“He’s a heading west to the Cumberland Gap, to Johnson City, Tennessee!” The famous country song Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show is probably the only time you’ve ever heard of the eastern Tennessee town of Johnson City.
Downtown Johnson City, Tennessee was once known as the “Little Chicago” where it’s rumored that famous mobster Al Capone used to come to deal in the illegal alcohol business. Nowadays, downtown Johnson City is becoming a micro industrial-chic destination. (Much like what Asheville would’ve been before it exploded in popularity in the late ’90s and early 2000s).
Johnson City, though it isn’t my hometown, has somewhat become a home for me as both my sister and mom have settled here. Each time I come home, we always end up doing one of these ten things below.
In this post, I’m sharing some of my favorite things to do in Johnson City, Tennessee, from riding bikes on the Tweetsie Trail to brew-hopping in the heart of the historic downtown.
Here are the top ten things to do in Johnson City, Tennessee!
Looking for even more inspiration? Here is my updated list of the 50 best things to do in Johnson City, TN!
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10 Fun Things to Do in Johnson City
1. Drink a homebrewed beer at Johnson City Brewing Company
Jump right into the local scene in Johnson City by visiting the homegrown Johnson City Brewing Company, owned and operated by Eric and Kat Latham.
Eric is the Head Brewmaster who combines original ingredients to create original homebrews and craft beer, like their lager infused with Roma tomatoes, or their best-selling peachy-coriander beer.
The laid-back and welcoming atmosphere at JCBC can be characterized by its neighborly feel, complimentary popcorn, and the best board games to play while you enjoy your brew.
In our most recent visit, I shared a flight with four 5-oz samples: Blue & Gold (the colors of the college ETSU), Berry Rosé, Tart Cherry Cider, and Étrange – a stout Belgian sour beer.
JCBC is by far one of the best craft breweries in Johnson City!
[su_list icon=”icon: beer”]
- Where: 257 E Main St, Johnson City, TN
- Hours: 4-9 pm M-Th, 4-10 Fri, 1-10 pm Sat, 1-7 pm Sun
- Website: https://johnsoncitybrewing.com/
The Berry Rose and Etrange were my two favorites. I like sour and fruity beers.
2. Ride bikes on the historic Tweetsie Trail
The Tweetsie Trail was once a working railroad in the late 1800s connecting Eastern Tennesse and Western North Carolina, but it has now been converted into a rail trail for outdoor recreation. Renting a bike and going for a ride on the Tweetsie Trail in Johnson City is one of the best things to do on a sunny summer’s day.
Plenty of locals are out walking their dogs, riding horses, bikes, or hiking along this historic rail trail which spans roughly 10-miles across the scenic, mostly flat terrain connecting Johnson City to the neighboring town of Elizabethton.
Rent a bike in downtown Johnson City at Trek Bicycle Johnson City or at Local Motion Cyclery (which is right across from the trailhead).
3. Watch a Johnson City Doughboys baseball game
Baseball games are such fun events and you don’t have to travel far to go to a baseball game in Johnson City! The Johnson City Cardinals (now called the Doughboys) are a minor league baseball team home to Johnson City, Tennessee who play with the Appalachian League.
Attending one of their home games is a great, budget-friendly thing to do in Johnson City for a fun night out with friends or family! The entrance fee is affordable, and the food and drinks are pretty decent (but pricier).
Location: TVA Credit Union Stadium – Cardinal Park
4. Go tubing down the Nolichucky River & Watauga River
The Nolichucky River and the Watauga River in/near Johnson City are where the locals go fishing, swimming, white-water rafting, and our favorite – tubing!
If you’ve never tubed before, it’s basically just leisurely floating with some bursts of river rapids. You can rent or buy large, round inflatable tubes and spend the day with your bum and toes dipped in the cool water as you gently float down the river.
River tubing on the Nolichucky
You can put your tube in the river nearly anywhere, but be sure to plan ahead and park another car at your exit point. Tubing has always been one of our favorite things to do, whether in Eastern Tennessee or Western North Carolina!
You can tube both in the Nolichucky River and the Watauga River.
Here are our tubing start and endpoints so you can follow along:
- Start coordinates: 36.1565648, -82.4388437
- Endpoint coordinates: 36.1806413, -82.4522709
- Time: ~ 3 hours
Tip: Park your car on the side of the road where there is a small grassy clearing near 981 Arnold Rd.
5. Listen to live music at Capone’s Bar
Whether Al Capone’s frequent visits to Johnson City are true or myth, there’s a bar in downtown Johnson City named after him. Capone’s is a local, trendy bar with live music events featuring local artists. It’s the go-to place for a night out of drinks and dancing! They also feature weekly karaoke sessions. There might be a cover charge for some events, but it’s reasonably priced and so are the drinks!
6. Visit Tennessee’s oldest town of Jonesborough
Jonesborough is Tennessee’s oldest town dating back to 1779 and it is located just outside of Johnson City, making the perfect day trip!
Its small yet charming downtown features historic buildings and monuments, several old-timey boutiques, a Tennessee whiskey distillery, trendy cafes, and not to mention the Jonesborough International Storytelling Center. Yep, Jonesborough, despite its small stature, is dubbed “Storytelling Capital of the World!”
Jonesborough is close to our hearts, as my family also lived here for a couple of years. The town is really tiny yet has enough things to do and see. You could easily spend a full day here exploring and visiting the shops and museums.
7. Play disc golf at Winged Deer Park
Winged Deer Park in northern Johnson City is a large, 200-acre park featuring woodland trails and footpaths, an 18-hole disc golf course, several athletic fields, and a boat launch area. Whether for hiking, biking, walking the dog, playing disc golf, enjoying a picnic, watching a softball tournament, or exploring the park’s scenic trails, the Winged Deer Park is a great place to go to spend time outdoors with family and friends.
8. Follow the Sculpture Walk at Founder’s Park
Also located in the heart of downtown Johnson City sits the scenic Founder’s Park. This park features a 5-acre green space with a paved walking path with a small river running through it. The park also boasts artistic sculptures, which you can tour as you follow the Sculpture Walk.
In the summer, Founder’s Park becomes a hub of activity with local games, races, and other outdoor events. Not to mention a whole array of vendors and food trucks. Since the park is a central feature of downtown, stopping by to check it out is a must-do activity when visiting Johnson City.
9. Play the southern game of Cornhole at Yee-Haw Brewing Company
Downtown Johnson City is slowly converting its old industrial buildings into trendy breweries and restaurants. One such addition to downtown is the popular Yee-Haw Brewing Company and the White Duck Taco Shop which joins it.
Grabbing a craft brew and playing a game of cornhole (bean bag toss) while munching on some delicious taco combinations is a fun thing to do in Johnson City. It’s something my family will occasionally do whenever I come home to visit in the summer.
10. Spend the day out on Boone Lake
Boone Lake is just outside of Johnson City, making it convenient for visitors wishing to spend a sunny day out on the water. Although the lake’s water levels are low at the moment due to a break in the dam several years ago, the reservoir is expected to fill back up by 2021.
Nonetheless, renting a boat at the Boone Lake Marina and spending the day fishing, tubing, cruising, or swimming out on Boone Lake is a fun thing to do in Johnson City. You’ll find plenty of locals taking their boats out in the summer and eating and enjoying live music at the popular lakeside restaurant near the marina.
Shopping & Dining in Johnson City
So those are the top things to do in Johnson City, in addition to just exploring your taste buds by trying out the restaurants downtown. Downtown has some great shops too, but it depends on what you’re looking for. There are some great music stores, bike shops, several nice cafes like Dos Gatos, and other nifty-thrifty stores in downtown Johnson City.
Downtown Johnson City, Tennessee
But if you need to go shopping, there are two more commercial areas to visit in Johnson City to find larger stores.
Johnson City Plaza Shopping Center on N Roan Street will have stores like Target, TJ Maxx, the Johnson City Mall, and all sorts of chain restaurants. To shop at stores such as Walmart, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Petsmart, etc, and eat at restaurants like Cheddars, Outback, etc., then head to Browns Mill Road and Peoples Street in Johnson City.
Restaurants in Johnson City
If you don’t want to eat at a chain, then eat at the best restaurant in Johnson City: the French bistro of Cafe Lola. It’s a small, cozy restaurant with the best lunch deals. Other great restaurants to try in Johnson City are:
- Cootie Brown’s
- Southern Craft BBQ
- First Watch
- Holy Taco Cantina
- Main Street Pizza Company
- among others!
Where to Stay in Johnson City
The best places to stay in Johnson City will most likely be somewhere downtown or on Franklin near the university campus. The Carnegie Hotel & Spa in Johnson City is one of the top-rated options, but it can be pricey compared to other typical chain hotels.
And that’s a wrap! While there’s not an endless amount of things to do in Johnson City, these are the best activities that my family enjoy time and time again.
Johnson City is already growing at a fast rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if it soon becomes a little industrial-chic hub for travelers looking to discover the scenic hills and southern fare of Eastern Tennessee!
Will you add Johnson City to your bucket list? Please drop me your thoughts below with questions or comments!
Love this post! Don’t forget Boomtown & Co for shopping! They have the best tee shirts & souvenirs to take with you! Hometown feel + locals love it!
Sounds really exciting to me. I wanna go there soon! Thanks for this blog!
Eva Datoc says
How’s Nolichucky River and Watauga River now? Do we need any reservations?
They’re great for swimming/tubing! No reservations are needed.
A week itinerary list in Johnson City! I’ll sure to try these once the pandemic is done. Thank you Bri! 🙂
Glad to hear it! Thanks, Angelica!
Strictly my opinion, and I’m from larger cities, but If you’re not looking for a small town, this may not be the place. Hiking, trail running and camping are great and other than the few bars and restaurants mentioned there isn’t much else.
For shopping and fun weekend getaways, It’s best to go to Asheville NC or Greenville SC.
Yeah, for sure! JC is still a small town compared to those guys. Asheville is actually getting really crowded now! But I love both!
Robin Wedding says
Thank you for sharing this info. We are taking a trip out there, end of March, beginning of April. We rented a house in Watuga on the lake, but are actually searching for a home or apartment to move to in Johnson City before school starts in August. Do you have any areas or neighborhoods I should steer clear of? Or neighborhoods you really like? Thanks.
Hi Robin! Thank you for reaching out. Your plans sound exciting! I asked my sister who lives there and she said anywhere in JC is fairly nice but she’d steer clear of Elizabethton, lol (I think because it’s rather small and not much to do there!). Otherwise, the downtown area is picking up in popularity. The Pine Crest neighborhood is near the Tweetsie Trail on the outskirts of downtown. Westover area is nearby a Wal-Mart and other markets/restaurants and also the JC Medical Center. All the big shops like Best Buy, Lowe’s (another Wal-Mart), the Mall, Target, Barnes&Noble, FoodCity, etc., are also concentrated around Brown Mills Rd which looks like it’s in the Avondale Forest neighborhood area. We also lived for a bit in Gray, north of JC and it felt kinda far away (maybe a 20-minute drive to downtown). Watauga, Austin Springs, and Piney Flats are additional little communities on the outskirts of JC that are nice and a bit more residential with plenty of countryside roads. 🙂 I hope that helps!! x
Steve B says
Hi Robin, Bri. Funny but we are planning the exact same trip this march 22nd thru the 27th. We have elementary and middle school aged children, Our very first search criteria is school rating. Elizabethton did excellent in this area. I’m wondering whats wrong with Elizabtehton now. Our only other MUST HAVE resource is high speed internet as both my wife and I work from home. How are the internet providers in this area? I need the very best i can get. NO SATELLITE..
Bryan Winston says
Our downtown area is definitely growing but yet still has a great “small town” feel! Thank you!
Absolutely! Thanks, Bryan! Looking forward to exploring more in JC when I get back 🙂
Taylor Deer says
Johnson City looks awesome! I definitely would consider going for a long weekend getaway this year. I’ve been wanting to check out the Smokey’s. 🙂
Yes, it’s becoming such a fun little town! I can’t wait to ride bikes on the Tweetsie Trail this summer!