Summer is about more than just extra sunscreen and extra-high electricity bills, hot days and even hotter pavement. It’s also about sunset walks, ice cream cones, and frozen drinks. And in Chattanooga, summer means breweries and waterfalls. It’s paragliding, disc golfing, mountainous hiking, and wine-sipping. Here is a list of dozens of activities to do around town and beyond.
Journey from the mountains to the sea.
Feisty otters, giant catfish, playful penguins, and leapin’ lemurs are just a few of the 12,000 amazing animals that can be found at the Tennessee Aquarium. Guests journey through two buildings of carefully curated habitats for animals and fish from all seven continents, including the new “Ridges to Rivers” gallery that showcases dozens of colorful fishes that thrive in the Southern Appalachians. Visitors of all ages will gain new understanding of the natural world. Purchase timed-entry tickets in advance online.
If you’re ready to explore behind-the-scenes of the aquarium, the Deeper Dives guided tour is perfect for your summer bucket list. Aquarium experts lead small groups on 90-minute excursions to discover even more about the amazing creatures in the River Journey and Ocean Journey exhibits. The Deeper Dives: Feeding Frenzy tour even allows guests to participate in feeding the marine life in the Secret Reef exhibit, including the sharks and rays! Deeper Dives: A Guided Tour must be booked in advance online and are offered Thursday through Sunday mornings. Feeding Frenzy tours are available Wednesdays and Fridays from 1:30 to 2 p.m.
Explore the ocean in 3D.
Opening on May 19 at the state-of-the-art IMAX 3D Theater, “Secrets of the Sea 3D” introduces you to some of the ocean’s strangest and most spectacular creatures. From adorable pygmy seahorses and opalescent squid to manta rays, sharks, and octopus, you’ll come face-to-face with an astonishing array of marine critters. You’ll also discover the fascinating ways they interact with each other to survive and keep our oceans healthy. IMAX tickets are just $9.95.
Have you ever seen a golden lion tamarin or a Scottish Highland cow? If not, hoof it over to the Chattanooga Zoo to visit the more than 500 animals (not all of whom are on exhibit) that call the zoo home. With animals from all over the world, visitors can encounter snow leopards, giraffes, red pandas, and more, as well as learn about conservation and preservation of the natural world. The zoo educates thousands of children of all ages each year on these topics through camps, classes, and special events.
As part of the Charging Forward campaign, guests will be able to get up close and personal with many lesser-known animals in the new Cape of Africa exhibit, like Cape porcupine, serval, and warthogs. The exhibit will also include a stream winding through the habitat plus stations for guests to feed the animals and expanded educational encounter space to allow for more keeper talks and small-group presentations.
Charge Forward into the Cape of Africa.
This year, the Chattanooga Zoo is breaking ground on a new $2.5 million phase of the African exhibit expansion. This expansion will give the giraffes – George, Porter, and Hardee Star – more room to roam and include viewing and feeding stations. The “Charging Forward” campaign will also add more animals to the impressive Africa exhibits visible from the front entrance and expand classroom space, furthering the Zoo’s mission of conservation and education.
Photos Courtesy of Chattanooga Zoo
See Rock City.
From Lover’s Leap to the Fairyland Caverns, prepare to be charmed by Rock City’s impressive rock formations, magical villages, lush gardens, and exciting events. One of Chattanooga’s iconic attractions atop Lookout Mountain, there’s plenty for the whole family to enjoy – you can even bring your furry friends! Check out the view of seven states from Lover’s Leap, brave the 180-foot Swing-A-Long Bridge, and appreciate art installations in the gardens. Growling stomachs can be satisfied at Rock City’s Café 7 with craft brews, Southern cuisine, and special menus for kids and even pets. Check the website for operating hours and timed ticket reservations.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) is the perfect hub for train lovers and history buffs. At Grand Junction Station, visitors can view railroad history relics and hop aboard one of TVRM’s trains, where a trip into the area’s past will inform visitors’ understanding of the impact of the railroad industry on the world. New this year is the Tea in the Depot experience in the Homefront Tea Room, including seasonal treats and delicious teas before a train ride.
Chattanooga local Ernest Holmes Sr. invented the tow truck in 1916, so it’s fitting that the Scenic City is home to the International Towing Museum. History enthusiasts will enjoy featured exhibits including a replica of the original tow truck, the world’s fastest tow truck, the Towing Hall of Fame featuring more than 300 outstanding members of the industry worldwide, and the Wall of the Fallen honoring the people who have died in the line of service.
Plan a visit to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center’s new exhibit “Chattanooga’s Black Soundtrack,” where you can see some of the awards Chattanooga’s own “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith received, plus more of the area’s music history. The museum celebrates Black history and contributions to Chattanooga and beyond through art, education, research, and entertainment.
From sweet French treats to sushi or Southern staples, the Sweet & Savory Classroom will excite your taste buds and help you learn a few new skills along the way. The chef-led classes are offered in a traditional hands-on format, and select classes are geared toward date nights or parent/child pairings.
Built in 1894 is one of Chattanooga’s most beloved attractions – the Dentzel carousel located in Coolidge Park. For just $1, riders can pick one of 52 hand-carved animals, a band organ, or a gold leaf bench to ride on. After a few trips around, hop off the carousel and explore everything else Coolidge Park has to offer such as the interactive fountain and the Walnut Wall (by appointment only). The 23-acre Renaissance Park adjoins Coolidge Park and offers even more opportunities for exploration.
While Chattanooga is full of museums and galleries, there are plenty of areas where you can take in some talent while enjoying the weather. Sculpture Fields is a 33-acre public park with over 40 large-scale sculptures. On the other side of town in the Bluff View Art District, the River Gallery Sculpture Garden encompasses two acres and features a garden and meditation area – both of which overlook the river.
The Tennessee Riverwalk is one of the best parts of Chattanooga and even ranked No. 6 on the Fodor’s Travel list of “Best River Walks in the U.S.” The 16-mile paved path features beautiful views of the river along with restaurants, shops, boat ramps, and bike rental stations dotted along the way. The path is accessible and has restrooms and water fountains throughout, so it’s a perfect opportunity for the whole family to get outside.
Discover the difference between stalactites and stalagmites.
Visit the tallest underground waterfall open to the public in the country, located 1,120 feet below the summit of Lookout Mountain. Ruby Falls has been a Chattanooga classic since 1929! Take a glass-front elevator deep inside Lookout Mountain, and then explore the cavern trail on a guided walk to the beautiful waterfall. See curious ancient geological formations and learn about cave’s discovery. The views above ground from scenic overlooks and soaring zip lines at Ruby Falls’ High Point ZIP Adventure are spectacular. End the adventure with a casual meal at the café which serves a seasonal menu and local craft brews inside the historic castle.
For families with children interested in learning to play golf, this summer is the perfect time to start! The Tennessee Golf Foundation, Chattanooga Region is expanding The Scott Stallings Kids Play Free program to Chattanooga, allowing children to play for free any day of the year at Bear Trace at Harrison Bay and Flagstone Golf Club and Falcon Pointe Golf Club in Cleveland. In addition to hosting First Tee — Tennessee classes and camps, the organization also hosts several regional junior golf tours.
Summers in Chattanooga can certainly get hot and sticky, so avoid the heat with some air-conditioned indoor games! Try Dave & Buster’s classic arcade and virtual reality games or Chattanooga’s quirky Classic Arcade Pinball Museum featuring 40 different games to play. If solving puzzles is more your speed, there are numerous escape rooms with unique and immersive experiences for you and your friends or family. Check out Escape Mission Chattanooga, Time to Escape, Escape Experience, and Breakout Games.
A centerpiece of Chattanooga’s art scene, the Hunter Museum of American Art houses an impressive collection of pieces spanning from the 1700s to present day, including paintings, sculptures, glass, and photography. The buildings themselves are iconic, from the easily recognizable contemporary glass and steel building to the 1970s concrete Brutalist building and the Neoclassical mansion.
Nick Cave (b. 1959), Soundsuit, 2018. Mixed media including vintage textile and sequined appliqués, metal and mannequin. Museum purchase.
Wonder at natural landscapes.
Opening this summer is the special exhibition In Nature’s Studio: Two Centuries of American Landscape Painting, organized by the Reading Public Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania. This exhibition features over 65 paintings depicting the American landscape in artistic movements including the Hudson River School, Impressionism, Tonalism, and Modernism. These pieces are complemented by scenes from Europe, western Asia, and South America painted by American artists.
Carl Weber (American, 1850 – 1921), Mount Washington, 1880. Oil on canvas. On loan from Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania
Reflect on boundary-breaking contemporary art.
Visitors can see the newly reinstalled contemporary gallery filled with boundary-breaking art in the Hunter’s collection. These pieces examine ideas of identity and focus on repairing and healing communities and relationships. The majority of these new acquisitions are by women and artists of color, furthering the Hunter’s mission of inclusivity and positive community change.
Dawoud Bey (b. 1953), The Birmingham Project: Janice Kemp and Triniti Williams, 2012. Archival pigment prints mounted to diabond, edition 2/6. Museum purchase.
Grab a guide.
A sure way to hit all the best Chattanooga spots is to grab a local guide! For outdoor adventurers, check out Experience Chattanooga for a guided hiking tour. In addition to expert guides, each experience includes professional photography to capture your excursion, transportation to and from the site, plus snacks and water. If food is the way to your heart, you’ll want to book Chatt Taste. With a variety of options like a vegan food tour, a Mural & Munch Tour, and neighborhood-specific tours, your knowledgeable guide will lead you to the best eateries the city has to offer.
Established in 1895, the historic Incline Railway originally carried residents up Lookout Mountain at a 72.7% grade. Today, it offers visitors a thrilling ride along “America’s Most Amazing Mile” on one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. At the top, visitors can peruse the gift shop or visit Point Park, a Civil War site. At the base of the mountain, guests can beat the heat with ice cream from Clumpies Ice Cream Co.
With games galore over the summer, soccer fans can rest easy knowing there’s some excitement just around the corner. Finley Stadium will host several Chattanooga Football Club (CFC) games, while the Chattanooga Red Wolves take on opponents at their new CHI Memorial Stadium. Tickets for CFC games start at $11, and Chattanooga Red Wolves tickets start at $13.
Spanning conflicts from the Civil War to the War on Terror, the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center offers an immersive experience that puts visitors in the boots of Medal of Honor recipients. An orientation theater, character kiosks, and numerous permanent and rotating exhibits are designed to bring to life the heroic stories of soldiers and other military personnel.
One of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world, the Walnut Street Bridge connects downtown Chattanooga to Northshore and the many local restaurants and shops on both sides. Take a stroll along the half-mile bridge to see panoramic views of the Scenic City on your way to a picnic in Coolidge Park or a trip to the Aquarium.
To add a little excitement to your day, head to Adventure Sports Innovation, where water lovers will have a blast by renting a hydrofoil or a water bike, whereas those who like to stick to dry land can choose between a SWINCAR, hovershoes, or a Segway experience. The company also offers electric balancing board, unicycle, bike, skateboard, and scooter rentals.
Cycle the city on a bike rented from one of Bike Chattanooga’s 42 stations in the area. A cost-effective and eco-friendly way to get to know Chattanooga, you can get a 1-day, 3-day, or annual pass. If you’d rather not pedal your way through town, try a guided segway tour with Chattanooga Segway Tours. Choose a historic tour of downtown or explore the Northshore, Coolidge Park, and Renaissance Park.
Following in the tradition of great Tennessee whiskey is Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery, winner of Whisky Magazine’s 2023 Global Craft Producer of the Year. Go on a guided tour of the distillery and taste their signature Tennessee High Malt. Visitors can also pick up a bottle of their favorite bourbon expression to take home.
Rock climbing is a fantastic full-body workout with a lot of fun to boot. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned climber, High Point Climbing and Fitness is a great place to feed your climbing addiction with rock walls and bouldering areas of varying intensities, a top roping room, and a Kid Zone. The gym also offers climbing and fitness classes plus individual coaching to help you reach your goals. There are three High Point locations in the Chattanooga area – one downtown, one in Riverside off Amnicola Highway, and a bouldering-specific gym in Cleveland.
For kids curious about climbing, High Point offers morning and afternoon summer camps for kids aged 5-14. Expert instructors encourage kids to build self-confidence through honing their climbing skills. They’ll learn climbing basics like techniques, how to use equipment, and the importance of trust and communication. Find out more on the High Point Climbing and Fitness website.
Get some fresh air.
The Chattanooga area is home to some of the best rock climbing in the country, so if you’re interested in getting outside, book a guided climbing trip. High Point guides offer half-day or full-day trips focusing on traditional climbing, sport climbing, or bouldering. These pros will help you build skills and get to the next level while enjoying an incredible day on the rocks.
Photos Courtesy of High Point Climbing and Fitness
Treat yourself to a cone.
This year-round destination is especially sweet come summertime, when a frozen treat just can’t be beat. At The Ice Cream Show, over 40 fresh ingredients – including berries, chocolates, nuts, gummies, marshmallows, and more – can be blended with either ice cream or frozen yogurt to create more than 17,000 flavor combinations. Dairy-free and sugar-free options, as well as gourmet coffee and fruit smoothies, are also available. This May, The Ice Cream Show is celebrating 14 years of business. Check Facebook for daily info.
In addition to providing the freshest ingredients for your custom ice cream flavors, The Ice Cream Show makes fresh, homemade waffle cones in-house daily. The cones are tasty enough to enjoy plain, but if you have the option to add more flavor and pizazz to your edible ice cream holder, why wouldn’t you?Personalize your cone with a chocolate dip, and add a rim of sprinkles, crushed nuts, or candies.
Bring your pup.
Humans aren’t the only ice cream lovers around here. After taking Fido on a long walk up and down the Walnut Street Bridge, reward your furry friend with a refreshing animal-safe confection at The Ice Cream Show. The shop offers “Frosty Paws” ice cream for dogs and outdoor seating where you and your pup can cool down with some frozen treats.
Photos Courtesy of The Ice Cream Show
Shop, eat, and celebrate local.
Looking for live music, food trucks, art, and farm-fresh produce? Check out The Chattanooga Market on Sundays at First Horizon Pavilion! In addition to the regular weekly market, there are annual festivals including the Chattanooga Street Food Festival and Oktoberfest. If you can’t get enough local shopping, you can also find the market at Erlanger on Wednesdays and the Tennessee Aquarium on Saturdays.
Check out the recently completed South Chickamauga Creek Greenway – 13 miles of greenway that connects the Tennessee Riverwalk with Camp Jordan. The trail is a paved multi-use trail and boardwalk for walking, running, biking, and birdwatching in the wetlands. You can even access a public boat launch and several canoe and kayak launches at various points along the trail.
Adrenaline junkies and thrill-seekers, look no further! Get the best views of Chattanooga, the Tennessee River Gorge, and Lookout Mountain with the Chattanooga Skydiving Company. First-time jumpers go through a short training session before jumping with an expert tandem instructor. This family-run business boasts 60 years of experience with a passion for fun, quality, and safety.
Say hello to Looie the Lookout and cheer on the Chattanooga Lookouts at AT&T Field! This minor league team is the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and is named for nearby Lookout Mountain. There are fireworks after every Friday home game, plus special promotional events like Star Wars Night and an Independence Day Weekend Celebration.
Sometimes you just need to throw something sharp, and the axe-perts at Valkyrie Axe Throwing and Craft Axe Throwing are happy to teach you how – no experience required! Groups of all sizes can grab a drink from the bar and cheer each other on as they learn to hit the bullseye and participate in a little friendly competition.
There are plenty of opportunities to hit the links in the Chattanooga area with award-winning, exciting, and challenging courses. McLemore features a cliff-edge par 71 course atop Lookout Mountain and luxury accommodations for out-of-towners. While you’re there, you’ll definitely want to visit the Creag, an elegant restaurant with seasonal menus and craft cocktails. If golf is your passion, consider becoming a member at other luxury clubs in the area, like the Council Fire Club and Black Creek Club.
The former Terminal Station maintains its early 20th century charm with original train cars, hotel suites, and gorgeous gardens. Much more than a hotel, the Chattanooga Choo Choo also has plentiful dining options, music venues, retail, and a distillery. Nearby Station Street is a hot spot for Chattanooga nightlife, making the whole area a can’t-miss destination.
Opened in 1925, Lake Winnepesaukah has been a Chattanooga area staple for nearly a century. Try out one of the numerous thrill rides, or if that’s not quite your speed, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy such as a tour train, alpine lift, Ferris wheel, and paddle boats. The park also boasts plenty of kiddie rides, as well as the five-acre SOAKya Water Park.
There’s something about sipping an ice-cold beer on a patio that just hits the spot, even when the sun is blazing hot. Chattanooga has lots of local brewery options with great outdoor patios, and several that welcome both kids and pets. Whether you prefer hoppy, smoky, stout, or sour, there’s bound to be something you like at every brewery. Check out Chattanooga Brewing Co., Five Wits, Hutton & Smith, Naked River, OddStory, Cherry Street Brewing, andWanderlinger.
Perfect for those extra hot or rainy days, the Tivoli Theatre Foundation maintains three area venues – the Tivoli Theatre, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, and the Walker Theatre. Between musical acts, comedians, Broadway shows, and even kids programing, there is something for the entire family. Not only are the performers varied in their mediums, they also span a wide variety of subcategories and genres.
Everyone needs a little retail therapy sometimes, so when the mood strikes, head to Warehouse Row for your shopping spree necessities. This converted warehouse offers luxury home goods, furniture, and accessories in addition to upscale clothing, cosmetics, and more from both local and national retailers. Make a day of it with a visit to Goodman Coffee for a latte, cocktails at The Social, or a delicious meal at one of three on-site restaurants.
If your idea of a great day includes time spent on the water, consider a ride on the Southern Belle. Carrying over 100,000 passengers every year, this riverboat has two main options for summer cruises – a daytime Sights Cruise and an evening Sunset Cruise. If you prefer a little more adventure, opt for a ride on the Chattanooga Ducks, which takes a brief tour of downtown before driving right into the Tennessee River!
Explore the Scenic City from the water with rentals from L2 Outside, conveniently located in Coolidge Park! See iconic sights of Chattanooga like the Hunter Museum, Walnut Street Bridge, and Maclellan Island from a new vantage point on a rented paddleboard, single kayak, or tandem kayak. You can head out on your own or book a guided sunset tour with bluff climbing and swimming on Maclellan Island’s beaches, or maybe even try out a paddleboard yoga class!
Gorgeous views take on a whole new meaning when you’re hang gliding or paragliding at Lookout Mountain Flight Park (LMFP). You can fly tandem with an instructor over beautiful Lookout Mountain or take independent flights on small bunny hills. LMFP is one of the oldest and largest flight schools in the country, and their nationally accredited hang gliding and paragliding instructors have thousands of hours in the air. This year, be the bird and flylookout.com
Photo Courtesy of LMFP
Eat your veggies.
If you’re all about shopping local, head to the Rabbit Valley Farmers Market in charming downtown Ringgold, Georgia, which is just down the street from the historic Ringgold Depot.Running on Saturdays in May through October, you can find farm-fresh fruits, veggies, baked goods, and cheese. If you’re in the market for gifts, you’ll find candles, jewelry, crafts, and so much more. There’s live music every week plus several themed markets and special events, including the Wine and Art Market on the opening weekend, the Community Music Festival the weekend of July fourth, and Oktoberfest.
Learn about critically endangered red wolves, meet a barn owl, marvel at a native wildflower meadow, and get in a trail run all at Reflection Riding Aboretum & Nature Center! The 300-acre nature center offers miles of trails where you can observe native animals and plants in five different ecosystems plus plenty of programs where you can learn more about the center’s conservation efforts. You can even pick up a native plant for your own yard at the nursery.
Photo Courtesy of Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center
Learn while you play.
Creative Discovery Museum is the destination for kids and families in Chattanooga to explore, innovate, create, and play. This award-winning museum features permanent exhibits STEM Zone, Tennessee RiverPlay, ArtSpace, and Little FarmHouse that offer hands-on experiences for kids of all ages to learn about history, science, art, and more. Opening this summer, UnEarthed includes a dinosaur dig pit and activities that explore what makes Earth unique. Visit the website for more information about Creative Discovery Museum’s commitment to accessibility and meeting all visitors’ needs.
For a great way to round out a meal or for a quick afternoon treat, head over to The Hot Chocolatier. The shop is much more than its name implies, offering not only hot and cold drinks but also an impressive lineup of truffles, bonbons, cakes, and more. With plenty of seasonal flavors and gift items, the shop is the perfect stop for that special someone in your life.
Celebrate 100 years of shows at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre (CTC) by going to see a performance! One of the oldest and largest community theatres in the country, the CTC produces 11 shows a year, including comedies, musicals, and youth shows, so theatre lovers will certainly find something to love throughout the year.
If you find yourself wanting to rewind and relax, head to the West Village. Stay in one of the area’s trendy hotels such as The Westin Chattanooga or BODE. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many nearby restaurants and shop at local boutique Antibes. A stop by the popular Umbrella Alley is sure to round out your stay.
Whether you’re looking for a way to celebrate a special occasion or just want to have an exceptional evening with all your friends, go for a pub crawl on wheels with Pints and Pedals and Trolley Pub Chattanooga! Choose between several local bars – including a karaoke bar and a boutique bowling alley – and sip a brew as your group pedals the way to each of your stops.
If books are your thing, Chattanooga has you covered. McKay’s is a used book lover’s heaven with a massive stock of used books, games, movies, music, and more. You can also bring in your items to sell or trade. Winder Binder has a bit of everything, including books old and new, folk art, vinyl, and apparel. Allgood’s Used Books and Coffee is a cozy spot to pick up a new-to-you read and sip a latte. The Book & Cover is Chattanooga’s newest independent bookstore, featuring a unique kids’ section, events, and book clubs – and books, of course.
Support local farm operations all while gathering some goodies to take home with one of the area’s u-pick opportunities. Lookout Lavender Farm (lavender), Lorenzen Farm (tulips and sunflowers), Flat Top Mountain Farm (flowers), Smith Perry Berries (sunflowers), and The Blueberry Farm (blueberries and muscadines) are just a few options where visitors can pick their own produce and flowers to take home.
If your wardrobe is in need of a little revamp, what better way to add a pop of personality than with some storied garments? Make your way to the Southside for a visit to Poor Taste or cross the river to explore Ugly Duck Vintage and Collective Clothing in the Northshore. These vintage apparel shops are sure to result in some one-of-a-kind finds!
Even if you’re a born-and-raised Chattanoogan, you might learn something new about the city on a guided tour. Chattanooga Ghost Tours offers both walking tours and ghost hunts where guests can learn about Chattanooga’s past and even look for spirits in a cemetery with advanced ghost hunting equipment. For those interested in a less spooky tour, try the Chattanooga Trolley Tour, where you’ll go for a ride on a trolley and learn about the area’s rich history and culture.
There are never-ending opportunities for continuing education around town. The Chattery offers multiple classes a week that cover everything from cooking and mixology to arts and crafts and honing your business skills. For nature lovers, Crabtree Farms, Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, and Outdoor Chattanooga offer even more classes that are designed to get you outside or help you learn skills where you can take advantage of all Mother Nature has to offer.