Chattanooga: Home away from Home
Story by Tania Meek
Photos courtesy of Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau
There are moments in life when we are blessed to select where we go and where we will reside. A decade ago, I had the opportunity to do exactly that. I decided to settle in a region steeped in beauty and tradition, Southeast Ohio. I did so in part because it reminded me of home. For me, home while I was growing up was a scenic city in Southeast Tennessee named Chattanooga.
Often, we wish to explore the unfamiliar, to experience a new way of life and culture. Yet, seemingly just as often, we simply wish to momentarily hang our hat where it feels familiar, warmhearted and welcoming. Unpack with me five reasons you’ll soon yearn to visit this home away from home. Discover how Chattanooga will draw you in, wrap its Southern arms around you in a heartfelt hug and send you home feeling alive, refreshed and inspired.
BREATHTAKING IN BEAUTY
Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains just north of the Georgia border, Chattanooga is wrapped equally in both a scenic urban environment and a rustic outdoor backdrop. The city, boasting a population of 175,000+, draws in over 3 million visitors a year to take a glimpse of its beauty. The Tennessee River winds its way through the heart of downtown and is part of the heritage that once made Chattanooga a dynamic industrial city. Today the river still waters its cultural, scenic and economically vibrant downtown.
There is a plethora of possibilities to behold this city’s charms. You may choose to spend the day strolling downtown’s picturesque 13-mile Riverwalk, delighting in sweeping vistas from an overlook atop Lookout Mountain, or hop aboard the Tennessee Valley Railroad, taking a historical train ride back in time. Be sure to grab your family and spend the day enjoying the well-known Rock City, Ruby Falls and Incline Railway, all atop Lookout Mountain. Close out a day of sightseeing aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat, partaking in a delicious dinner cruise and relishing the Chattanooga skyline illuminated at sunset and night.
RICH IN CULTURE
Chattanooga may be known as the “Scenic City” yet it’s equally known for its cultural flavor. Sample art, cuisine, music, live events and theater – all providing a selection of enriching opportunities, leaving your taste buds hungry for more.
The downtown area is steeped in art with its very own riverside bluff offering every art lovers dream – the Hunter Museum of American Art, River Gallery & Sculpture Garden, and the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts. This downtown historic neighborhood is personally one of my all-time favorite go-to places in Chattanooga. Spanning only 1.5 city blocks, it might be small in comparison to other districts, but walking along its sidewalks guarantees to transport you to another place. The downtown area packs stunning scenery, impeccable style, luxurious lodging accommodations, mouthwatering restaurants and coffee shops, and an opportunity to escape everyday life, even if only for a day.
In the days since I was a child, the downtown and its surrounding area have undergone a stunning transformation and revitalization effort. The city offers a free electric shuttle and a new bike share program, so that getting around the downtown area doesn’t have to be a headache or expense. Take time to visit its NorthShore and Southside areas to peruse locally owned boutique shops, salons, day spas, restaurants, and parks. Partake in a diverse year-round offering of live cultural events, such as the eight-day Riverbend Festival and the Bessie Smith Strut. Delight in a show held at the Comedy Catch and Giggles Grill at the famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo or at one of the three historic downtown theaters – Tivoli Theatre, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Auditorium, and Walker Theatre. Wander through the outdoor Chattanooga Market, one of the nation’s top public markets, savoring in the local tastes and sounds of the region.
CREATIVE IN LEARNING
Learning should be fun and exciting and Chattanooga does not disappoint. Kick off your educational experience discovering downtown’s Creative Discovery Museum and Imax 3D Theater. Explore the story of water through the River and Ocean Journey exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium. Purchase combo tickets at a discount and plan to encounter all three locations on your next visit to downtown.
Encounter Chattanooga’s newest educational opportunity, the Songbirds Guitar Museum, where you will embark on an extraordinary journey through the history of the guitar and its influence on pop culture and music overall. Visit the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, affectionately named “The Bessie”. It houses an African and African American heritage center, providing education and preserving African-American history in Chattanooga and beyond.
For an up-close and nostalgic education, tour the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum. Recording its industry’s history, as well as displaying artifacts and memorabilia in a museum setting, it serves as both an enlightening and unique learning experience.
ALIVE IN HISTORY
Stories come alive in the history-steeped Chattanooga region. Whether you choose to spend a day or a week unpacking its rich past, this city and its surrounding areas have something for everyone, young and old alike. A trip to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is a must. Comprising of more than 9,000 acres of battlefields, monuments, forests, and metropolitan landscapes, there are plenty of opportunities to explore. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park consists of six distinct places throughout the greater Chattanooga area – Chickamauga Battlefield, Lookout Mountain Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, Moccasin Bend, Signal Point and Orchard Knob. Other local historical experiences include The Battles for Chattanooga exhibit located atop Lookout Mountain; the Chattanooga National Cemetery located on approximately 75 acres of rolling landscape near downtown; or nearby at The Raccoon Mountain Visitor Center located at TVA’s largest hydroelectric facility.
BOLD IN ADVENTURE
Chattanooga has always been an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Some of my fondest memories growing up in the region were made outdoors, among some of the most dazzling views a girl could ask for.
If you happen to be a hard-core adventure enthusiast, you will love the assorted risk-taking opportunities that abound, such as hang gliding, rock climbing, white-water rafting, caving expeditions and mountain biking. Personally, once I tackle my grownup fear of heights, my bucket list still contains the dream of feeling the wind kiss my face as I hang glide from the cliffs of Lookout Mountain, taking in the expansive views of the Tennessee Valley below.
Yet if you’re like me and not quite ready to tackle your greatest fears, do not worry! There are still limitless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
Listen as the leaves crunch under your feet hiking the pathways and exploring the views along Cloudland Canyon State Park, especially awe-inspiring in the fall. Grab your family and furry friend and enjoy a day wandering the trails of Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, studying conservation, biodiversity and recreation all in one relaxing stroll. Spend a tranquil afternoon kayaking down the Tennessee River while gazing up the riverside’s stone cliffs to take in the sights of the city peering down from above.
Traveling to a place that welcomes you and entices you to call it a home away from home is undoubtedly a treat. The true delight, though, is found when you discover more about yourself and your world along the way.
Chattanooga will encourage you to broaden your horizons, explore your ideals, expand your vision and value your nation’s history. After doing so, you’ll be pleased to arrive back home and realize the truth in Kate Douglas Wiggin’s statement that “There is a kind of magicness about going far away and then coming back all changed.”
RECOMMENDED LODGING ACCOMMODATIONS:
- Bluff View Inn – a deluxe bed & breakfast inn located in the Bluff View Art District downtown
- The Dwell Hotel – a downtown midcentury modern boutique hotel
- Chanticleer Inn – a luxury bed & breakfast located across the street from Lookout Mountain’s famous Rock City
- Chattanooga Choo Choo – a traditional hotel lodging accommodations as well as Pullman Train Car guest rooms
- Coolidge Parks’ Antique Carousel and Interactive Water Fountains – located on Chattanooga’s NorthShore
- Lake Winnie – a small but exciting family amusement park adjacent to Soak Ya Water Park
- Chattanooga Lookouts – a southern, minor league baseball team located at AT&T Field downtown
- Chattanooga Cycleboats – a tiny paddle wheel riverboat located on the Tennessee River