Explore Downtown Johnson City The Ultimate Downtown Guide to Johnson City, TN The beauty of the Appalachian Mountains has captured the imagination of visitors for centuries—inspiring music, poetry, stories, and art. Johnson City has been a hub of many visitors’ visit into the natural beauty, and cultural inspiration, of the mountain empire region. With a diverse selection of destinations for all ages and lifestyles, Johnson City is truly an incredible place to visit and live. Founded in 1856 by Henry Johnson as a railroad station named “Johnson’s Depot,” the city quickly became the main corridor for visitors and the major railway hub for commerce and culture coming into the region. Over the years, Johnson City has consistently been one of the fastest growing cities in the region, while also retaining the spirit and hospitality the mountains inspire. The downtown area is rich with history, culture, and amazing amenities for guests. Through this blog, we will share some of the many options available when you visit. There is so much to see and experience, we’re sure you will find many reasons to make leaving Johnson City a difficult decision. Little Chicago If you’re a true crime enthusiast, or just love great American history, you will want to visit downtown Johnson City for its reputation as “Little Chicago.” The moniker was earned by the city in the 1920s—during the height of the prohibition era. Due to the city’s central railway hub and quick access to three different state lines, many famous crime bosses are said to have frequented Johnson City at this time and even set up secret locations to manage their illegal businesses. The city being a central location between Chicago, New York, and Miami also made it ideal for managing the distribution of illegal alcohol. It is also convenient that the city is historically in the geographic center of moonshining and bootlegging activity from mountains of the South. One of the most persistent rumors is that Al Capone, the legendary crime boss from Chicago, was a frequent visitor to Johnson City. There are tales of the famous mobster playing cards with locals and plotting their criminal plans. Many locals have grown up knowing that the area has had a tie to a shady past. There are many sites in the downtown area to catch glimpses of the roaring 20s. Secret alleyways to abandoned speakeasies, tales of underground passages to popular hideouts downtown, and much more. In August, the city hosts the official “Little Chicago Festival” to celebrate their reputation. The festival draws visitors from around the world to enjoy great music and food. Visitors will enjoy southern hospitality with a twist during this popular event. You can visit www.littlechicagofestival.com for details about the festival. You can also visit local businesses any time of year to get a taste of our Little Chicago attitude. There is “Capone’s” for a cozy bar feel with regular live music on feature. The dining and nightlife of downtown Johnson City is just as vibrant as it was in the hay day of prohibition. Downtown Dining The downtown district of Johnson City is packed with lots of dining options for any palate—whether you’re in the mood for some down-home cooking or looking for something more adventurous. What sets Johnson City apart is how many creative and innovative restaurant entrepreneurs have chosen our city to set up shop. The dining experience in downtown is truly one-of-a-kind. If you want to try one of the great local options, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Johnson City. You can’t miss with any of these great local restaurants. If you’re in the mood for delicious southern-style barbecue, you can try The Firehouse Restaurant, Southern Craft BBQ, or Red Pig Bar B Q. All these offer reasonable prices, southern hospitality, and some of the most mouth-watering barbecue you’ll ever eat! Wanting something a little lighter? We have Mid City Grill and Wild Wing Café to offer lots of vegetarian and vegan friendly options for your visit. For the pizza and pasta enthusiasts out there, we have several great local options to choose from as well. There’s Main Street Pizza in the heart of downtown, as well as Scratch Brick Oven Foodworks that has a ton of delicious and innovative ingredients to select, and they cook all their pizza in their custom wood-heated pizza ovens! For more Italian fare, try Bello Vita, Portobello’s Italian Bistro, Crazy Tomato, or Giovanni’s. With warm intimate atmospheres and signature dishes, any of these will be a great option for a relaxing dinner experience. Wanting something from south of the border? Johnson City has a wide variety of Mexican and fusion taco restaurants on offer. White Duck Tacos offers a wide variety of unique tacos and other dishes to satisfy any craving. It’s also located in the heart of the train station section of downtown, so it’s a beautiful walk to and from the restaurant. In the heart of downtown is also the home of Korean Taco House, which offers a Korean take on the taco formula, as well as many other traditional Korean favorites. Holy Taco Cantina is on the north side of the downtown area, and handcrafts all their amazing traditional dishes with fresh ingredients and friendly service. This is just a small list of examples of the kinds of great local restaurants that are available to our visitors. Right on Main Street in downtown Johnson City, you will also find local favorites like; Label Restaurant, Friedberg’s, Red Meze, Sabore’s, and much more! You could stay downtown for a week, and not have to eat at the same place twice. Of course, no visit to Johnson City would be complete without a visit to the region’s Pal’s Sudden Service! This locally owned and operated fast food chain has earned nationally recognition for their unique restaurant model. You can’t miss the locations either, with their giant hot dog and burger right on the front of the restaurant and the enormous American flags flying out front. Pal’s Sudden Service is actually one of the most revered quick service restaurant brands in the country, having earned the coveted Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award. They were the first restaurant chain to ever earn the award, which was established by the U.S. Congress in 1987 to raise awareness of companies that demonstrate exceptional management and quality in their industry. We recommend a Big Pal burger, Frenchie Fries, and a Big Razzie (Raspberry) Sweet Tea! Johnson City Attractions The downtown area is also an amazing place for entertaining. There are many options for family fun, natural beauty, and great nightlife for all ages. We also host a variety of seasonal festivals that draw visitors from around the world. So, come visit Johnson City and find out what makes our city one of the top destinations for visitors in East Tennessee! For those bringing a family, you won’t be disappointed with the options available in the Johnson City area. Whether you are looking for something educational or just great fun, Johnson City is the perfect base to explore all that the mountain empire holds. One great attraction that’s just minutes from downtown is the Gray Fossil Site and Hands On! Discovery Center that is just 20 minutes from the downtown area. This museum is designed specifically with small children in mind and gives kids of all ages an opportunity to interact with history and science in a fun and educational way! If you are interested in learning more about the art and culture of the region, be sure to visit the B. Carroll Reece Museum on the campus of East Tennessee State University. They have many art, music, and history exhibits that present the rich heritage of the area. Looking for something more high energy? You can always come visit Quantum Leap Trampoline Park in downtown Johnson City. There are many different activities, obstacle courses, and games to enjoy in this giant trampoline complex—right in the heart of downtown! For the classic gaming enthusiasts in your family, there is also the Silverball City club. This unique destination has a wide variety of classic pinball and arcade games to enjoy. For those that want to experience the brews and spirits of Johnson City, you have plenty to choose from as well. You can start your own bar crawl downtown at the Johnson City Brewing Company, right on Main Street, with lots of signature brews on tap and a tour of the brewery. Then you can head down to the train station area and visit Yee Haw Brewing Company to try their huge selection of one-of-a-kind beers on tap—and enjoy some great food at White Duck Taco in the same building! From there, you’re just a couple minutes away from JRH Brewing on W. Walnut Street, where you can end your evening with a wide selection of great local beers on tap to quench your thirst! If you want to schedule your visit to Johnson City during one of our many acclaimed festivals, here’s a quick list of what’s available throughout the year; Early April – Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza. This is an annual craft beer festival, which hosts the Tennessee Championship of Beer. Beer Yeti ranks this event as one of the Top 5 Beer Festivals in the country! Early June – Blue Plum Festival. This is a very popular music and art festival that draws visitors to Johnson City every year. Held in Founder’s Park in downtown Johnson City, there is plenty of great food, music, and art to enjoy! Mid-August – Little Chicago. If you want to come enjoy some great food, music and art inspired by the golden years of prohibition and organized crime, then this is the festival for you! Late August – Meet the Mountains. Outdoors enthusiasts and adventurers will want to put this on your list. This new festival is organized to raise awareness for all the natural beauty and conservation opportunities available in the area. Early September – UMJOA Unity Festival. This festival showcases great food, merchandise vendors, information booths, music, games and fun for everyone. The unity festival attracts over 30,000 people to the area every year! Throughout December – Downtown in December. This is a series of holiday events and special activities to provide a festive winter experience for guests of all ages. As you can see, there is a lot to experience in Johnson City. We didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the things that are available for visitors. Come back soon as we add articles about all the natural outdoor adventures available around Johnson City. You will find great information for hiking, biking, rafting, and sportsman activities around the area. The biggest trouble you will have once you’ve visited Johnson City won’t be finding something to do while you’re here—but having to leave before you’ve experienced all we have available. Johnson City truly is the crown of the mountain empire, and it’s good to be king! #FINDYOURJCPACE Don't settle for a one-size-fits-all expedition. Find your pace, share your journey, and connect with others.