Retro Franklin: Best Spots for Old-Fashioned Fun in Tennessee

With new and exciting places popping up left and right, Franklin’s future is looking bright. But there’s something to be said for our old-time charm, which shines as sure as the marquee in front of the Franklin Theatre.

Maybe you’ve been dusting off your decades-old duds. (Flare pants, anyone?) Or perhaps you’re feeling sentimental now that summer’s here. It doesn’t matter why you’re looking to have old-fashioned fun in Franklin. All that matters is that there’s plenty of it to be had.

So, step away from the microfilm at your local library. We’re about to take a trip down memory lane—right here, right now. P.S. You can also find Williamson County’s archives online. You’re welcome, fellow nerds and (probably) Nancy Drew.

We’ll fuel up for our journey at The Davis General. To get there, visitors ride the swell of backroads, a canopy of trees cresting over the curving lanes. The kind of turns that’ll have things sliding across your floorboard will suddenly spit you out beside the small store, plopped in a field at the junction of creeks and country roads.

Crunch into its gravel lot and park under the Royal Crown Cola sign. Pause for a moment and take in small-town sights, like a classic, mustard-yellow truck being refueled at one of the squat gas pumps.

Once you’re inside, you’ll be met with the thump of country music and the hum of glass-fronted refrigerators holding rows of bright beverages. The backside of an American flag shows through wood-framed windows, and a stuffed buck pokes his head out over shelves of “Health Aids” and a tobacco display.

Grab a deli menu from the counter, order a fried bologna sandwich, or select an icy glass bottle of (what else?) RC Cola to enjoy at one of the picnic tables on the covered porch.

A trip back in time wouldn’t be complete without some tunes. That’s where Carpe Diem and Luna Record Shop come in.

The former is a narrow, blue-tinted building. Situated on the outskirts of downtown, the first thing you’ll see once you pass the swirling, red, white, and blue barber’s pole a few buildings away is Carpe Diem’s postage-stamp yard, almost entirely shaded by a thick tree.

Make your way past a freebie box perched by the stairs and through the green front door, a bell jostling on the knob as you close the door behind you. Inside, a pleasant, musty smell and the low growling of a record playing softly in the background meet you. Walk over paint, peeling like paper flecks from a vintage vinyl cover, on the floorboards, and start to peruse rows organized A to Z or by genre.

Although they’re stacked on shelves, in boxes, on the robust, red leather couch, and along the floor, records aren’t the only things for sale here. Buttons and branded koozies are in trunks and baskets, and leather jackets hang on a rack by the door.

The latter is Luna Record Shop, a well-lit shadowbox in The Factory at Franklin. Capped by a dark, industrial ceiling, the store sells new and used vinyl in genres ranging from jazz to alt ‘80s/‘90s. (We know. Your generation had the best music. Thankfully, you’ll find it here.)

Collectors can peruse cassettes and multi-colored records stacked in deep rows. Can’t find what you’re looking for on a shelf or in a bin? Neon letters boast, “Yo! We can special order vinyl!”

As a child, did a day on the road with your family mean an excuse to eat a juicy burger and greasy fries? It’s likely. One might say it’s an American tradition. In fact, the Missouri joint many call the first drive-thru restaurant serves hamburgers. (How’s that for a throwback?)

But there’s no need to sit in your car when Franklin’s Burger Dandy has so many brilliant blue and red chairs waiting for you on its wraparound patio. Not to mention the fact that the thick, artfully topped burgers prepared behind the bamboo-covered counter are leaps and bounds above what you’d find off the exit ramp back in your day.

Milkshakes, fries, burgers, and hot dogs dance on the window—a taste of what its menu offers. Inside, a woman inquires about the Coca-Cola Onions, one kid slung over an arm, another swinging below the stainless-steel counter, asking, “Can we go play outside?” Etch A Sketches are stacked in a tipped-over crate, and ‘50s music plays over a speaker somewhere.

Tap into the young-at-heart vibe permeating the air and add some cheese fries and Kool-Aid pickles to your order. Make sure you grab a pack of utensils—you’ll need the checked napkin tucked inside.

Top off your nostalgic meal with something sweet. Stroll a few blocks over down Main Street for a piece of fudge, a caramel apple, or an ice cream cone from Kilwins. The bustling shop won’t be hard to find. Small tables line the sidewalk, occupied by couples studying maps of Franklin and teenagers studying textbooks. Its door frequently swings open and shut, bursts of fragrant air turning heads (and feet).

If you’d have been more at home at Woodstock than at a soda shop, Brentwood has just the place for you. Located in a strip of shops and studios, Peace, Love & Little Donuts leans hard into the ‘70s with its décor—a cutout of a flower-crowned cartoon (in flares!) stands in the corner, proclaiming, “Any occasion is groovier with donuts.”

Many of its flavors are equally fun and funky: Snick Jagger, Heath Wind & Fire, and Almond Brothers, to name a few. And while the themed donuts join the psychedelic décor in the flower power-era, their cakey bases—piled high with creamy, chewy, and crunchy toppings by friendly workers—are fresh. Far out!

While you’re in the era, head back to Franklin’s downtown area. Here you’ll find the dark, blocky exterior of Rebel Rebel. Through its threshold, you’ll stumble upon a stark contrast: natural light pours in, shimmery cowhide rugs are layered on the concrete floor, Dolly Parton paintings tile one wall, while a patterned Elvis wallpaper coats another.

In the center, a hippie’s dream wares are stacked, including orange, peach, and pink taper candles; gem- and honey-infused bath soaks; sticks of incense; and rainbow bundles of quartz for cleansing wrapped in string. Consider this our stop at a rad gift shop on our way out of the time machine and back into the twenty-first century.   

We’ve arrived in the present day, and we’re just in time. Classics like Franklin on the Fourth will be parading into town in July with its antique car show and live music. And the Williamson County Fair, with its towering Ferris wheel and firework displays, will be set up on the grounds of the Ag Expo Park in August.

Whether you’ve lived in the area for years or you’re planning your first visit today, we look forward to seeing you look back the next time you’re in Franklin.

Be sure to check out our FREE Summer 2022 Digital Guide for more of our top recommendations for where to stay and what to eat and do!