Clean & Safe Itineraries: Spring Edition
Spring in Chattanooga is bursting with outdoor fun and fresh foliage to delight your senses. If you’re like us, then you can’t wait to get away this spring to see something new or return to an old favorite (that view from Rock City? Yes, please!). Chattanooga’s ridges, river and valleys are here for your spring exploring, and we want you and your family to have a happy, healthy time. Let our Clean & Safe Itinerary: Spring Edition show you the way.
What You Should Know
There is currently a mask mandate in Chattanooga. If you're in need of one, we’ve got you. Check out the exclusive Chattanooga masks in our online store (and lots of other goodies)! Our attractions, restaurants, and businesses are working overtime to make sure you and your family have a safe visit. You’ll see enhanced cleaning, markers for keeping that safe, 6-foot distance and new seating and entrance/exit flow at lots of places around town. Remember to physically distance whenever possible and of course, have fun!
Start your morning breakfast at the Blue Plate, Chattanooga’s metropolitan diner, with lots of outdoor seating and a beautiful front-row view of the Tennessee River. Contemporary comfort food, mixed drinks, and house desserts are their specialties. Their food is chef-prepared from scratch using homegrown ingredients from local farms, bakeries, and ice cream shops. No matter what time of day, the best thing to order are the pancakes which are made with a local pancake mix from Aretha’s!
Why settle for a single Spring Break destination? The Tennessee Aquarium’s Global Passport program offers kids a bona fide globe-trot without leaving the Chattanooga Riverfront! Armed with a print-at-home passport, visitors will meet animals from every continent under the iconic glass peaks of the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings.
Next door, discover where our nation’s ﬁrst and highest military award for valor was presented (hint: Chattanooga) with a visit to the new Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. Kids will enjoy the interactive exhibits that totally immerse them in our nation’s history.
Walk next door to lunch at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant. They have live pickin’ performances just a few feet from your table and serve authentic comfort food like barbecue, smoked slow ‘n’ low over cherry wood, home-cooked sides and even a few upscale dishes like a delectable, hand-cut filet mignon.
Head over to the Creative Discovery Museum, where your kids can try out being an archaeologist, musician or outdoor adventurer through interactive exhibits. Dig for dinosaur bones at Excavation Station, play your own song on a steel pan from Trinidad and Tobago in Performing Arts Alley or learn to set up camp and build a fire at The Great Indoors exhibit! Mask and advance tickets are required.
Next, let your kids (and kids at heart) become Rock Climbers and scale more than 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor climbing walls at High Point Climbing & Fitness.
Enjoy dinner with a view at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar, located on the Tennessee Riverwalk (around the two-mile marker from downtown) and started by locals Karen and Lawton Haygood. The restaurant provides a gorgeous view of the Tennessee River, outdoor patio dining and an eclectic menu that includes traditional dishes, variety of wood fire grilled house specialties, fresh juice cocktails, raw oyster bar and much more. Dining at the Boathouse is a long-standing tradition for Chattanoogans. The outdoor patio provides a perfect setting for fresh air and physical distancing.
Begin your day on Lookout Mountain! Kids can be a RockQuest Adventurer at Rock City, where they’ll fall in love with geology through a special Geode Crush activity. Pick up a RockQuest Guide that will help you look for clues to many of the geological wonders throughout Rock City.
Next, venture underground as a Cave Explorer at Ruby Falls and discover natural wonders hidden deep within Lookout Mountain. Kids and their families become adventurous Cave Explorers as they journey with a guide to discover the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States.
After lunch, try on being a Zookeeper at the Chattanooga Zoo and encounter chimpanzees, jaguars, komodo dragons, red pandas, meerkats, and more. Chat with zookeepers to learn about the animals and how to care for them, watch zookeepers train chimpanzees, tour different areas of the zoo and so much more. The zoo contains lots of outdoor areas, perfect for letting your kids roam freely in the fresh air (letting mom and dad catch a breath too).
Next, explore the 33-acre, outdoor Sculpture Fields at Montague Park, located in the Southside District and curated and designed by world-renowned artist John Henry. The park is filled with 27 large-scale sculptures by artists across the country including John Henry, Mark di Suvero, Linda Howard, John Clement, Jesús Moroles, Neltje, and many more. International artists include Claus Moor, Jan Meyer-Rogge, and Heinz Aeschlimann. This non-profit outdoor museum also includes sprawling walking paths for outdoor recreation, beautifully landscaped gardens, special events, free parking, restrooms and plenty of green space for yoga, flying kites and picnics. Park is dog friendly (wags tail).
Explore the West Village, a newly revitalized area between W ML King Blvd. and 7th Street and Chestnut and Pine Streets. Anchored by the Westin Chattanooga, the West Village is a European-style district with pedestrian-friendly cobblestone streets and public art like a fun umbrella alleyway. Restaurants include Easy Bistro, Alimentari Café & Market, Old Gilman Grill and Paloma. A variety of other eateries and shops include Innside, Peet’s Coffee, Pinkberry, Fox & Fern, The Strand and more.
All aboard! Wake up with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and be a Conductor aboard a rumbling locomotive train. Travel along one of the original rail lines into Chattanooga. Families can step aboard the train and be Conductors on the 55-minute Missionary Ridge Local excursion.
Head downtown for lunch on the bluff. The Bluff View Art District offers multiple options and outdoor seating at Rembrandt’s Coffee House and Tony’s Pasta Shop.
After lunch, let your kids embrace their inner Shutterbug within the grounds of the Bluff View Art District. Set atop the bluffs above the Tennessee River, the district is made up of two restaurants, a coffee shop, a B&B (consists of 3 homes), a gallery, two museums, bocce court and an outdoor sculpture garden. As a Shutterbug Adventurer, your kids will get to develop their photography skills as they discover the Bluff View Art District through the lens of a camera. The Bluff makes their own bread, pastries, pasta and chocolates; roasts their own coffee; and grows several herbs in their garden. With a unique mixture of Southern charm and European flavor, this spot offers an escape within the city.
Next, be a Budding Artist at the Hunter Museum of American Art and be inspired by the exhibitions, collections, and architecture throughout. Start exploring the paintings, works on paper, sculptures, photography, mixed media and contemporary studio glass, covering a range of styles and periods.
Enjoy an evening cruise as a Time Traveler aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat and explore Cherokee and Civil War sites along the Tennessee River. As a Time Traveler, relax and imagine that you are cruising down the mighty Tennessee River during the 1800s while a narrator explains how the river served as a catalyst for growth for the city; the significance of the river during the Civil War; the history of various Cherokee sites; and how Ross’s Landing was a trading post for early settlers.
Explore the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel & Entertainment Complex, located in the Southside District, which has been undergoing major renovations. New additions include: Nic & Norman’s Restaurant, Frothy Monkey, STIR, American Draft, Regan’s Place, Westbound Bar, Gate 11 Distillery (for the parents), Refinery 423, Sweetly Southern, Back Stage Bar (again, parents) and The Comedy Catch. Enter the hotel lobby and look up into the 108-year-old Terminal Station dome, explore Glenn Miller Gardens and stroll Station Street. The former alleyway was renovated to be pedestrian friendly, providing patio access to the restaurants and entertainment venues and outdoor space for special events (it’s also Chattanooga’s only open-container street i.e. space for kids to run free and parents to enjoy – if that’s your thing). Across the street from the Choo Choo, there’s Terminal Brewhouse, Chattanooga Whiskey, the Hot Chocolatier, Wildflower Tea, Blue Orleans, the South Station for the free electric shuttle, and much more.
Where to Stay
Want to be able to walk to activities and dining downtown? Try the new Hotel Indigo, The Edwin Hotel by the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge or the historic Read House Hotel in the center of downtown. If you’re planning a trip for mid-spring, experience the new Kinley Hotel, which is accepting reservations at the end of April 2021. It’s right across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel and entertainment complex (so much to see, eat and do!).
If letting the kids run wild in nature is more your speed this spring, consider renting a cabin for a home away from home (we could all use some more space at the moment, right?).
Can’t Miss Family Experiences
You simply can’t spend spring in Chattanooga and not visit the Tennessee Aquarium and at least one (or all) of the Lookout Mountain attractions (Rock City, Incline Railway, and Ruby Falls). All have timed ticketing to reduce crowds, so be sure to buy your tickets in advance online.
For more outdoor play, Coolidge Park features interactive water fountains, a 100-year-old carousel and loads of green acres to physically distance, while remaining social with your family. There are plenty of sweet treat options on the NorthShore like Clumpies Ice Cream Co. and Julie Darling Donuts. Grab a snack, then stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.
In the afternoon, hop on the Chattanooga Ducks for an amphibious look at the Scenic City and a one-hour narrated tour.
For another outdoor adventure – especially for animal lovers – the Chattanooga Zoo is a crowd pleaser. Think cute red pandas, monkeys, jaguars, a petting zoo area and camel rides (on weekends).
One of our favorites during spring is the open-air Chattanooga Market, where you can sample local fresh eats and take home the season’s bounty for healthy feasting. The market is held each Sunday (April-November) and named one of Frommer’s top 10 public markets.
Always Time for Play
There’s always more time for play, and spring in Chattanooga is full of action. The Creative Discovery Museum is a great escape for all ages up to about 12. Besides a two-story water play section and a simulated archeological dig, kids can explore the spring exhibit, the Great Indoors. Learn to put up a tent and other sometimes daunting but useful need-to-know tips to explore the outdoors (or your backyard). Don’t forget to register online for your timed ticket in advance.
For the daring, try scaling the outside wall at High Point Climbing and Fitness, a premier rock climbing facility. High Point caters to beginners as well as the advanced climbers, all right in the heart of downtown.
Nearby, a Chattanooga Lookouts baseball game (April-September*) is the perfect way to unwind on a warm spring night. (*Check schedule online due to changes amid COVID).
A Walk Through History
You could have a full day of interactive learning as history lessons abound in Chattanooga. Tour the new Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center to learn how the first medals were awarded for actions during the Civil War in Chattanooga.
Civil War history continues at the Chickamauga Battlefield and Lookout Mountain’s Point Park. Both are units of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and provide endless outdoor opportunities from trails for biking and running to scenic overlooks.
Within the national park, Moccasin Bend is the country’s first designated archaeological district, containing Native American artifacts from 12,000 years ago. On the other side of the Tennessee River, an art and water feature called The Passage commemorates the Trail of Tears, which originated in Chattanooga. The national park units are a great lesson on history and a safe option for outdoor, physically distanced activities.
For a city full of train history, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum brings it all to life. Train excursions range from 55 minutes to 8 hours depending on the route (all aboard!). Be sure to register online in advance of your trip.
Even More Outdoors!
Outdoor offerings are all around you in Chattanooga, including world-class rock climbing, hang gliding, hiking, whitewater rafting and more. If you have an advanced crew, consider one of the 6 best hiking trails on Lookout Mountain.
For Younger Adventurers
Glen Falls Trail on Lookout Mountain is perfect for any age. It’s about 10 minutes from downtown, has very little elevation change and is less than a mile’s walk to an enchanting waterfall, rock tunnel and wading pool.
On the other side of the mountain, Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center offers 317 acres of dense forest. Paddle down Lookout Creek, visit the Wildlife Wanderland for a possible glimpse of a bobcat or red wolf, ride/walk the 3-mile Reflection Riding Loop or zip through the trees on a Swincar.
Raccoon Mountain offers beautiful views of downtown and miles of hiking/biking trails around its breathtaking reservoir, a 1.2-mile manmade lake that powers the pumped storage plant.
For fresh air and awe-inspiring views, you must try hang gliding (well, unless you’re afraid of heights). Chattanooga is home to the largest hang gliding school in the world! You can fly tandem, take lessons or just watch the pros take off and land. Kids as young as 4 are welcome.