The Best Stops Along I-40 Eastbound
All roads lead to Nashville! If you’re taking a road trip to Music City, add some excitement to your drive by pulling off at one of these stops to sightsee, stretch your legs, and nosh on some of the best roadside eats around. These spots are located within a day’s drive of Nashville along Interstate 40 eastbound.
By Katie Quine • June 13, 2018
678 Miles to Nashville | Oklahoma City, OK
It’s been called Southern, Western, and Midwestern, but The Sooner State could be considered a blend of all three with its wide-open spaces, deep-fried disposition, and Heartland conviviality. Get a taste of the state by making an Oklahoma City stopover. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s art collection is impressive, capturing both frontier life and Native American culture. The museum also boasts a permanent gallery that captures the spirit of Western films and contains an extensive amount of memorabilia, including John Wayne’s personal collection of spurs and firearms. In the heart of downtown, the American Banjo Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of banjos on public display and traces the instrument’s extensive history. Consider the museum to be a perfect primer before a visit to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium; it recently acquired a one-of-a-kind Vega banjo that belonged to Earl Scruggs, who famously played a role in the birth of bluegrass during a 1945 show at the Mother Church of Country Music.
While in the capital of Oklahoma, you’d be remised if you didn’t try the official state meal of Oklahoma. (Yep, that’s a real thing.) More feast than meal, it comprises barbecued pork, chicken-fried steak, fried okra, squash, grits, corn, strawberries, black-eyed peas, cornbread, sausage with biscuits and gravy, and pecan pie. If you’ve only got room in your stomach for one thing from the list, make it chicken-fried steak. Two Oklahoma City restaurants have developed quite the following for the hearty dish. The chicken-fried steak at Cheever’s Cafe, an elegant restaurant housed within an old flower shop, gets the uptown treatment with a jalapeño cream gravy and garlic red-skinned mashed potatoes. Ann’s Chicken Fry House is more neon than white-tablecloth, existing as a storied stop along Route 66 for decades. Perfectly breaded and smothered in gravy, Ann’s interpretation of chicken-fried steak is akin to something you’d eat at grandma’s table.
Oklahoma Odds and Ends
If you’re in need of fuel and a chance to get out of the car, Oklahoma has several fun roadside photo ops. Take exit 166 to see a water tank that was painted to look like a giant Sonic Drive-In cup. While it might seem random, the fast food chain opened its first location in Oklahoma in 1956. Off Exit 221, you can visit the site of the Woody Guthrie’s childhood home, marked by a carved tree trunk. A folk hero, Guthrie is best known for the song “This Land is Your Land” and each summer, the town of Okemah holds a music festival in his honor. Closer to the Arkansas state line, keep an eye out for “where 69 meets 40” to see “the single stoplight town” that raised beloved Opry member Carrie Underwood and was the subject of one her songs, “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore”: Checotah. Oklahoma has a penchant for producing big-time country stars; Reba, Vince Gill, Blake Shelton, and Garth Brooks also claim it as their home state.
485 Miles to Nashville | Ozark National Forest (Arkansas)
Spreading across four states, The Ozarks offer up expansive wilderness worth exploring, and fortunately for the Interstate 40 driver, Ozark National Forest can be reached after taking a short detour on Interstate 49. Celebrate crossing into Arkansas by taking a few hours to kayak or swim at Lake Fort Smith State Park, which is on the western cusp of the forest. The park also offers some great hiking opportunities, too.
349 Miles to Nashville | Little Rock, AR
Little Rock has more than a few things up its sleeve, including a cool half-million dollars in cold, hard cash that’s up for grabs — sort of. Go on a guided tour of the Arkansas State Capitol, which has served as stand-in for the U.S. Capitol in movies, to do something you’ll probably never be able to do elsewhere: get your picture taken while holding $500,000 worth of $100 bills in your hands. Arkansas tax money is kept in a vault inside the treasurer’s office and is accessible to the public. Don’t worry, they’ll ask for it back. For an extra dose of history, you have your options. Reserve a guided tour of Little Rock Central High School, now a National Historic Site, and learn its importance in the movement to desegregate public schools. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the life and career of the 42nd president. Those with an interest in maritime history will delight in a trip to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, which boasts the submarine USS Razorback. The submarine was used heavily during World War II and is still operational.
As for restaurants, don’t miss South on Main, which doubles as a premiere listening room that has hosted the likes of Dom Flemons, Parker Millsap, and Rhonda Vincent. The restaurant specializes in making down-home classics with a touch of elegance. Consider yourself extra lucky if you’re there for Sunday brunch. The restaurant is one of only a few in the area that serves a surprisingly hard-to-find Arkansas delicacy: biscuits with chocolate gravy. Start your day off on a sweet note with a comfort dish that is said to have been invented in the Ozarks. For something savory — and a laugh — dine at Flying Fish, home to what is proclaimed to be the world’s first Billy Bass Adoption Wall. Dozens of plaques featuring everyone’s favorite animatronic singing fish now have a home here. If you donate yours, you’ll receive a free catfish basket.
212 Miles to Nashville | Memphis, TN
As you roll into the Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll, make your first stop The Peabody Memphis. This elegant historic hotel has a quirky — err, quacky — history. The Peabody is home to five beloved ducks who spend their time delighting guests while swimming in the indoor fountain. Learn the story behind this colorful tradition by witnessing the daily Peabody Duck March at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Another famous icon has ties to the Peabody lobby, too: Elvis Presley signed his record deal here. For the grand tour of Presley’s Memphis, any fan should add Sun Studios and Graceland to their itinerary. To fully understand the breadth of history contained in this city, visit the National Civil Rights Museum and Stax Museum of American Soul Music, too.
Hungry? Hope you like ribs because ’cue is on the menu in Memphis. Open since 1948, Rendezvous is the yardstick by which all other joints are measured, its origins imbuing Southern ingenuity. When original owner Charlie Vergos wanted to sell ham sandwiches and beer out of a basement, he converted an old coal chute into a meat smoker. Everyone from Justin Timberlake to Princes William and Harry to Peyton Manning have shown up in droves ever since. At Central BBQ, another standout, order a rack of ribs — half wet, half dry. If you get a hankering long after you’ve hit the road for home, the restaurant ships its food anywhere in the United States.
66 Miles to Nashville | Hurricane Mills
Opry member Loretta Lynn has long called Hurricane Mills home, and now you can visit the historic house she lived in for 22 years as well as a replica of her childhood home at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. Explore her original tour bus and the various museums that are also on the property, including one dedicated to Lynn’s personal memorabilia and awards she’s collected throughout her career. Now onwards to the stage where she is most loved: the Grand Ole Opry.
Welcome to Nashville
Now, experience “the show that made country music famous”!