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.
1.American Museum of Science and Energy
© 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
© 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
3.Manhattan Project National Historical Park
© 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
4.University of Tennessee Arboretum
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
5.Oak Ridge Art Center
© 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
6.Southern Appalachia Railway Museum
© Southern Appalachia Railway Museum
Since Oak Ridge was a part of the Manhattan Project in which the US Government secretly brought over 75,000 workers in to build the atom bomb that ended WWII, there have been thousands of acres of lands with buildings and other structures that have since been abandoned. This railway museum utilized such land to build a train station museum for the public.
They have many engines, cabooses, and passenger cars that ride their seven miles of track on a scenic route to Blair, TN. At the museum, visitors can partake in browsing the huge collection of memorabilia, learning the history of the lands, and taking a ride on one of their trains. There are several special events hosted there every year, which are fun for both adults and kids alike.
Southwest of Oak Ridge on highway 58 and south of Highway 95 junction Oak Ridge, TN 37831, Phone: 865-241-2140
7.Coal Creek Motor Discovery Trail
Coal Creek is a part of a larger mountain that has a long history of coal mining. During the late 1800s, mining coal was one of the only ways of life in the region. A small uprising broke out when free coal miners were replaced with prison labor, and many died in the battles that took place. Soon after, in 1902 and 1911, substantial mining disasters at Fraterville and Cross Mountain mines took the lives of hundreds of people.
Since those horrible tragedies, the families and the surviving members of the disasters have committed to making coal mines safer by education, technology, and legislation. The Motor Discovery Trail is dedicated to the people who’ve died in the coal mines. The trail takes visitors through many beautiful springs, forests, and historical places.
Hwy. 116 Rocky Top, TN 37769, Phone: 865-457-4542
8.Dean's Restaurant and Bakery
© 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
8 Best Things to Do in Oak Ridge, TN