Nestled against the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga, Tenn., has transformed itself in recent decades from an unassuming town to a hyper clean, high-tech (“Gig City” was the first in the United States to offer gigabit internet speeds), outdoorsy family destination that offers hiking trails, rock climbing, museums, one of the finest educational aquariums in the world, and innumerable food and entertainment venues.

Families can share experiences that lean more toward kayaking and mountain biking than meeting Mickey or riding Space Mountain, though the region has a number of its own natural rides (white-water rafting on the nearby Ocoee River, for example, and Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding school is just 20 minutes away). The region “where cotton meets corn” is evident in Chattanooga’s straddling of two cultures:  the mountain communities of Southern Appalachia to the north and the cotton-growing states to the south. Nearly geeky in its optimism — and all the better for it —  Chattanooga is a breath of fresh air.

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Published by The New York Times on May 24, 2018: Written by Colleen Creamer