Birmingham may like to think of Chattanooga as a younger sibling, but what this Tennessee destination lacks in size and stature, it more than makes up for in spunk and determination. Noted as one of the most revitalized cities in America, Chattanooga has received countless accolades from both national and regional publications. It’s widely deemed affordable, accessible, walkable, and family-friendly.

Surrounded by mountains and the Tennessee River, the city has twice been dubbed “The Best Town Ever” by Outside magazine. National Geographic Adventure magazine called it one of the “Best Adventure Towns in the U.S. to Live and Play.” The coolest part? It’s only a very short drive from Birmingham—and it offers a completely different playground from our own.

Besides stunning views of the surrounding mountains, Chattanooga offers its own style of fantastic dining and shopping venues, a burgeoning music scene, and plenty of outlets for family fun year round. Pack your weekender bag, hop in the car, and don’t forget this handy guide for our favorite places to stay and play.

ARRIVE: Chattanooga is an easy and scenic drive from Birmingham. Try to get there in time for lunch at Taco Mamacita, a street food, Tex-Mex restaurant on the North Shore. Everything is made in-house daily. Mix and match your tacos, and add a side of Jalapeño Corn Slaw. Cool off the spicy dishes with a glass of Passion Fruit Sangria. The outdoor patio is especially nice in the fall.

Be sure to save room for homemade gelato next door at Milk & Honey. Just like its sister restaurants—Taco Mamacita, Community Pie, Clyde’s on Main, and Urban Stack—Milk & Honey opts for fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Get a Watermelon and Honey to go, and enjoy it while walking over to Coolidge Park, Want to feel like a kid again? Take a whirl on the refurbished 100-year-old carousel, then stick a toe in the fountain and splash pad overlooking the river.

LATE AFTERNOON: For the best sunset views, stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge—one of the longest pedestrian-only bridges in the world. Crossing the Tennessee River, it connects the North Shore to downtown and lands you at the Bluff View Arts District and the Hunter Museum of Art. Part historic mansion and part super-cool contemporary venue, the museum is built on top of a 90-foot limestone bluff overlooking the river and boasts one of the finest collections of American art in the Southeast. Grab a seat at Tony’s to feast on an Italian dinner with a stunning view. For a light-hearted and entertaining tour of the city, sign up for Chattanooga Ghost Tours. Be sure to make your reservation ahead of time. This walking tour winds through local landmarks and offers a deeper look at the historic side of Chattanooga.

MORNING: Enjoy a convenient breakfast at your hotel, Springhill Suites by Marriott Chattanooga Downtown/Cameron Harbor.

Then hop on one of the bikes from the Bike Chattanooga transit system. This station, just outside the hotel, is one of 33 locations throughout the city, making it easy to leave your car in park. Cruise along the Tennessee River to the Tennessee Aquarium and spend your morning discovering the habitats of both fresh and saltwater fish. You’ll come face to face with alligators, penguins, and stingrays. Watch out for hitchhikers in the butterfly garden. Before you head to lunch, stop by and marvel at The Passage, just outside the aquarium. Designed by Native Americans, the fountain stair is a tribute to the Cherokee Indians and commemorates the Trail of Tears.

LUNCH: Walk (or bike) across the street to the Blue Plate for a fresh twist on the Southern meat-and-three. Try the Buttermilk Fried Chicken plate for a hefty serving that won’t disappoint.

AFTERNOON: Burn off plenty of calories just around the corner at High Point Climbing and Fitness, an indoor (and outdoor) gym that offers more than 30,000 square feet of walls for climbing. This vertical playground offers challenging climbs for advanced athletes as well as easier rises for kids and beginners.

NOTE: Birmingham will soon have a Hwy. 280 location of the Chattanooga-owned business.

LATE AFTERNOON: Catch the Free Electric Shuttle and ride on over to Warehouse Row for a little shopping. Home to offices as well as chain and locally-owned retail shops and restaurants, the mixed use development is located in a row of nine revitalized brick warehouses that once served Chattanooga’s rail and shipping industry. Don’t miss a leisurely browse through Revival, a two-story homes store full of antiques and modern furniture, lighting, and accessories, as well as luxury gifts. The gorgeous vignettes are awe-inspiring.

DINNER: Make a reservation at Public House. Enjoy fresh, straight-forward, locally-sourced food with just enough gourmet touches to make it worthy of special occasions yet perfect for everyday dining. Even the kids will love the (healthy and delicious) three-course menu.

BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT OF TOWN: No trip to Chattanooga is complete without stopping at Rock City and Ruby Falls. These Americana institutions are as intriguing today as they were when first developed in the early 1900s. Both parks are pristine, well-managed, and offer natural and manmade curiosities to enchant kids and adults alike.

Written by: Cathy Still McGowin
Published in: September/October

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