I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
October 10, 2019
Innovative restaurants, unique boutiques, outdoor adventure, and a vibrant bar scene — Chattanooga truly has it all! Follow this list of favorites the next time you visit and you can’t go wrong.
“So this couple came in a few weeks ago,” a bartender at one of Chattanooga’s trendy bars told us recently, “and said they were from California and they’d been planning to move to Nashville. But then they heard Chattanooga was the new Nashville… so they moved here instead.”
I had to laugh because frankly, THEY WERE RIGHT. Chattanooga is growing exponentially hipper and more sophisticated with each year that passes. Phenomenal restaurants, sleek boutique hotels, quirky bars with delicious craft cocktails, and unique, tenderly curated shops are opening and flourishing here everywhere you look — and unlike Nashville where new residents can expect to get to know the inside of their car very, very well, practically everything worth doing in Chattanooga is either a walk or a short drive away.
Chattanooga has been our weekend getaway go-to for years and now that the kids are getting older and opting to stay with their sister for at least part of the time when we visit, Dennis and I are exploring the city on our own. So although I’ve covered Chattanooga for family travelers (and I am really proud of this post), I was excited to create this list of things to do with adults in mind — although as you’ll see, there’s plenty here that kids would enjoy as well! My list is in no way exhaustive — There is so much to do in and around Chattanooga that I could never fit it all into one post. I will say, though, that all these things are absolutely worth making time for on your trip, and if you follow these tips, you really can’t go wrong.
If you love the outdoors, Chattanooga makes for an excellent base city –If you don’t, there’s still so much to do. Art, music, history, and good old fashioned tourist attractions with retro charm all are part of what makes this place special!
Chattanooga’s most charming neighborhood has to be the Bluff View Art District. Here, you’ll find homes that look like they’ve come straight out of a book of fairy tales, quaint shops, art galleries, restaurants, and tons of outdoor sculptures, all overlooking the Tennessee River. Be sure to visit the sculpture garden, stop for coffee and sweet treats at Rembrandt’s Coffee House, and pick up a loaf of bread at the Bluff View Bakery while you’re there.
The ginormous Tennessee Aquarium is definitely not just for kids! Its freshwater and saltwater buildings both are filled with fascinating interactive exhibits, live shows, and amazing creatures that include sharks, jellyfish, butterflies, penguins, stingrays, and more. And even if you’ve been to the aquarium before, it’s time for a new visit — The new Island Life exhibit includes a tank mimicking the Vancouver Island ecosystem (complete with rolling waves), glow-in-the-dark flashlight fish (‘They’re like underwater fireflies!’ my son shouted when he saw them), coral reef fish, and much more.
On a crowded day, Backstage Passes provide a welcome respite from the hordes of people, as well as plenty of time for fish and sea turtle feeding and asking employees every question you can think of. You’ll have access to the rooms the public doesn’t get to see and learn about all that goes into caring for marine life.
A half-hour drive from downtown Chattanooga, you’ll find Cloudland Canyon, a stunning Georgia state park with 64 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails that include a 1,000-foot deep canyon, sandstone cliffs, wild caves, waterfalls, cascading creeks, and plenty of wildlife. There’s something for every skill level here — The Overlook Trail is a mile out and back and takes you to the best view in the park. We loved the 5-mile-total West Rim Trail, which is moderately strenuous and was named by Backpacker Magazine as one of the 10 best hiking trails in the country. And for adventure seekers, there’s the strenuous 2-mile Waterfalls Trail, a steep trail including 600 steps that takes you to two sizable waterfalls.
We never visit Chattanooga without stopping at the Chattanooga Market on Sunday morning, located at the First Tennessee Pavilion. It’s easily one of the best farmers markets in the South and includes more than 50 farms, 130 artisans, and live music. Our favorite things at the market: iced coffee from Velvet Robot, fresh-baked pretzel dogs from that guy that makes the pretzel dogs, the amazing pasta sauce at Frik and Frak, and seasonal produce from across the region. Occasionally, we even come across the holy grail: FORAGED MUSHROOMS. We’ve also bought all kinds of art at the market over the years — There is truly something here for everyone!
Confession: I have wanted to ride the Incline Railway ever since I was a little girl. It seemed like a guaranteed win because when something has been in operation since 1895, it’s gotta be good, right? Well, you’ll be happy to know I finally got my wish and now that I’ve finally taken the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain and back, I can enthusiastically recommend the Railway to visitors. The ride is indeed hella steep, especially at the top, and the views of the city are incredible. My only caveat is that you should know what you’re getting into before you buy your tickets –The whole thing start to finish will take you under an hour. (That’s a plus in my book.) The ride to the top takes about 15 minutes. At the top of the mountain, there’s a gift shop, a food counter, and observation decks. Then you ride back down and you’re done and ready to do something else. Achievement unlocked.
Sure, you can drive to Sunset Rock at the top of Lookout Mountain, but hiking there is a lot more fun. We started at Point Park (Do note there’s an admission fee to get in the park if you want to start your hike from this point) and hiked the 3.5 mile round trip trail from the park’s Ochs Museum to Sunset Rock — Park employees can help you find the trail itself and once you get on it, you won’t get lost. You’ll pass gorgeous rock formations, cliffs, wildflowers, panoramic views, and possibly even some rappellers before arriving at Sunset Rock, which is definitely one of the best views you’ll find in Chattanooga. This trail is moderately easy, but you will be climbing a bunch of stairs to get back up to Point Park at the end.
I know you’ve seen the signs to ‘See Rock City’ — Girlfriend, believe the hype! Rock City on Lookout Mountain really is one of the most unique and beautiful places in the nation and it’s tailor made for photo ops. Rock City has been owned and operated by the same family since 1932 and it shows — They’ve done a great job of preserving its kitschy charm and at times, you’ll feel like you’re stepping back into a mid-1960s road trip. Tickets are a little pricy (the cost varies based on which day you plan to visit)– but I think you’ll find the experience is worth it. I’ve written more about Rock City here.
If you’ve ever dreamed of hang gliding (I… have not), Chattanooga really is the absolute best place to do it. My husband tandem hang glided (glid?) here years ago and still talks about it as one of his all-time most exhilarating experiences. At Lookout Mountain Flight Park, you can learn to become a hang gliding pilot or fly tandem with an instructor. If you opt for a tandem flight, you’ll spend a half-day learning to fly solo (at a height of five feet on a bunny hill, don’t worry!) then hop on either a 1,500-foot, 8-12 minute tandem flight OR a 3,000-foot tandem flight that lasts 20 minutes! My heart just stopped. But for some of you, this would be an awesome vacation experience. DO IT.
The ca. 1921 Tivoli Theater in downtown Chattanooga is absolutely gorgeous and features so many first-rate performers and Broadway shows that you could easily plan a weekend around seeing a show here — In fact, my husband and I are planning to do just that. Upcoming events include Les Miserables, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Alison Krauss, Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker, Mat Kearney, the Blue Man Group, The Color Purple musical, and much more. I’m getting excited just looking at the list!
Consider Ruby Falls another Chattanooga must-see. You’ll take an elevator 620 feet underground, then walk a half-mile through Lookout Mountain’s 30 million-year-old cave system before arriving at this 145-foot underground waterfall, which is enhanced with lighting and stirring music. Believe me when I tell you the sight of this waterfall is unforgettable and worth the cost of admission. Also, the temperature in the cave feels like 70 degrees with the humidity no matter what time of year it is, so you’ll want to leave your coats and jackets in the car –It’s a pain carrying them during your underground odyssey.
What’s more fun than white water rafting? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. That’s why you’ll be thrilled to know that excellent white water rafting is less than an hour from The ‘Noog! Outdoor Adventure Rafting guides will take you on either a 3.5 hour trip down the Middle Ocoee, which at only $39 per person is a great deal, or on the Upper Ocoee, the 1996 Olympic section of intense, class IV whitewater (also $39 per person). Or, you can opt for an all-day trip and do both. I really love white water rafting because it feels like a great adventure but really doesn’t require a whole lot of athleticism or expertise. If you’ve never white water rafted before, try it — I think you’ll like it a lot!
Foodies visiting Chattanooga are in luck — There’s no shortage of great restaurants. I’ve listed a few here, but there are sooooooo many more (check out my family post for more of my favorites) — so many, in fact, that I could never list them all! Here are a few adult favorites that come to mind (although we’ve taken our kids to almost all of them!).
Easy Bistro isn’t just my favorite restaurant in Chattanooga; it’s one of my favorite in the entire United States. This place meets every single one of my fantasy restaurant requirements: The menu is locally sourced and highly inventive — When I spend a lot of money on a meal, I want to eat things I could never, ever make at home. The craft cocktails are phenomenal, the service is impeccable but not at all snooty, and the space is gorgeous and roomy. And since Easy Bistro is on Chattanooga’s main tourist drag, if you score a window seat, the people-watching opportunities are phenomenal. Much of the menu changes seasonally, but I can tell you their famous tomato pie in particular is exquisite, and every single thing I’ve ever eaten there (and I’ve tried quite a few menu items) has been an absolute delight to consume. The menu is pricy AND TOTALLY WORTH IT. Save this restaurant for your big night out — You won’t regret it.
We tried this vegan restaurant for the first time during our last visit and were blown away by the deliciousness — and by the fact that everything was meat free! Cashew’s jackfruit nachos were scrumptious, the meatball sub tasted like a real meatball sub, and as for the Impossible Burger… HOW COULD IT NOT BE MADE OF MEAT? HOW? But my favorite was definitely the chocolate chip cookie dough cake — It wasn’t just a great vegan cake, it was an all-around great cake — and with so many mediocre slices of cake under my belt (literally), this means a lot.
I straight up love Beast + Barrel — I’ve been there at least a half-dozen times and the service, food, and drinks all are consistently wonderful. Plus, valet parking is now offered and that’s so , helpful in the Northshore! We love Beast + Barrel’s Big Katz pastrami sandwich and its salmon pastrami BLT. Both contain house-cured meat that’s out of this world. Honestly, though, everything on the menu here is delish.
This basement bar is a big hit with locals and a big part of its popularity is its wildly inventive menu. We had lunch at The Bitter Alibi for the first time during our last visit and loved everything we tried — and since we had six people with us, we tried quite a lot! Our favorites included the popular roasted brussels sprouts side (honestly, I could have just ordered two of these sides and eaten them as my meal, they were that good), the amazing Pad Fries appetizer, the Nutty Noods bowl, the edamame, and the dumplings. I heard the brunch menu is even better, so we will definitely be back for that! You should know that this place is tiny and crowded and when we were there, one bartender was handling the entire filled room of diners and drinkers, so you might have to place your order at the bar and wait a little longer for drinks. But I think once you taste the foods, you’ll agree that any wait was worth it.
Main Street Meats is another big time favorite restaurant for me in Chattanooga. Everything I’ve tried here is exquisite, including inspired soups, delicious meat and cheese plates, and sandwiches made with meats from local farms. The mediodia sandwich (swiss, smoked pork, ham, and orange marmalade) is out of this world and the soup of the day the last time I was there — a brown butter sunchoke– just might be the best soup I’ve ever tasted.
Located on top of Lookout Mountain, Cafe on the Corner is a perfect pitstop for a meal, snack, or glass of wine while you’re enjoying one of Lookout Mountain’s many awesome attractions. My husband and I spent a weekend on Lookout Mountain and loved this place so much, we went there twice! Sit on the patio if the weather’s nice and enjoy the quaint neighborhood atmosphere — This part of Chattanooga feels a lot like an upscale mountain Mayberry. The Cafe’s menu is seasonal, but everything we tried was delicious and hundreds of online reviewers agree with our assessment.
Home to a major state university, you know Chattanooga has to have a vibrant bar scene — but the level of sophistication here might surprise you. These Chattanooga hotspots are frat boy-free and feature great drinks, diverse crowds, and first rate people-watching.
A bright red telephone booth stands out among the storefronts on Cherry Street in downtown Chattanooga. This is the entrance to London Calling, Chattanooga’s own speakeasy bar. Enter through the phone booth and dial a code on the payphone at the end of the hallway to gain admission to the bar itself. I won’t tell you the code because that would spoil the fun, but I will tell you it’s the year Prohibition ended.
Inside, you’ll find a high-ceilinged and yet somehow cozy dark space with exposed brick walls and a velvet curtained stage tucked over the entrance, where live jazz will be playing if you’re lucky. Comfy chairs and sofas are arranged for conversation and you never have to worry about finding a seat — If the bar’s full, they won’t let you in. Friendly bartenders dressed in 30s-era suspenders serve up classically inspired cocktails and British beers and there are bar bites for anyone in need of a snack. Deftly walking the line between trendy and intolerable, London Calling is my favorite Chattanooga bar right now.
Chattanooga’s hottest new Southside hotel has an even hotter bar scene that’s packed with people on Friday and Saturday nights. Moxy is certainly THE place in Chattanooga right now to see and be seen — On a recent Saturday night when we stopped in for drinks, the entire first floor and large outdoor patio area were packed with people, many of whom were wearing silent disco headphones and dancing to an inaudible beat as they sipped their cocktails.
If you’re looking for that secret, ultra-fashionable bar that the most insider-y locals love to frequent, you’ll find it at Matilda Midnight. Located inside the newly-renovated Dwell Hotel on East 10th Street, this tiny, retro-styled bar oozes cool and its elaborate craft cocktails totally live up to the hype. Don Draper would be right at home in this mid-century modern space; bring a date here and you’re sure to impress them.
If the night’s not too cold (or too hot), one of my favorite indoor/outdoor bars in Chattanooga is Flying Squirrel. Located downtown in easy walking distance from the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel as your landmark, I love this bar for its great drinks and lively clientele ranging from young professionals to hikers and climbers to older, ‘more seasoned’ bar crawlers. Here, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at the right party, basically.
Major bonus points also go to The Flying Squirrel for its absolutely phenomenal Sunday brunch, which is one of the best I’ve had in any city, anywhere. Do note that Sunday brunch is the only time Flying Squirrel allows guests under 21.
Located in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, Mayan Kitchen is known for its Latin cuisine, and it is undoubtedly good. But what I really love about this place is its bar. They specialize in tequila here and the list of tequilas they serve takes up an entire wall. That can be overwhelming! Fortunately, the head bartender here is very personable and very passionate about the inventory. When we came in recently, he found out what kinds of flavors we liked and then chose tequilas and recommended drinks for us based on our preferences. We ended up with two amazing and very creative drinks, (as well a ridiculously tasty order of Queso Fundido) and we’ll definitely be back the next time we’re in town!
Chattanooga is a cool coffeeshop kind of town and there are plenty to choose from. As far as the coffee is concerned, Velo is my favorite. Here, they have coffee down to an actual science and their cold brew is quite literally BEYOND. Velo isn’t one of those cozy coffeeshops where you could imagine yourself spending an entire afternoon with a friend curled up on an ancient velvet sofa — the atmosphere pretty much begs you to just get what you need and go — but when you taste what’s in your go cup, believe me: You’ll be back for more.
The Hot Chocolatier is a Chattanooga treasure as far as I’m concerned, and it stays busy. Choose from a list of decadent hot chocolate flavors (and be sure to get a homemade marshmallow on top — It’s divine) or coffee drinks and enjoy with one of THC’s artisanal chocolates — I’m partial to the dark chocolate with sea salt caramel. Located right across the street from the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, The Hot Chocolatier is a great place to stop in for a sightseeing snack or an after-dinner treat. There’s plenty of seating in the back, as well as a very peaceful courtyard.
Now this store is truly one-of-a-kind! Owner Margaret Ammon regularly travels to Japan to find treasures for I Go Tokyo and the result is a well-curated collection of stationery, toys, gift wrap, aprons, ceramics, housewares, unusual gift ideas, and more. There’s plenty here that will make you take a second look, and absolutely everything is well and thoughtfully crafted. I also love that there’s something here for every budget, including a Japanese vending machine up front with popular toys inside — Margaret will trade you tokens (which just happen to be Japanese Yen) to try it out for yourself.
Blue Skies on the Northshore is easily my favorite store in Chattanooga. It’s stocked with the absolute best gift ideas for practically anyone in your life, whether you’re looking for something irreverent and fun or meaningful and tear-inducing. From whimsical home decor to gorgeous handcrafted jewelry (60% of my jewelry collection comes from Blue Skies, for real) to coffee cups and socks and dishtowels printed with sayings that are hilarious and sometimes… profane, it’s all here and I don’t think I’ve ever left Blue Skies without buying something.
I’ve been wanting to check out Mostly French for ages and on our last trip, I finally made it inside. What a treasure! Owner Helen Warrender is a true Francophile and makes annual shopping trips to France (she’s there now, actually!) to stock her shop with cookware, antiques, home decor, and gifts from France. I was completely charmed by the multiple worn copies she had in stock of an obscure book called Clementine in the Kitchen, published in 1943 and written about the hilarious French cook employed by the author’s family when he was a child. Of course, I had to buy a copy — I could tell immediately that Helen was MY PEOPLE.
Looking for souvenirs? You’ll find the best Chattanooga has to offer at Locals Only. The shop is filled with locally-made products that include Chattanooga signs, shirts, and ball caps, food, lotions, stationery, pottery, and much more. I especially loved their pre-stocked Chattanooga gift boxes, which are filled with local products and created to meet a range of budgets. What a great gift idea! Locals Only now has two locations: One is across the street from the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the other’s in the Northshore.
We’re always up for a visit to The Refindery , a twisty, turny antique mall filled with beautiful furniture, vintage finds, and generally cool stuff. We’ve made plenty of stops here while visiting Chattanooga and I don’t think we’ve ever left without buying something. And with so many different vendors, everyone is sure to find something that catches their eye.
When we make the drive to Chattanooga, we always bring a cooler — partly for the Chattanooga market but also for our pilgrimage to Bleu Fox Cheese Shop. This artisan cheese shop sells all your favorite fancy cheeses, as well as charcuterie, gourmet olives, locally made foods, beer, chocolates, and lunch or dinner. If you love cheese as much as we do, consider a Bleu Fox run to be non-negotiable when you’re in town.
Just across the street from the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, the Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery is making a name for itself by crafting Chattanooga whiskey for the first time in over a hundred years — and judging from the crowds of people I see here every time I pass it, the ‘experiement’ is working! Guided tours of the distillery end with a whiskey flight tasting and the experience gets raves from reviewers. It’s definitely not a bad way to spend an hour while you’re walking around the downtown area.
There’s no shortage of hotels in Chattanooga, so I’m sharing here how we get a deal on some of the best hotels in town, as well as a very romantic option you might not have considered.
Chattanooga’s hotel rates are going up, up, up, but we have a secret way to get a much better deal than the going rate downtown. We generally Priceline a room when we visit, setting the parameters for downtown hotels that have a rating of at least 3 stars, and we’ve never been disappointed. Using this method, we’ve stayed at The Read House which is worth staying in for its gorgeous newly-renovated lobby alone, The Chattanoogan (my personal favorite Chattanooga hotel), and the Chattanooga Marriott Downtown — You can’t go wrong with any of these hotels and they’re all right in the center of everything.
During our last visit, we stayed at the Springhill Suites Downtown Chattanooga and we were very impressed. It’s a perfect hotel for families because the rooms all have a little extra space. The hotel is right on Tennessee River and it’s in easy walking distance from downtown Chattanooga- It’s especially close to the Tennessee Aquarium. I loved this hotel for its clean, spacious rooms (which include a microwave, mini fridge, and seating area), its friendly employees, its free breakfast (not to mention free coffee/hot tea/hot chocolate all day long– IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS), its indoor pool and fitness center, and its indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant, which allows guests to enjoy drinks or a meal on the river without even leaving the hotel.
Another fabulous option for a couples weekend away is to book a room at one of Lookout Mountain’s cozy and totally romantic bed and breakfast inns. We had one of the most magical getaways ever at the Garden Walk Inn, where each cottage is beautifully and thoughtfully decorated according to a theme. We booked the Out of Africa suite and honestly, I’d book it again in a heartbeat. Not only did I totally channel Countess Karen Blixen all weekend long, but you guys? There is an enormous jacuzzi right in the middle of the living room. I can tell you I spent a LOT of time in that jacuzzi (picture me wearing a totally modest swimsuit, will ya?) and the only thing that would have made it better was if Robert Redford had washed my hair while I was in it. Breakfast the next morning was also wonderful and we enjoyed meeting and talking with some of the other guests while we ate. The inn also has an outdoor swimming pool. For what you get, I think this B&B experience is a great deal.
Another popular option is the Chanticleer Inn, a lovely stone European villa built in 1927. Located right across the street from Rock City, this inn has 20 guest rooms, a bocce ball court, a swimming pool, breakfast each morning and homemade cookies and desserts every night. I believe visiting Rock City feels like stepping back in time — This inn is another throwback to simpler, more intimate times and looks like a very relaxing option away from the hustle and bustle of the city.