Do you know the dixie dynamo city where cotton meets corn that’s the birthplace of tow trucks? It’s none other than Chattanooga Tennessee. Situated on the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s the gateways to the mountains for much of the Southeast. It’s officially called “The Scenic City” because of proximity to the mountains, but the locals use other names. River City, because of the Tennessee River cutting through the Cumberland Plateau is obvious. Not so obvious is Gig City for the claim of the fastest internet in America (sorry San Jose). Chat-town has more than enough mountain and modern fun to shake a stick at and a few day trips that will really surprise you. If you don’t know Nooga, perhaps it’s time to learn more with our guide to the best things to do in Chattanooga.
Points of Interest Chattanooga Downtown and Metro
Coolidge Park – Coolidge Park sits on the North Shore of the Tennessee River. It’s home to a play fountain and a working, century old, carousel. Renaissance park is adjacent to Coolidge park to form one massive park complex
Tennessee Riverwalk – On either side of the river runs the fifteen-mile green way of the Tennessee Riverwalk. It’s a perfect place to try out the Chattanooga Bike Share.
Hunter Museum of Art – The Hunter offers the largest collection of American art in the Southeast set amongst a century of architectural marvels.
Bluff View Art District – The art museum anchors the Bluff View Art District which is Chattanooga’s first and finest art district. The district is filled with galleries, boutique stores, and gourmet eateries. Make sure you make time for the many outdoor sculptures around the outdoor sculpture garden.
Tennessee Aquarium – Recognized as one of the best public aquariums of America, the Tennessee Aquarium tells the story of Appalachia from the perspective of a raindrop. The journey begins high in mountain rainstorm and flows down the Mississippi delta to the Gulf of Mexico, introducing you to the life and ecosystems along the way. Check out this post from our friends @2traveldads to learn about this fish-spirience first hand.
Creative Discovery Museum – Situated in downtown Chattanooga, this children’s museum uses art, science, music and even a water-themed area called “River Play” to ignite creativity.
Walnut Street Bridge – How long is the Walnut Street Bridge? 2376 feet and it’s only usable by pedestrians. It connects Coolidge Park on North Shore with the Bluff View Art District and Tennessee Aquarium on the South Shore. This bridge is a favorite among the locals and helps form one continuous entertainment district along the riverfront.
Ross’s Landing – A waterfront park in downtown that commemorates the Union liberation of Chattanooga and the beginning of the Trail of Tears.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum – “Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?” Chattanooga has always been an important rail center due to its geographic location. The TVRM is dedicated to preserving the legacy of steam locomotives and the golden age of railroads. They even offer several steam-powered excursion trains for the true enthusiasts.
International Towing & Recovery Hall Of Fame and Museum – The first tow truck was made by Ernest Holmes Company right in the heart of Chattanooga. The International Towing and Recovery Museum is a celebration of the wreckers. Imagine the joy on your boy’s face when he can see a Saturn V rocket, ride a steam train and meet Tow Mater.
Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park – This is one of the smallest AZA accredited zoos at 13 acres but it still a boasts some unique attractions like the world’s largest indoor Red Panda exhibit. The also have a multi million dollar chimpanzee exhibit.
Southern Belle Riverboat – A fun way to explore the Tennessee River in antebellum style. They offer sightseeing tours, sunset tours, and even a dinner cruise.
Chattanooga Ghost Tours – Would you believe that one of the most fought over towns in the Civil War and the start of the Trail of Tears would have a haunted place or two? These guys do. In fact, USA Today says it’s one of America’s top ten ghost tours.
Chattanooga Ducks Tour – Want a different way to tour downtown Chattanooga and the Tennessee River at the same time? How about a duck tour. Part boat. Part truck. All Duck this amphibious vehicle offers combo land and sea combo tour you don’t need to leave your seat for.
Moon Pie General Store – Nothing says deep south like an RC Cola and a Moon Pie but did you know that Chattanooga is the home for these sweets? Our hotel had moon pies as part of their turn-down service. The general store offers moon pies and memorabilia. When in Rome…
Chattanooga Bike Share – Visitors and locals alike can use bikes from any of the 33 bike share stations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s simple. Signup at the station kiosks with a credit card and take a bike. Your 24 hour membership covers all the one hour rides you want to take. Simply return the bike within the hour to any bike share station in the city. When you are ready to ride again, you can check out another bike. Repeat this as much as you want during your 24 hour membership. You only pay extra if you keep the bike longer than an hour. Note, you must be 16 years old to use a bike share bike
Free Electric Shuttle – The city offers a free shuttle service from the Chattanooga Choo Choo to the Tennessee Aquarium and from the Aquarium to the North Shore. Shuttles run every 5 minutes with plenty of stops in between.
Lake Winnepesaukah – A local favorite amusement park with 38 rides including a five acre water park.
Things to Eat in Chattanooga
What do you get when you combine Southern Cooking with farm to table cuisine feature the fertile farms of the Tennessee Valley? Short answer, one of the best things to do in Chattanooga, eating! From our personal dining experiences, here are some of our favorites:
Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe – Chattanooga’s only authentic Jamaican restaurant. From meat patties to akie and swordfish to desserts, everything is made fresh and tasty and it’s conveniently located at the base of Lookout Mountain. Two thumbs up for their stuffed jerk burger, which is claimed by many as the best burger in Chattanooga! Just allow for a bit of extra cooking time, you can’t rush perfection.
Clumpies Ice Cream – Handcrafted in small batches with a vide variety of creative flavors and conveniently located on the North Shore district. A great treat when visiting Coolidge Park or the Walnut street Bridge.
Beast and Barrel – An American brewpub with a family friendly happy hour right in the North Shore. You gotta try their Single Wide Beast Fries! Pulled pork with cherry coke bbq, cheddar bisque, and mustard slaw….delishiousness! We hear their brunch is pretty fantastic as well.
Old Plantation Barbecue – The building isn’t much to look at but the flavors will knock your socks off. Located about halfway between Nickajack Lake and downtown. I wouldn’t have known about this place except for a recommendation from a barber when I was getting a haircut. Remember to bring cash, they don’t take cards, and plan to take it to go, they do not have seating. This is the kind of place that doesn’t have diet Coke as an option for fountain drinks.
Things to Explore Outside Chattanooga
Lookout Mountain – Towering above the Chattanooga skyline is Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain is home to many hikes and attractions like Ruby Falls, Rock City, Incline Railroad, Cloudland Canyon, Battles for Chattanooga and Point Park.
Ruby Falls – Imagine a 145’ waterfall that sits in a cave 1120’ beneath Lookout Mountain. Leo Lambert discovered this cave in 1928 when his company was trying to dig a shaft down to Lookout Mountain Cave. It’s named after his wife, Ruby, who was the third person in the world to ever see the falls. Click in to discover the secrets of Ruby Falls.
Rock City – Rock City features a well-manicured trail through botanical gardens, boulder fields, the Lover’s Leap view of seven states, Fairyland Cavern, Mother Goose Village and the picturesque High Falls. There were over 900 See Rock City barns painted to advertise the roadside attraction in nineteen states.
Cloudland Canyon – On the western edge of Lookout Mountain sits one of Georgia’s most rugged and scenic parks. Cloudland Canyon straddles Sitton’s Gulch, a deep ravine dug by Sitton Creek. The West Rim Trail offers magnificent view while the Waterfalls Trail and Sitton Gulch Trail let you explore the dark hemlock groves and rumbling falls valley. Disc Golf, cabins and over twenty miles of single track mountain biking are available too.
Incline Railway – This is the world’s steepest passenger railway. Dubbed the World’s Most Amazing Mile, it climbs from the base of Lookout Mountain to Point Park offering phenomenal views along the way.
Raccoon Mountain Cave – They offer cabins, campgrounds and cave tours. Raccoon Mountain cave is over 5.5 miles long and there are two tours available. The 45 minute Crystal Palace Tour through the walking highlights of the cave or the Wild Cave Expedition where you can get down and dirty on a wild cave tour.
Ruby Falls Zipstream -Does 700’ of zip line, a climbing tower and high elements built into the trees sound like your idea of fun? Then Ruby Falls Zipstream might be for you.
Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center – Whether you are hiking or riding in a horse carriage, there are 15 miles of trails for you to explore. The arboretum includes butterfly gardens and hundreds of scientifically labeled plans.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park- One of the first four military parks established after the Civil War. There is also a castle monument built by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Chattanooga National Cemetery– Chattanooga has always been a strategic military town. This cemetery was established after the Battles for Chattanooga in 1863. By the end of the Civil War nearly 12000 souls had been entombed on the grounds. Other notables graves were for German POWs who died in captivity in the area.
Battles for Chattanooga – In thick fog, the Union troops fought their way up Lookout Mountain in what was to be known as The Battle in the Clouds. The Chattanooga campaign was one of the most decisive victories in the Civil War and opened the way for Sherman’s March to Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea. This museum is located near Point Park on Lookout Mountain and, both literally and figurative, offers an overview of the historic Civil War battles that took place in the region. To save money, bundle a ticket with Ruby Falls, Rock City or the Incline Railway.
Day Trips From Chattanooga
Explore Huntsville – This town has been going through a hip revival as of late with the influx of rocket scientists coming to work there. Wernher Von Braun selected Huntsville to house his rocket program that eventually built Saturn V rocket which took man to the moon. It’s the home of Space Camp, the US Space and Rocket Center and 44 Fortune 500 aerospace companies and NASA. With the boom, flights are expensive to Huntsville which makes Chattanooga the natural gateway to Rocket City. Jack Daniel’s Tour – Lynchburg is trying as to stay locked in time as hard as Huntsville is trying to reach Mars. The reason you go to this modern Mayberry isn’t necessarily the horse drawn tours of Main Street. It’s to tour the oldest licensed distillery in America. Every drop of Jack Daniels in the entire world comes from here and the folks are mighty proud of it. They’ll be glad to show you every step in the process and let you try a taste or two or 3…..but you can only taste. Lynchburg is still a dry county. Ocoee High Adventure – Where is America’s most popular rafting destination? The Ocoee River in Tennessee. Home of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events, this river flows through the Great Smoky National Forest. If you’re over 12 years old. You can get a chance to try up to class IV rapids. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can try ziplines, canopy tours, hiking or mountain biking. Pigeon Forge – Pigeon Forge is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. When you’re done playing in the Great Smoky National Park, you can say hello to Dollywood – Dolly Parton’s Appalachian styled theme park. You can even stay for dinner and a show at the Smoky Mountain Adventures dinner theater. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains – The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range that straddles the North Carolina / Tennessee border. The name comes from fog that is often covers these hills. The highest point in the range is Clingmans Dome at a height of 6643′. It’s the highest point in Tennessee as well as the highest point you can reach on the entire Appalachian Trail. With over 9 million yearly visitors, the Smokies are the most visited National Park in America but don’t worry. If you want privacy, there are more than 800 miles of trails in the park.
Why should You Visit Chattanooga?
Chattanooga is about two hours drive from Atlanta Georgia, Nashville Tennessee or Birmingham Alabama. It’s a place where you can discover the past or look forward to the future. If you are travelling with kids, make sure you check out 365 Atlanta Family Ultimate Guide. Where else can you surf the fastest internet on a steam train? If the traditional roadside attractions don’t woo you, perhaps the hip riverfront will, there truly is something for everyone and a plethora of fun things to do in Chattanooga.
Disclaimer: Although our experience was complimentary, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own.