Perfectly poised between the cities of Nashville, Atlanta, Knoxville, and Birmingham, Chattanooga is an accessible adventure for short weekend trips or longer family vacations. The “Scenic City” has a culture rich in Native American and Civil War history and points of interest can be found around every corner in this railroad town.
Summers, like elsewhere in the south can be quite hot, take advantage of the mild fall, winter, or spring to catch the city with smaller crowds. The entire downtown area is walkable with additional access to a free electric shuttle to reach the hip Southside neighborhood or the artsy North Shore. If you are expecting to visit multiple attractions, consider some of the Family Fun Vacation Packages, available through several downtown hotels. Want views for miles? Look into Airbnb rentals on Signal or Lookout Mountains or tucked away in a cove in the Tennessee River Gorge. For a more historical night’s sleep snuggle into your very own train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel which boasts cars from the 30s, 40s, and 50s all converted into comfortable quarters. Camping can be found at Raccoon Mountain, Prentice Cooper State Forest, or at nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park, just over the line in Georgia.
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Museums and Attractions
In the 1980s, Chattanooga saw a revitalization of its downtown tourism corridor. As such, you’ll find plenty of activities centered around the Tennessee River and its surrounding peaks. Here are a few highlights.
- Rock City– Atop Lookout Mountain is the family attraction known by many for its distinctive barn painting advertisements. What started as a natural rock garden has become an icon with its Fairyland Caverns, Fat Man’s Squeeze, and “See Seven States” viewpoint.
- Ruby Falls– A great option for a rainy day, go inside the earth to see the country’s tallest underground waterfall. Opened to the public in 1929, the waterfall was named for discoverer Leo Lambert’s wife, Ruby.
- Tennessee Aquarium– Continuously ranked at the top for guest satisfaction, the Tennessee Aquarium looks out onto the Tennessee River. Two buildings divided into fresh and saltwater cover the journey of a drop of water from a mountaintop down to the ocean.
- Chattanooga Zoo– Tucked away from downtown in Warner Park, this zoo has a great collection of primates, big cats, and other amazing critters. Fundraising is ongoing for the upcoming African expansion.
- Creative Discovery Museum– Dig for bones in the Excavation Station or guide your boat in the RiverPlay area. This children’s museum also has evening events for adults.
- Incline Railway– This funicular railway attraction is over 100 years old and brings riders between the top of Lookout Mountain and the historic neighborhood of St. Elmo. Views about on this 72.7% grade journey.
- Raccoon Mountain Caverns– With touring options ranging from mild to downright messy, visitors to Raccoon Mountain get a glimpse at natural formations within the 5.5-mile cave system.
Parks and Gardens
Chattanooga has plenty of green spaces for your family to take advantage of year-round.
- Coolidge Park– Just across the river from downtown, this park has fountains for wading open in the summer and an 1894 antique carousel.
- Sculpture Fields at Montague Park– Named the largest sculpture field in the southeast, this 33-acre park has large sculptures from around the globe.
- Chattanooga Riverwalk– Running roughly 13 miles from the base of Lookout Mountain to Chickamauga Dam, the Chattanooga Riverwalk is a great place to stroll, bike, or take in the scenery.
- Bike Rentals in Chattanooga– Bicycles are a great way to explore the Riverwalk or to get to destinations like the Southside or North Shore. Enjoy protected bike lanes along Broad Street or in pedestrian-friendly zones like Station Street.
- Chickamauga National Military Park– With around 50 miles of trails, the battlefield is popular with hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.
Chattanooga has an incredible restaurant scene for a city its size and there are plenty of spots that provide good value and options for picky eaters.
- Puckett’s Grocery– A Tennessee staple with an extensive menu chock full of southern delicacies and a decent kid’s menu.
- Community Pie– This pizza joint serves up Neapolitan, New York, and Detroit style pies as well as gelato.
- Urban Stack– A creative burger joint located in an old railroad building. An impressive cocktail menu will appease the adults on the trip.
- Taco Mamacita– In the trendy North Shore neighborhood, this restaurant serves up delightful tacos with a variety of toppings.
- Mojo Burrito– With several locations around town, this vegan and veggie-friendly Tex Mex restaurant is a local favorite.
- Maple Street Biscuit Company– Located right downtown, this regional chain boasts decadent biscuit combinations to fuel your day.
Looking for something a little different? Chattanooga has tons to offer for all types of families and interests.
- High Point ZIP Adventure– Located at Ruby Falls, this adrenaline-inducing activity includes over 700 ft of zip lining with a 40 ft climbing tower.
- Chattanooga Lookouts Game– Minor league games are an affordable, family-friendly activity that appeals to all ages. Catch a game downtown with views of the Chattanooga skyline. Fireworks accompany many evening games and a family seating area can be found right along the third-base line.
- Bank Heist Escape Room in Chattanooga– Let your inner criminal out as you and your family attempt to crack the safe at this escape room experience. Can you work through the “hardest escape room in Chattanooga” in time?
- Chattanooga Cycle Boat River Cruise– Work for your views aboard the cycle boat. Enjoy a waterside look at McClellan Island, the Bluff View Arts District, and Ross’s Landing.
- Chattanooga Hop-on Hop-off Trolley Tour– With regular departures from the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, this trolley is one of the best ways to see the city. Drivers share the unique and interesting history of Chattanooga along the way to the area’s top attractions.
There’s never a shortage of events going on in Chattanooga, no matter what time of year you visit!
- Moon River Festival– Started by Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, this family-friendly music festival sells out early every year. Get your tickets early to enjoy musicians such as St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Brandi Carlile on the banks of the river.
- Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights– A favorite for locals and visitors alike, this holiday tradition lights up Lookout Mountain with themed displays and photos with Santa.
- Riverbend Festival– Ranking in the top ten percent of American festivals, Riverbend hosts musicians of every genre across four stages at Ross’s Landing in downtown Chattanooga.
- Chattanooga Market– Part farmer’s market part craft show, the Chattanooga Market is open Sundays during the season at the First Tennessee Pavillion. Crowd-drawing events include the Strawberry Festival and the Cast Iron Cookoff.