While the Chattanooga choo-choo may be a relic of the past, Interstates 24 and 75 will get you to this historic Tennessee city that is fast becoming one of the most popular family vacation destinations in the country. Within the course of one generation, Chattanooga grew from being the most polluted city in the country to one that now embraces its riverfront and surrounding mountains with enthusiasm and crystal-clear views. Downtown is loaded with attractions, and those in the surrounding region are just minutes away by car. The next time you make that long drive to Florida, stop off and stay a few days in Chattanooga. It’s definitely worth the visit.
Bluff View Arts District
Within walking distance of downtown, the Bluff View Arts District is a creative haven that specializes in the visual, culinary and landscape arts. The historic neighborhood sits high atop a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and offers visitors a one-of-a-kind experience. Meandering can take you through a sculpture garden, and peeking in shop windows will reveal artisans at work making bread, chocolates or great cups of coffee.
The Tennessee River
The city began at the river’s edge. Although it was long ignored behind blocks of factories, re-connecting to the river was crucial to Chattanooga’s transformation. Today there’s a Riverwalk along the banks that runs for 22 miles. Take the pedestrian/bicycle-only Walnut Street Bridge to the North Shore for stunning views of the city, river and mountains. Anchoring the riverfront development is the Tennessee Aquarium, 1 Broad St., which has become the city’s most popular attraction for visitors and residents alike. For a ride on the water, the Chattanooga Ducks can fill that “bill” for you in a vintage WWII amphibious landing craft.
Getting around downtown Chattanooga is easy with the free electric shuttle buses that run all day between the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel and the Tennessee Aquarium. The Chattanooga Market, 1826 Reggie White Blvd., has been ranked as one of the top farmers markets in the country. There’s plenty to eat and live music on the weekends.
A Trio of Art Museums
Three fine art museums occupy prime real estate that defines the Bluff View Arts District. River Gallery, 400 E. 2nd St., sits snugly between its neighbors, the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, on a scenic bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. The River Gallery displays contemporary works by regional artists. Both fine arts and crafts are included in the displays.
The Hunter Museum of American Art, 10 Bluff View, showcases 100 years of architecture in its three buildings, and houses the finest collection of American art in the Southeast. The collection of the Hunter Museum spans the history of American art from the colonial period to the present day, and covers a wide variety of media including painting, sculpture, contemporary studio glass and crafts. The exhibit “Animating the Still Life,” continues through December.
The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, 201 High St., contains what have been called the world’s finest collections of antique glass and ceramics, as well as valuable antique furniture and music boxes. Visitors take a guided tour of the museum, located in a beautifully restored Victorian house.
The latest fashions are waiting in the shops at Warehouse Row, 12th and Market, where the past literally faces the future. The 330,000 square foot mixed-use development includes an urban retail environment featuring distinctive home furnishings, artisanal goods, fashion and design boutiques, services and restaurants.
There’s a bit of Paris at Yves Delorme, Ste. 107, perhaps that perfect bauble at Amanda Pinson Jewelry, Ste. 108, the appropriate men’s outfit at Onward Reserve, Ste. 119, or refine your look at The Cosmetics Market, Ste. 120.
Crossing the bridge to the trendy North Shore, dozens of unique shops and boutiques await your perusal along Frazier Avenue and adjacent streets. Among them, the Belle Rive Boutique, 113 Frazier, offers beautiful apparel at affordable prices with a good mix of clothing, accessories and jewelry. River City Apparel, 36 Frazier, appeals to the younger set and adds new labels each season. Studio 6, 800 N. Market, strives to clothe women of all ages, with the motto, “Style isn’t an age, it’s a frame of mind.”
Looming over the city, Lookout Mountain has been a tourist mecca for nearly 150 years with attractions such as Ruby Falls, Rock City and the Civil War Military Park. See it all via the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, 827 E. Brow Rd., whose trolley style cars will take you above the clouds. The free observation deck is the highest overlook on Lookout Mountain.
Yes, your guilty pleasure was invented right here in Chattanooga. Enjoy the chocolaty treat at the MoonPie General Store and Chattanooga Bakery, 429B Broad St. There’s quite a culinary history here.
Where to Stay
Bluff View Inn
A bed-and-breakfast complex in the Bluff View Arts District. Three separate houses comprise the inn—a Tudor, a Colonial Revival and a Victorian. Rooms from $140/night. 411 E. 2nd St.
This 17-room bed-and-breakfast inn is located high atop Lookout Mountain, but still just 10 minutes from downtown Chattanooga. Rooms and cottages from $160/night. 1300 Mockingbird Lane, Lookout Mountain
Converted from the former Terminal Station, this railroad-themed boutique hotel offers some rooms in actual Pullman train cars. Rooms from $118/night. 1400 Market St.
This full-service hotel offers upscale accommodations, three restaurants, a pampering day spa and exceptional service. Convenient downtown location. Rooms from $170/night. 1201 Broad St.
The Read House
Downtown’s historic hotel that’s been renovated for the 21st century. Great location within walking distance of many attractions. Free wifi and pet tolerant. Rooms from $129/night. 827 Broad St.
Where to Dine
Upscale Italian cuisine in a restored 19th-century building. Very knowledgeable wait staff to guide you.
25 E. Main St., 423-305-6990
Back Inn Café
A small trendy restaurant with delicious fresh food in a great location with a great view of the city. Chef-driven with some very unique offerings. 412 E. 2nd St., 423-265-5033
Beast and Barrel
For a satisfying sandwich and an eye-opening craft-brewed beer or ale, this is your gastropub on the Tennessee. Meats smoked in-house. 16 Frazier Ave., 423-805-4599
Yes, the cuisine is classic Italian American, ala New York; and it’s really, really good. Stick to the classics and don’t miss the Caesar salad. 1100 Hixon Place, 423-602-5555
The Greek-inspired cuisine is served in a North Shore cottage, with the best Mediterranean food in the region. The baklava is flakey and perfectly sweet. 249 River St., 423-305-0038