A Chattanooga Checklist
(above) Photo Courtesy of R&R Marketing
Venture through beautiful gardens and ancient rock formations at Lookout Mountain’s Rock City, located just six miles from downtown Chattanooga. A whimsical 4,100-foot walking trail leads to exciting destinations such as Fairyland Caverns, Mother Goose Village, the Swing-A-Long Bridge, and Lover’s Leap – where you’ll find a panoramic view of seven states! Visit Rock City in full bloom at the annual Southern Blooms Festival May 12-13 and 19-20. Rock City’s Summer Music Weekends feature a mix of bluegrass, folk, and country music, including tunes from Matt Downer-Old Time Traveler, from Memorial Day until Labor Day weekend.
(above) Photo Courtesy of R&R Marketing
Follow in the footsteps of generations of travelers at Ruby Falls, one of the nation’s tallest underground waterfalls. The magical 145-foot waterfall is reached via elevator ride, which takes visitors through solid limestone rock to a paved, lighted path – check out various formations and geological wonders as you make your way to the main attraction! Special tours include the Lantern Tour and the Extended Cave Experience. Thrill seekers can navigate the zip lines, suspended obstacle courses, and climbing tower of the Ruby Falls ZIPstream Aerial Adventure.
(above) Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga CVB
Travel “America’s Most Amazing Mile” by way of the Incline Railway – the steepest passenger railway in the world at a 72.7% grade. In operation since 1895, the incline has been transporting visitors up and down Lookout Mountain for over a century and is now used for entertainment and recreation purposes. At the summit, you can see the sights of Civil War history, including Point Park; down below, enjoy a hand-dipped ice cream cone while exploring historic St. Elmo’s unique shops and neighborhood.
(above) Photo Courtesy of TN Aquarium
Home to the most diverse gathering of freshwater animals in the country, the Tennessee Aquarium is consistently listed among the best aquariums in the United States. Meet alligators, otters, turtles, and massive River Giants in the River Journey building, then head over to Ocean Journey to get a glimpse of lemurs, penguins, jellyfish, sharks, touchable rays, and even butterflies! Daily presentations, from Secret Reef dive shows to animal encounters and more, are fun for the whole family, and backstage passes can be purchased for behind-the-scenes aquarium action. Remember to download the free app to help you plan your visit!
(above) Photo Courtesy of TN Aquarium
Bring your sense of adventure as you explore both aquarium buildings. Along the way, you’ll meet staff experts who look forward to sharing their passion and excitement for the amazing animals in their care. The aquarium offers more than a dozen Extraordinary Experience programs free with admission each day. You’ll discover cool creatures and learn fascinating facts you’ll want to share with others. And, you’ll leave with a deeper appreciation for the natural treasures that enrich our world.
(above) Photo Courtesy of TN Aquarium
Just a block from the aquarium, the IMAX 3D Theater features the only ultra-high definition laser projection system of its kind in the region. The six-story screen is filled with bright, crisp, and colorful scenes from the depths of the ocean to the edge of space. Add The Wild Around You 3D or Oceans 3D: Our Blue Planet to your aquarium admission for just $8. You’ll be immersed in the on-screen action while witnessing animal action that was captured for the first time when making these spectacular films.
Whether seeking a romantic activity or an informative tour, the drivers at Chattanooga Horse Trams can cater to your interests – as long as a horse is involved! In operation since 1992, the company allows visitors to explore the city at a slower pace on four- to six-passenger carriages, led by one of several handsome horses. Tours depart from the Tennessee Aquarium plaza.
Chattanooga’s best view is at 18,000 feet! The Chattanooga Skydiving Company, located in the beautiful Sequatchie Valley, boasts highly trained instructors and state-of-the-art parachute systems to ensure a scenic, successful tandem skydiving experience. Train to skydive solo with Tandem Direct Supervision, and after completing all the phases, you’ll be cleared for a solo jump. For an extra adrenaline rush, try the summer special, “Skydive with the Sharks” – which includes a free jump video!
(above) photo Courtesy of Bike Chattanooga
For some eco-friendly fun, explore Chattanooga by bike using the Bicycle Transit System. More than 350 bikes, including new electric assist bikes, are ready to be picked up at 41 rental stations throughout downtown. Purchase a daily pass, a three-day pass, or an annual membership, and simply return the bike to any station when you’re done! Download the smartphone apps, Transit app and CycleFinder app, to make payments, get directions, see available docks, and even track your usage.
Carrying over 150,000 passengers every year, Chattanooga’s Southern Belle riverboat is an attraction for locals and visitors alike. Choose from daily sightseeing cruises, lunch and dinner cruises, and event private charters, or stop by the 3rd Deck Burger Bar for a meal and incredible views of downtown. Summer events include a special Mother’s Day Cruise and a Fireworks Cruise in July!
(above) Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga Presents!
Mark your calendar for Chattanooga’s free music concert series – Nightfall at Miller Plaza and Riverfront Nights at Ross’s Landing! Nightfall runs on Friday nights from May 4 through August 31, featuring opening acts at 7 p.m. and a nationally touring headliner at 8 p.m. On Saturday nights in July and August, head to the riverfront to hear a diverse lineup including local and visiting artists. Both series are pet-friendly; bring a lawn chair and a blanket to fully enjoy the experience!
The secret’s in the combination at The Ice Cream Show, where ice cream or frozen yogurt is custom blended for a unique sweet treat! Customers can choose from over 40 fresh ingredients (ranging from berries and nuts to cheesecake and pretzels), which create more than 17,000 flavor combinations. Dairy-free and sugar-free options are also available. Savor your dessert or gourmet coffee on the shaded patio, or take it with you as you walk Chattanooga’s famous Walnut Street Bridge. The Ice Cream Show is open daily until 11 p.m.
On Friday nights, head up to the Walden Ridge’s Civic Center on Signal Mountain for one of Chattanooga’s best-kept secrets: The Mountain Opry. This musical tradition is nearly 40 years old and features a mix of bluegrass, gospel, and old-time country classics – giving audiences an authentic taste of Appalachian roots music in a wholesome, family atmosphere. Admission is free for the three-hour show, and concessions are available.
Is hang gliding on your bucket list? If so, you can soar high above the Scenic City with Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding. Take to the skies in a tandem flight to 1,500 feet or 3,000 feet, or train with an experienced instructor with your first solo flight just five feet off the ground. Make it a weekend getaway and reserve an RV space, bunkhouse, cabin, or camping spot!
Locally owned The Hot Chocolatier has been supplying handmade chocolates, desserts, gelato, and drinks to countless chocoholics since 2008. Located on Market Street, the shop now offers a variety of freshly baked pastries in addition to their signature truffles and bonbons. Visiting The Hot Chocolatier proves to be a memorable experience, as guests get a behind-the-scenes look into chocolate making; large windows reveal the inner workings of the kitchen, with the shop’s pastry chefs and their delectable treats on full display.
Located just outside Chattanooga, Raccoon Mountain Caverns is home to more than 5.5 miles of underground passageways. The Crystal Palace Walking Tour covers nearly half a mile of lighted cave and highlights many natural formations. “Get muddy” on a Wild Cave Expedition, where guests crawl through deeper sections of the cave for a truly authentic caving experience; these expeditions require reservations, so call ahead to book! A campground with tent areas, cabins, and full-service sites for RVs can also be found on the property.
Climb aboard a classic red and green trolley for the Chattanooga Hop On/Off Trolley Tour, one of the area’s newest attractions by Gray Line Tennessee. The one-hour guided tour features a full itinerary of Chattanooga’s favorite activities, museums, and restaurants, and visitors can hop off at any of the 8+ stops along the way to explore the city at their own pace. Tours depart from the Chattanooga Choo Choo every 45 minutes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
Put your problem-solving skills to the test at one of four escape room locations in Chattanooga – Escape Experience, Breakout Chattanooga, Quest2Escape, and Escape Mission Chattanooga. Bring friends and put your heads together to find clues and solve the case. Choose from several different interactive scenarios, and unlock the door to your freedom in just 60 minutes. Can you break free?
(above) Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga CVB
A ride with the Chattanooga Ducks is an adventure waiting to happen! History buffs, ecology enthusiasts, and children alike will enjoy touring the city by land, then splashing into the river for views of Chattanooga’s riverfront and Maclellan Island – all while aboard an authentic WWII amphibious landing craft. The tour is approximately one hour and runs five times a day during the summer months.
(above) photo by Sara Unger, Maycreate
Spend your next shopping spree at the eclectic Warehouse Row, the Southeast’s destination shopping center. Housing national and local retailers, this converted warehouse offers everything from clothing and jewelry to cosmetics and stationary. Take a break from shopping at the on-site spa and high-end salon, which afford the luxury of an afternoon of pampering. End your day on a high note with coffee, cocktails, or a full meal at one of several restaurants.
Recognized as one of the premier children’s museums in the region, the Creative Discovery Museum has no shortage of exciting events and hands-on programs scheduled throughout the summer. Permanent and temporary exhibits make the museum a unique place for curious young minds to learn and play. Beginning May 26, the PBS KIDS television series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood will come to life with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, A Grr-ific Exhibit – where children can sing, explore, and pretend! Celebrate honeybees, the world’s hardest workers, at Honey Harvest on the final weekend of July.
While no longer sold for a whopping 5 cents, when in Chattanooga, sharing a MoonPie is a must. Originally created as a smores-like snack for coal miners in 1917, MoonPies took off in the 1920s – and the Chattanooga Bakery began boxing up hundreds a day. Choose between chocolate, vanilla, banana, and even salted caramel varieties at Broad Street’s MoonPie General Store, where you’ll also find MoonPie memorabilia along with candy, soda, nostalgic gifts, and other local souvenirs. Don’t forget to pair your sweet treat with a glass of RC Cola!
Pack your gloves and your boots, and get ready to step into the role of a zookeeper! Children entering Pre-K through 8th grade can register for one of seven weekly themed summer camps at the Chattanooga Zoo, where they’ll enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of zoo life. Camp activities include pool days, excursion days, animal meet and greets, and more. Teens and adults don’t have to be excluded from the fun – the “Zookeeper for a Day” program is an interactive, educational offering that gives participants a firsthand look into the animals’ daily routines. The program includes visits to two exhibits, lunch, and a souvenir photo.
Did you know that the Chattanooga Zoo offers “WILD Encounters”? Visitors can interact, and even hand feed, some of the zoo’s cuddliest creatures; choose from meerkats, fennec foxes, spider monkeys, and more. For the newest encounter program, visitors will meet all four of the zoo’s cotton-top tamarins! During your encounter, chat with the zookeepers to learn all about these amazing animals and their habits, including their healthy diets and sleep patterns. Reservations are required.
A visit to the Chattanooga Zoo promises adventure, discovery, and plenty of wild fun. From the Komodo dragon and two-toed sloth in Deserts & Forests to the snow leopards and red pandas in the Himalayan Passage, zoo exhibits include more than 300 animals from all over the world. Don’t miss the newest exhibit building, La Selva Amazonica, which houses five species of South American monkeys! Hop on the Zoo Train in the Gombe Forest, stop by the petting zoo, and if you’re visiting on a weekend, ride a camel for the ultimate zoo experience. Complimentary keeper chats, animal shows, and a story time program are just a few of the activities you’ll want to add to your schedule.
Find miles of pet-friendly hiking trails waiting to be explored at Lula Lake, located just outside downtown Chattanooga. The beautiful Lula Lake Land Trust is home to two waterfalls and the recently created Cloudland Connector Trail System. The core property is open the first and last weekends of each month, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Pay special attention to all posted signs, and be respectful of where it’s acceptable to park. Stay up-to-date on events, such as River City Sessions on June 8 and guided hikes, by visiting the website.
Reach for the skies, or at least the ceiling, at Superfly Extreme Air Sports. This 30,000-square-foot facility includes a series of connected trampolines (and two Supertramps), a ninja obstacle course, and basketball goals for plenty of dunking action. Superfly also regularly hosts birthday parties, company events, fundraisers, and, for the truly young at heart, all-night slumber parties.
The Walnut Street Bridge was erected in 1890, making it Tennessee’s oldest non-military highway bridge still being used today! The now-pedestrian bridge connects downtown Chattanooga to the city’s vibrant NorthShore, and at under half a mile, the scenic walkway is perfect for a sunny day stroll. After working up an appetite, visitors can enjoy a picnic in nearby Coolidge Park.
Operating seven days a week, Chattanooga Segway Tour allows you to experience Chattanooga in a unique way! Riders can choose from a guided two-hour Downtown Historic Tour, covering places like the Tivoli Theater, Warehouse Row, the Tennessee Aquarium, and more, or a slightly shorter guided tour of NorthShore and Coolidge Park. Tours tend to fill up quickly, so be sure to make a reservation in advance.
Learn to dive deep at the Choo Choo Diving and Aquatic Center. Kids and adults alike can participate in certification courses, led by the center’s expert instructors, to gain knowledge and experience for underwater fun. Once certified, join in on a diving trip to Florida; more exotic dive sites include the Caribbean, Fiji, and Indonesia!
(above) Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga CVB
Ranking in the top 10% of American festivals is Chattanooga’s own Riverbend Festival, an eight-day musical extravaganza at Ross’s Landing. Five stages will play to host to this year’s broad range of artists, including Hank Williams, Jr., Third Eye Blind, Switchfoot, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, The Shadowboxers, Mitch Rossell, and Luke Combs. Grab a lawn chair and join more than 350,000 patrons for one (or all) of the nightly performances June 8 through 16.
Forever synonymous with the Scenic City, the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo remains a bustling center of activity similar to its former railroad days. The complex, which now offers an array of on-site dining, shopping, and gardens, has seen expansive renovations and the restoration of the terminal’s original architecture in recent years. Guests of the hotel can spend the night in a standard room or, for a unique experience, an authentic Pullman train car! Centered around the Choo Choo is Southside’s Station Street, Chattanooga’s newest entertainment destination and now Tennessee’s second open-container street (after Beale Street in Memphis, of course). Here, visitors and locals alike can find outstanding food, craft cocktails, and microbrews alongside a guitar museum, comedy club, dance bars, and more.
From raw oysters and gourmet burgers to breakfast fare and local brews, Station Street is home to a variety of cuisines and libations. Start your day with a farm breakfast and a coffee at Frothy Monkey, then dine on burgers and beer at The Terminal Brewhouse for lunch. With their signature raw bar and craft cocktails, STIR makes for a memorable evening meal, while the Backstage Bar is centrally located to all your Station Street entertainment choices. In the Choo Choo, American Draft offers a one-in-a-kind beer hall experience, with 29 draft beers exclusively from American breweries.
Tour the Songbirds Guitar Museum for an education in 20th-century music history, including a look at the museum’s unparalleled collection of acoustic and electric guitars. Audio accompaniments help to bring the guitars and their stories to life. This summer, visitors can check out the exhibit “Surfin’: Riding the Wave of Fender Sparkle Guitars” in the Green Room and Vault. Audiences can also enjoy live music at Songbirds’ North (which holds 200 seated) and South Stages (standing room for 500). For the guitar enthusiast, sessions are available for players to experience the vintage guitars first-hand.
Catch a show at The Comedy Catch for original entertainment and side-splitting humor. The venue has hosted some of the biggest names in comedy since first opening its doors in 1985, from Jerry Seinfeld and Jeff Foxworthy to Tracy Morgan and Ron White. Offering weekly comedy shows on Wednesdays through Sundays, The Comedy Catch also hosts special shows, improv groups, and discount nights. For a unique and unpredictable evening in Chattanooga, this is not a show you want to miss!
Dance the night away at one of Chattanooga’s pulsing dance clubs. A retro dance bar, Regan’s Place plays favorites from the ‘80s and ‘90s, including hits by Michael Jackson, N’Sync, Britney Spears, and more; hours are 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursdays and 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Westbound Bar, also open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, caters to the country music crowd. In addition to playing country and class rock hits, the bar hosts line dancing every Thursday night, with a free line dancing class offered an hour before opening.
(above) Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga CVB
Since hosting its first IRONMAN event in 2014, Chattanooga remains a premier race destination thanks to its scenic views and city-wide hospitality. This year, catch the Sunbelt Bakery IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga on May 20, and then the Little Debbie IRONMAN Chattanooga on September 30. View the race from the sidewalks and many bars or restaurants along the route, or head to the finish line to witness these accomplished and inspiring athletes in action.
Enjoy the best pubs and breweries Chattanooga has to offer all while powering a 15-person party bike! Pints and Pedals and the Chattanooga Brew Choo are the perfect bar crawl on wheels – just don’t forget to BYOB. Compile a playlist full of songs to customize your experience and keep your friends dancing in their seats!
(above) Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga Symphony & Opera
Sport your red, white, and blue at Coolidge Park on July 3 for Pops on the River, an Independence Day celebration and free concert by the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. The performance showcases a range of patriotic tunes while paying homage to some of America’s most influential composers. Fireworks over the Tennessee River serve as an unforgettable finale to the festivities.
(above) Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga Whiskey
Reviving a once-lost local tradition is the Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery, crafting Chattanooga’s first legally made whiskey since Prohibition. This Southside facility includes a micro-distillery and tasting room and offers tours seven days a week. Learn how whiskey is made from “grain to glass” and end your visit with a whiskey tasting flight (for patrons 21 and up, of course)! Visitors can also enjoy cocktails, flights, and neat pours during Speakeasy Hours: Thursday through Saturday from 8 p.m. until late.
What better way to escape the summer heat than a game or two of bowling? Pin Strikes Chattanooga and Spare Time Chattanooga have the latest in lanes, laser tag, arcade games, and more. Southside Social has established a boutique bowling alley option, with amenities including a full bar and menu, lounge seating, pool tables, and an outdoor courtyard. All three locations accommodate birthday parties and events and offer extended bowling hours on Friday and Saturday nights.
Opening for its 93rd season, Lake Winnepesaukah is a summer hot spot for locals and tourists alike. The family-friendly amusement park has it all: roller coasters, antique cars, a tilt-a-whirl, a Ferris wheel, paddle boats, kiddie rides, and more, spread out over 100 acres. SOAKya Water Park includes a crazy river with rolling waves and tubes, water slides, tube slides, a challenging obstacle course, and the Winnie 500 racing slide. Lake Winnie opens May 3, and SOAKya Water Park opens May 26.
(above) Photo Courtesy of Tennessee Valley Railroad
Journey back in time to an era where railroad travel was a way of life. Much more than a museum, the Tennessee Valley Railroad preserves railroad artifacts while offering daily train rides from Grand Junction Station. The Missionary Ridge Local is the most frequent service, taking guests along one of Chattanooga’s original railroad lines. For a unique experience, enjoy a three-course dining experience at Dinner on the Diner, or travel the Summerville Steam Special, which follows a historic route from Grand Junction Station to Summerville, Georgia.
Try your hand in the kitchen with a Dish T’Pass cooking class. Perfect for a date night, birthday party, or team-building activity, these privately booked events can accommodate 10 to 40 people for a hands-on experience, or up to 60 for a demonstration-only class. Step it up a notch with “Chopped” or “Restaurant Wars” cooking competitions.
Did you know that the Hunter Museum of American Art is comprised of three buildings? Each structure, from the stately mansion to the more modern 1970s addition, is worth exploring, including a visit to the permanent collection – featuring notable works from the Colonial period to the present day. The nearby Bluff View Art District should be your next stop; stroll around the sculpture garden, then treat yourself to artisan breads or house-roasted coffee from the local shops.
Although they can’t actually guarantee a ghostly encounter, the guides at Chattanooga Ghost Tours will share spooky tales of Chattanooga’s best haunted locales. Their award-winning original ghost tour takes guests on a walk through downtown Chattanooga, concluding with a visit to the city’s most haunted hotel. Feeling brave? Sign up for a ghost hunt, complete with investigation equipment, for a real paranormal experience!
(above) photo by Ray Soldano
Flock to Finley Stadium to watch the Chattanooga Football Club, and cheer on some of the best soccer action in the Southeast! Both men’s and women’s teams have games scheduled April through July, and expectations are high for each team. The men’s historic 10th season will see exciting home matches and some of the most challenging competitors in professional soccer, while the women’s fifth season will include high-level opponents and the fan-favorite Blue vs. White game. Join the mighty Chattahooligans on match day to support the men and women in blue, and don’t forget to pack your CFC gear!
Celebrate “America’s Pastime” by rooting for the home teams. Fans can join mascot Looie the Lookout at AT&T Stadium for one of 70 Chattanooga Lookouts home games. Check the schedule for fun outings like Kids Eat Free Mondays, Thirsty Thursdays, Fireworks Fridays, and the popular Independence Day Celebration (July 4) and Used Car Night (August 4). Baseball fanatics can also cheer on Chattanooga’s vintage teams at the Tennessee Association of Vintage Baseball games held at the 6th Cavalry Museum and the Tennessee Riverpark. From the no-gloves rule to the 19th century-style bats, you’ll feel like you’re reliving a piece of history.
Plan a visit to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center for a unique look into African and African American heritage. What was formerly the Chattanooga African American Museum joined together with the Bessie Smith Performance Hall in 2009 to become “The Bessie,” which works to preserve African American history through rotating exhibits and entertainment. Group tours of the center are available, and a gift shop offers art pieces, hand-crafted jewelry, ceramics, and more from local artisans.
One of the city’s newest attractions, Chattanooga Cycleboats aims to give you and your party an unforgettable excursion on the Tennessee River. Operating day and night, the paddle wheel riverboat has 10 pedaling stations and can hold up to 16 guests. Charters are two hours in length, but don’t fret – an electric motor is on board. Eating, games, fishing, and music is all encouraged, and a stop at Maclellan Island is a great time for a swim!
Opening in 1921, the Tivoli Theatre is a downtown Chattanooga icon – bringing in more than 60 outstanding performances last year, from performers like country icon Loretta Lynn, rock favorites Blackberry Smoke, and an exciting second Broadway at the Tivoli season. Thanks to the Tivoli Theatre Foundation’s Friends of the Tivoli program, the building continues to be improved and revitalized, and the sold-out shows keep coming! Up next, the Broadway sensation “STOMP” brings three performances to the Tivoli May 11 and 12, and magician David Blaine stops by June 2.
Thirty-three acres of monumental-scale sculptures and walking paths await visitors at Sculpture Fields. The largest sculpture park in the Southeast, this Southside Chattanooga treasure is dog-friendly and open to the public seven days a week from dawn until dusk. Download the Otocast app to hear from the sculptors themselves on a self-guided tour of Sculpture Fields, including the park’s tallest sculpture, Peter Lundberg’s “Anchors” – a moving monument formed from steel and concrete.
Embrace the sights and sounds of Chattanooga’s native woods at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain. 317 acres of forest, field, and stream are a home to a variety of wildlife, in addition to trails for hiking, a gravel loop for cycling, the historic Lookout Creek for canoeing, and a native animal exhibit – featuring six endangered red wolves, birds of prey, and a bobcat named Evi. This summer, check out one of the center’s many scheduled programs, from summer camps and guided hikes to evening film screenings.
Spend an afternoon exploring tow truck artifacts at the International Towing Museum. Featured exhibits include the world’s fastest tow truck, a military tow truck, a replica of the original tow truck, and more! The museum also houses the Hall of Fame, which commemorates outstanding members of the towing industry worldwide, as well as the Wall of the Fallen – honoring men and women who have lost their lives in the line of service.