When you think of Chattanooga, the kitschy cuteness of Rock City and the Tennessee Aquarium probably spring to mind, but there’s plenty more fun to be had in the Scenic City besides gnomes and fish.
Chattanooga is perfect for a weekend getaway. Just a two-hour drive from Atlanta, it’s a straight shot up I-75 to a city with a decidedly more laid-back vibe. Lookout Mountain rises over the city, while the serpentine Tennessee River winds its way through downtown.
Where to stay
The Bluff View Inn (bluffviewartdistrictchattanooga.com), nestled along the river in the city’s Bluff View Arts District (more on that below), is actually three different historic homes: the English Tudor-style McClellan House, the American Foursquare T.C. Thompson House, and the Colonial Revival Martin House.
If you want to get historic and touristy, The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel (choochoohotel.com) is located in the circa 1909 Terminal Station and adjacent restored Pullman cars. There’s also gorgeous gardens, live music, and dining on the station grounds.
What to see
The Bluff View Arts District situated high above the Tennessee River is a great place to start your weekend. Stroll through the River Gallery Sculpture Garden, grab a coffee of freshly roasted joe at Rembrandt’s Coffee House, have dinner at Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria, and enjoy the stunning views from the neighborhood.
Another artsy place with a view is the Hunter Museum of American Art (huntermuseum.org), also situated along the river, with fantastic views outside and thought-provoking art inside it’s three galleries. On show through Sept. 6 is “Power, Passion & Pose: Photographs by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory,” while Chattanooga artist Baggs McKinley’s denim installation “Indigo” is up until next February. Susan J. Barron’s photography series, “Depicting the Invisible: A Portrait Series of Veterans Suffering from PTSD,” opens Aug. 20.
After the museum, take a walk across the river on the pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge, which connects downtown to the hip and happening NorthShore neighborhood. The circa 1890 truss bridge plays host to the annual Wine Over Water Food + Wine Festival in October (it’s on hold until 2022) and is vacation selfie central.
Once you cross the bridge. check out the NorthShore (northshorechattanooga.com) mix of independent clothing and jewelry boutiques, cozy cafes, gastropubs, and popular neighborhood restaurants. Grab coffee at (Be)Caffeinated or Stone Cup Café, a gourmet hot dog at Good Dog, some authentic Japanese at Sushi Nabe, or a sandwich at River Street Deli.
If you’ve never been to the Tennessee Aquarium (tnaqua.org), it’s a much different experience than Atlanta’s. Located in downtown, the aquarium’s 400,000 gallon freshwater tank is one of the largest in the world with turtles, seahorses, frogs, otters, alligators, and free-flying songbirds. The 700,000-gallon saltwater tank has sharks, rays, penguins, and fluttering butterflies.
Yes, Lookout Mountain – home to Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway – is a tourist trap, but it still has its charms, especially if the kids are in tow. Rock City’s twisting paths lead visitors past and through formations like Fat Man’s Squeeze, Fairyland Caverns, and Mother Goose Village. If you aren’t claustrophobic, take the plunge into the middle of the mountain to see the giant underground waterfall known as Ruby Falls.
And if heights aren’t a problem, the one-mile Incline Railway up the side of the mountain offers unparalleled views of the city.
What to eat
Market Street in downtown is full of eateries to try on your weekend getaway. Grab a casual breakfast or lunch at Kenny’s (kennyssandwiches.com), just a short walk from Chattanooga Choo Choo.
Hair of the Dog (hairofthedogpub.net) offers up craft beers and good pub grub, while St. John’s is located inside a historic former hotel building serving up seasonal, American fare. For a sweet treat, Clumpies (clumpies.com) ice cream has been a Chattanooga tradition for more than two decades.