20 Best Things to Do in Oak Ridge, TN

20 Best Things to Do in Oak Ridge, TN
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Whether you're here for a week-long trip or just a weekend getaway, Oak Ridge will not disappoint.

Let’s discover the best things to do in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this article: Lawrence Hills, Shane Hughes, Charles Purvis, Eugene Vang, Rosalind Wiley, Betty Moore and Barbara Simmons.

Enjoy Leisurely Walks at Melton Lake Park

Scenic view of Melton Lake Park
Dee Browning / Shutterstock.com

Oh, the endless joy my daily walks at Melton Lake Park bring me!

The park, spanning 173 miles of shoreline, is a haven amidst the hustle and bustle of life, perfect for boating, picnicking, and even a fun-filled game of sand volleyball.

As I lace up my shoes and step into the early morning sun, the park never fails to present a new spectacle each day.

Whether it be the shimmering daily reflecting the first rays of the sun or the dew-kissed grass glittering under the soft light, Melton Lake Park mirrors the pure essence of nature’s beauty.

The park’s well-maintained picnic shelter and pavilion have been hosts to many of my family's Sunday brunches.

As the children play on the playground, adults find solace under the shelter, partaking in hearty laughter and sharing stories.

I often find myself strolling along the side road that runs the length of the lake.

Bridge at Melton Lake Park
Dee Browning / Shutterstock.com

Its tranquility is perfect for walking, jogging, and even a calming bicycle ride.

Lined with towering trees on either side, the road provides a serene backdrop for introspective walks or light-hearted conversations with fellow locals.

The park also serves as a venue for various community events.

A memorable one was a car show I attended.

It was a fantastic sight to see vintage cars against the backdrop of the serene lake.

Each visit to Melton Lake Park leaves me with a newfound appreciation for life's simple pleasures.

From the serenity of early morning walks to the joyous laughter of children at play, the park truly encapsulates the spirit of our community.

Explore the Wonders at Oak Ridge Art Center

My town is home to a hidden gem - the Oak Ridge Art Center, a place of inspiration, creativity, and charm.

I remember when I first stepped through the entrance there. The grandeur of the place struck me at once.

The art pieces, each unique and extraordinary in their way, beckoned me to explore more, to dive deeper into the world they silently yet eloquently depicted.

Hearing about their upcoming collaborations with the Board of Tourism and Parks & Rec was inspiring.

It excited me for what's to come and what new experiences await me in this artistic haven.

The art pieces are a sight to behold.

Their passion for art shines through in their every interaction.

I've learned so much from them; they always make each visit a new adventure.

Likewise, I've taken a jewelry-making course there, and trust me when I say it's a magical experience.

It's amazing how being in that space makes you feel; a certain joy comes with creating something with your hands, surrounded by like-minded people.

The Oak Ridge Art Center offers a variety of classes, allowing you to explore different art forms.

And every time you visit, there's always a new exhibit to appreciate, making each experience fresh and enriching.

So, if you're ever in town, explore the magic this art center holds.

Uncover the Secrets of Oak Ridge at the K-25 History Center

You might think you know your hometown, but let me tell you, nothing beats the feeling of peeling back the layers of history in your backyard.

The K-25 History Center, located just off Enrichment Drive, is the place to be if you're keen on understanding our local community's role in WWII.

My visit was a fascinating trip down memory lane; the museum is built on the site of the former gaseous diffusion plant that was instrumental in the war effort.

You can imagine my surprise when I realized I had driven past the area countless times without fully grasping its historical significance.

I took the ASME bus tour on my visit, which conveniently departed from the Museum of Science and Energy.

It's a comfortable ride, and they drop you right at the doorstep of the history center.

As you approach the entrance, you're greeted by an array of WWII signs, a grim but poignant reminder of our shared past.

Stepping inside the building, the displays and exhibits are meticulously curated.

They paint a compelling picture of the people, the plant, and the enrichment process - all elements of the war effort.

You will find videos, devices, and artifacts from the secret uranium enrichment plant throughout the building.

One highlight for me was the treasure hunt – a fun little game that ensures you don't miss out on the intriguing nuggets of history hidden around the center.

Don't miss the chance to pop in at the overlook up the hill.

It's a quiet spot with a great view, perfect for soaking in the significance of the place.

Their dedication to preserving and sharing our local history is evident in every conversation.

So, if you thought you knew Oak Ridge, think again and visit the K-25 History Center. It's a piece of our history that's worth experiencing first-hand.

Start a Marvelous Saturday Morning at Oak Ridge Farmers Market

If you haven't visited the Oak Ridge Farmers Market, then you're missing out on a delightful experience.

My favorite weekend activity is losing myself among the vibrant stalls, each filled with fresh and fragrantly inviting produce.

You can find practically anything, from zucchini and squash to beans and cucumbers.

My star attraction is their white corn, which is astoundingly sweet and has become a staple in my weekend feasts.

The market isn't all about vegetables, though.

VG's Bakery, a local favorite from Farragut, also sets up shop every Saturday.

And let me tell you, resisting their baked goodies is a task.

Their zucchini bread is simply out of this world, and I often buy extra to freeze for later.

They also offer a host of other treats, including cookies, scones, and muffins - all homemade with no preservatives.

This market is more enjoyable because of its convenient parking and close-knit community vibe.

Whether you prefer to order ahead or wish to shop leisurely between 8 and 12 on Saturdays, the Oak Ridge Farmers Market accommodates you.

And when winter rolls in, don't worry; the market shifts to the warm interiors of St. Mary's Church, ensuring you get your fresh produce fix all year round.

See the Profound Symbolism of the Friendship Bell in Oak Ridge

International Friendship Bell
Stan37 / Shutterstock.com

I’ve always felt a profound sense of tranquility whenever I stroll through Friendship Bell Park in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Nestled between the Oak Ridge Turnpike and Badger Avenue, it's a serene refuge combining history, community support, and natural beauty.

Walking up a gentle hillock, I often find myself drawn to the striking design of the bell.

It's an impressive sight, its bronzed surface etched with intricate patterns that tell a story of unity and harmony.

As I approach the bell, I am transported back to the 20th century when the people of Japan gifted it to Oak Ridge in 1996.

This heartfelt gesture symbolized peace and reconciliation between our nations, a testament to the enduring friendship that emerged from the ashes of World War II.

View of the international friendship bell.
Douglas P Perkins (Douglaspperkins (talk)), CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It's a humbling experience to stand here, the echoes of history resonating around me.

The bell also commemorates the workers of the Manhattan Project, a nod to Oak Ridge's significant role during that time.

Likewise, the park is always open, and I love that several signs are scattered, showing details about the Friendship Bell's rich history.

Whenever friends or family visit, I take them here.

Seeing their faces light up as they comprehend the profound significance of the bell is always a highlight of their visit.

Friendship Bell Park is more than just a peaceful spot in the city's heart.

It's a beautiful destination that seamlessly blends the past and present, a reminder of the lasting friendship between nations, and a symbol of hope for a peaceful future.

Catch Engaging Performances at the Oak Ridge Playhouse

Having spent several evenings at the Oak Ridge Playhouse, seeing what they bring to their intimate stage is always a treat.

Nestled within its cozy confines of 13 rows of seats, you feel part of the performance, enveloped in the world they've created on stage.

I can't shake off the memory of watching the 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee. The production was just phenomenal!

The stage lighting perfectly accentuated the mood of each scene, the live band ushered in a sense of authenticity, and the cast, oh, the cast!

They performed their parts so splendidly it was simply mind-blowing.

After that performance, I was so swept up in the experience that I immediately bought tickets for two more shows.

It was an experience so rich I had to share it.

I recommended everyone I knew to seize the opportunity to witness this incredible cast and show.

Each new visit to the Oak Ridge Playhouse brings a new wave of anticipation.

I hope the performance I see will hold up to the high-quality bar that the 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee set.

If you're in the area and crave the excitement of live theater, this is the place to be.

It's a testament to the talent within our community and a destination for quality entertainment.

Uncover Oak Ridge's Secrets at the History Museum

Ever since I was a kid, I've been captivated by the enigmatic history of Oak Ridge.

Our city, often termed the 'Secret City,' has a story that is as intriguing as it is intricate.

Discovering the layers of this story has been an adventurous journey, and a significant part of this journey has been the Oak Ridge History Museum.

The museum, located at the intersection of Illinois Avenue and the Oak Ridge Turnpike, is housed in a lengthy, communal building.

A spacious parking area welcomes you, leading up to the entrance where the friendly volunteers immediately greet you.

They're always eager to answer questions and share tidbits of Oak Ridge's history.

One of my favorite parts of the museum is the extensive collection of photographs.

Many of them were captured by a single photographer whose son now volunteers at the museum.

These images, scattered throughout the museum, serve as vivid windows into the past.

A large room to the left of the entrance features a short video that outlines the area's history.

I remember being awestruck by the large mural that adorns the right side of this room, showcasing a panorama of the site as it was in 1945.

A step outside leads you to a replica of a typical 4-man house from the 1940s.

On the other side of the building, rooms filled with period items, displays, and pictures transport you through periods from WWII up to the present.

The Oak Ridge History Museum is a treasure trove that profoundly reveals the layers of our city's past.

It's also a time machine that takes you through the pivotal moments that have shaped our city.

For anyone intrigued by the history of the Secret City, a visit to the museum is an absolute must.

Take a Stroll Through History at the Secret City Commemorative Walk

Sign at Secret City Commemorative Walk.
DrNegative, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Just a stone’s throw from my front door lies a little piece of American history: the Secret City Commemorative Walk.

Nestled in the heart of Oak Ridge, this quaint park and monuments testify to the town's pivotal role in the Manhattan Project.

I often find myself walking through this park, soaking in the fresh air and the rich history it represents.

Despite the hum of busy roads in the vicinity, the park remains a sanctuary of tranquility.

I've seen many visitors stop and read the information inside the commemorative building with a keen interest, exploring the intriguing stories of our past.

This beautiful, peaceful spot in the middle of town directly links to an essential piece of our nation's history.

It’s a place to stretch your legs and expand your knowledge simultaneously for those passionate about American history or the Manhattan Project.

But you won't be disappointed even if you’re looking for a lovely place to stroll and gather your thoughts.

Experience the Green Serenity at the University of Tennessee Arboretum

Can I tell you about my secret sanctuary? It’s the 250-acre University of Tennessee Arboretum.

The arboretum is a lovingly curated home to over 2,500 plant specimens in Oak Ridge.

Starting from the sun's first light, I find myself drawn to this place, traversing its trails ranging from an easy one-mile stretch to an adventurous eight miles.

The beauty of it is that it never feels crowded.

It's just me and the tranquil sounds of nature, with the occasional rustling of leaves or birds chirping breaking the serene quietness.

The arboretum is so much more than just trees.

It's an educational journey as you stroll among the greenery, with informative plaques on many trees, giving you a peek into the fascinating world of botany.

Likewise, it feels genuine, not contrived or overly manicured, just the right balance between wilderness and well-kept greenery.

Although it's a stone's throw away from the city, you could hear the distant hum of cars, a faint reminder of the world beyond.

The lot may seem small, but it's never filled to the brim, making it all the more convenient for an impromptu visit.

So, if you need a tranquil escape or want to appreciate nature's artistry up close, the University of Tennessee Arboretum is where you should head.

Experience at the Historic Grove Theater

Every town has its gem, and ours is the Historic Grove Theater.

We spent countless evenings there, soaked in culture, laughter, and sometimes, even tears.

The theater feels like it's been preserved in time, yet it is lovingly maintained and always clean.

There's a certain charm in how the soft light hits the dark wooden fixtures, creating an atmosphere straight out of a classic movie.

And not to forget, the theater's concessions were open that day, serving everything from popcorn to coffee and soda.

It's these little things that give the place its magic.

I've also had the chance to attend the Flatwater Tales show - a wonderful mix of music and folk tales.

It was the sixth year in a row that I'd attended the show at the Grove.

Every year, it's a distinct and heartwarming experience that I look forward to.

The Historic Grove Theater is a cherished part of the community.

So, if you ever find yourself in our little corner of the world, drop by; you won't be disappointed.

Spend the Day at the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge

Exterior of the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge
EWY Media / Shutterstock.com

Whenever the kids and I need a break from our usual weekend routine, we head straight to the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge.

This place has been one of our favorite spots in the city since the kids were little.

Moreover, the museum is filled with interactive exhibits that are fun and educational.

Whether it's the hands-on science lab for my future scientist or the arts and crafts corner for my little artist, there's something for every curious mind.

The museum also does a beautiful job of incorporating the rich history of Oak Ridge into its exhibits, right from its WWII beginnings as a secret city.

It's always a joy to see the children learning about history in such an engaging and interactive manner.

One of my kids' favorite areas is the life-sized dollhouse, where they love to pretend to play.

They also enjoy the pretend grocery store, spaceship, and puppet theater.

The museum is also connected to a national park site and has an outdoor playground, making for a significant pace change.

Whenever we spend our day at the museum, I am always amazed at how the time flies by.

There's just so much to see and do!

But what I love most about the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge is that it makes learning fun and interactive for kids, keeping their minds and bodies active.

It's no wonder they never tire of visiting!

Enjoy a Night at Big Ed's Pizza

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza, that's Amore! And when you're in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Big Ed's Pizza here is the place to go for that!

The place has been around forever and stepping inside is like stepping back in time.

Likewise, the checkered tablecloths and old-school ambiance take you back to a simpler time when pizza was just New York-style, with no fuss and no frills.

But let's talk about the wait.

Yes, there is often a long queue, even on a weeknight. But isn't that a testament to how good the pizza is?

Good things come to those who wait, and the piping hot, cheesy goodness that Big Ed's serves is worth every minute.

The crust is crisp when you ask for it, well done, loaded with cheese and real bacon.

Try adding a kick to it with jalapeños, you won't regret it. They tend to.

You are a bit tight-fisted with the sauce; the additional toppings have a price tag.

And yes, they use canned mushrooms and cut their pizzas with scissors, but isn't that part of the charm?

The drink options are limited to beers and soft drinks, but they have a good selection of craft beer.

Moreover, the interior is rustic and welcoming, making it an excellent place for a casual night out.

That small-town feel makes you want to sit back, relax, and lose yourself in a slice of their pie.

So, if you find yourself in town, try Big Ed's.

It may be a bit of a wait, but the best pizza in Tennessee doesn't come easy!

Enjoy Immersive Adventures at Haw Ridge Park

When the daily grind gets a bit too much, I often find myself seeking refuge in the heart of nature.

Haw Ridge Park has been my go-to sanctuary for quite a while now.

The park offers diverse landscapes on a peninsula, ranging from riverfront views to dense woodland areas.

Moreover, the wildlife here is something to behold.

I've often found myself sharing the trail with a shared flock of birds.

It's pretty much a paradise for a birdwatcher like me.

Fishing is another activity that keeps me coming back to Haw Ridge Park.

The lake teems with various fish, making each trip a unique adventure.

On a lucky day, I might even catch sight of a heron fishing along the shoreline.

But what truly sets Haw Ridge Park apart for me are the biking and hiking opportunities.

The trails are well-marked and maintained, so there's no loss risk.

I often start my day with a bike ride along these trails, weaving through the woods and soaking in the tranquil morning atmosphere.

The terrain is challenging, with its thrilling mix of steep climbs and downhill routes, which makes it exciting.

And it's not just about the adrenaline rush.

The views along the way are simply breathtaking.

From the top of the hills, you can see the lake stretched out beneath, sparkling in the sunlight, and it feels like you're on top of the world.

So, if you're looking for a place to unwind, connect with nature, or exercise, Haw Ridge Park is the perfect spot.

Just don't forget to bring your bike or walking shoes!

Discover the Magic of A K Bissell Park

Night scene at A K Bissell Park
Melinda Fawver / Shutterstock.com

There's nothing quite like a stroll through A K Bissell Park on a sunny afternoon.

The park, nestled right across from Oak Ridge High School, is a thriving haven for nature lovers with its rustic walking trails and a babbling creek that gently meanders through.

Summers starkly contrast the park's ambiance, transforming it into a lively music venue.

Our town prides itself on being one of the nation's go-to destinations for phenomenal bluegrass concerts.

However, the park's charm extends beyond its natural beauty and exciting concerts.

A prominent feature of the park is the Friendship Bell, a symbol of peace and unity between Japan and the U.S. post World War 2.

Seeing that beautiful bell standing in the park's heart as a testament to unity is humbling.

And for those with little ones, there's a delightful playground and picnic tables perfect for a family lunch.

My daughter and I have spent countless afternoons here, capturing precious moments in the park's numerous picturesque spots.

Explore the Fun and Adventure at Cedar Hill Park

A day at Cedar Hill Park feels like endless fun and adventure.

There are many play options for the little ones and the older kids.

My children cannot get enough of the ship structure, balancing structures, and swings.

Every visit is a unique exploration of different areas that captivate their attention and spark their imagination.

We often pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a peaceful meal amidst the greenery of this wonderful park.

There are plenty of spbeautifulttle for a meal.

After our little feast, we usually stroll around the park along the trail.

Sometimes, for added adventure, we take the wooded steep dirt trail.

But it's not just about fun and games at Cedar Hill Park.

I love the little educational nuggets scattered around the playground.

While the kids are playing, they're also learning - a great combination in my book.

Celebrating special occasions is also a charm at Cedar Hill Park.

My grandson's birthday party here was a hit!

The park was clean, spacious, and perfect for all the running around and games that kids love.

It's disheartening to see trash like gas station styrofoam cups and cans lying around.

The secluded nature of the wooded trail can also be a bit scary, especially for younger children and families.

Cedar Hill Park is an excellent for fun, adventure, and making wonderful family memories.

Enjoy an Afternoon at Jackson Square

I relish my strolls through Jackson Square in Oak Ridge.

It's a little slice of heaven, right in the heart of our town.

Let me tell you about my typical Saturday afternoon here.

First, I swung by Jonathan's String Workshop.

There's something about that place that's always appealed to me.

Maybe it's because it's been a constant for over 35 years.

Then, it's off to do some shopping.

The stores are adorable, each one unique and welcoming in its way. I always find something I didn't know I needed!

Whether you're in for a quick bite or a full-blown meal, there are plenty of options. Dean's Restaurant is an absolute must-try.

You can find it where the Historical Pharmacy once stood, and I'll tell you, it's a hit with everyone.

It's one of those places you'll always find filled with locals catching up over mouth-watering meals.

And if you're craving pizza, let me tell you, Big Ed's Pizza sitting at the corner of the block is legendary.

The taste of their pizza simply can't be forgotten!

After refueling, often stop by the Oak Ridge Playhouse to catch up on the latest shows.

There's something special about watching a performance in this intimate setting. It truly is a gem in our town!

What's more, if you ever visit in the right season, the annual Lavender Festival is here at Jackson Square.

It's a vibrant, colorful affair that we locals look forward to each year.

And it's these experiences I can't wait to share with you. So, see you there?

Discover Science and History at the American Museum of Science and Energy

Exterior of the American Museum of Science and Energy.
, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to step into an era of astounding scientific breakthroughs?

My visit to the American Museum of Science and Energy was just like that.

Nestled comfortably in Oak Ridge, this museum is an absolute treasure trove of scientific and historical artifacts reflecting the pivotal role of Oak Ridge in the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Living in this city, I was always intrigued by how this place has been a cornerstone in scientific advancements, particularly nuclear science and energy research.

Upon entering, I was greeted with a comprehensive collection of artifacts - historical documents, photographs, and even equipment used in early nuclear research.

It was like taking a step back in time, touching and seeing the elements that contributed to these monumental scientific discoveries.

One of the rooms that genuinely captured my fascination was dedicated to interactive brain games and robotic arms.

My curiosity was piqued as I gave them my best shot.

Name sign of American Museum of Science and Energy.
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I even caught myself marveling at the various 3D-printed objects on display.

It was quite an experience that stimulated both my mind and my sense of wonder.

The museum doesn't stop at just exhibits.

They also offer educational programs, workshops, and special events that deepen the learning experience.

I even got to join a bus tour leaving the museum that offered a comprehensive tour of the key historical sites across Oak Ridge.

So, whether you're a science enthusiast, a history buff, or just curious about the world, I highly recommend visiting the American Museum of Science and Energy.

It's a place where the past meets the future, offering a captivating glimpse into a world of science and discovery.

Clock display inside American Museum of Science and Energy.
, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover the Story Behind the Secret City at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Being a history enthusiast, I often find myself drawn to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Nestled within the cozy confines of our local children's museum, this exhibit always offers a fascinating and enlightening look into our city's past.

Upon entering the main lobby, you can't miss the National Park Service kiosk, a gateway to the Manhattan Project's intriguing past.

As a collector, I often find myself drawn to the NPS merchandise sold right there by the children's museum.

Something always catches my eye, from pins and patches to hiking medallions, stickers, shirts, and more.

And don't forget to ask for the NPS cancellation stamps kept behind the kiosk.

If you're a stamp collector like me, you'd love the unique three-part stamp representing all three Manhattan Project sites.

The park really goes the extra mile in engaging its younger visitors.

I recall one instance when Ranger Ian spent considerable time explaining the significance of the Secret City and the Manhattan Project to a group of children.

The kids even received Junior Ranger badges and were thrilled to be part of the experience.

The kiosk also features a flat-screen TV where visitors can watch short films about the history of the Secret City.

Moreover, the films comprise interviews with residents who lived in the area during the project, which adds an authentic and personal touch to the entire experience.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is a treasure trove of information.

Whether you're a history buff, a curious visitor, or a local like me, there's always something new to learn and discover here.

Explore the Tranquil Trails of Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement

If you're in the mood for a dose of nature, peace, and tranquility, the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement is the place to be.

This hiking area might not boast the dramatic landscapes of other trails, but it has its own charm.

It's primarily a gravel greenway running alongside a power line, akin to our Northern Boundary hiking area.

I often find my solitude on the main trail, somewhat resembling an old service road.

The length of the path is ambiguous. I usually trek in for about two and a half miles before returning.

What makes these solitary hikes so unique is the absolute silence, punctuated only by the rustling of leaves or the occasional sight of deer grazing in the underbrush.

Smaller trails are branching off along the way, ideal for those feeling a tad adventurous and seeking more exploration.

One of my favorite activities is taking photographs during these off-the-beaten-path excursions. I've captured some beautiful shots, each with a story.

Where you park your vehicle is, unfortunately, unprotected, a common feature at most trailheads.

As a word of caution, always ensure your vehicle is locked and devoid of valuables to prevent mishaps.

This place is a hiker's, biker's, or jogger's delight, pure and simple.

It's not designed as a park, a playground, or a picnic spot but as a place to truly immerse oneself in the serenity nature has to offer.

Final Thoughts

There's no shortage of incredible experiences and fond memories to be made in the small yet vibrant town of Oak Ridge.

The diverse blend of natural beauty, historical depth, and community warmth in Oak Ridge has been a joy in my life.

And I'm confident it will be for anyone else who takes the time to explore and embrace it.

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