By Mona L. Hayden
You see it everywhere in Chattanooga. From the riverside parks and galleries to thriving businesses and restaurants throughout the pristine city, the sense of pride and passion is most evident. Adding to the allure are panoramic views of the beautiful Tennessee River, a section of the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau.
Located on the Tennessee/Georgia state line, Chattanooga has experienced an astonishing transformation during the last 20 years. Today, the Scenic City glistens with fresh paint and high rises, lush landscapes and dance steps embossed in downtown sidewalks, an array of performing arts, and about 165,000 people who are proud to call Chattanooga home.
First things first – check into the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Historic Hotel (choochoo.com). This landmark sits on 24 acres with the grand lobby once a former railroad terminal housing an 85 foot dome ceiling built in 1909. It’s the largest freestanding brick dome in the world. Opt to stay overnight in an authentic sleep car or a conventional room. Dining options range from café style to formal but don’t miss an evening at the Station House Restaurant where the wait-staff sings for their supper! Tour the 174’ long Model Railroad with over 3000 feet of track, the elaborate rose gardens, or take the free electric shuttle bus downtown to see attractions near the beautiful Tennessee River.
Next stop is the Tennessee Aquarium & Imax 3D Theatre (tnaqua.org). Perched beneath six majestic glass peaks is the world’s largest freshwater aquarium with thriving forests and aqua treasures, next to the Imax 3D Theatre. Just across the parking area is the Tennessee Aquarium’s River Gorge Explorer, a high-tech catamaran that travels up to 50mph into the Tennessee Grand Canyon. Take a two-hour narrated cruise on this 70-passenger hydrofoil-assisted vessel that is generally operated only in an ocean environment.
Children can be entertained at the nearby hands-on Creative Discovery Museum (cdmfun.org). Experience the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (tvrail.com) to ride authentically restored steam and diesel powered passenger trains through tunnels, across water, and among treetops on the South’s largest operating historic railroad. If you want to know Chattanooga like a local, take a 90-minute walking tour downtown with Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours (chattanoogasidewalktours.com). Stroll across the renovated Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian-only bridges in the world, or amble through Coolidge Park to see the vintage Carousel and the retail revival on the North Shore where shopping rules. Catch a ride aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat (chattanoogariverboat.com) as it cruises through the Tennessee River Gorge. Select from an array of cruise and meal options, with a theme for every occasion. The Fall Leaf Cruise is one not to miss.
Downtown across the Tennessee River, perched high on an 80 foot bluff, is a celebration of 100 years of architecture with the South’s largest collection of American Art – the Hunter Museum of American Art (huntermuseum.org). From the 1905 classic mansion to the sharp lines of the modern 1975 East Wing and the contemporary steel and glass of the 2005 West Wing, the museums façade coincides with the vast collection of paintings, paper, sculpture, furniture, and other art spanning these periods.
Within walking distance from the museum is the Bluff View Art District (bluffviewdistrict.com), an enchanting fusion of restaurants, cafés, galleries, gardens, and a historic inn, where the panache of Southern flair meshes with European influence. Stroll charming street-side shops where visitors can observe culinary artisans at work through storefront windows making pastries and pastas, creating handmade chocolates, roasting gourmet coffees, and baking scrumptious breads. Relax in the two acre River Gallery & Sculpture Garden (river-gallery.com) displaying an impressive private collection of contemporary American art in a breathtaking natural setting.
Dining options throughout this charming city are unlimited. For the finest in Greek cuisine, Niko’s Southside Grill (nikossouthside.com) delivers in a big way. The Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar (boathousechattanooga.com) satisfies cravings for Gulf Coast foods while Sticky Fingers (stickyfingers.com) slathers mouth-watering BBQ sauce on its menu selection.
If you want to venture out a bit, nearby attractions include Rock City (SeeRockCity.com) with its awesome botanical and geological features including numerous natural rock formations, waterfalls, bridges, and even a cliff-side terrace where on a clear day you can see seven states, all from the top of Lookout Mountain.
See American’s highest underground phenomenon at Ruby Falls (rubyfalls.com). This massive 145’ underground waterfall is located 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain, but 200 feet below at the entrance to the cave, estimated to be about 30 million years old.
While on the mountain top, don’t miss America’s most amazing mile – the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (ridetheincline.com). With a breathtaking grade of tract at 72.7%, the world’s steepest passenger railway is an enclosed railcar with a glass roof for spectacular views of the mountains and the valley.
Better get some rest before you come to Chattanooga because there’s too much to do to sleep!