Whether visiting Chattanooga, Tennessee for the first time or as a return visitor, the city doesn’t disappoint. From a wealth of indoor and outdoor activities along with top notch restaurants, Chattanooga offers it all. The downtown area is undergoing a renaissance, so you don’t even have to leave to find amazing things to do with your family or as a couple and feed everyone well. But, armed with these Chattanooga local favorites for food and fun, it will be so easy.
Chattanooga Local Favorites
Chattanooga, Tennessee had never landed on my list of cities to visit. I’ve traveled through much of the state and of course, to Nashville and Memphis, but had not made it to Chattanooga nor did I expect to. But, when my husband decided to enter a half Ironman race, the city became not only our next destination but a pleasant surprise. Plus, we reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen in 3 years who offered for Chattanooga local favorites for food and fun.
Chattanooga Local Favorites Hotels
We stayed in the downtown area which is undergoing a big renaissance. It is filled with many new chain hotels, such as Hilton Garden Inn, Marriott Courtyard, and Hampton Inn, all with a more modern edge. There are also a few more high-end hotels in the area like the Chattanooga Hotel, Marriott, Historic Read House, and Bluff View Inn. When I visit again, I will definitely try one of these and would advise you check them out too before you go.
You could get by without a car if only staying downtown for several days. But, with some activities located outside of town, I’d recommend renting a car. It’s only about 15 minutes to the Chattanooga airport and the rental lot is right inside the terminal by baggage pickup. Actually, you could even drive from Atlanta as it’s under a 3 hour drive.
Fun Local Favorites In Chattanooga
There is so much to do within walking distance of downtown Chattanooga, but if you only have a few days, here are some favorites.
Hunter Museum of American Art
Especially when you see it lit up at night, the Hunter is a really pretty and unique museum. Sitting high atop stone cliffs overlooking the Tennessee River and the Walnut Street Bridge, the Hunter is housed in several buildings. There’s an early twentieth-century mansion, a modern 1970’s building, and a sleek contemporary structure of steel and glass. Adjacent to the Bluff View Art District, this historic neighborhood is filled with restaurants, a coffee house, and art gallery.
From the Colonial period to the present day, the Hunter Museum focuses on American art. Included in their collection are multiple mediums such as paintings, works on paper, sculpture, photography, mixed media, and video. In addition, the works cover a diverse range of styles and periods. Temporary exhibitions are offered, such as one called With Liberty and Justice for All focusing on art and politics.
We love to go to galleries that showcase local artists wherever we travel, so I was so happy to stumble upon Gallery 1401. But, even more than just browsing, we love to bring home some memento that is more than a t-shirt. A full spectrum of contemporary art, impressionism, and classic styles in all mediums is offered. You’ll find not only local gems, but also international artists. And, of course they’ll ship anything home for you.
High Point Climbing and Fitness
All I can say is that High Point is absolutely amazing. I have gone indoor rock climbing once before and loved it, but it was nothing like this. You don’t even have to be an experienced climber to enjoy the facility. But, if you are experienced, you can get one of the certified climbers to take you out on real rock!
Climbing is a great activity you can do together as a family or couple. But, if it’s not your thing and say, you’re afraid of heights, there’s also a gym and spin and yoga classes. They are very kid-friendly with their own Kids’ Zone. But, perhaps one of the best activities is Parent’s Night Out on Friday nights; they’ll watch the kiddies while you have date night!
Other Options For Fun in Chattanooga
Here are several other recommend activities depending on what you like to do.
- The Tennessee Aquarium will keep you occupied for hours. It is amazing with two buildings that house the River Journey and the Ocean Journey.
- If you have kids with you, the Creative Discovery Museum is perfect. They will be entertained and educated for hours and so will you.
- Head out of town to Lookout Mountain and just take in the scenery, which includes Ruby Falls, a 145 foot waterfall, and Rock City with its walking trails through lush gardens and breathtaking views of the Chattanooga Valley. They’ll be tons of activities for the kids like Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village.
- Painting With a Twist is a fun way to spend a few hours learning to paint while sipping your favorite beverage like wine! Enjoy step-by-step instruction with local artists on such topics as Eiffel Tower at Night and Summer in Chattanooga. You’ll leave with a one-of-a-kind creation and a new found talent you might want to explore. If your kids are budding artists, you can even take them back during the day for a class minus that favorite beverage!
Chattanooga Local Favorite Restaurants
What amazed me about the city was not only the abundance of things to do, but the high quality of restaurant options. Living in the New York City area, there is no shortage of great food to be had. But, I can say without hesitation, that at least two could easily compete with many of NYC’s offerings; the food and ambience were that good.
If you’re staying downtown and don’t want to venture far for dinner, here are some very nice restaurants that are popular with the locals.
St. John’s Restaurant
I found this restaurant during my google search for where to eat in Chattanooga and it ended up being a true gem. We also found it to be a favorite of our friends and the state of Tennessee! It’s a 2 floor converted hotel that is simple, modern, and elegant. Built at the turn of the twentieth century, the flatiron building evolved over the years from hotel to brothel to abandonment to restaurant.
A small, but varied menu contains many tempting items. For us, deciding what to choose meant asking nearby tables what they were eating. I had the Open Face Spring Vegetable Ravioli which was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. My husband felt similar about his Wild Alaskan Halibut. In addition to the regular menu, they also offer a few seasonal selections in their Market Menu, such as Fried Huckleberry Hand Pies for dessert.
Seriously, I can’t stress enough that if you’re in Chattanooga, St. John’s is a must visit. While there were a few kids for a family birthday party, most other tables were adults and I think that’s also reflected in the menu. There’s also a bit less formal, more lounge-type restaurant next door called the Meeting Place, with great food on small plates.
Easy Bistro and Bar
Whether you want to have cocktails and appetizers at the bar or are coming for a date night dinner, Easy Bistro and Bar will satisfy. It features French-inspired southern cooking, using local ingredients. While it was on my dinner list, we had chose another restaurant for our last night in town until our friends said we had to to go to Easy Bistro and Bar instead.
Seafood is a focus of the menu with distinctive flavors of the region. The vegetable plate I had was truly delightful and not only looked picture perfect, but tasted that way, too! My husband drooled over his southern brisket – no knife needed – that melted in his mouth.
If you’re craving Italian in an upscale setting with an amazing wine list, you can’t go wrong with Alleia. A large medieval wooden door, a long communal table in the center of the restaurant, and intimate booths set the stage for the unique atmosphere. The rustic Italian fare is as authentic as it gets with the pastas all made in-house. Don’t miss the ricotta bruschetta with local honey.
Other Great Restaurant Options in Chattanooga
- If you’re craving made-from-scratch, super-fresh, totally tasty Mexican food in a fun, laid-back setting, then don’t miss Taco Mamacita. In fact, the company was founded on having fun at what you do! Who would think you’d go to Tennessee for delicious tacos like Baja Fish, Black Bean, and the Shrimp Po’Boy BLT. They even have healthy items on their menu for those who care about that sort of thing.
- Comfort food in a causal setting is what you’ll find at Public House Restaurant in Warehouse Row. We enjoyed lunch here and were very impressed with the prices, quality, and service.
- Bluewater Grille is located downtown and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have a really nice outdoor patio and fresh seafood.
- Il Primo serves Italian food in a beautiful, neighborhood setting close to the North Shore of town. I loved that the menu is not overwhelming as you find in many Italian restaurants. Standouts included the Sausage and Peppers, Trout, and yes, the Lasagna.
- Cupcake Kitchen – Okay, I’m just throwing this in because the cupcakes are so good and you may be too full from dinner that you don’t order dessert. Grab a cupcake here and you can enjoy it back in your room.
I have to say that the people of Chattanooga helped to make our trip such a delight. Literally, everyone was super nice and friendly and truly exhibited southern hospitality.