After living there for three short but sweet years, I learned that Chattanooga, or Chattie, as I affectionately call it, is a fantastic place to live and visit.
Where to start? For history buffs, there are countless monuments in the area, reminiscent of events that changed the course of American history, from the trail of tears to the battles of the Civil War in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. For families with small children in tow, there is the magnificent Tennessee Aquarium, the Creative Discovery Museum, Coolidge Park with its beautiful fountain and antique carousel, and Ruby Falls, an underground waterfall that leads through narrow cave tours and passages. For outdoor enthusiasts, there is the promise of a place often called “Boulder, Colorado of the East”; mountaineering, fly fishing, cycling, hang gliding, hiking, rafting and much more await adventure.
Here is an itinerary for a three-day getaway to Chattanooga. It is an activity guide that has been tested by many visits from our family and friends and includes our favorite places that we try to revisit on our way back. Three days in Chattanooga will fill up quickly, so you should know that there are at least five other alternative attractions or activities in each subsequent place. This itinerary also assumes that you woke up one day in Chattanooga. I recommend you wake up at the Bluff View Inn, located in the popular Bluff View Arts District.
Bluff View Inn is perched overlooking the Tennessee River, which flows down through downtown Chattanooga. Within a minute walk of the inn (and this is not an exaggeration) is the Hunter Museum of American Art, Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, sculpture garden, bocce ball court, art gallery, three restaurants, a thirteen mile nature trail that follows the river upstream Chickamauga and Walnut Bridge. Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world.
Another accommodation option that is relatively new to Chattanooga is the Delta Queen steamboat, which has come to life as a floating boutique hotel. Hotel guests and tourists can board the Queen of Coolidge Park and erase the brass maritime history of it all.
Day first: Signal mountain and north coast
Rembrandt’s Café in the Bluff View Arts District is a great base in Chattanooga, so you can explore this hot spot for breakfast during your first day in the scenic city. The locals love and visit this place just like tourists. Showcases are full of breakfast and desserts, chocolates, cakes and pies, while the menu includes paninis, soups and salads. You can’t do better for breakfast than an almond croissant. Take it outside and enjoy their wonderful sitting on the terrace.
Head to Signal Mountain, a 10-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga. Our visitors especially loved the “W” road, which ticked sharply and dug its way up the rocky side of the mountain – a vertical road, if I’ve ever been on one. Once you have reached the top, consider driving north along East Brow Road for beautiful homes on the left and breathtaking views of the valley below on the right. Then turn south on Highway 127 and head to the “old towers” area of the signal point. The streets are lined with picturesque stone houses and magnificent farms, and you can still see traces of the tram that used to pass through this neighborhood. This area was developed at the turn of the twentieth century as an escape from diseases, especially cholera and yellow fever, in the valley below.
When you have enough cars and historic houses, head to the stop at Signal Point Park. From here you can look down on the lush and green gorge of the Tennessee River and forget about the civilization nearby. Park signage explains that Signal Point was part of a signaling system used first by Native Americans, then by Union troops during the Civil War. Depending on your energy level, you can go on a trip from the park at this time. The Cumberland Trail, part of the Great Eastern Trail, begins in this park and is an amazing walk through the woods on the mountainside.
There are several lunch options on Signal Mountain, but I would go back down from the mountain for lunch in the North Shore area. Two of our favorite places were the River Street Deli for amazing muffulets, Stromboli and Brooklyn accents; or Mercantino for an atmosphere you can’t beat. And once you park near an event on the North Shore (that would be Frazier Avenue), you can leave your car for hours.
After lunch, hit the boutiques and don’t forget to miss the Blue Skies, Plum Nelly and Sophie’s. It’s impossible to enter one of these three stores and leave it blank, so just give up. Treat yourself or a friend to vintage style, unique home and personal accessories, handmade jewelry, glass and ceramics. These three shops and many other businesses alongside Frazier – including the local bookstore, outdoor clothing and art galleries – are a glorious heaven.
When you need a break from shopping, pick up a delicacy from Clumpies Ice Cream and head to Coolidge Park, which overlooks the river. While playing in the fountain, you will be surrounded by people of all ages, throw Frisbees and soccer balls and relax inside the beautiful city greenery. While there, you can see if there are any games to catch during your stay – the Chattanooga Theater Center sits right on the edge of the park.
For dinner, Boathouse Rotisserie and Raw Bar are a great choice and the center is just a 5-minute drive away. They serve Louisiana oysters and other great seafood (wood-grilled tilapia is delicious) and, surprisingly, their Mexican dishes – especially quesadillas – are just as popular. If you have room for an appetizer, a Mexican shrimp cocktail will be unforgettable. Located directly on the Tennessee River, the boathouse has plenty of outdoor seating with water views.
Day two: Nature
A trip to Chattanooga without any outdoor adventure is a missed opportunity. It’s like going to New York without seeing the game – you missed a key element of local culture. Complement a hearty breakfast from the Bluegrass Grill on Main Street. This family restaurant packed people at 6:30 in the morning for omelettes and delicious hash variations. Load up carbs; you will need them today.
For peace and quiet, the excursion is an excursion with a guided fly, as well as a nice and easy swimming on the river Hiwassee in an inflatable kayak or raft. We also enjoyed walks along the extensive Chickamauga Battlefield trails, which are part of the country’s first national military park. There is a seven-mile car tour of the battlefield, but walking or cycling is the best way to experience the beauty and historical significance of this country. And the terrain here is relatively flat, which is a huge plus for those of us from height-demanding regions.
For the more adventurous, there is the above-mentioned Cumberland Trail on Signal Mountain or many other fun hiking trails on Lookout Mountain. We’ve never had a chance to go, but Cloudland Canyon State Park – just across the border in Georgia – is supposed to be amazingly beautiful in an area called “God’s Land.” The trails range from two to almost seven miles and there are a 600-step staircase for tourists as they set out for the bottom of the park abyss.
Bold outdoor enthusiasts will be happy to know that Chattanooga is considered the regional climbing capital and attracts mountain bikers from all over the world. Prentice Cooper State Forest is one of many options for both of these activities. Please, oh, please don’t try to climb rocks without a guide. On the water, the Ocoee River offers popular rafting on imminent death. Yes, I thought I was going to die on Upper Ocoee. Twice. But it’s fun if you’re in such a thing (the jury is still for me). Some of the more cute names for Ocoee’s Class IV + feathers are “Broken Nose”, “Diamond Splitter” and “Hell’s Hole”. Finally, those who are not interested in land or water activities can try to post a glide from Lookout Mountain. I couldn’t bring myself to be strapped into a celebrated dragon, but two friends from France did, and they said it was a chouette.
After a day in the great countryside, a shower and a satisfying dinner are fine. Since your body won’t want to get too far from your bed at the Bluff View Inn, walk around the corner to Tony’s for an Italian dinner. The atmosphere is one that makes you stay long after a meal, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a score on the second-floor terrace. Green salad with roasted tomato dressing and all pasta is reliably tasty.
Day three: Lookout Mountain, Southside and Downtown
Between the hotel and the lookout mountain lies Niedlov’s Breadworks, which has amazing cinnamon rolls, muffins, cakes – think of it, everything at Niedlov’s is good. Craftsmen “love kneading and kneading in love” and you can taste a passionate passion. Try it for breakfast this morning.
There are several roads that take you to the top of Lookout Mountain; Each one is scenic, so choose one to drive up and the other to drive down. Once there, take in the magnificent views and mansions, especially those along West Brow Road. (This exploration of Lookout Mountain sounds similar to the first day of the Signal Mountain itinerary; but if the Signal Mountain residential area is charming and accessible, Lookout Mountain is a caviar dream. Each mountain is worth a visit because it offers different traces of Chattanooga culture.)
Lookout’s Point Park – not to be confused with Signal Point Park – is a must as an easily accessible part of the Lookout Mountain Battlefield. A small museum just across the street will explain to the Lord of the Rings himself the sound of the “Battle of the Clouds” that took place on the mountain during the Civil War. Another treasure on the lookout tower is the Arboretum and Botanical Garden with reflection, which offers riding and hiking trails through lush meadows, flowers, forests, ponds and streams.
After a mountain morning, Mojo Burrito takes you to the foot of the scenic mountain in the beautiful historic district of St. Elmo brings back to Earth with tortillas wrapped around super fresh ingredients. The Southern Star located in the Southside neighborhood also keeps it real with true Southern home cooking. Don’t miss the dessert – banana pudding leaves you without a word.
When you are in the Southside neighborhood, there are four shops that are worth a visit. The revival is located inside the Row warehouse, and although I couldn’t afford much of this store, I just enjoyed being in the presence of its size. As in every luxury goods store, you will also find table accessories from Juliska and pewter from Match. However, what this shop ranks in its own league is a beautifully decorated collection of home textiles, from Italian white leather chairs from the 18th century to modern Belgian coffee tables. In Revival you will discover elements of home design that you never knew you wanted. Shadow Box Paperie on Main Street allows you to put a pen on paper and give up all forms of electronic communication. They also have other home accessories, all well presented. For antique lovers, Southside Antiques is an essential stop for beautiful corner cabinets, dining tables, antique books and armor. Finally, the Southside Gallery, like The Foyer in Baton Rouge, is a collection of vendors under one roof that sells gifts, accessories, art and antiques at many price points.
In the late afternoon, return to the inn to park your car and enjoy the amazing walking activities in downtown Chattanooga. Visit the sculpture garden and spend time over the river on one of the benches on the Walnut Street Bridge. The bridge was converted into a pedestrian in 1993 and like the Pont des Arts in Paris, people cannot get enough time for the bridge. They hang over the Tennessee River, practice, create art, gather for festivals, commute by bike, and yes, snuggle up like they’re in Paris.
Leave enough time before sunset to explore The Passage and Ross’s Landing Plaza, the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears Memorial next to the Tennessee Aquarium. The Cherokee inhabited the area, which would become Ross’s first landing, then Chattanooga, until they were forced to the West by a trail of tears. Thousands died during this terrible journey. At this memorial you will find moving quotes from Cherokee and American leaders at the time of Aboriginal removal.
You may also have a morning at dinner last night in Chattanooga. St. John’s restaurant is as perfect a restaurant as I have ever experienced. Chef Daniel Lindley was nominated for the James Beard Award this year and last year, and you’ll know why after one meal at St. John’s. Its cuisine comes with the best ingredients, many of which are organic and local, and the menu is often changed to reflect the growing season. The current menu includes handmade quail tortellini, Kobe beef steak and melted chocolate cake. The service is dreamy, the apartment building is beautiful and everyone leaves happy.
And everyone leaves Chattanooga happy, even though I also kicked, screamed and cried the day my husband and I said goodbye to our home on North Chattanooga Hill. My husband says I’m projecting, but I swear our dog is missing Chattanooga. The move of family and old friends has brought us home to Louisiana, and of course we are glad to be home among them, but we will return to Chattanooga as often as we can for the rest of our lives. It’s such a place.