Written by Bre Humphries
Chattanooga, Tenn.- An Urban Hub at the Center of Recreational Activities, The Scenic City Offers A Quick Cure For Your Wanderlust To view more photos from this article, click here.
It happens in homes across metro Atlanta about this time every year – school has been out just long enough for the excitement to wear off and the boredom to set in. There are only so many afternoons your kids can spend at the neighborhood pool, and you’ve exhausted all of Atlanta’s attractions. Plus, let’s face it – Mom and Dad have a case of wanderlust, too.
I may not have school-aged children, but I, too, was feeling a similar sense of homebound angst recently. It was time to get out of town, but a busy schedule prevented long distance travel. Two hours from the Northside, barely longer than fighting rush hour traffic into Atlanta, Chattanooga, Tenn., seemed like the right solution, so I loaded up my 9-month-old son and set out to explore.
As it turns out, proximity isn’t the only ingredient that made this city the perfect cure. Chattanooga offers just the right blend of family-friendly fun and adult-approved sophistication, plus it’s easy to navigate with kids in tow. Situated amidst the mountains of Southeast Tennessee along the Tennessee River, the “Scenic City” is an urban hub at the center of recreational activities. Adventure seekers can go kayaking, paddleboarding and whitewater rafting on the river, biking along the Riverwalk, picnicking in local parks, and rock climbing and hang gliding on nearby Lookout Mountain.
Its outdoor offerings go hand-in-hand with a sincere sense of environmental awareness in everything from transportation to dining. A free electric shuttle provides transportation throughout the city, and a bicycle transit program allows locals and visitors alike to rent bikes for temporary usage at 31 different stations around town. Restaurants are likely to source ingredients locally (expect to see lots of Benton’s country ham and whiskey cocktails), and don’t even think about buying a cup of Joe that isn’t locally roasted, as there are TK coffee roasters in town.
Chattanooga makes the perfect destination for a three-day weekend this summer. Take along our handy travel guide to make the most of your trip!
10 a.m. – Start your journey early enough to beat the mid-day heat at Rock City Gardens. Located six miles from Downtown Chattanooga atop Lookout Mountain, the iconic natural playground boasts 14 acres of centuries-old rock formations and hundreds of plant species along its wooded paths. The self-guided Enchanted Trail, the main attraction, is not stroller-friendly, so take a carrier along for little tykes who can’t walk on their own (we recommend Kelty’s backpack-style carriers). You can stow your stroller at the Gardens Gateway Gift Shop before setting out, or opt for the stroller-friendly shortcut path, which skips some of the sights on a direct route to Lover’s Leap and a panoramic view of seven surrounding states.
Noon – Spend some extra time soaking up that aforementioned view with lunch at Café 7. Rock City’s newest restaurant features Southern cuisine, but its location on the terrace at Lover’s Leap makes it as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach.
*Alternate afternoon activities – Before leaving Lookout Mountain, descend more than 1,120 feet into the earth to Ruby Falls’ 145-foot underground waterfall or climb up into the sky for breathtaking views aboard the Incline Railway.
3 p.m. – Check in to comfortable room or suite accommodations at The Chattanoogan, a well-appointed hotel in the heart of Chattanooga’s historic Southside. Once you’re settled, enjoy an easy half-mile walk to the famed Chattanooga Choo Choo, where kids in particular will enjoy colorful gardens, a ride around the complex on an authentic New Orleans trolley, a self-guided tour through the Model Railroad Museum, and a hand-dipped ice cream cone at the Sweet Stop. If shopping is more your style, spend some time pursuing the one-of-a-kind shops at nearby Warehouse Row. The former Civil War fort and later textile warehouse district now houses upscale boutiques, galleries, restaurants and more.
6 p.m. – Continue on foot to dinner at Urban Stack, located halfway between the Choo Choo and The Chattanoogan. The hip burger and bourbon bar declares a commitment to local ingredients on the exposed brick walls of its LEED-certified building; choose from “killer burgers” like the Hamburgeusa Mamacita (crumbled chorizo, pickled red onion, avocado, jalapeño, chipotle aioli and Fiesta cheese) alongside steakhouse-worthy sides like gouda creamed corn and a selection of bourbon-based cocktails. After dinner, return to The Chattanoogan’s Foundry Lounge for live music entertainment beginning at 8 p.m.
9 a.m. – Wake up to breakfast at The Blue Plate, a modernized diner where breakfast is elevated beyond your standard eggs and bacon – think breakfast tacos with a sensational citrus sour cream and coffee from Chattanooga’s own Stone Cup Roasting Co. After fueling up, cross the street to the Tennessee Aquarium. Even if you’ve been to Georgia Aquarium, this one is worth a visit. Affordable admission grants access to both the Ocean Journey and River Journey buildings, the latter of which won over our little guy in particular with paths that made us feel as if we were immersed in the wetlands.
*Alternate morning activities: Spring for a discounted combo ticket to the aquarium and IMAX 3D Theater or River Gorge Explorer, a naturalist-led catamaran cruise exploring the wildlife and history of the Tennessee River Gorge.
Noon – Stroll along the waterfront, then cross the Walnut Street Bridge, a half-mile pedestrian walkway linking downtown to the hip North Shore District. (Forgot your walking shoes? This is a great time to take advantage of that free shuttle.) Spend some time shopping along Frazier Avenue, where highlights include Mia Cucina for culinary commodities and Wiggle Worm for super cute clothing for kids. Hang a left at the historic Knitting Mill Antiques building and break for lunch at Elemental. The North Shore’s newest eatery was perhaps our favorite dining spot in town, thanks to a unique industrial-meets-farmhouse chic vibe (there’s even a 1953 Ford tractor at the center of the space) and yet another commitment to locally sourced ingredients. (Try the boiled peanut hummus and a Lincoln County Process cocktail with Tennessee whiskey and apricot liqueur.) After lunch, satisfy your sweet tooth with homemade gelato at Milk & Honey, where seasonal flavors may include Sicilian pistachio and pink peppercorn.
Alternate afternoon activity – Take the kids to play at North Shore’s Coolidge Park, where a 100-year-old restored carousel and interactive fountain make for a fun-filled afternoon. While you’re there, seek refreshment at nearby Pure Sodaworks, which handcrafts its soda in-house using organic herbs, fruits, berries and unprocessed cane sugar in flavors like strawberry jalapeño and hibiscus lemon.
6 p.m. – Leave the urban setting behind without leaving the city in the Bluff View Art District, which feels more like a small European village than a city center. Perched atop stone cliffs on the Chattanooga riverfront, the historic neighborhood emphasizes visual, horticultural and culinary arts. The district is home to the Hunter Museum of Art and The River Gallery (art aficionados will want to head here earlier in the day, as both close at 5 p.m.), as well as restaurants and a B&B. Spend some time strolling the cobbled streets, delighting in impeccably manicured gardens and peeking into hidden courtyards before dinner at Back Inn Café, where a patio provides breathtaking views of the river over fresh fish, steak or sushi. After dinner, peek in on a wedding party at the Bocce Court Terrace, then finish the evening with a cup of coffee and a pastry from the Bluff View Bakery at Rembrandt’s Coffee House.
11 a.m. – Sleep late, then enjoy brunch at The Chattanoogan’s Broad Street Grille, with classics like eggs Benedict and horseradish garlic-crusted beef top round, plus unlimited Champagne, mimosas and a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar with more than 27 toppings.
1 p.m. – Before heading home, stock up on fresh produce, locally baked goods and unique art at The Chattanooga Market across from Finley Stadium. This month’s themes include a peach festival on July 7, ice cream social on July 14, bluegrass on July 21 and a tomato festival on July 28.