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11 Coolest Things to Do in Chattanooga

Nowhere combines the beauty of the outdoors with the inventiveness of urban living quite like Chattanooga, Tennessee. Situated right at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and along the Tennessee River, visitors are able to have the best of both worlds right at their fingertips. From riding around surrounding forests to dining at world class restaurants, check below for all the best things to do in Chattanooga and why I call it a Place to Love.

11 Fantastic Things to Do in Chattanooga

1. Explore Chattanooga’s Riverwalk

Stretching 16.1 miles along the Tennessee River, Chattanooga’s Riverwalk is such a great way to get to know the city. Connecting downtown to Chickamauga Dam, one of the best things about the riverwalk is that it’s completely safe and accessible. The whole pathway is paved, making it easy for strollers and wheelchairs to get around. Plus, there are seven handicap-accessible bathrooms along the route. With a bronze fish marker every half mile, you’ll always know where you are, and, in terms of safety, the trails are well lit and patrolled by security 24/7. If you want to cover a lot of distance, you can also take advantage of Bike Chattanooga, the city’s public bike share system. 

2. Check out the Bluff View Art District

One of the neighborhoods the Riverwalk connects to is the beautiful Bluff View Art District. As the name suggests, it sits high atop some cliffs and offers up the best views of Chattanooga. Use the Williams Stairway to reach the area (spoiler: there are no stairs in this stairway!) and start by exploring the Hunter Museum of American Art. It features the most complete collection of American art in the Southeast and is home to everything from Native American art to modern sculptures. Once you’ve been through the museum, grab a treat and a coffee at Rembrandt’s Coffee House before wandering around and popping into the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts. Located in a historic home, it features a charming collection of decor from the Victoria era through the Depression era. When you’re hungry, stop at Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria for handmade pastas and house made sauces. 

3. Learn more about our freshwater friends at Tennessee Aquarium

Yet another spot easily accessible from the Riverwalk is the beautiful Tennessee Aquarium. It’s actually located right on the spot where the city was founded back in 1816. What makes this place so unique is that it’s a freshwater aquarium – the world’s largest, in fact. When you come here, you’ll learn about the native creatures that call the river home as well as more exotic animals found farther away. Even if you don’t normally seek out aquariums on your travels, I can assure you this one is worth the visit. With the goals of connecting people to the nature around them and preserving the biodiversity of the southeast USA, there’s a reason this is one of the most popular things to do in Chattanooga. 

4. Shop around Northshore

After a visit to the aquarium, cross over the world’s longest pedestrian bridge to check out Chattanooga’s charming Northshore. Start with wandering around Coolidge Park and checking out the views from this side of the river. For those of you that want to stay outside and enjoy the water, stop by L2 Outside for everything from kayak to SUP rentals. Otherwise, stop by the historic carousel before heading into town to check out a variety of restaurants, local shops, and small galleries. Check out boutiques like Locals Only Gifts & Goods, blue skies, and River City Apparel for some Chattanooga souvenirs before strolling around In-Town Gallery for local artists’ works. For a sweet treat, don’t miss Clumpies Ice Cream. They have both classic handcrafted ice creams as well as rotating seasonal flavors like raspberry lemonade sorbet and blueberry lookout lavender.

5. Try Uncle Larry’s world famous fish fry

If there’s one meal you have to try while in Chattanooga, it’s a fish fry at one of the four Uncle Larry’s Restaurant locations. Larry Torrence has been cooking since he was a kid and has specifically been frying fish since he was a preteen. Trust me when I say, his fish is so good it’ll smack you! The secret to the deliciously crispy texture is in the cornmeal mixture and everything is made fresh when you order. Be sure to save room for their homemade desserts too.

6. Ride through the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center

For yet another fantastic way to get outdoors, try your hand driving an eco-friendly SwinCar around the beautiful Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. Only ten minutes from downtown Chattanooga, the arboretum spans 317 acres and has over 15 miles of trails that wind through a variety of flora and fauna. Their Swincar E-Spider cars are electrically powered, off-road vehicles that make next to no sound. You can join a tour to learn more about how the team at Reflecting Riding is fighting to conserve Chattanooga’s wildlife. I was specifically fascinated by the ongoing battle to save the American chestnut tree. 

7. Get the Best Views of the City at High Point Climbing & Fitness

Looking for the best view of Chattanooga? Well, put on some workout clothes and strap in because you’re going to need to do some climbing – literally. High Point Climbing Fitness is a popular climbing space in the city and a great way to try bouldering without the danger. They’ve got space for all levels as well as different classes to get you comfortable scaling a wall. When you’re ready, try tackling their 60-ft-high outdoor climbing wall, and that’s when you’ll discover an incredible view of Chattanooga. 

As a bonus, there are even non-climbing options like aerobic rooms or yoga classes for anyone who’d prefer to stay closer to ground level.

8. Learn More about the Tow Truck.

Did you know the tow truck was invented in Chattanooga? Yup! Back in 1916, Ernest Holmes Sr. invented it when he needed to find a way to pull a car out of a creek. The first truck started out using blocks, ropes, and six men, but over time he was able to improve the design and manufacture them for the public. Today the International Towing & Recovery Museum celebrates over a century of tow truck history and honors those who work one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. 

9. See Rock City

One of the quirkier things to do in Chattanooga is to visit Rock City right over the state line in Georgia. Situated atop Lookout Mountain and only a few minutes away from downtown, this place is one part nostalgic whimsy and one part natural wonder. Scattered throughout the gardens are storybook-esque areas like Fairyland Caverns and Gnome Valley. Follow the Enchanted trail to reach all of them and, of course, the best part of the whole park – Lover’s Leap & See 7 States View. As the name suggests, from this point you can see Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama all at once! 

10. Enjoy the Chattanooga Choo Choo Complex

Originally opened in 1909 as a train station, this Beaux Arts-style building is now part of the locomotive-inspired Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. Even if you don’t plan on staying overnight here, the complex has a number of sites and restaurants worth visiting. Stroll through the Glenn Miller Formal Gardens, which are located where the train tracks and platforms would’ve been back in the day. The name, of course, comes from the man who made the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” famous in 1941. Get the giggles at The Comedy Catch and test your skills under pressure at The Escape Experience. For shopping, check out Sweetly Southern or Chattanooga Jewelry Co. Don’t forget to snap a photo with the Chattanooga sign before you go!

11. Learn more about artisanal ice at STIR

There are also a number of fantastic onsite restaurants and bars at the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex. I personally had a chance to check out STIR. Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, what really makes this restaurant stand out is their craft cocktail menu. Specifically the artisanal ice they use for their cocktails. They freeze and hand carve 300-pound blocks of ice to create the perfect shape no matter the drink. Rest assured just as much care is taken with the menu as all dishes are prepared daily from scratch and ingredients largely come from vendors less than a 100 miles from the city.  

No matter how many times you’ve been before, no matter your age, and no matter your travel style, there are so many incredible things to do in Chattanooga, you’ll always love visiting. This is a small city that delivers big whether it’s food and drink or conservation and adventure, and that’s why it’ll always be a Place to Love. Anywhere I missed? Let me know below!

If you want to see more things to do in Chattanooga, check out our “Chattanooga” episode of Season 6’s “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I was hoping you would show the southern bell I so want to go see it . I’m only about an hour away in Alabama. I really love your show you make me feel like I’m there with you thanks

  2. I just love Samantha Brown. Been watching her for a long time. We are going to Chattanooga in a few weeks. This was just perfect timing. Didn’t know all this was there. We went to Chattanooga a few years ago to see Ruby Falls. It was wonderful. Hope you got to see that. There is a waterfall inside the cave.

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