3-Day Family Vacation
Day One Morning:
You’ll want to make the Tennessee Aquarium your first stop in Chattanooga. It opens at 10 a.m. and takes a minimum of two hours to explore. Ticket prices include both buildings, so you won't miss a thing. Along your journey you’ll see cuddly penguins and otters, alligators and sturgeon, and hundreds of fluttering butterflies in the rooftop garden. But for a chance to get some real close one-on-one interaction with the animals and their caretakers, grab yourself a Backstage Pass. You'll get a VIP experience and see how the animals are cared for by the expert staff. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to kid-friendly Mellow Mushroom or Big River Grille for a melt-down free lunch.
Day One Afternoon:
Head over to the Classic Arcade Pinball Museum to experience an interactive museum filled with classic arcade games and pinball machines dating back to the 1940s. Show your kids two of America’s pastimes while also learning the history behind each machine and if your little ones still have boundless energy, take a stroll across the Walnut Street Walking Bridge – one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. Across the river is the NorthShore historic district, where you'll find several boutiques, art galleries, and various restaurants.
Head down to Coolidge Park to run around on the expansive green lawn and ride the beautifully restored 100-year-old carousel. If it’s hot, expect to see local kids playing in the water play fountain. There are places to change if you feel like packing suits.
Day One Evening:
Options abound for dinner, but some kid-friendly spots include Good Dog, a restaurant devoted to hot dogs topped with fresh, local ingredients, and Taco Mamacita, which offers exceptionally fresh tacos, enchiladas, and margaritas. Both are located on the NorthShore. For downtown choices, Sticky Fingers barbeque, Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, and Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria in the Bluff View Art District are all good bets.
Day Two Morning:
With images of river sturgeon and catfish still dancing in their heads, a water tour will be well received by little explorers. Starting in April, the Chattanooga Ducks offers a kid-centric tour that winds through downtown streets before plunging into the Tennessee River for a cruise around Maclellan Island. The amphibious tour is made possible by the DUKW boat, nicknamed Duck, which was used in WWII for water landings. Corny jokes and duck-billed noisemakers come standard with every trip. The Southern Belle boasts panoramic views of the riverfront and Lookout Mountain aboard a vintage steamboat. Take a leisurely cruise and learn about the Tennessee River's history, legends, and places. Afterwards, let the kids explore Ross’ Landing and the Tennessee Riverpark, which offers water cannons, a waterfall down The Passage stairs, and a small playground overlooking the river. For lunch, try Blue Plate Restaurant; its large green space in front is good for blowing off steam while waiting for a table.
Day Two Afternoon:
Journey to the Chattanooga Zoo for a trip through an African forest, South American jungle, and Himalayan Passage. Check out the monkeys, jaguars, snow leopards, red pandas, and a variety of different animals from around the world. You can even feed an African pygmy goat. Touring the zoo takes about an hour to hour and a half.
Next, head to the Creative Discovery Museum, where kids can splash in a manmade “river,” dig for dinosaur bones in the sand, or make beautiful music with a Djembe or harp. The three-story Lookout Tour provides a bird’s eye view of downtown, or kids can hoist themselves up with the simple pulleys and levers at the Rooftop Fun Factory. Smaller children (2-4) have their own play area complete with a kitchen, train set, and treehouse but will enjoy the entire museum (at their own pace).
If pure fun is what you're after, take a 15-minute drive outside of Downtown Chattanooga to a classic American amusement park loaded with fun for the whole family. Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park (open April-October) is the South's favorite amusement park, and features the recently added SOAKya water park (open memorial day weekend to labor day weekend).
Day Two Evening:
For dinner, Lupi’s Pizza is kid-friendly but also appealing to adult palates thanks to local ingredients and a substantial beer selection. If you’re seeking something a little more upscale, try Easy Bistro. Adults will enjoy the seasonal menu featuring the best of what local farms have to offer paired with filet mignon, bison ribeye, or local trout. A kid-friendly menu and crayons keep everyone happy.
If you have older ones in tow, a movie at the Majestic 12 is always a crowd-pleaser. But for all ages, High Point Climbing and Fitness offers indoor and outdoor climbing right in the heart of Downtown with a special section for kids that's unlike any other. Once you've perfected your skills, try out bouldering, sport climbing, or traditional climbing at one of Chattanooga's local climbing spots on a Guided Outdoor Climbing Tour.
Options abound if you plan to spend three or more days in Chattanooga. Once you’ve hit the highlights of downtown, Chattanooga’s many area attractions are worth the drive. For a complete outline of regional highlights head to Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways. The Tanasi Trail or Pie in the Sky routes outline virtually every attraction in the Tennessee Valley.
For the history lovers, take an hour to visit the new National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, which was specifically designed to engage and inspire future generations. You’ll learn about Chattanooga’s unique history with our nation’s highest military award for valor. And even more important, you will inspire your family with the values demonstrated by Medal of Honor recipients - patriotism, citizenship, courage, integrity, sacrifice and commitment.
If you have any train buffs in the family, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a must-see. Located just outside of downtown Chattanooga, this moving museum offers several ways to ride the rails. Smaller children will enjoy the Missionary Ridge Local, a 55-minute ride to the East Chattanooga station where passengers disembark to watch a 17th-century turntable in action. Once turned around riders re-board to return to the main station, passing back through the famous Missionary Ridge tunnel, completed in 1858. The entire trip takes less than an hour. Bigger kids may enjoy longer rides, which can span six to eight hours round-trip and journey to North Georgia (most include a long layover for exploring).
Another great all-day excursion is Lookout Mountain, which features one of the world’s steepest passenger trains, the nation’s largest and deepest waterfall open to the public, and a chance to see seven states from one spot. If you want to devote the day to it, a triple play pass is the way to go which grants access to the Incline Railway, Ruby Falls, and Rock City. After a day of exploring, swing by St. Elmo's Naughty Cat Cafe and then grab a bite to eat at 1885 Grill or Mr. T's Pizza followed by a scoop or two of unique, small-batch ice cream at Clumpies Ice Cream Co. Enjoy flavors like Firecracker, Espresso Chocolate Chunk, and Nutella Crunch. (Flavors rotate regularly, so don’t make any promises.)