Oak Ridge, TN and the surrounding areas are incredibly fascinating places to explore for visitors and residents alike. Most attractions have a history connected to the famous “Manhattan Project,” which was a top-secret mission that lasted from 1938-1946 that the US Government funded with the intent to build the first atomic bomb, which is why Oak Ridge was given the nickname, “The Secret City.” Over 75,000 scientists, engineers, nuclear physicists, and other experts were flown in from all over the world to succeed in that mission. Upon their success, WWII ended, and all the lands, buildings, and even the nuclear reactor and uranium and plutonium plants have been turned over as historic sites for the public to visit.
Visiting these attractions takes you back to a profound time in history. But there are also beautiful places to visit, like the Arboretum, Coal Creek, museums, and fine dining restaurants that serve southern comfort foods. Oak Ridge is truly a place with a rich history and a beautiful community. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.American Museum of Science and Energy, Oak Ridge, TN
© American Museum of Science and Energy
Since 1949, this museum has been the hub in and around Oak Ridge for the community and experts to gather and disseminate information about science and energy. It provides education, events, and activities to over 65,000 visitors per year.
Kids and adults will find that the museum is alive with interactive programs for students, rotating and permanent exhibits, live demonstrations, evening events, and camp programs held throughout the year for young students, as well as bus tours of the Oak Ridge Reservation. The museum also hosts some of the events created by the National Park Service.
115 Main St. East Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-294-4531
2.Children's Museum of Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
© Children's Museum of Oak Ridge
Oak Ridge and the surrounding area of East Tennessee are always welcome at this children’s museum, where kids and the adults with them get to experience unique exhibits, puzzles, games, and interactive learning. Their mission is to educate through play, and the exhibits change frequently, so there’s always something to learn.
Kids are fascinated by the non-traditional approach to learning the arts, sciences, and history. The museum often offers programs, workshops, fun history lessons, and more. Educators, teachers, and parents are always encouraged to use the resources at the museum, which includes a vast library, A/V archive, and over 20,000 unique items available to study.
461 west outer drive Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-482-1074
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3.Manhattan Project National Historical Park, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
© NPS Photo
This National Park is only a few years old, but it offers so much fun, excitement, and learning opportunities, despite its age. The main objective of this historical park is to preserve the history surrounding the sites at Oak Ridge, and technology that created the first nuclear weapon, which was used against Japan in WWII.
This site is truly one-of-a-kind. Visitors get to tour nuclear reactors, the buildings, and technology used to enrich uranium and produce plutonium, and all the other buildings and offices where over 75,000 people worked and lived between 1938-1943. The visitor center is located within the children’s museum because it allows kids to learn in a children-friendly way.
461 W Outer Dr. Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-482-1942
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4.University of Tennessee Arboretum, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
The UT Arboretum isn’t just a plot of land and a building but is an expanse of three extensive forests that span 11,435 acres. The Cumberland Forest, the Highland Rim Forest, and the Oak Ridge Forest make up what is known as the UT Arboretum. There is a lot to do in that much forest, including hiking and hosting events. But you can also get in on some of the education the Arboretum provides for the public.
There are rental cabins and other buildings available for weddings and other special events open to the public. The wildlife is abundant and thriving within the Arboretum for all to see. And, the entire place has a vibrant history that visitors learn about while they explore and hike the trails.
University of Tennessee: Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center - 901 South Illinois Avenue Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830, Phone: 865-483-3571
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5.Oak Ridge Art Center, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
© Oak Ridge Art Center
This art center has over 50,000 visitors annually that come for the fantastic and awe-inspiring exhibitions, galleries, all the different art collections, classes, workshops, the library and archives, and all the special events held every year. If you live nearby, memberships are available and come with tons of opportunities.
Even if you’re visiting, you can still take a pottery or painting class, peruse the collection of art created by internationally famous artists, or attend an evening gallery to celebrate the works of a local artist. The Oak Ridge Art Center has everything for both children and adults to have fun with and learn from.
201 Badger Ave Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-482-1441
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6.Dean's Restaurant and Bakery, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
© Dean's Restaurant and Bakery
Visitors with an appetite love this restaurant because of the excellent service, fantastic staff, and some of the best soulful, southern food in Tennessee. Every item served in the restaurant is locally and sustainably attained and prepared and made in-house. It is an authentic farm-to-table restaurant. They even grow their green beans.
Everyone who sits down at this restaurant can choose from home-cooked meals to bakery items that are made from scratch and fresh, daily. They are open for lunch and dinner on most days with specialty items available on holidays. Also, it wouldn’t be quite southern if they didn’t have smoked meats available. A gluten-free menu is available, as well.
239 Jackson Sq. Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-481-2071
7.Oak Ridge History Museum
© Explore Oak Ridge/Oak Ridge History Museum
While the K-25 center tells the scientific story of the creation of the first atomic weapons, the Oak Ridge History Museum takes a look behind the scenes to focus on the day-to-day lives of the men and women who lived in Oak Ridge during World War II. Visiting both museums will greatly enhance you visit to Oak Ridge. The museum’s collection is primarily made up of donated and purchased items from the American Museum of Science and Energy and tells the story of how Oak Ridge changed from a small farming community to become the center of the famous Manhattan Project during the early 1940’s.
Oak Ridge History Museum, 102 Robertsville Road, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-806-0390
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8.K-25 History Center
© Explore Oak Ridge/K-25 History Center
The K-25 History Center will take you on a fascinating journey behind the scenes of one of America’s most secret wartime operations. This is where the country was striving to beat Nazi Germany in the construction of an atomic bomb, which was intended to put an end to World War II. Known as the Manhattan Project, men and women secretly toiled to build the first uranium enrichment complex – at the time, most of them has no idea what they were working on. The enormous facility covers over 7,500 square feet and features several interactive exhibits as well as thousands of authentic artifacts.
K-25 History Center, 652 Enrichment Street, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone: 865-685-8050
8 Best Things to Do in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
- American Museum of Science and Energy, Oak Ridge, TN, Photo: American Museum of Science and Energy
- Children's Museum of Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Photo: Children's Museum of Oak Ridge
- Manhattan Project National Historical Park, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Photo: NPS Photo
- University of Tennessee Arboretum, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Photo: prajit48/stock.adobe.com
- Oak Ridge Art Center, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Photo: Oak Ridge Art Center
- Dean's Restaurant and Bakery, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Photo: Dean's Restaurant and Bakery
- Oak Ridge History Museum, Photo: Explore Oak Ridge/Oak Ridge History Museum
- K-25 History Center, Photo: Explore Oak Ridge/K-25 History Center
- Cover Photo: City of Oak Ridge Government
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