What to see in Sewanee, Tennessee
This quaint college town atop Monteagle Mountain oozes charm and outdoor appeal.
Written By: Kristin Luna
Photographers: Kristin Luna
From the moment you drive through those stately stone gates—don’t forget to tap the roof of your car; in Sewanee, it’s tradition to release your guardian angel—you’ll feel like you’ve come home, even if you’ve never been here before.
Founded in 1857, the 1,600-student Sewanee: The University of the South has a gothic aesthetic that matches its age. Fitting in seamlessly is the brand-new 46,500-square-foot Sewanee Inn (from $119 a night), which saw a massive demo and rebuild totaling 11.9 million in construction costs and was completed in May. The 43 rooms incorporate the same look and feel as the rest of Sewanee’s buildings, and much of the lumber was harvested from The Domain, the nickname bestowed upon the 13,000-acre campus by its inhabitants.
Take a wander around the expansive grounds, stopping in the university’s symbolic center, All Saints’ Chapel, to admire the towering archways and awe-inspiring mosaics. (Note: Sewanee tradition states that any undergrad who steps on the seal at the church’s entryway will not graduate.) Nearby, you’ll find the University of the South Bookstore chock-full of college paraphernalia and a whole lot of purple, the school’s signature color.
The Sewanee Village shops along the strip at the end of University Avenue are well stocked with knickknacks and artisan wares. Hit up The Lemon Fair for blown glass, handmade jewelry, or even your own Sewanee Angel, the town mascot. Down the way is Taylor’s Mercantile, a florist shop featuring a hodgepodge of gifts and tchotchkes.
With 13,000 acres spread across The Domain, there are plenty of outdoor options to take advantage of, such as hikes to the 25-foot-high sandstone arch Natural Bridge or around the campus’ border, following the bluff line via the 20-mile Perimeter Trail. Many a Friday night features free music at the downtown Angel Park, where all residents of “the Mountain” convene.
The newest fine dining experience to arrive, IvyWild, is an ambitious contemporary American eatery that’s housed in an old dry-cleaning facility and emphasizes seasonal fare. A long-running staple, breakfast at The Blue Chair Café and Tavern has always been a favorite weekend pastime atop the Mountain, though during the week you’ll find it filled with students nursing lattes in the mornings, using the free Wi-Fi in the afternoons, and sipping Jackalope in the restaurant’s bar in the evenings. (The couple who owns the Blue Chair are part-owners of the Nashville-based brewery, as well.) Brunch at the Sewanee Inn’s brand-new eighteen58 restaurant isn’t a bad idea, either.
For a quirkier dining experience, try a taste of Singapore at Crossroads Café, the only authentic Asian cuisine you’ll encounter in this part of the state.
While beloved institution Shenanigans is also a restaurant serving lunch and dinner six days a week, it doubles as the local watering hole for of-age students (and the few adult residents of the Mountain not enrolled at the university). The 40-year-old restaurant reopened under new ownership—two Sewanee grads—in February after shuttering two years ago; the improved hangout features additions like an art gallery and upstairs deck. Have a grilled cheese or the iconic Skinny Bob Meat Melt while you sit on the balcony and throw back a beer.
Down in Monteagle—where you exit the interstate to take Highway 56 to the campus—there’s free live music every Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at The Smoke House Restaurant, and Dave’s Modern Tavern is the natural progression for an end-of-the-night spot. Also nearby, you’ll find Tallulah's Wine Lounge at Monteagle Inn & Retreat Center, where the owners wheel in a cart of 20 bottles from their personal cellar; for $5 a glass, it’s a cocktail party free-for-all with cheese trays and more. Or you can simply order off the menu of more than 300 bottles, many of which are available by the glass.
Sewanee is 92 miles south of Nashville off of I-24.