When it comes to visiting a new destination, there’s a saying that many seasoned travelers live by: “Do as the locals do.” What better way, after all, can you get an authentic taste of a place than by following the well-trodden path of its residents—the folks who actually live, breathe, work, relax, and play there? In Chattanooga, we’re blessed with a dazzling array of must-visit star attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium and Incline Railway (which you should certainly visit if you haven’t!). But we’re also equally loaded with a deliriously delightful mix of more laidback, less-known, and local experiences. From must-try restaurants to monumentally scenic hikes, here’s a rundown of can’t-miss Chattanooga adventures according to 7 real life locals. Enjoy!
Go Hiking With the Whole Family
Chattanooga is a bona fide trail town. Within 30 minutes of downtown are roughly 50 trailheads. One of the best ways to intimately experience the hiking scene, according to Chattanooga Tourism Operations Director Michelle Lawson, is to find hiking destinations that the whole family can enjoy.
In particular, she says, “I like to take friends and family to the Indian Rockhouse [in Prentice Cooper State Forest]. It’s great for people who have never hiked before or who are novice hikers because it’s easy and not too taxing. Coming in at 30 minutes, this hike is also terrific for a multi-generational group. Grown-ups that can handle steps and kids that like to run ahead find it to be enjoyable. It’s also super dog friendly too.”
She also says, “Anyone who is more adventurous and has 2-4 hours can choose to continue along the well-marked trail to the right for 6.2 miles and enjoy the historic, majestic overlook at Snoopers Rock.”
Embrace the Trail-to-Tavern Lifestyle
If there’s one thing better than hiking, it’s got to be the big ol’ juicy burger once the hike is done. In Chattanooga, the trail-to-tavern lifestyle is about as good as it gets. According to Chattanooga Tourism Digital Marketing Specialist Jessica Hagerman, there’s one particular standout combo.
“Whenever I have family or friends in town, I always love to take them to Sunset Rock. If they’re the type, it’s really fun (and also hard) to hike up Lookout Mountain from the Nature Center in Lookout Valley and get to Sunset Rock that way. The views are just gorgeous, and I feel like that “mountain top” experience is the best way to show people what living in Chattanooga is like. I also always like to end a fun day adventuring with either Pizza Bros on Northshore or Tremont Tavern for the best burger in Chattanooga. I recommend the Pimento Burger.”
Explore the Historic Southside
If there’s one thing Chattanooga’s not in short supply of, it’s wonderful in-town neighborhoods. From the North Shore to Downtown and West Village, there’s a vibrant mix of options. One particularly can’t-miss area is the Southside Historic District.
Chattanooga Tourism Partnerships Director Allison Wolfe says this: “Whenever I have friends in town, we always spend time hopping around the Southside. There’s tons of great places to go for food & drinks, and it's such a cool area of town. There’s a ton of art, historical landmarks like the Choo Choo, and it's also where all the locals hang out.”
She says, “I’d start the day with breakfast at Bluegrass Grill, Lunch at Taqueria Jalisco Ania, and dinner at the Flying Squirrel. And, I’d probably end the night with ice cream from Clumpies and drinks at Company, the new speakeasy in the Kinley Hotel.”
Pair Pizza & Wine With Mountain Views
Just 20 minutes from downtown Chattanooga, Lookout Winery is like a little slice of Sicily on the banks of the Tennessee River. This place offers three simple (yet standout) things: delicious wine, delectable wood-fired pizzas, and downright legendary vistas of the Tennessee River, Nickajack Lake, and three-state mountain views.
According to Malik Foreman, the Business Development Manager at Chattanooga Tourism, this is THE place he always takes visiting family and friends. He says, “Go eat pizza and drink wine on Lookout Mtn at Lookout Winery and enjoy the views! The pizza and wine experience paired with the wondrous views of the mountains make this a one of a kind activity that can be enjoyed by all. Enjoy responsibly lol.”
Visit Prentice Cooper State Forest
About 20 minutes from downtown, Prentice Cooper State Forest is a place that feels many more worlds away. Perched high above the Tennessee River Gorge, it’s home to hiking trails, camping areas, off-roading opportunities, and stunning natural beauty. For Chattanooga Tourism COO Michael Zumbaugh, Prentice Cooper really is its very own adventure playground.
He says, “The best activity I’ve found so far in the Chattanooga area is visiting Prentice Cooper. We stumbled upon it by accident the summer that we first moved here in 2019. One day, we were driving around. We reached a small parking area at a deadend. Just as we were about to leave, somebody getting out of their car told us we HAD to go check out what was down the short 30-second walking trail. I am so grateful he did. We’d never heard of Snoopers Rock. The views there, as well as many other places off Tower Road, are absolutely gorgeous. We now have taken several friends & family that have come to visit us in our new city up there to check it out. It is well worth the trip!”
Take a Self-Guided Brewery Tour
In recent years, Chattanooga has well and truly established itself as a world-class place for craft beer. According to former Chattanooga Tourism Digital Marketing Manager Kami Rowe, “a self-guided brewery tour is a must.”
Her recommendation is this: “I like to start at the Tap House in St. Elmo and then work my way towards the Southside and make stops at Naked River Brewing, Chattanooga Brewing, or Heaven and Ale. On a nice spring or summer day I like to hang out on their patios or beer gardens and will rent a Boost bike and pedal from brewery to brewery.”
For Kami, “Not only do you get to try a variety of craft brews, but it's a great way to get to know Chattanooga's neighborhoods. Beertenders also tend to have some of the best recommendations for restaurants and other places to grab a drink, so it's a great way to get more insight from another local!”
Experience the City Culture
Chattanooga gets a lot of love for its outdoor offerings and scenic natural beauty. But it’s also no slouch in the cosmopolitan culture department either. From music in city parks to an urban energy that’s at once electric and easygoing, Chattanooga’s urban culture is truly exceptional.
And who better than Chattanooga Tourism’s Cultural Tourism Director Donna Elle Harrison to give her favorite picks? She says, “I absolutely love the activity downtown! The people, the energy…with the Nightfall Music Concert Series I really enjoy the energy of our local musicians jamming out, and the movement of people dancing and living life. And let’s not forget the smell of every restaurant within walking distance! I also love running miles on our riverfront, hitting all of our beautiful bridges, and seeing people at all fitness levels being active, enjoying friends and family, and enjoying life!”
However you spend your weekend in Chattanooga, be sure to chat with some locals and get their opinions on the best things to do. They’ll be more than happy to help!