Update (12/18/08): After receiving a number of valid comments that I’m looking unfavorably on certain parts of Knoxville, I’ve decided to write a follow-up entry to this one with my current view of living in Knoxville. The current entry was originally published on my personal site in June 2008 before I had a chance to really explore, and evaluate the city. As a results my opinions of the city have changed. Thanks for all of your feedback — it’s great to hear how passionate folks are about their city!
Update: Looking for a house in Knoxville? I wrote an entry on that too.
Living in Knoxville, Tenn., like most mid-size Southern cities, is pretty easy. Cost of living is cheap, and folks here go out of their way to accommodate most anyone.
But with the good qualities of Knoxville come some bad ones too. Terrible air-quality, overly franchised shopping and restaurants, and poor road engineering can make life in the “scruffy city” difficult.
I’ve been a Knoxville resident for almost two years now. Here is my guide to living in Knoxville.
Where to live in Knoxville
When I accepted a job that brought me to Knoxville, I had no idea about where to live. My fiance and I are huge fans of eclectic housing — old, with character — and didn’t know whether this was available.
Lindsay didn’t have a job at the time so we decided it might be best to look for something out west. Many of the recommendations from my co-workers were in this area.
We looked at several places in the Cedar Bluff area before deciding on Walden Legacy Apartments, located near the intersection of Cedar Bluff and Middlebrook Pike. Unfortunately, these apartments are far from eclectic — they’re your standard shoe-box variety — but they’re clean, quiet and safe.
Our apartment is also three miles from my office, which makes for a cycling-friendly commute. It’s also close to two grocery stores and several decent restaurants.
Hip apartments do exist in Knoxville, but you’ll pay a premium.
For a well-located 2 bedroom apartment in west Knoxville, expect to pay in the range of $600 to $1,000. Just make sure you can stomach the blandness.
Where to eat in Knoxville
Knoxville is blessed with many unique eateries throughout the city limits. Here are my favorites, none of which are national chains:
- Pasta Trio (Old City)
- Tomato Head (Downtown)
- Sitar (Bearden)
- Taste of Thai (Cedar Bluff)
- Big Fatty’s (Bearden)
- The Crown and Goose (Old City)
- Old City Java (Old City)
- Downtown Grill and Brewery (Downtown)
- Coastal Connections (Middlebrook Pike area)
- Golden Roast (UT area)
Unless you just need a quick bite of anything, stay clear of the Turkey Creek area near Farragut. This is a franchise-laden abomination that will only frustrate you with traffic and ticky-tacky.
Where to shop in Knoxville
If you’re moving to Knoxville for shopping, do yourself a favor and revise your destination to somewhere else. Sure, we have the usual assortment of chains like GAP, J Crew, Banana Republic and others, but very few original shops.
Knoxville does have a mall, and you can get your main-stream fix at Turkey Creek, Cedar Bluff or, if you can stomach it, down the interstate in Sevierville, Tenn. Just make sure you take your Tums first.
Personally, I do most of my shopping online.
Where to get a drink or coffee in Knoxville
The first thing my fiance and I ask of a city is “where can I find a coffee shop?” Knoxville is a little lacking in this area, but does contain two coffee shops that are worth a visit.
The first is located across the street from the University of Tennessee campus. It’s called Golden Roast, and feels very academic with old wooden tables and book shelves in back. Parking is nonexistent, so it’s best to find a place on the Strip or walk from campus after-hours.
Golden Roast does roast its own beans, but the coffee is only so-so in my opinion. I think this is due to how they brew it, but I can’t be sure. Also, they prefer cash — credit purchases must be above a certain amount — so swing by the ATM first.
The second option is Old City Java, located in Knoxville’s Old City (near downtown). This shop is more hip than academic and plays some great music. They also source their beans from Golden Roast (I think the coffee tastes better than Golden Roast).
Old City Java is kinda rough around the edges, so don’t expect the Star Bucks crowd here.
Both Old City Java and Golden Roast offer free WiFi, which is a prerequisite for a good shop IMHO.
Also, check out Coffee and Chocolate for a clean, modern place to get your buzz. Beware the high prices however.
If your drink preference is beer instead of coffee, you have several options to choose from in Knoxville. And almost all of them are downtown.
First, check out the Downtown Brewery on Gay Street for local beers that are only $2 during happy hour. None are spectacular, but all are better than the usual fare.
The Crown and Goose in Old City has three locally brewed beers. The bitter and IPA are the best. Both are $2.50 during happy hour, which unfortunately only lasts until 6 p.m.
Other places with great non-local beer selections include:
- Barley’s (Old City)
- Nama (Downtown)
- Preservation Pub (Downtown) smoking
- Union Jacks (Bearden) smoking
Note that Tennessee has banned smoking in restaurants/bars that allow anyone under the age of 21.
Where to play in Knoxville
For the outdoorsy types, Knoxville has several options. But beware the bad air quality during the warmer months.
On orange or red days, you will have trouble breathing. This alone should probably deter many folks from living in Knoxville because they occur with such frequency.
There are several parks throughout Knoxville, each with various acreage and options. You can also choose from green ways, such as those in Farragut or near the University.
Though not in Knoxville proper, I visit Oak Ridge’s Haw Ridge trail system to ride my mountain bike often. I believe these trails are the only within a short drive of Knoxville in fact.
I ride my road bike out west because the back-roads tend to harbor less aggressive drivers than those closer to the interstate. I can’t comment on roads in other parts of town.
There are several group rides to choose from including a decent ride that meets every Tuesday and Thursday at Cedar Bluff Cycles, a bike shop at the intersection of Cedar Bluff and Kingston Pike.
Numerous hikes can be had for about an hour’s drive towards the Smokey Mountains — just avoid Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg like the plague.
The good and bad
This guide, like others, is simply a snapshot of my experience living in Knoxville. Others might like it more, some might hate it. I think I’m somewhere in between.
Here are my favorite things about Knoxville:
- Low cost of living
- Tomato Head
- Old City
- Nearby Appalachian Mountains
- Local cyclocross series
And here are my least favorite things about Knoxville:
- Bad air quality and high carbon emissions
- Unfriendliness towards cyclists
- Turkey Creek
- UT orange
- Ticky-tacky, sprawling neighborhoods
If you have anything to add to this entry, or if you disagree with any of my points, post a comment and continue the discussion.
Note: This entry was originally published on Patrick’s blog.
Photography by theparadigmshifter