Much has been written about Chattanooga’s transformation in the last thirty years—how it went from struggling post-industrial town to booming tech hub and bona fide outdoor epicenter. Outlets from The New York Times to Business Insider to Travel and Leisure have covered the Scenic City’s seismic metamorphosis. For me, a 29-year-old copywriter born and raised here, who now writes about travel and the outdoors for a living, this coverage was only a matter of time.
These days, Chattanooga possesses the easy, slow charm of a history-rich southern town mixed with the bustling cosmopolitan energy of a modern city. Here’s how to make the most of your visit, according to a lifelong local.
What to Do
When they say Chattanooga is a great outdoor town, boy do they mean it. In the summer, the city boasts world-class mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and stand-up paddleboarding. In winter, there’s incredible sandstone rock climbing and whitewater paddling. Most of the hiking in the city is concentrated in two areas: Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain. Both have tons of trails, and both are located just twenty minutes outside the city center.
On Lookout, the go-to hike is Cravens House to Sunset Rock. It’s a three-mile round-trip route that provides sprawling views of towering sandstone cathedrals, Lookout Valley, Raccoon Mountain, and once at the summit downtown Chattanooga.
On Signal, the hike of choice is the 5.8-mile round-trip route from Signal Point to Edward’s Point. You’ll see breathtaking views including a beautiful vista of a distant waterfall from the Julia Falls Overlook about a mile in, and experience a fun, wobbly jaunt over a swinging bridge that crosses over Middle Creek Gorge.
The most intimate way to experience any new city is by walking. Thankfully, Chattanooga has a number of diverse downtown pockets, each of which offers a distinctly different lens through which to experience the city.
The Walking Bridge
The most iconic walk in Chattanooga is the Walnut Street Bridge (or “Walking Bridge”), which is one of the world’s longest pedestrian-only bridges. To make the most of it, start in the Bluff View Art District to begin your half-mile stroll across the bridge, which offers spectacular views on all sides. Once across, stroll Frazier Avenue, where there are cute shops, a bookstore, a German brewpub, and a number of other restaurants.
Is That the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
In Chattanooga’s Southside, the most notable attraction is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a gorgeous train station housed in a historic building from 1906. The space has been completely transformed in recent years and features everything from train-car bars and spacious cafés, to comedy stages and guitar museums. Be sure to peruse the premises while enjoying open container policies in the Glen Miller outdoor gardens.
The New Block on the Block
Chattanooga’s newest downtown neighborhood, West Village, shouldn’t be missed. For families, there are all sorts of events that take place throughout the year—from light shows to art exhibits. For younger folks looking for entertaining nightlife, there are a handful of notable thrills, including the Westin Hotel, one of Chattanooga’s premier rooftop bars.
The Brewpub Corridor
Located near the college campus of UTC, the historic MLK Boulevard area has in recent years experienced a [beer-fueled] renaissance. Once a groovy epicenter for blues and jazz in the 1920s, the area is now home to a number of bars and breweries, worthy of a self-guided crawl. Don’t miss Oddstory Brewing with its inventive brews and frequent live music, Hutton and Smith, a tiny space big on fun, or The Bitter Alibi, a divey basement bar. Nearby to MLK is Chestnut Street, another newly revitalized strip with cozy bars, like The Mad Priest, and a telephone-booth style speakeasy, London Calling.
What to Eat and Drink
The food and drink scene in Chattanooga has skyrocketed in recent years. There’s a veritable smorgasbord of options, from James Beard-nominated restaurants to down-home burger joints to new-wave vegan and vegetarian options.
Start your morning off right at one of the many craft coffee joints dotted all over the city. Notable mentions are Velo, Mean Mug (two locations), The Camp House, Goodman’s, +Coffee, and The Frothy Monkey. If you are looking for something a bit heftier head to The Daily Ration in the North Shore, which has a great outdoor patio. For an upscale array of oysters, pastry platters, and fried chicken sandwiches, make a visit to Easy Bistro.
For lunch and dinner options Lupi’s is the bona fide incumbent for pizza. But newcomers Community Pie and Fiamma are not far behind. Mojo Burrito is Chattanooga’s original burrito joint, and for tacos, head to Taqueria Jalisco or Taco Mamacita. If you just want a burger there are two local favorites, Main Street Meats and The Tremont Tavern. The former might take the patty, er, cake for pure quality and taste, but the latter’s atmosphere is unbeatable. Finally, Alleia, the Tuscan love child of James Beard-nominated chef Daniel Lindley, is for fine Italian dining.
There is no shortage of options for places to grab a drink in this city either, it just depends on what you are in the mood for. Matilda Midnight is a chic hotel bar in the heart of downtown with inventive cocktails and even more innovative décor. The Flying Squirrel has friendly waitstaff and addicting garlic fries. Finally, the Tremont Tavern is a neighborhood pub with long beer lists, and an even longer list of regulars who come in weekly for burgers, beer, and camaraderie.
If you’re worried you won’t be able to experience the bounty of Chattanooga in a single weekend, that’s fair. I can confirm even a lifetime in the city won’t be enough to accomplish all there is to do. Happy Travels!