Kristen Combs is not a native of Knoxville, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who knows more about the state's third-largest city.
Born in Detroit, Combs is director of communications for Visit Knoxville, the convention and visitors bureau for Knoxville and Knox County. So it's her job to know what's going on in K-town, one of Knoxville's many nicknames. (Others include the Marble City, for its stone quarries, and the Maker City, for its high concentration of craft makers.)
Despite her mid-western birthplace, Combs said her forebears are from East Tennessee. Some of her relatives were here at the time Tennessee became a state in the 1790s, she said. She and her husband moved there "on a whim" a few years ago, and she used her hospitality-industry resume to get the job at Visit Knoxville.
"I've got very, very deep roots (here)," she said in a telephone interview. "I came here multiple times as a kid and always had wonderful experiences."
All that is a long windup to pitch Combs' new book, "100 Things to Do in Knoxville Before You Die" (Reedy Press, $18).
We reached out to Combs to see if she would reveal some hidden gems in her "100 Things" book. She said Knoxville tourism officials are keenly aware of the flow of visitors from southeastern Tennessee to Knoxville, especially during SEC football season as fans make the drive up Interstate 75 to see the Vols.
So skipping over some of the obvious tourist destinations — Neyland Stadium, the Sunsphere, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, etc. — Combs pointed out some lesser-known points of interest for visitors and Knoxville residents alike.
— The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. On the afternoon before a night game at Neyland Stadium, you could check out this Smithsonian-affiliated museum at 1317 Circle Park. Admission is free, and permanent exhibits include "archaeology, fossils, anthropology and art, much of it with a Tennessee focus."
— University of Tennessee Gardens. At 2518 Jacobs Drive, the botanical gardens function as an "outdoor laboratory" for University of Tennessee students studying landscaping and botany. The gardens include perennials, annuals, ornamental grasses and aquatic plants. "It's part of the university, so it's also free," said Combs, who said it's a great place to get ideas for home gardening.
— The Clarence Brown Theatre. This UT campus institution at 1714 Andy Holt Ave. is part of the League of Resident Theatres; it's one of 12 academic theaters among the 72 league theaters. Administered through UT's department of theater, it brings professional talent to the stage. Every year the theater also stages some variation of "A Christmas Carol," making late fall/early winter an especially good time to visit.
— Historical Homes. An array of Knoxville's historically significant private residences are open for tours. The Blount Mansion (200 W. Hill Ave.) is the former home of William Blount, one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution. James White's Fort (205 E. Hill Ave.) is the pre-1800 log cabin home of one of the founders of Knoxville. Historic Westwood (3425 Kingston Pike) was built in 1890 and houses the artwork of Adelia Lutz, a leader in the city's arts community. The Mabry-Hazen House (1711 Dandridge Ave.) contains a display of 2,500 artifacts spanning 130 years of Knoxville history.
— Candoro Marble Building. There's a reason Knoxville is known as the Marble City. The Candoro Marble Building (4450 Candora Ave.) is a pink marble structure built in 1921. Marble from a Knoxville area quarry was used in the construction of the Washington Monument in 1848, and Grand Central Station in New York City also has some of the stone, Combs writes in her book. The Candoro Marble Co. got started in 1914, just before sales of Tennessee marble peaked in the 1920s and 1930s.
— Market Square Farmers Market. A summer tradition in downtown Knoxville, the producer's-only market includes only items made or grown by vendors. Saturdays are the splash day with tons of fresh veggies and hand-made goods. There's a smaller-scale market on Wednesdays, according to Combs. There are also a few holiday markets in December that are good for gathering Christmas gifts.
— International cuisine. Knoxville features a growing foodie culture with more and more restaurants representing international fare. Some of Combs' recommendations are Yassin's Falafel House (706 Walnut St. and 159 N. Peters Road), known for its great food and the owner's philanthropic pursuits; Boyd's Jig and Reel (101 S. Central St.) for authentic Scottish food, and the French Market (412 Clinch Ave.) for great omelets and croissants.