On a recent end-of-semester celebratory getaway to Lookout Mountain, my travel buddy and I made the half hour drive over to Chattanooga for a city day trip. As Georgians, our understanding of Chattanooga was limited to landmark tourist attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City, the Incline Railway, and Ruby Falls — things we had seen and done on family holidays.
Photo courtesy of Sean Pavone via Shutterstock.
These are what make Chattanooga an ideal family getaway, but could the same be said for two people in their mid-twenties? We decided to find out using a simple approach: park the car, walk around and see for ourselves.
It didn’t take long for us to realize Chattanooga was not only a good city for young people, but one that exceeded our (Atlanta-biased) expectations.
We parked our car in the Bluff View Art District and stopped at Rembrandt’s Coffee House who, by the way have potentially the country’s most mouth-watering frappe menu, with flavors like Oreo, Green Tea, Turtle and Reese’s Cup. This neighborhood is particularly perfect for lingering with a coffee then taking your time to really drink in the many sculptures, local businesses and galleries. Tip: from the sculpture garden you’ll get a stunning view of the Tennessee River, the calm water complemented by the striking variety of sculptures that overlook it.
And that was just the beginning.
Missed opportunity: Getting to check out the art found in River Gallery to see the work of local and national artists that you couldn’t see from a sidewalk.
We decided to keep our walk going, heading toward the bridges that stretched over the river. Unbeknownst to us, this meant picking up the Chattanooga Riverwalk portion of the Tennessee Riverpark trail, which runs 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Chickamauga Dam to Downtown Chattanooga.
From the Arts District we crossed the Walnut Street Bridge, passing Coolidge Park and reentering the city. Along the sidewalk of Frazier Street we stumbled over the bronze dance feet that, with their accompanying numbers and dotted lines and arrows, cheerfully teach pedestrians the hokey pokey, the waltz, the mambo, and the twist.
After a waltz (or two), we recrossed the river via the Market Street/John Ross Bridge, ending up next to the aquarium. The paths along the river bank itself were quieter, even historic; you can walk past a replica of the Bluff Furnace — which stands in the place of the original, built by Robert Cravens, which was excavated in 1981 by University of Tennessee – Chattanooga archaeologists — and amphitheater that are tucked under the bridge.
What started as a brief stroll quickly turned into a scenic and textured mini-hike.
Photo courtesy of Sean Pavone via Shutterstock.
Missed opportunity: Renting a bike from Bike Chattanooga for a mobility boost, especially since neither of us has done a bike share, though one will be coming to Atlanta soon.
It’s clear Chattanooga is a city that prides itself on supporting local businesses, and after Rembrandt’s we discovered a follow-up coffee shop — my travel buddy works as a barista — that was worth the trip in itself: Revelator Coffee Company. The fact that they source complex green coffees that celebrate seasonality and terroir was easily discovered through the palate, and their iced coffee gave us the energy boost we needed to continue our walk.
Missed opportunity: Trying a Chestnut Street Brown Ale during a brewery tour of Chattanooga Brewing Co and a treat from the MoonPie General Store and Chattanooga Bakery. Yum!
As we headed back up the mountain to our cabin on Lookout Mountain (one we found for a steal on VRBO), we thought it might be worth stopping at Ruby Falls for a visit. Upon learning that admission was a steep $20 and seeing the lobby overrun with tourists, something quieter and truer to the area felt like a better fit for us. We jumped back in the car, rerouted and ended up at Point Park, a battlefield enclave of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Photo courtesy of Rob Hainer via Shutterstock.
A $6 ticket provided a guided tour with an enthusiastic park ranger, dipping in and out of his talk of the history of the battles and Chattanooga to snap pictures of unobstructed city views and to explore the historic markers and structures scattered around the park. Disappointed by what we found at Ruby Falls, Point Park saved the afternoon, the history lesson an added bonus.
Missed Opportunity: Exploring the nearby historic Cravens House, the restored home of Robert Cravens, who co-owned the aforementioned Bluff Furnace, and whose home was in the thick of the battles.
Our dip into the Scenic City impressed us and left us with a list of reasons to return, from dining to outdoor exploring to arts and culture to Civil War history. Luckily, from Atlanta, it’s a quick two-hour drive.
Photo courtesy of trevarthan via Shutterstock.
The best part about our time in Chattanooga was our improvisational travel approach–the city opened itself up to us as we meandered on foot, the Tennessee River a calm, still guidepost, the sense of the historic and the revitalized colliding in a charming, compelling, truly Southern way.
What would you recommend to do in Chattanooga? Please share in the comments below.
By Paige Sullivan