Ijams Nature Center is committed to outdoor conservation and recreation, supplying members with rugged nature trails, an eco-friendly learning center, and a wildlife sanctuary spread over 300 acres. The visitor's center reduces energy emissions through passive solar heating, and most of the building's surfaces were constructed using materials made from recycled newspaper, cardboard, and grocery bags. New and permanent exhibits fill this space, such as Ijams Family History—which showcases the traditional preserved birds that highlight their passion for ornithology. Inside the forest exhibit, correct answers to questions light up components inside a giant walk-through tree, and glass cases hold specimens such as a hummingbird nest and snakeskin.
Heading outside, guests enter the raptor enclosure—a sheltered structure and small amphitheater housing a red-tailed hawk and turkey vulture, who read excerpts from their favorite Looney Tunes fan fiction during educational demonstrations. From here, all-ages visitors explore a greenhouse and organic garden. Children can frolic in Jo's Grove—an interactive nature play area replete with hidden spaces and materials for building a nature fort. Hikers and mountain bikers can traverse ten miles of surface trails that wind through mature woodlands, as well as Mead's Quarry and Ross Marble Natural Area.
The Knoxville Opera sings most of its notes in a venue befitting the regality of its material: the Tennessee Theatre. The former movie-house and decades-old stage swathes performers in Spanish-Moorish design, a strikingly blue domed ceiling, burgundy velvet seats, and gold accents. But the opera singers don't keep their voices contained there. Education and outreach programs send them throughout the community, performing at schools, shaking the downtown streets during themed festivals, and aiding local construction companies by shattering old glass buildings.
For more than 70 years, jewels used to fill the African mahogany cases lining Sapphire's walls. The dark wooden cabinets remain, although they now brim with more than 40 kinds of vodka, Tennessee and Kentucky whiskeys, and rums from Central and South America. Sapphire may no longer drape its customers in precious gemstones, but it does aim to preserve the sense of elegant refinement that characterized the historic building for decades.
This commitment is readily apparent in the menu of upscale southern cuisine, which includes Tennessee cheeses from Sweetwater Farms, bacon and ham from nearby Benton's, and seasonal produce from local farms. These ingredients appear throughout the selection of regionally inspired dishes. Some dishes, such as the Louisiana-crawfish-stuffed hushpuppies with cajun remoulade, assertively announce their southern roots, whereas others show a bit more restraint, such as beef-tenderloin medallions, which arrive with a simple southern succotash.
On Thursday through Saturday evenings, the elegant environment in the long, narrow room becomes livelier as the night progresses and DJs begin their sets. Upbeat rhythms echo off the high ceilings and the vintage mahogany woodwork while patrons enjoy one of the martinis that earned Sapphire a spot on Metro Pulse's Best of Knoxville 2012 list.
A seasoned purveyor of outdoor sporting equipment, River Sports Outfitters' adventure experts put gear to work on indoor climbing walls and local kayaking excursions. Rock-top scramblers suit up in provided harness and shoes at the climbing gym, lined with vertical slopes that impersonate cliff faces with gritty-textured walls, rocks in many shapes and sizes, and animatronic dancing mountain goats. Climbers of all skill levels can strengthen and stretch muscles on ascents up the tall rope-climbing wall, or free-climb on the shorter bouldering walls, which lose the rope and vertical ascent in favor of low routes that challenge spidery-men to master specific maneuvers and grips.
The noble squires at Sir Goony's Family Fun Center engineer amusement with a sprawling facility dedicated to outdoor recreation. Towering, inflatable slides draw guests' eyes upward at the splash zone, where voyagers shatter the sound barrier in a near-vertical plunge before braking softly in a pool of water mixed with the joyful tears of Isaac Newton's supporters. An enclave of absurd obstacles—including a professorial owl and an irate tree—await to disrupt putts at the Center's two 18-hole miniature-golf courses, which runs alongside scenic water features and other cheerful decor. At Sir Goony's 800-foot go-kart track, racers hug the tire-cushioned rails, weaving in and out of fellow drivers in single or tandem karts. Guests can soothe itchy trigger fingers and don their favorite pair of sequined protective goggles at the paintball course, which promotes fast-paced action with a relatively open field populated by inflatable obstacles that supply minimal cover.
Jazzercise is 60 minutes of cardio, strength training, and stretching that incorporates moves from hip-hop, yoga, Pilates, jazz dance, kickboxing, and resistance training with handheld weights. Dancing with the Stars multiple-champion Cheryl Burke is a big fan of Jazzercise's improvisational workouts, though luckily you won't need her dance moves to get the most out of your class. If you're prone to first-class jitters, though, you can review the basic moves online before you go. Expect to burn off up to 500 calories with each go-round.