By Debra Pamplin
Johnson City, Tennessee, is a great year-round go-to city, but during the holiday months, it’s transformed into a winter wonderland. It’s easy to get in the Christmas spirit while strolling down city streets lit up with Christmas lights, sipping hot chocolate with whipped cream from a local coffee shop and taking in the holiday decorations displayed throughout the city.
It’s closer than you might think — and ideal for a weekend getaway or a week-long vacation. Johnson City is 244 miles from Raleigh, North Carolina, and 217 miles from Columbia, South Carolina.
Plan your visit in December and create special holiday memories. The annual Downtown in December, which takes place downtown the first weekend in December. Other holiday events include a tree lighting ceremony that kicks off the official start to the holiday season and varied family friendly activities. Most events are free and all events are open to both residents and visitors. The weekend also boasts a Christmas parade — complete with several floats, marching bands and dancers — as well as Whoville Village. After the parade, visit the Farmers Market Pavilion. Here kids can enjoy crafts and holiday goodies. Make time for a photo opp with the Grinch and Cindy-Lou Who.
For a drive-by light display, visit the LaFrance Family residence at 3502 Pine Timbers Dr. This well-lit Christmas-themed yard can warm the coldest Grinch heart. As are most holiday activities, it’s free. (Check out this story online for an updated list of activities.)
There are plenty of bed and breakfast locations and hotels to choose from. Perhaps some time in a cabin would add to the holiday feel. Watauga River Cabins, with accommodations for up to 9 guests, provides cozy lodging options for an extra special Christmas vacation. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, anyone?
Johnson City boasts a rich and interesting history. It was the home of Tennessee’s first settler. It was also said to be a hideaway home for mob boss legend Al Capone in the 1920s. Perhaps a lesser known nugget — the city has the nickname of “Little Chicago” due to Capone’s alleged bootlegging. He was rumored to be a part-time resident during the 1920s. The Historic Montrose Court is a historical landmark mostly because it was a home-away-from-home for Capone during the Prohibition era.
The George L. Carter Railroad Museum is a must-see for railroad enthusiasts. Dedicated to the builder of the Clinchfield Railroad, this museum showcases the history of the railway that ran more than 270 miles though rough mountain terrain in order to transport coal from Eastern Kentucky to the Carolina Piedmont. The museum features toy trains, historic prototype railroad memorabilia and other items.
While there’s no entrance fee, the museum is well worth its weight in “coal.” Volunteers are readily available to share the history and events of the railroad, as well as provide tips on the basics of model railroading.
Back to Nature
If you want to see first hand the land where the railroad went through, make plans to visit the Tweetsie Trail. A rail-to-trails project, this trail offers a relatively flat grade path that’s perfect for walking or biking. When it’s completed, the 10-mile trail will win the title of state’s longest rail-to-trails location. Soak in the history and beauty that surround you as you hike the trail.
Head to The Winged Deer Park for more trail hikes and mountain biking. Test your skills at the frisbee golf park or use the boat ramp for a day outing on the water. Willow Springs Park houses a playground and some walking trails. Open year round, these two parks provide a scenic spot for outdoor fun. Buffalo Mountain Park is another option for wilderness trails. This one provides opportunities to see wildlife. It’s slightly secluded, so make sure and bring a friend along.
Shop for those last-minute Christmas gifts at the Village Antiques and Home Decor mall. You’ll find collectibles, primitive decor, furniture and plenty of antiques. Enjoy a shopping break at a local favorite — Yee-Haw Brewing Company. It’s located downtown and is dog friendly. Try a variety of beer flavors and then visit the attached taco shop for other local flavors.
Whether traveling for the holidays or planning for the upcoming spring break, Johnson City offers plenty during every season. Beautiful scenery, plenty of history and museums along with plenty of outdoor activities are always waiting for you in this eastern Tennessee city.
Please note: Events and hours of operations may be impacted by COVID-19. Call each venue prior to your visit for the latest updates and protocols.
Ready to plan your Tennessee road trip? Visit AAA.com/GoTravel for AAA TripTiks and other helpful travel resources.
(Go Magazine Nov-Dec 2020)
(Photos: Visit Johnson City TN)