Chattanooga is sprawling, and there are so many things to do here. But if you’re a periodic visitor like me, then you might want to take a weekend to dive-deep on just one neighborhood – and Downtown Chattanooga is a great place to start.
We’ve got the scoop on where to stay, eat and explore. Are you ready to hit Tennessee’s The Scenic City?
DOWNTOWN CHATTANOOGA FUN ON THE MAP
STAY AT THE THE READ HOUSE
If you don’t have kids with you, then The Read House is where you want to be. Originally built in 1872, the hotel has undergone several renovations and additions over the years.
The latest revamp is my favorite: a sort of 1920’s Gatsby, jazz-era elegance. We’re talking gorgeous chandeliers, checkerboard floors, glitz, glam, and all things celebrating its honor as the longest continuously operating hotel in the southeast.
If you’re not ready to stay at Chattanooga’s host to many noble guests such as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson then I offer you two other options.
The Chattanoogan is family friendly, and a Hilton Curio collection for those of you wanting to work your points. Recently renovated rooms make this a very comfy stay without sacrificing quality or having to resort to the “big box” staples. This is really in Southside and not Downtown, but it’s where we always stay, so I wanted to mention it!
The Dwell Hotel is another historic property, as it sits in what was once a large fort. The retro-chic hotel gives a nod to mid-century modern, but with a really creative touch.
There are only 16 rooms, and each one is uniquely decorated, boasting fireplaces, balconies and bright and cheerful boho vibe.
GETTING AROUND THE CITY’S DOWNTOWN
Yeah, you can drive where you need to… but why bother? Nurture Mother Nature a bit.
If you need to get around while giving your feet a break then I recommend either the free electric shuttle or a bike.
Now the shuttle won’t get you to Ruby Falls or Rock City (though there is a route to the Incline Railway via the Elmo/Incline Shuttle), but it will get you all around the downtown area and North Shore (you know, over the bridge!)
Bike Chattanooga also offers a bike share system. It’s only $8/day or $15 for the weekend (3-day pass).
WHERE TO EAT DOWNTOWN
Listen, there are so many amazing places to eat in Chattanooga, it’s hard to begin. In fact, I wrote an entire post about Chattanooga restaurants so click the link and check it out.
There are two things I want you to keep in mind:
My favorite restaurant in the downtown area is Tony’s Pasta Shop. The food is outstanding, and the rustic Old Italy feel just relaxes you. Plus, the wine menu is fantastic, and you’ll love the way it overlooks Bluff View and the sculpture gardens.
Second. If you feel like exploring beyond downtown then hit up the Southside neighborhood along E Main. It’s the largest concentration of the best restaurants in the city, in my opinion.
EXPLORE THE BLUFF ARTS DISTRICT
Since you’re already in the Bluff Arts District noshing on lasagna from Tony’s, let’s start there.
I know. Technically the Arts District is different from Downtown, but it is so super close that we’re going to include it. Just hop over the Holberg Bridge to get there.
You’ll want to grab coffee at Rembrandt’s Coffee House. It’s sensational. We also love Bluff View Bakery, but they have not reopened to the public. You can sample their bread, though, by picking up a loaf at Rembrandt’s (it’s also served at the table at Tony’s).
Walk around with your coffee and take in the outdoor sculpture garden here, and the views of the Tennessee River.
Once you’ve devoured your coffee, head into the Hunter Museum of American Art. The museum’s collection spans three buildings and includes American art from the Colonial period to the present, with an emphasis on artists from the southeastern United States. It’s closed on Tuesdays so plan accordingly.
SEE THE VIEW FROM WHISKEY THIEF
On the rooftop of The Edwin Hotel (another great option for your overnight stay) is a superb lounge called Whiskey Thief. Craft cocktails and small plates pull you in, but oh those views of the city skyline will make sure you never leave.
Inside you’ll find rich wood tones, gigantic windows, and sultry leather seating. The outside seating is more casual, but with views of Walnut Street Bridge and Tennessee Aquarium, you won’t miss the fireplace.
Reservations not available. 21+ after 9pm.
BLOW YOUR OWN DESIGN AT IGNIS GLASS STUDIO
The best souvenir you can bring home from your trip might just be one you make yourself!
iGNis Glass Studio allows you to blow your own designs, including an ornament, paperweight, vase or bowl. Traveling with kids? Yes, they can accommodate families, also.
Make an appointment on a weekend to guarantee a spot, but if you forget then try to do a walk-in. They will fit you in if space allows!
MASTER THE TIME TO ESCAPE ROOM
Time to Escape is Chattanooga’s best escape room (and a favorite of ours!) We played Locker Room Lockdown (yours truly was locked in the cage!) but they also have a 1944 railroad mystery and 1960s spy game, too.
The games are always changing, so visiting with every weekend getaway to Chattanooga is not off the table. The games are well done and the staff is super friendly here.
The Tennessee Aquarium, Rocky City and Ruby Falls might be the most popular attractions in Chattanooga… and lucky you, the aquarium is right downtown.
Two buildings showcase animals in the ocean, and in and along the river. In Ocean’s Journey you can see penguins, the butterfly garden, and jellyfish (that’s my favorite room in the whole aquarium!)
In River’s Journey you’ll find touch tanks (these aren’t your ordinary touch tanks – the manta and shark tanks are sensationally done and my teens love them!) turtles, alligators and more.
Don’t forget to explore the grounds of the aquarium – the campus is beautiful.
ON BELAY AT HIGH POINT CLIMBING
Located in the heart of downtown, High Point Climbing indoor climbing facility features a variety of climbing challenges suitable for all skill levels.
In addition to the climbing opportunities (perfect for super hot or rainy vacay days,) High Point offers stunning views of the surrounding cityscape from its rooftop observation deck. Visitors can take in the panoramic views while enjoying a snack or drink from the café.
WALK THE WALNUT STREET PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE
Originally built in 1891 for cars, Walnut Street Bridge was later converted to a pedestrian-only bridge in 1993. It is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world, measuring 2,376 feet!
We love the views of the city you get from the bridge, but the fun part is also getting to the other side of the Tennessee and exploring the North Shore.
I know, I know… The North Shore is not the Downtown area. But heck, you can’t do Downtown without walking the bridge. And you can’t walk the bridge without checking out the other side, right?
On the North Shore, you can ride the Coolidge Park Carousel with its stunning hand-painted animals (it’s just a buck… you can do this) or cool off in the fountains just beside the carousel.
Donuts at Julie Darling, ice cream at Clumpies, cookie dough from No Baked… there are treats galore over here (and great restaurants, too!)
BIKE THE TENNESSEE RIVER PARK GREENWAY
Grab a bike from Bike Chattanooga and bike along the 10-mile TN River Park Greenway. You’ll see the city (and the Tennessee Valley) in a brand new way. (Not keen to bike? You can also walk, run or rollerblade!)
The paved trail runs from the Chickamauga Dam to the Riverwalk at Ross’s Landing, passing through several parks and rec areas along the way, including the Tennessee Riverpark, Heritage Park, and the Chattanooga Audubon Society’s sanctuary.
The Chattanooga Market is a popular outdoor market open Sundays from April to December. We just missed it the last time I was in town, but the kids and I used to visit every summer for many years.
Some people might say it’s in the Southside… I think it’s about 1.5 miles down from the aquarium, and not exactly Downtown. If that’s too far a walk, just hop on the electric shuttle, remember? Cuz you gotta go.
You’ll find 200-ish vendors selling everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts and artisanal foods to local art. The focus is on local and sustainable products, and supports small businesses – which we love.
On top of all that, it’s covered, which allows the market to operate rain or shine. And it also features live music, food trucks, and a beer garden so you can enjoy local brews while you shop.
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