roll out of the kitchen. Pastas can be had in child size, regular portion size or more massive for family-style consumption. Like Little Italy on Union Avenue, Coletta’s has a solid rep for its pizza. In fact, Coletta’s lays claim to Elvis Presley’s preferred pie. On numerous occasions, he sunk his rocking royal choppers into the barbecue pizza, and many customers continue the tradition.

If the ’cue pizza sounds too challenging, the plain cheese or pepperoni brings safe simplicity. Salads, a full bar, desserts and other selections help round out the menu and bellies. Although Graceland, the former home of Presley, gets its rightful due as a star local attraction, don’t forget to swing by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (926 E. McLemore Ave. Memphis. 901-942-7685, staxmuseum.com, @StaxMemphis) on the site of the original Stax recording studio, located less than five minutes from the restaurant. Want to make a return trip to Coletta’s? Its second location can be found at 2850 Appling Road.

1063 S. Parkway E., Memphis, Tenn. 901-948-7652, colettas.net.

Jon Waterhouse, for the AJC

Discover: Check out the ‘Scruffy City,’ Knoxville, Tenn.

Touchscreens, so ubiquitous now, were first introduced to the public at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. Digital natives, and anyone else who can no longer imagine living without such power at their fingertips, can pay homage with a visit to the “Scruffy City.” Why is Knoxville called the Scruffy City? Because a media report at the time questioned how such “a scruffy little city” could pull off hosting a World’s Fair. But pull it off they did.

Today, Knoxvillians take pride in the name, and their scruffy little Sunsphere, the tower topped with a golden glass globe that served as the centerpiece attraction of the fair. It’s one of the few tangible remnants of the fair, along with the hotel next door that today operates as Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park (rates start at $136; 525 Henley St., Knoxville. 865-522-2800, ihg.com/holidayinn). In the lobby, you’ll find the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube, another remnant of the fair. The hotel serves as a good base of operations for exploring a revitalized downtown area and points beyond.

Don’t-miss spots: Market Square is a pedestrian-only zone brimming with mainstay restaurants and longstanding pubs, as well as a vibrant street life that includes unofficial buskers and bands belting out tunes and a built-in stage for official performances from an array of Americana acts. A couple of blocks away, you’ll find the Knoxville Visitors Center, which likely draws more locals than visitors thanks to the Blue Plate Special, a live lunchtime radio broadcast from the in-house studios of WDVX, a legendary radio station that calls the visitors center home. And, yes, you can eat lunch there.

Blake Guthrie, for the AJC

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