1. The speaking tradition. If you walk down the street in Knoxville, Tennessee, someone is going to make eye contact and greet you. They may ask how you're doing ("Howeryew?"). Storeowners say hello and goodbye to customers. There's even an older man in First Tennessee Plaza who tells jokes in the elevator on the way up. (The jokes are clean.) It's nice to be acknowledged, isn't it? No anonymity here.
2. Tomato Head. Tomato Head is the epicenter of Knoxville. I've been eating there steadily for ten years. They catered my wedding. Mark my words, there is no better restaurant in the world than Tomato Head. The food is wholesome and tasty. The waitstaff is sassy and offbeat. The restaurant is filled with light and good smells. Come to Knoxville solely for the Tomato Head, and it will not disappoint.
3. Lake Hills. It's the quiet, leafy neighborhood off busy Alcoa ("I'll-kill-ya") Highway where I live. The trees are mature, and from different vantage points in Lake Hills, there are unbelievable views of mountains, lakes, and the city. The yards are spacious, the neighbors are a combination of professors, business people, retirees, and just plain nice, and it's nine minutes from downtown.*
*Bonus point: No one cares if you have chickens in your backyard.
4. Yee Haw Industries. Fantastic, home-grown art. If you're fascinated with words and graphics like I am, you must visit their storefront on Gay Street. Yee-Haw is a Knoxville treasure.
5. Mag-Pies. There are cupcake places springing up all over town, but my heart belongs to MagPies. The owner is a baker/artist and creates quirky flavor combinations and beautiful cakes. My favorite is the traditional lemon-raspberry, but there's coconut, red velvet, blackberry, strawberry, chocolate, and many other flavors to sample before you settle into a cupcake groove.
6. The Lawson-McGhee Public Library Children's Section. Although I am chronically in debt to the library for failure to return books in a timely manner (when's the next amnesty, anyway?), the children's section of our downtown library continues to draw me back. It has every child's book imaginable. The staff is friendly and helpful. There are puppets, giant books, and a teeny toilet for pint-sized patrons. You can reserve books online. My only complaint is that I wish my fines would go directly to supporting the library rather than to Knox County.
7. Carpe Librum. I've already gushed over this independently owned bookstore here. Suffice to say that if your fines at Lawson McGhee are prohibitively high, you may wish to visit Carpe Librum as a stopgap measure.