Chattanooga, a historic railway town on the banks of the Tennessee River, is a destination chock-full of local history, food and family friendly activities — all with easy access to nature in the surrounding mountains. Here are some highlights in the Scenic City, in southeastern Tennessee:
Ruby Falls (tickets $11.95-$19.95; 1720 South Scenic Hwy., 423-821-2544, rubyfalls.com), an underground waterfall inside Lookout Mountain, is one of Chattanooga’s most popular draws. On the Georgia side, Lookout Mountain is also home to Rock City, from which you can see seven states on a clear day.
Take a hike through Stringer’s Ridge (outdoorchattanooga.com), a mountainous, 92-acre urban wilderness park that overlooks downtown Chattanooga. The park has three trails ranging from easy to strenuous, plus routes for mountain biking.
Explore Chattanooga’s heritage as a historic railway city at Chattanooga Choo Choo (1400 Market St., 423-266-5000, choochoo.com), a restored early 20th century train station. Then head around the corner to Station Street, a new entertainment district that’s home to Songbirds Guitar Museum (admission $12 in advance, $15.95 at the door; 35 Station St., 423-531-2473, museum.songbirds.rocks), which charts the evolution of the electric guitars, houses rare axes from artists including Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and at night becomes a concert venue.
The Bessie Smith Cultural Center (closed Sundays, admission $7/adults, $5/seniors and students, $3/ages 6-12; 200 E. Martin Luther King Blvd., 423-266-8658, bessiesmithcc.org) tells the story of the short, colorful life of the “Empress of the Blues,” who was born and raised in Chattanooga. The cultural center also chronicles the history of the city’s African-American community through artifacts and photos.
Stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge — one of the longest pedestrian walkways in the world, at nearly 2,400 feet, spanning the bucolic Tennessee River — to the city’s Northshore, where several boutiques, art galleries and restaurants await. Be sure to pick up dessert from local favorite Clumpies Ice Cream (26 Frazier Ave., 423-267-5425, clumpies.com).
Explore the Bluff View Art District (bluffviewartdistrictchattanooga.com), a neighborhood that’s home to gardens, a coffee shop and art gallery. Take in the nearby Tennessee River before dinner at Tony’s Pasta Shop (212 High St., 423-265-5033), which serves Italian cuisine in a converted Victorian carriage house.
Enjoy a hyperlocal meal at Main Street Meats (217 E. Main St., 423-602-9568, mainstreetmeatschatt.com), which sources its protein from Tennessee and Alabama and butchers it on-site. The burger with caramelized onion, bacon and Gruyere cheese is a standout.
GOOD TO KNOW
Getting there: Delta now offers nonstop flights from LaGuardia Airport to Chattanooga in under three hours.
Getting around: Chattanooga’s downtown and riverfront neighborhoods are walkable; there’s also a free shuttle to ferry visitors around the city.
Where to stay: The Westin Chattanooga (801 Pine St., 423-531-4653, westinchattanooga.com) has 260 guest rooms with mountain views. For a boutique experience, there’s the Dwell Hotel (children under 12 not permitted; 120 E. 10th St., 423-267-7866, thedwellhotel.com), with 16 guest rooms and the eclectic restaurant, Solarium.