By Robin Mackinaw
On a trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, I was treated to a glimpse of the best the town has to offer. From high atop Lookout Mountain to crossing the Walnut Street Pedestrian bridge, I was impressed by the sights and sounds and opportunities that await. The Walnut Street Bridge is one of the longest pedestrian walkway bridges in the world at 2,370-feet. It connects downtown Chattanooga with the vibrant historic North Shore District. Built in 1891, the old truss bridge became the first multi-use structure to span the Tennessee River, and for almost three decades, it served as the only way to cross the river. It’s described as the oldest surviving truss bridge of its size in the South.
I walked across this bridge to attend the Moon River Music Festival. The impact of this moment was, for me, profound. Following the physical commitment, I enjoyed the festival with new friends and a new respect for this historic city.
Claiming natives such as Jackie Mitchell, Reggie White and Terrell Owens, Chattanooga, TN has a long history of a love for sports. Home of the Chattanooga Lookouts, AT&T Stadium looks over the Tennessee River and the Walnut Street Bridge. Within a short distance, McKenzie Arena, UT Aquatic Center, Finley Stadium, Warner Park and the Summit round out the sports offerings.
“Find the passion for the sports and the competitors will come,” Tim Morgan, President of the Chattanooga Sports Committee shared, as he described the dedication to sports enthusiasts while showing off a few of the offerings of this expansive, but quaint town.
With faint memories of having visited the town as a child, memories flooded back, but a lot has changed in this Southern city.
Chattanooga was the second city in the world (China was first) to provide 1 Gig internet in 2010; in 2015, Chattanooga became the first city in the world to provide the fastest internet at 10 Gigs. This is an enormous benefit to sports fans and visitors alike, with the entire city on-board for providing easy access for the many devices that demand instant scores, stats and maps that so many of us rely upon.
Re-opened September 2018 is Downtown’s Miller Park. This $8+ million renovation elevated the park to street level, added lawn space plus a climbable rock outcropping, a garden walk and an enclosed pavilion.
High Point Climbing and Fitness, left, and at UT Chattanooga Aquatic Center, right.
With more rock within a 25-mile radius of Chattanooga than Boulder, Colorado, Chattanooga is a mecca for climbers. Natural formations abound, but additionally, you can reach new heights at High Point Climbing and Fitness, catch some air at Chatttown Skate Park, kayak the Tennessee River at River Drifters or try something new at Adventure Sports Innovation, where you can participate via virtual reality in a variety of activities using new inventions. www.Adventuresportsinnovation.com
The Tennessee River, winding through downtown, provides ample opportunity for water activities. The Southern Belle Riverboat offers sightseeing, lunch, dinner and private cruises along the waterfront and to the Tennessee River Gorge. Pier 2 at the Landing is the stationary dockside facility, offering banquet and private event facilities. www.chattanoogariverboat.com
River Drifters Chattanooga outdoor water gear rental and restaurant – a one-stop shop for food and fun, River Drifters offers single kayak, tandem kayak, and stand up paddle board rentals. www.Riverdrifterschatt.com
Chattanooga is home to many recurring events. A few of the sports offerings include:
- Chattanooga Marathon Race Weekend /Downtown Chattanooga (Free to watch) March /8 a.m.-8 p.m. The Chattanooga Marathon weekend highlights the unique qualities that define the community as the best outdoor destination. The popular race weekend features a marathon, half marathon, team relay, 5K, kid’s fun run, and live music.
- Chattanooga Lookouts Baseball Team/AT&T Field ($) April -Sept., /Dates & times vary. Get outside for a family-fun outing at the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate team for the Minnesota Twins (2014). Individual game ticket prices range from just $4-$10. Special pricing is available for season passes, luxury suites, group outings, little league lineup and birthday parties
- Sunbelt Bakery IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga Triathlon/Downtown Riverfront (FREE to watch). The Sunbelt Bakery IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga triathlon leads nearly 3,000 athletes on a 1.2-mile swim in the Tennessee River, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run on nearly the same course as IRONMAN Chattanooga (September). Transitions and finish line are at Ross’s Landing on the downtown Chattanooga Riverfront.
- Little Debbie IRONMAN Chattanooga Triathlon/Downtown Riverfront (FREE to watch). The Little Debbie IRONMAN Chattanooga is one of 11 full races in the IRONMAN® U.S. Series. IRONMAN Chattanooga leads athletes through a 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River, 112-mile bike through the valley and 26.2-mile run on a course that utilizes a variety of Chattanooga’s scenic areas. There will be a USD professional prize purse.
- Triple Crown Bouldering Series/Stone Fort Bouldering ($) October. The Triple Crown Series provides a tremendous opportunity to promote the sport of bouldering, which has quickly become the focus of the ever-growing climbing community. Shoe demos, bouldering competition, live music & entertainment, and delicious food. The other Triple Crown locations include Hound Ears (Boone, NC) & Horse Pens-40 (Steele, AL).
- Head of the Hooch Rowing Regatta/Downtown Riverfront (FREE) November. Watch the Hooch from Chattanooga’s riverfront as nearly 10,000 rowers compete on the challenging course in the second largest rowing regatta in America, after Head of the Charles. The Hooch celebrated 10 years in Chattanooga in 2014.
- Ice on the Landing’s Special Late Skate New Year’s Eve Party/Chattanooga Choo Choo ($) December 31/11 pm-1 am iceonthelanding.com Ice on the Landing is the perfect place for the family to ring in the New Year. Enjoy fun music, skating, and a sparkling cider toast at midnight. This event does require a separate ticket.
For transportation options downtown, there are FREE zero-emission shuttles that run daily every 5-7 minutes between the Chattanooga Choo Choo to the Tennessee Aquarium and stops every block in between, providing easy access to the city. These electric vehicles run on a schedule that can be found online at www.carta-bus.org.
The Grey line of Tennessee offers a hop on/hop off trolley tour that runs daily from 10am-5pm. The trolley stops at 9 iconic attractions and offers another convenient way to traverse the city. Visit www.Chattanoogahop.com for stops and to purchase passes.
For biking enthusiasts, or for anyone looking for a fun way to explore Chattanooga, Bike Chattanooga is a 24/7 bicycle transit system offering more than 300 bikes at 38 stations located throughout the city. Each station is equipped with a kiosk system at which you purchase a 24-hour pass, as well as dock the bikes and recharge the bikes with assisted motion. www.bikechattanooga.com
With so many wonderful destinations for food, decisions are difficult, but the rewards are plentiful. I visited each of the restaurants listed and was not disappointed at any stop.
- Easy Bistro & Bar, one of the most well-regarded restaurants in Chattanooga. It’s located across the street from the Tennessee Aquarium in a century-old building that was formerly home to the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant. The restaurant has a nationally recognized wine and craft cocktail program and is one of the only raw bars in Tennessee to feature seafood from all three coasts. Easy’s menu features classics as well as daily features made with ingredients raised and grown at local farms. The menu features Braised Brisket with confit potatoes or Cioppino, classic bistro fare such as steak frites and shrimp & grits, specialty raw oysters sourced from the Gulf and the East and West coasts, and rotating seasonal raw fare including Cobia Tartare or Tuna Sashimi with Lamb Back. Owners Amanda and Chef Erik Niel, a two-time semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Southeast, also own the restaurant & butcher Shop Main Street Meats in the Southside District and run the Scenic City Supper Club.
- STIR. Built in the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the restaurant weaves a modern, urban aesthetic with the historic remnants of the iconic terminal station. The restaurant brings an intense focus on six types of artisan ice and craft cocktails. They also use the freshest ingredients available, predominantly from farms and vendors within 100 miles of Chattanooga.
- Located in the West Village downtown, the new upscale Old Gilman Grill opened in August 2018. The menu offers a fresh take on American dining with a French twist – social plates including deviled local farm eggs, tuna tartare, and bacon wrapped dates; house specialties such as grilled Bramlett trout, seared scallops, and succulent steaks; and a selection of classic cocktails made table-side. Paint & varnish since 1910.
- Community Pie, located adjacent to Miller Plaza. The restaurant offers Neapolitan pizza cooked in wood-fired ovens, craft beer and homemade gelato. The Monens’ who own the restaurant, also own three other successful restaurants (Taco Mamacita/North Shore and Urban Stack & Clyde’s on Main/Southside) as well as their newest specialty store, Milk & Honey gelato & sorbet shop. Community Pies’ gelato comes from Milk & Honey.
- Big River Grille & Brewing Works, located in downtown across from the Tennessee Aquarium & High Point Climbing & Fitness. The cuisine is all-American favorites, award-winning ales and lagers and a spacious outdoor patio, along with billiards, a working brewery, bar and semi and -private dining areas for groups and parties.
- Mojo Burrito, a Chattanooga-owned Tex-Mex favorite. Their menu features healthy, fresh, and delicious food in a hip environment as well as artwork by local artists, designers, and photographers. They have three restaurants in the Chattanooga area – St. Elmo, Red Bank, and Ooltewah.
- Back Inn Café in the Bluff View Art District with gorgeous views of the Walnut Street Bridge, Tennessee River, Maclellan Island, the mountains and Coolidge Park, Back Inn Café offers upscale global cuisine with an extensive wine list. The menu changes seasonally to provide guests with fresh dishes and the latest innovations in fine cuisine. Patrons may choose to sit in the peaceful library, one of two romantic sunrooms, or outside on the terrace overlooking the river.
I visited the following hotels and was awed by the choices for unique accommodations:
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Chattanooga Downtown/Cameron Harbor, located on the banks of the Tennessee River. The hotel features a patio overlooking the Tennessee River, a Bike Share rack for easy access the Tennessee Riverpark that runs past the hotel, deluxe breakfast, indoor pool, fitness center, and Scotties on the River (opened June 2018), a seafood restaurant adjacent to the hotel that also provides scenic views of the
- The Chattanoogan Hotel, a full-service hotel that offers luxury accommodations, day spa, fitness center with steam room and sauna, pool, live music on the weekends, three restaurants including the Broad Street Grille (fresh, local, & regional American Cuisine), The Foundry (bistro menu, full bar, & casual game room), and Stroud’s sidewalk café (coffee, sandwiches, salads, etc.), and more.
- Opened November 2018, Moxy Hotel, a boutique hotel with the social heart of a hostel, that will open in the Southside District across from St. John’s Restaurant. The four-story property will include 102 rooms, free Wi-Fi, cushy beds, stylish design, vibrant communal spaces, modern services, in-room storage (big enough to fit a bicycle), and a bar. Moxy Hotels is Marriott International’s new millennial-focused brand that debuted in September 2014 with the opening of the Moxy Milan Italy. Property by Chattanooga’s 3H Group.
- The newly opened 10-story Westin Chattanooga in the heart of downtown with scenic views of Lookout and Signal Mountains. The hotel includes 260 luxury guest rooms, 15,000 square feet of versatile indoor event space, Alchemy Skybar, Dorato restaurant, Dorato Lobby Bar, fitness studio, and an outdoor heated pool. The hotel is part of an $88 million project that features pedestrian-friendly cobblestone streets, festival & event space, Peet’s Coffee, Pinkberry, Alimentari Cucina e Bar, and more.
- The historic Read House hotel, located downtown, is undergoing $20 million in major renovations. The renovations include upgrading the 242 guest rooms with new technology and bathroom furnishings, as well as transforming the lobby, ballroom, and restaurant to create a modern version of the hotel’s original grandeur. Portions of the hotel will be open and operational throughout the project. Property by Avocet Hospitality Group.
- Chattanooga Choo Choo, located in the Southside District, which has been undergoing major renovations and additions of new restaurants, bars, attractions, shopping, and entertainment. New additions include Songbirds Guitars, Songbirds North & South Stages, Frothy Monkey, STIR, American Draft, Regan’s Place, Westbound Bar, Refinery 423, Sweetly Southern, Back Stage Bar, and the relocation of The Comedy Catch. Renovations include upgrades to the 108year-old Terminal Station lobby, Glenn Miller Gardens, and Building 1, and conversion of Buildings 2 & 3 into apartments. Station Street, formerly an alleyway, was renovated to become pedestrian friendly, provide patio access to the restaurants and entertainment venues, and provide an outdoor space for special events. Station Street recently became the 11th street nationwide to allow on-street consumption of alcohol (only from businesses adjacent to the street). Across the street from the Choo Choo, there’s Terminal Brewhouse, Chattanooga Whiskey, the Hot Chocolatier, Wildflower Tea, Blue Orleans, the South Station for the free electric shuttle, and much more.
- The Chattanooga Marriott at the Convention Center is the only hotel connected to the expansive convention center and is perfectly positioned in the heart of downtown and is surrounded by shopping, dining and entertainment venues. It features 343 guest rooms and suites with contemporary touches, 24-hour fitness center, business center, indoor and outdoor pools, Table South, Lookout Café and The Bar at Table South.
With so many things to see and do in Chattanooga, my time was full of fun and interesting things to experience. Here are a few of the exciting adventures I had:
- Tennessee Aquarium and the Tennessee Aquarium’s IMAX 3D Theater, located downtown on the banks of the Tennessee River. The Aquarium includes two buildings that feature lemurs, river otters, alligators, prehistoric-looking sturgeon, the tweeting electric eel, sharks, stingrays, colorful reef fish, penguins, a walk-through butterfly garden, and more. The Extraordinary Experiences offer an up-close encounter with cool creatures around every corner. The 45-minute Backstage Pass gives you VIP access to get up close, touch, and feed Aquarium animals. You can also take in an IMAX 3D movie next door on a six-story screen with IMAX with Laser Projection system, a cutting-edge technology offered in only a few dozen theaters worldwide and unmatched by any movie house within hundreds of miles of Chattanooga.
- Levitt AMP Chattanooga Music Series held on the Bessie Smith Cultural Center lawn. This FREE 10-week concert series featured a diverse lineup of local, regional, and national artists. The series shines a light on the renowned musical heritage of the Martin Luther King District/Big 9 while reestablishing it as a thriving cultural destination. Patrons enjoyed local food vendors, special themes, and activities for children.
- Ruby Falls, home to America’s deepest commercial cave and tallest underground waterfall open for public viewing. It features a thundering 145-foot waterfall located 1,120 feet beneath the surface of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The falls were discovered in 1928 by Leo Lambert and a team of excavators. Lambert named the falls after his wife, Ruby, and opened the area as a public attraction in 1930. Following the underground guided tour, enjoy a panoramic view of the Tennessee Valley from the Lookout Mountain Tower. Ruby Falls is strongly committed to environmental sustainability and was the first attraction in America to receive the Green Globe Certification. Their sustainable practices include using all LED lighting, installing solar panels, and recycling. Adjacent to Ruby Falls, they also run the Zipstream Aerial Adventure, a challenging ropes course and zip line 40 feet in the air.
- Songbirds Guitars which features an unparalleled permanent and rotating collection of more than 500 rare vintage instruments. The guitars are grouped by brand, time frame, and linear progression and include acoustic, electric, jazz, bass, mandolin, banjo, and mandocello models. The main exhibits are self-guided and include 350 instruments, interactive videos, a performance stage, and gift shop. The upgraded All Access Tours include a guided tour through the main exhibits and access to the Green Room and the Vault where some of the most exclusive guitars in the world are displayed (offered at certain times of the day and require advance registration). Each display features the guitars that made the music as well as the stories and artists that brought them to life. The museum also offers regular live music, educational workshops, and can be booked for special events.
- Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park, named for the Native American word meaning “bountiful waters,” opened in 1925 and boasted the largest swimming pool in the southeast. Now, one of the South’s favorite family amusement parks, the 80-acre park offers 38 rides, food concessions, paddleboats, miniature golf, interactive water play area, a shady picnic grove, and the seven-attraction SOAKya water park. Rides include the 50-mph Cannon Ball roller coaster with a 40-foot drop, Bumper Cars, Tilt-A-Whirl, Orbiter, Scrambler, 14-story freefall OH-Zone, and the Fire Ball looping roller coaster! Open May-October.
- Rock City, one of the South’s most popular natural attractions. Known for its unique geological and botanical wonders, the enchanted 4,100-foot walking trail is a true marvel of nature featuring massive ancient rock formations, a 140-foot waterfall that cascades down Lookout Mountain, a panoramic view of seven states and a Swing-A-Long Bridge that spans nearly 200 feet. You can also enjoy a delicious meal at Café 7 located on the terrace at Lover’s Leap or check out the more casual Big Rock Grill, located right inside Rock City’s entrance. Rock City offers a variety of special seasonal events including Shamrock City, Fairytale Nights, Summer Music Weekends, Birds of Prey Show, Blowing Springs Farm, Enchanted MAiZE, Rocktoberfest, and the Enchanted Garden of Lights.
- High Point Climbing and Fitness/Downtown. This premier rock climbing facility includes 30,000 square feet of climbing and bouldering space indoors & outdoors (transparent climbing wall!) – making it one of the nation’s largest gyms. High Point offers a lead, top rope, and auto-belay walls; two 15-meter speed climbing walls; lead climbing pit; two bouldering areas; the Kid Zone with 3,000 square feet of space designed specifically for young climbers; and diverse cross-training in their aerobic, weight, spin, and yoga rooms. The High Point Climbing School is run by professional AMGA certified climbers Lisa Rands and Wills Young who can also take you on guided rock climbing trips outside.
Chattanooga is Tennessee’s 4th largest city, with a population of 177,000. With a moderate temperature and an easy drive to so many Southern states, it is easy to see why Chattanooga is a popular choice for sporting events and vacations. Thank you for a great visit, Charming Chattanooga! #ChattanoogaFun
Editor’s Note: The Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau arranged this media visit and provided transportation, travel and other amenities. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are from the author.