When it comes to playing tourist in Chattanooga, you’ve got some decisions to make. For traditional sightseers, there’s a glittering array of options: Rock City, Ruby Falls, the Incline Railway, the Tennessee Aquarium, the list goes on. What about the types of tourists that want to tailor their experiences toward something a little more on their own terms? Conversely, what about the locals who want to experience their city with a clean slate and expectations anew? Luckily, Chattanooga’s diversity of options make it the perfect place to discover and rediscover(!) plenty of things many times over, for both visitors and locals alike.
Here are a couple of insider itineraries designed to help you find Chattanooga’s hidden-in-plain-sight gems. They will be unveiled as a series of mix-and-match experiences. Some you’ll maybe have heard of, some maybe you haven’t. All will be paired together in thematic packages based on various vibes of exploration. From waterfall tours to brew tours, here’s how EVERYONE can play tourist in Chattanooga.
For Outdoor Enthusiasts
First up, Chattanooga’s outdoor scene. Twice labeled Outside Magazine’s Best Town Ever, the mountains, trails and crags in the area are what make Chattanooga, well... Chattanooga.
Chase Chattanooga Waterfalls
Chattanooga is home to a wide variety of waterfalls. String together a few of them for a unique way to experience The Scenic City. On Lookout Mountain, one particularly great option—especially for families looking for something quick and easy—is Glen Falls. After a quick half-mile stroll you reach the base of the falls, where you can stand on a small footbridge and watch it drop into a wishing-well plunge pool. Afterward, hop in the car and head to the Lula Lake Land Trust only about a 12-minute drive away. Here, you’ll find one of the biggest, most spectacular waterfalls in the area: Lula Falls, a 110-foot beauty that crashes in a spraying mist on the rocks below.
On Signal Mountain, three waterfalls stand out. Two, you can reach in one fell swoop on a simple 5-mile hike: Julia Falls and Rainbow Falls. One is viewed from far across the Middle Creek Gorge from Julia Falls Overlook, an expansive view that also showcases a great Tennessee River Gorge panorama. You can’t actually access Rainbow Falls via an established trail (and please don’t go off trail!), but if you’ve got a keen eye and keen ear, you can catch a glimpse of this powerful falls through the trees and will certainly hear its roar. On the opposite brow of Signal Mountain is Falling Water Falls—a 110-foot falls with a fantastic view of the North Chick Creek Gorge and the Soddy Daisy Valley.
Want something a little different from hiking? In summer months, head to Adventure Sports Innovation, on Chattanooga’s North Shore, to find some wacky ways to hit the water (think hoverboards and other stuff straight from a science-fiction novel). In all other months, head to the Lookout Mountain Flight Park—one of the world’s preeminent hang gliding schools. Tandem flights are a great way to get a safe birds-eye view of the sport. If you fall in love, there are all sorts of training packages that can ramp up your expertise, so that you can take a solo jump off the ramp itself. “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Find the Best Scenic Overlooks
Use this super handy guide, and take a tour of Chattanooga’s most picturesque panoramas. From Lookout Mountain’s Point Park and Sunset Rock, to Signal Mountain’s Julia Falls Overlook and Edwards Point, there are dozens of places to find a scenic view.
For Art Lovers
Chattanooga has enjoyed a major renaissance in the last couple of decades as a cultural hotspot, and what good is a cultural renaissance without art? Here are a couple ways to experience Chattanooga’s art scene.
Take a Mural Tour
The public arts scene in Chattanooga is becoming more robust by the day. Spearheading this movement is a colorful and downright spectacular collection of public murals. From MLK’s giant 40,000-square-foot mural—so big, you can see it from the top of Lookout Mountain—to pizza and doughnut murals in the historic Southside neighborhood, there are plenty of spots to see some art (and yes, capture some super Instagrammable moments, too).
From the River Gallery Sculpture Garden atop the Bluff View Arts District, to the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park, Chattanooga has a ton of real estate dedicated exclusively to sculpture. The former features a great view of the river in addition to the sculpture. The latter features 33 acres and over 40 large-scale art installations. Beyond these behemoths, there are plenty of other smaller scale sculpture spots in the city in parks like Coolidge and Miller Plaza as well as sprinkled along various sections of the Tennessee River Walk, and more.
For Food & Drink Aficionados
Sure, activities are great, but we all know the real reason to visit or settle down in any place: Burgers. And beer. And all sorts of other food and drink delights. In order to enjoy all of this safely, restaurants and bars throughout the city are encouraging outdoor dining and taking other safety precautions, such as mandatory mask wearing, limited capacity, and social distancing. So carry on, and grab some food and fun at these unique Chattanooga establishments.
Local Brewery Tour
Whether you take a self-guided tour or something more formally organized by a local group like ChattaBrew Tour, you’ll find no shortage of sudsy spots to have a local craft brew in Chattanooga. On each side of Finley Stadium (the home of Chattanooga FC & the UTC Mocs), are two must-visits: Chattanooga Brewing Company, the original craft brewery in the area, and the relative new kid on the block Naked River Brewery, a great place to sip a brew while letting your dog off leash in the outdoor astroturf area. In the MLK area, Oddstory and Hutton & Smith are two stalwarts just a stone’s throw from one another. Just down the road from those is Wanderlinger, a taproom that doubles as a great music venue. Finally, it’d be remiss not to mention Heaven & Ale Brewery—a once small taproom on the North Shore that is now a fully operational brewery with two locations, one on the North Shore and one on Main Street in Chattanooga’s Southside. For a refreshing, hoppy taste of Chattanooga, there aren’t many better ways than a local brew tour.
Find Your Burger
You might think a burger—a meat patty with a bun—would be a pretty straightforward food staple. But the variance between the things is staggering. Thankfully, Chattanooga is home to a wide variety of burger styles dished out from an equally wide variety of spots. No matter what your mood or personality, find the perfect burger for you.
Cocktail Tour of Chattanooga’s Hotel Bars
In recent years, a number of swanky hotels have popped up in Chattanooga. The best thing about a swanky hotel? The swanky hotel bar that goes with it. At the base of the Walnut Street Bridge, the Edwin Hotel’s bar The Whiskey Thief offers upscale cocktails and one of the best rooftop views in the city. In Chattanooga’s West Village, the Westin Hotel’s rooftop bar gives Whiskey Thief a run for its money with dizzying views of Lookout Mountain. Elsewhere, the Moxy caters to younger crowds with various games (like billiards, foosball, giant Jenga) and a huge outdoor patio. The latest hotel to join the mix with an outdoor rooftop bar is the tried-and-true Chattanoogan, a hotel that’s been secretly serving one of the best brunches in the city for years and can now claim a must-visit rooftop bar as well. It would be impressive if you manage to string together all four of these hotels on one cocktail-themed tour, but you’d be in for one grand old time.