I Love This Place: Chattanooga, Tennessee

On the evening news in October of 1969, Walter Cronkite announced to the entire country that Chattanooga, Tennessee was the “Dirtiest City in America.”

Declared so by the federal organization that would eventually become the EPA, Chattanooga’s air quality was so poor and smog-riddled, locals had to drive with their headlights on during the day.

The truth hurt area residents and city officials so deeply they decided to do something about it.

Fast forward 40 years and Chattanooga is a beautiful city with incredible momentum. It’s clean and green and a place you want to spend time outdoors.

The shift didn’t happen by accident but with strategic intention that turned an unsafe place into a destination you’ll want to return to again and again.

We lived there ten years, now gone almost four. We appreciate it as both the place our children think of as “hometown” and a wonderful place to visit.

I’m so happy for the I Love This Place series because it gives me reason to introduce you to Chattanooga, and point you toward both obvious choices for a visit and a few off the beaten path.

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

Downtown – A Great Place to Start

Chattanooga’s downtown is divided, anchored on one end by the NorthShore along the Tennessee River, and at the opposite end by the Southside. You’ll want to spend time meandering both.

Southside

The first thing that comes to mind when most people hear “Chattanooga” is Choo-Choo, inspired by the old Glenn Miller song.

You’ll want to visit the Choo-Choo hotel, at the former Terminal Station, easily recognizable by the train sign topping the building. Walk through the hotel and check out the gardens in back (spring and summer); you will definitely want a photo near the train.

You can even stay overnight in an old Pullman Train Car (what it lacks in elegance it makes up for in nostalgia and kitsch). There’s touristy shopping and restaurants popping up – Stir is right on the premises; it makes a big deal about ice, and its aesthetics and menu are fun and yummy.

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

ChattanoogaMarketlogoIf you’re visiting on a Sunday April through December, don’t miss the Chattanooga Market. A producer-only, open-air market, you’ll enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes and goods by locals. There’s no admission to wander, and you’ll begin to gain a sense of the city’s cool vibe.

The arts community is alive and kicking in Chatty, too. Visit Area 61 (eclectic) on Main St., Gallery 1401 (fancy) on Market, and do not miss the HART Gallery--featuring artwork by local homeless/non-traditional artists.

Warehouse Row is on the Southside, too, home to higher-end shopping, and local and regional restaurants (my favorite is The Public House).

A bunch of places I can’t help but mention:

The English Rose Tearoom: Authentically British, a little crowded, somewhat kitschy…but get that Eton Chaos!

Niedlov’s: Bread artisans (and more) servicing the local area. The cinnamon rolls, you must get. You’re welcome.

Bluegrass Grill: Breakfast is served all day, and most of the time there’s a line out the door (during peak meal times). That line exists for a reason. Get eggs any way and don’t skip the breakfast potatoes.

Urban Stack. Hamburger specialists. There IS a difference. Get a shake but you’ll hate me.

Flying Squirrel. This one is for grown-ups; a cool bar with nice outside space, adjacent to The Crash Pad–the coolest hostel you’ll ever find.
I Love This Place: ChattanoogaPhoto source

Northshore

Oh, dear…the Northshore. It’s been the go-to tourist destination for years, but locals love it for….

Coolidge Park

Pick a decent weather day any day of the year and you’ll find people enjoying Collidge Park. Its antique carousel is a bargain and MUST-do for kids of all ages.

Lots of green space, adjacent to the Tennessee River, and on the back side of Frazier Avenue. Oh–and warm days BEG you to play in those animal-sculpted fountains.

Ask around and from Coolidge meander your way to Renaissance Park–there’s a little walking but worth it.

For the young and young at heart, have a blast sliding on cardboard “sleds” (bring your own or borrow leftovers). There’s not much snow in these parts, so homegrowns improvise.

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

Frazier Avenue

Park on the street and start walking, restaurants and eclectic shops line the entire stretch.

One suggestion? Grab a dog and frites at Good Dog and save room for a Clumpies ice cream.

Everything from art (Blue Skies is a personal favorite) or tattoo shops to used books and designer wear are found on Frazier. Funky, fun, and fantastic.

Be sure to look down–all along Frazier there are bronze footprints embedded in concrete with steps “choreographed” for popular dances–the Waltz, Cha-cha, Tango…and The Kiss.

Who knew a stroll could be educational?

Extra eats:

Beast and Barrel. Open air onto Frazier. Great scenery inside and out.

Taco Mamacita: Just off of Frazier sits a few special places, and Taco Mamacita leads the way. They’re billed as “Fresh-Mex” and there’s usually a wait. Worth it.

Milk & Honey: Homemade, creative gelato is its springboard, but they’re continually evolving. Aesthetics-wise, I LOVE this place, its branding, and heart. I don’t love the food as much as some, but it wins overall scores for the full package.

NoteTaylor and Mike Monen are incredible Chattanooga restauranteurs; they own Urban Stack, Taco Mamacita, Milk & Honey, Community Pie and Clydes. Heck, maybe more by now. I love what they’ve done for the foodie scene in Chattanooga.

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

Downtown, the “other” side of the river from Northshore

Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. For incredible views of the Tennessee River, Downtown Chattanooga and the Northshore, put your walking shoes on. Closed to car traffic, bikes, pets, and people welcome.

Hunter Museum of American Art. On the opposite side of the river from Northshore, three buildings filled with American art. Free for kids 17 and younger, and for all if you’re lucky enough to be there the first Thursday of the month from 4pm-8pm.

Bluff View Arts District. Restaurants. Shops. A free sculpture garden. And some of the most incredible views of the city.

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

Popular Tourist Destinations…at a Cost

Worth mentioning because they’re iconic Chattanooga Things To Do, but all of these will cost you.

Tennessee Aquarium. It’s one of the best you’ll find, with so much to see it takes two buildings.

Creative Discovery Museum. Great entertainment and engagement for kids elementary-aged and younger.

High Point Climbing and Fitness. Climbing walls inside and out. Do this and you might be hooked for life.

• At the top of Lookout Mountain you’ll find iconic Rock City and Ruby Falls; at the base, the Incline Railway. You can knock out all three in less than a day. If you don’t have the dollars to spare, keep reading for beautiful area bargains.

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

Got 48 Hours? A plan that won’t break the bank

Comfy walking shoes will serve you well.

Day 1.

Breakfast at Niedlov’s or Bluegrass Grill, then walk up and down Main Street. Lots of street art, and here’s where you’ll find the Hart Gallery, Area 61 and Gallery 1401, all mentioned above (among more).

Head to the Choo-Choo hotel, walk through the great hall toward the back where you’ll find the gardens and icon train. Take pictures.

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

Take advantage of the Chattanooga’s Bicycle Transit System or drive Downtown but don’t cross the river.

Start at the Bluff View Arts District. Tour the Sculpture Garden, then check out River Arts Gallery. Get a coffee or sweet at Rembrandt’s (a favorite!!).

Continue on to the Hunter Museum. On inclement weather days plan to tour inside; otherwise, check out more scenic views and continue on to the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge.

I Love This Place: ChattanoogaEnjoy people watching as you’re headed to the Northshore. You’ll get a great view of the Tennessee River, Coolidge Park and the Carousel on your way.

The bridge ends on Frazier Avenue, where you can pick a place for lunch (Good Dogs?) and wander in and out of shops before heading down to Coolidge Park. Ridge the Carousel ($1 a person, free under two years old).

Find your way to Renaissance Park and slide down Cardboard Hill.

Trust me, you will have filled a day with all of the above, and more that you pass along the way.

As much as I’ve shared, there’s still more! Note: if you happen to be in Chatty on July 4th, be sure to walk Walnut Street Bridge at dark–you’ll see fireworks all over the city!

I Love This Place: Chattanooga

Day 2.

You’re on your own for the morning (haven’t I given you plenty to consider?) but make a picnic for lunch and head up to Point Park on Lookout Mountain.

Enjoy your picnic and then take advantage of the relatively easy hiking trails nearby. After your hike, head over to the Hang Gliding launch area (about 25 minutes driving).

Oh…my…those views. If there are hang gliders around (and there have always been when we’ve gone, especially on weekends), you’ll be captivated as you watch them fly like eagles. (If you’re brave enough and  you’re willing to fork over the bucks, you can tandem-glide!)

Depending on your timing, you’ll want to head over to Sunset Rock where you can enjoy another hike that will end in a beautiful view.

This hike comes with a caution: be careful and on alert! There have been fatal accidents but that shouldn’t scare you away–stay on the trail and keep young ones close.

Chattanooga is the place our children will remember as their hometown, and as such, it holds a treasured place in my heart. If you’d like to know more beyond this brief glimpse, please check out my Love Where You Live series!

p.s. – Other highlights in our I Love This Place series: Austin, Canmore (near Banff), Bavaria, Encinitas, and San Diego!

Photo source: all images by Robin Dance unless otherwise cited

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids,
1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids, 1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

15 Comments

  1. Andrea

    Oh my gosh, this makes me so happy and nostalgic! I went to college near Chattanooga and love it so so much! 🙂 My favorite area is definitely Bluff View Arts District and I second the Rembrandt’s recommendation! And the views around there mmmmm. Another restaurant to check out: The Yellow Deli. It’s my favorite restaurant, ever, hands down. Everything they make is delicious (but get the Deli Rose) and the design and murals inside are unbelievable.
    I think I see a visit to TN in my near future…

    • Robin Dance

      Did you go to Lee? Covenant? My daughter is a Covenant grad and she LOVED Yellow Deli. It is DEFINITELY the most interesting restaurant in Chatty! And fits so well with her personality. This is the longest I’ve been away from Chattanooga since we lived there, and I’m itching to get back…. Thank you for chiming in, Andrea!

      • Andrea

        You’re close, I actually went to Bryan College in Dayton. Covenant was our rival when I was there! 🙂
        No problem, thanks for the article!

  2. Susan

    I lived in Chattanooga about 15 years ago. This is a good summary!

  3. Oksana | FOXYOXIE.com

    When I saw your post this morning, I nearly squealed with excitement. Chattanooga is my home! It’s such an amazing city that deserves far more credit than it gets! You’ve done such a good job of outlining things to do, too. I would just add a couple favorite restaurants/cafes to the list: Terra Mae (the coolest mid-century modern restaurant you’ve ever seen), Alleia (very romantic), Camp House (super urban coffee shop with a great array of sandwiches), Rembrandt’s Coffee House (French-inspired coffee shop) and Tony’s Pasta Shop (amazing chicken tetrazzini).

  4. Lindsay @ Let Me Give You Some Advice

    Wonderful post! We’re about 7 hours from Chattanooga and this is certainly inspiring a road trip. I’m glad you gave so many “non-tourist” options too. It’s always fun to experience a city from a local perspective.

  5. Hunter

    As a long time Chattanooga resident, I have to say this is a great summary / article on all Chattanooga has to offer. Downtown is great!

  6. Becky

    I have mostly been to Chattanooga for concerts at Track 29 (nice music venue!), but I can attest to The Crash Pad being a really great hostel.

  7. Athena R

    This made me miss Chatt so much! I moved away after I graduated from UTC in ’98. My siblings and other family members are still in the area, but I don’t get there as often as I would like to. The place has changed quite a bit since I lived there.

  8. Ashley R

    Yay for showing people beautiful East TN! (Says this Tri-Cities girl living in China and missing her home…)

  9. Lynette

    Sweet Chattanooga…my hometown. I’ve been gone 30 years (I’m now just up I-75 in Knoxville), but I’m pretty sure if given the opportunity I would love to be back there. The aquarium is awesome!

  10. Sarah

    Thank you for making this Chattanooga girl more homesick than ever and for showing off our fantastic city! I am constantly trying to get my friends (in China) to visit or move there. It is truly a magical place. 🙂

  11. Anna

    I grew up in Chattanooga, and still visit family there. I have lots of good memories. 🙂

  12. Tina

    I lived in Chattanooga until last summer and your post brings back the best memories! It’s such a wonderful place for families and kids. We moved back to our home country Germany so I don’t know when we will be able to go back there. Hopefully soon! But Chattanooga is always going to have a very special place in our hearts and it will always be our kids’ childhood hometown…

  13. Jennifer Bonds

    I’ve only called Chattanooga home for two years, but I will be thrilled if I can do so forever! It is the sweetest little city full of friendly faces, a unique and eclectic vibe, and is set in a breathtaking part of our country. There is a reason the locals call it the #besttownever!

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