One glimpse of the skyline and natural wonder enveloping Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it’s almost hard to believe this was the city broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite once famously observed as the “dirtiest city in America” in 1969. Well, thanks to a major renaissance in 1992 and the popularity of the historic hotel and hit song, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” the burgeoning Scenic City is anything but besmirched today.
Strategically nestled between the excitement of city life and outdoor recreation, Chattanooga is perfectly positioned on the Georgia-Tennessee border for both residents and transients alike to enjoy. Yet even with a flourishing arts, dining, and active scene, somehow the twin music cities of Memphis and Nashville are still the top two places that come to mind when most people think of Tennessee. Hopefully, this definitive list of everything we’ve come to love about Chattanooga (and you will, too!) will shine a necessary spotlight on the unsung hero of the southeast. From picturesque bluffs and historic attractions to the best places to unwind after a long day of hiking or biking, here are 15 reasons why you should add this river city to your list of adventure travel destinations:
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1. Lookout Mountain
Take in all the splendor of nature and a breathtaking view of the city once you reach the top of this wide and expansive mountain ridge. Lookout Mountain also has family-friendly activities for touring and a slew of free hiking trails.
2. Walnut Street Bridge
Walnut Street Bridge is the longest bike and pedestrian bridge in the world, and offers a panoramic view of the Tennessee River. The old trestle bridge is also one of the best places to chase the sun.
3. Tennessee Aquarium
Located in downtown Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium boasts an IMAX theater and more than 10,000 freshwater fish animals, as well as birds, mammals, and reptiles guaranteed to fulfill your seafaring and underwater fantasies.
4. Raccoon Mountain
What makes this popular camping site and massive cave unique is that it contains more than five and a half miles of passageways and natural formations and fossils. Raccoon Mountain also hosts ghost tours and gemstone panning.
5. Coolidge Park
Part of the Tennessee Riverwalk on the city’s Northshore waterfront, Coolidge Park gets its name from World War II Army veteran and Chattanoogan Charles Coolidge. Home to many concerts and festivals, Coolidge Park also features a restored antique carousel, interactive water fountain, and military memorial.
6. Hunter Museum of Art
Art enthusiasts, celebrate the American spirit in a setting that sits atop an elevated bluff, which not only provides a scenic view of the Tennessee River, but also colonial artwork and modern exhibits to explore.
7. Chattanooga Zoo
See more than 800 animals from more than 140 different species at Chattanooga Zoo. The Himalayan Passage is home to red pandas and snow leopards, the Gombe Forest houses the zoo's chimpanzees, and Walkin' the Tracks holds North American animals for your viewing.
8. Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
For the best ride in town, look no further than this trolley-style passenger railway. The joyride includes a steep climb to the top of Lookout Mountain past peak mountains and valleys. At the top, you can also observe Civil War points of interest.
9. Champy's Famous Fried Chicken
What Champy’s restaurant lacks in fancy décor and dinnerware, it more than makes up for it with its made-from-scratch, golden-fried, best-in-the-state chicken. Southern delicacy in all its homey comfort, you’ll feel like part of the family every time you eat here.
10. Bluff View Art District
At the epicenter of the bustling art scene in Chattanooga is Bluff View Art District, which is filled with restaurants, gardens, courtyards, an art gallery, and a historic B&B for cliff dwellers and visitors to work, play, and stay.
11. Tennessee Stillhouse
You can't visit the Volunteer State without downing a few shots of whiskey. Luckily, you can stop by for a tasting at Tennessee Stillhouse, Chattanooga’s first legal micro-distillery since Prohibition. Grab a seat at the bar and get a taste of the rich history of straight bourbon whiskey—no chaser.
12. The Riverbend Festival
The annual seven-night music festival and Chattanooga signature event takes place in June on five stages. This year’s lineup will include Morris Day and the Time, Toby Keith, Boz Scaggs, Brett Young, The Producers, and many more bands and musicians.
13. Aretha Frankensteins
Chattanooga’s little pancake diamond in the rough, the best word to describe Aretha Frankensteins is “eclectic.” Featuring a wide-range of menu items and quirky décor, you’ll soon discover why Aretha’s is the go-to place for monster-sized (thus, the name) pancakes and sandwiches, as well as beer and espresso.
14. Tennessee Riverpark
Bring the dogs, bikes, and strollers to trek this 10-mile expanse of parkland down the Tennessee River.
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15. Ruby Falls
A must-see attraction, Ruby Falls is a 145-foot underground waterfall on Lookout Mountain, where a tour guide will give you a brief history and insider’s look through the cavern.