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Chattanooga, TN city guide

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Today’s Chattanooga, TN, City Guide is brought to us by Melissa Swanson, a freelance writer and administrator at a private university in Chattanooga. She has lived in the city since 2004, and has had many opportunities to explore and enjoy it. Today she shares the best in dining and shopping as well as the secret gems that Chattanooga has to offer. Thanks, Melissa, for this wonderful glimpse into Chattanooga! — Stephanie

Read the full city guide after the jump . . .

Chattanooga, Tennessee, has come a long way from its industrial past. More than 40 years ago, it was named the most polluted city in the nation. Now, thanks to the many efforts of its inhabitants over the years, the city has come alive. It’s eco-friendly, chic, and energetic, and there is always something fun going on downtown.

The city emphasizes environmental efforts, like LED street lights, and it encourages and supports small businesses and artists. Just recently, CultureMap magazine in Austin named Chattanooga an emerging hipster city, along with Asheville, North Carolina, and Burlington, Vermont. This April, Chattanooga unveiled its own custom typeface, called Chatype, born in a downtown coffee shop. That’s just one example of how Chattanoogans are working to make the city even better.

If you enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, and whitewater rafting, as well as great art and music, friendly people, and Southern charm, Chattanooga should definitely be on your list of cities to visit. Here are a few places I recommend while you’re here. Maybe after visiting these, you’ll discover even more to love about Chattanooga.

Check out this Google Map with all of the below listings!


Downtown/Central Business District

Eat and Drink
212 Market Restaurant uses local produce to create delicious seasonal menus. Sit on the outdoor solar deck on a breezy summer evening and watch the downtown area come alive, or if you’re in town during one of their special events, participate in a wine dinner or jazz brunch.

Lupi’s Pizza Pies has the best pizza in Chattanooga. They offer just about every kind of topping you could ask for, and the restaurant is just as eclectic, with purple walls and bright booths that match the colorful art and vintage arcade machines. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, try a huge calzone or a melty lasagna.

The Blue Plate is a modern diner on the riverfront that serves classic southern-style brunches and burgers using local ingredients. The food is presented on blue plates that hearken back to the days of disposable plates used in mobile diners during the Depression.

The River Street Deli is a New York-style delicatessen on the edge of Coolidge Park serving quality sandwiches and soups. All of the sandwiches are excellent, but I recommend trying the creative and seasonal daily specials.

Stay
The Stone Fort Inn is a boutique bed and breakfast right in the heart of downtown. Each room’s decor is different, but they all seem to fit perfectly into the historic 1909 building. Socialize with your fellow guests over an evening wine and cheese reception or a billiards game, and in the morning, enjoy a breakfast made of mouthwatering pastries, fruits and casseroles served in a quiet, sunny room.

The Sheraton Read House Hotel has been a Chattanooga landmark since 1926. The Silver Ballroom, decorated with original Waterford crystal chandeliers and silver moldings, is a popular place for weddings and gatherings. The hotel is located on the electric shuttle route, making it easy to explore the downtown area.

Do
The Bluff View Art District is a historic neighborhood atop a row of cliffs overlooking the Tennessee River. It encompasses an artisan bakery, a café, a coffee house (Rembrandt’s, mentioned above), indoor and outdoor art galleries, an inn, and a fine Italian restaurant. It’s worth spending a few hours relaxing here, where time seems to move a bit slower.

The Hunter Museum of American Art is in an historical mansion and sleek modern building atop the bluffs that overlook the river. The museum’s permanent collection is American art from the Colonial period to the present, and it features new special exhibitions every few months. Recent exhibitions include Dorothea Lange’s photographs, Herman Miller design, and Norman Rockwell paintings. The first Sunday of every month is free admission.

JJ’s Bohemia is one of the best places in town to see live music. It’s small but cozy even when it’s packed, and the bar has a solid selection of beers and an outdoor patio. JJ’s has shows every night, so you’ll have an opportunity to stop by no matter when you visit Chattanooga.

On Sundays, locals and visitors alike head to the Chattanooga Market. Located in a big covered pavilion, the Market is the best place to find fresh produce from area growers, as well as a wide range of locally made art and foods. Stretching from April to December, every weekend has a different theme, such as strawberries, bluegrass, CocaCola, chili, and hot rods.


The Tennessee Aquarium is definitely one of the most popular visitor attractions, but many locals visit regularly, too. It’s especially nice for families, but even if you don’t have kids, it’s a great way to escape from the summer heat and see interesting freshwater and saltwater wildlife, including penguins.

Northshore

Eat and Drink
Taco Mamacita is one of my personal favorite restaurants. I love the fun, colorful atmosphere, and the made-to-order guacamole is heavenly. I always get the tacos with a side of Mexican street corn, but the Peruvian chicken is also excellent, and the restaurant offers a whole line of flavorful margaritas.

Sluggo’s North Vegetarian Café is good even if you’re not vegetarian. They fuse Southern favorites and Asian flavors, with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and creativity. Before you go, check the website to find out when they host live local bands or classic feature films.

Clumpies Ice Cream Company serves up extra-creamy ice creams made in small batches in a long list of delicious and exotic flavors. Clumpies is a Chattanooga tradition, so pick up one of their t-shirts or hoodies to show you’ve been there.

Good Dog is founded on the simple combination of hot dogs and fries, but they offer so many toppings and sides that you’ll never get tired. Locally made artisan buns provide the base for beef or veggie dogs, or in-house hand-cased sausages. They also have locally brewed beers on tap, as well as delicious cupcakes baked daily.

Aretha Frankenstein’s is tiny, so be prepared to wait a while, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with huge, fluffy pancakes and waffles, thick bacon, tasty omelettes, and big biscuits and gravy, served all day. It’s not your typical breakfast place — it’s not uncommon to see beer at breakfast here — but it’s a great place to slow down, hang out for a while, and meet cool people.

Terra Nostra is Chattanooga’s only tapas restaurant, with great meat, seafood and vegetarian choices that are perfect for sharing and sampling over wine. The menu changes with the seasons and combines Spanish, Asian, and Caribbean flavors. The décor is eclectic and unique, and the outdoor alley seating is nice on a sunny day.

Food Works is located inside the same historic mill that houses Knitting Mill Antiques (see below). The food is new and offers creative takes on favorite Southern flavors, and the restaurant is decorated with the same exposed brick and beams that supported the original mill. Go on a Monday night for half-priced wine.

Stay
Knitting Mill Antiques, housed in a turn-of-the-century sewing factory, is one of the best places to hunt for antiques in Chattanooga. From furniture and housewares to clothing and books, it’s nearly impossible to walk out without a newfound treasure.

Mia Cucina is my destination for gourmet kitchen supplies. In addition to brands like Le Creuset and Swiss Diamond, the store sells local goods, such as fresh spice mixes from Alchemy Spice Company. If you have time, sign up for one of their hands-on cooking classes or wine tasting events.

Blue Skies is one of my favorite boutiques to shop for gifts, stationery and handmade jewelry. The merchandise is constantly rotating, which means you can discover new favorite artists every time you go.

Visit Bone Appetit Bakery to pick up a special treat for your pet while you’re in Chattanooga. This bakery and boutique sells quality goods and homemade treats for both dogs and cats. Of course, pet customers are always welcome.

Southside

Eat and Drink
Niko’s Southside Grill combines Southern and Mediterranean flavors with local ingredients. The delicious house-made tzatziki sauce goes great on everything. The brick and wood interior is warm and inviting, and the shaded terrace is perfect on a breezy day.

Niedlov’s Breadworks is known across Chattanooga for its artisan loaves and buns. A number of local restaurants proudly use Niedlov’s breads for their sandwiches. My personal favorite specialty loaf is the roasted garlic. The bakery is also a lunchtime café, serving sandwiches, salads, pastries, and coffee.

The English Rose Tearoom is Chattanooga’s only authentic British tearoom, located in the historic Grand Hotel across from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Stop by for afternoon tea, and choose from a selection of sandwiches, scones, and biscuits. The shop also sells imported British foods, gifts, and fine china teacups and teapots.

The Terminal Brewhouse is located in a narrow and interesting turn-of-the-century building that used to be a hotel. The eco-friendly brewery crafts six great beers, all of which complement the burgers, pizzas, and steaks. Try the famous Philosopher’s Burger paired with a German Maibock beer.

The Hot Chocolatier is my favorite place to grab a special treat. Their cakes, candies, and desserts are divine. Relax in the salvaged-wood booths with a pot de crème or a macaron and shot of espresso, or grab a bag of chocolates to go.

Urban Stack Burger Lounge is a good place to grab a burger and a “manly drink.” They offer a number of great burgers, including two veggie patties, as well as other sandwiches and fries. Sit at the full bar or on the patio and enjoy a bourbon or whisky from their long list, or try a five-dollar shake.

The Camp House is a multipurpose building that houses a coffee bar and hosts live music, a craft workshop, and a church group on Sunday. It’s on this list because of its strong, flavorful espresso and coffee. Grab a cup and sit under the huge skylights to relax.

St. John’s Restaurant was Chattanooga’s first real contemporary fine-dining establishment. Along with its more casual sister restaurant next door, Meeting Place, it has become a destination for quality seasonal and regional foods prepared in creative ways and flawlessly presented. It’s just as appropriate for a romantic dinner as for a gathering of good friends.

Stay
The Crash Pad is for those looking for a bit more adventure. It’s a boutique, eco-friendly hostel with a friendly atmosphere. Choose from communal bunk rooms or private rooms, and get to know other travelers in the living room and kitchen. With extra space to store gear, it’s a good place for visitors who want to take advantage of the many outdoor activities in the Chattanooga area.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo is definitely one of the city’s claims to fame (thanks in part to the song). It was once the Terminal Station for trains carrying passengers to and from the South, but it’s now a historic hotel, complete with extra amenities like formal Victorian gardens and horse carriage rides. You can also spend the night in an authentic restored train car, converted into a lovely hotel room.


Do
The Row is also home to fine art in Gallery 1401, and the fantastic Public House Restaurant, from one of Chattanooga’s star chefs (see more below under Notable Chattanoogans).

Lookout Mountain/St. Elmo

Eat and Drink
Pasha Coffee & Tea is St. Elmo’s go-to place for fresh coffee and sandwiches, as well as for community events, like book signings and book clubs, poetry nights, and live music. The sofas and chairs in the back room are great for reading or conversation.

Blacksmith’s Bistro & Bar is right next door to Pasha. The outdoor patio is always full on a clear evening. They serve great food for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, but the best part is the weekly specials, like half-priced draft or wine, $5 cheese plates, or all-day happy hour on Saturdays.

Boccaccia Ristorante Italiano is small and out of the way, but it fills up fast, so make reservations. The atmosphere is warm and rustic, making it one of my favorite date-night restaurants. The house-made pasta is soft and delicious, and if you go on your birthday, you get a pasta and dessert for free.

Collective Clothing is a great little thrift shop for curated vintage and modern recycled goods — everything from clothing and accessories to records and art. The selection and prices are good, and you can always find something unique to take home.

Do
Lookout Mountain area is home to the big three attractions: Ruby Falls, the Incline Railway, and Rock City (if you’ve ever spent any time driving across the country, you may have seen “See Rock City” painted on barn roofs, a tradition that started in the 1930s). The Incline Railway goes straight up the side of Lookout Mountain, depositing passengers at the top to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views. Ruby Falls is the nation’s largest underground waterfall, and Rock City features a long trail lined with gardens and natural rock formations, ending at a sheer cliff overlooking the valley. They’re probably Chattanooga’s most famous attractions, and they’re worth seeing.

The Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center is an educational non-profit organization located right at the base of Lookout Mountain. Walk or bike the trails and enjoy the native plants, canoe down the creek, or visit the animals housed at the Center (the animals are unable to survive in the wild for various reasons). The Center also hosts educational events, hikes, and workshops.

The Tennessee Bouldering Authority is an indoor bouldering and climbing training gym, with 3,000 square feet of climbing walls monitored by experienced staff. If you’d like a little exercise while you’re in Chattanooga, a one-day pass is $8.


Chattanooga Festivals

Riverbend is a nine-day music festival that happens every June, right on the waterfront of the Tennessee River. The festival features over 100 bands, with a fantastic fireworks display on the final evening.

Nightfall is a series of free Friday night concerts downtown every summer, featuring a range of styles and bands from across the country.

The 4 Bridges Arts Festival happens in April and features contemporary original art and artists from around the US.

The biennial Conference on Southern Literature is a place for writers and readers to discuss literary topics, mingle, award prizes, and discover up-and-coming authors.

RiverRocks is Chattanooga’s 10-day festival dedicated to the outdoors, with events in paddling, climbing, running, biking, racing, and rowing every October. The 3 Sisters Festival, which celebrates bluegrass music, happens simultaneously during a couple days of RiverRocks.

A Few Notable Chattanoogans

  • Daniel and Nathan Lindley — Together and individually, these brothers and chefs have opened and operate four of Chattanooga’s best restaurants: St. John’s, Meeting Place, Alleia and Public House.
  • Maria and Laura Jones — Cousins and founders of McGowan and McClain, a beautiful and nature-inspired handcrafted jewelry line, featured in boutiques across the Southeast.
  • John Henry — Sculptor who crafts large-scale metal public works of art that have been installed in both downtown Chattanooga and in cities across the world.
  • Kayoko Dan — She’s the new, energetic young conductor and music director of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera.

 

Famous Chattanoogans

Samuel L. Jackson
Bessie Smith
Reggie White
Ted Turner
Arthur Golden

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31 Comments

Robin

I’m definitely bookmarking this one. I’m in St. Louis, and it’s a quick drive to Tennessee for a weekend getaway. In the last year, we’ve visited both Memphis and Nashville — Chattanooga will be next on the list.

J.

Oh my home and favorite city!

I would have loved to see more about Alleia- long my favorite restaurant in Chatt-town- panna cotta TO DIE FOR.

So happy to see such a wonderful, beautiful, charming city featured (can you tell I love it?)!!!

Jenni

Great guide! I’ve lived here all my life (since 1986) and I think Melissa made some great selections! I would have added Rembrant’s in Bluff View to the list though as a great place for coffee, desserts, and lunch.

Kelley

Woohoo! I love Chattanooga more than I can say and am so thrilled to see it featured here! For great coffee I would add Greyfriars to the list (downtown on Broad St.) and visitors and locals alike should stop by Link 41 (East Main, near the Choo-Choo) for some awesome handmade sausage.

Laura

I went to college in a nearby town, so Chattanooga was our go-to weekend spot. You definitely listed all of my favorites and added some new ones that I’ll have to try when I go back and visit. Seriously, Chattanooga is one of my favorite southern cities!

Music101

This article covers a good bit, but there is so much more going on in Chattanooga! Come visit! We have Track 29 the premier music venue in the Southside that has hosted artist’s such as Jack White, The Avett Brothers, Jake Owen, Warren Haynes & the list goes on in less than a year! There are also a slew of local breweries including Big River Brewing Works, Chattanooga Brewing Company, Terminal, & not to mention the Southern Brewers Festival on August 25th! Two fantastic but different restaurants include Easy Bistro downtown & Taqueria Jalisco in the Southside. Nightfall Music Series that is FREE every Friday night during the summer as well! Come visit there is so much to do & lots of good people in Chattanooga!

Rodney

Gosh, Chattanooga does have lots to offer! Specifically for design devotees…

HOME DESIGN – Revival Uncommon Goods, Sophie’s, Nell’s Home & Garden
SALVAGE – Estate of Confusion, Architectural Exchange
GIFTS – Blue Skies, The Clay Pot
PAPER and CARDS – Shadowbox Paperie
JEWELRY – Amanda Pinson Jewelry
FASHION – Alice Blue, Willa, Embellish Shoes, K Boutique, Rhinoceros, Kayce Hughes, Ellie’s Fine Lingerie

So much amazing local, Chattanoog-indigenous shopping!

Courtney

This is a city I’ve wanted to visit for a while! If/when I take trip down south, this guide will be so helpful. Thank you!

Allison

Easy Bistro and Bar needs to be added to the downtown EATs! This place has served me the best food I’ve ever put in my mouth. They have great signature cocktails, too — many that use liquor that’s house-infused with seasonal fruits and herbs. The menu is constantly changing to reflect what’s in season. A stop here is a must, if you’re visiting Chatt-town.

Bailey

Great guide… but no mention of the big green hill! It’s one of my favorite things about this city.

Molly

WHAT – you haven’t mentioned Champy’s! A world-famous fried chicken joint and the best deep-fried pickles you will EVER eat. I absolutely second Rembrandt’s and South Eastern Salvage as unmentioned but must-eat/must-shops and St John’s is my parents’ go-to special occasion spot. Also adore Blue Skies.

Also, any mention of Chattanooga’s North Shore has to include the darling brass dance steps embedded in the sidewalk along the same block as Blue Skies and Clumpies. Teach yourself the Tango, Waltz and even practise plain old kissing :)

Raven Tommey

I live in Philly now, but was born and raised right outside of Chattanooga, TN. I LOVE this city!! There is SO much to do, especially if you enjoy the outdoors. It’s historical, it’s artsy, it’s outdoorsy, it’s family friendly. I could go on and on. If you’re looking for a place to stay, there’s a beautiful cottage on Missionary Ridge that’s a few minutes from downtown, but offers a quiet getaway and beautiful view of Lookout Mountain. It’s called Cottage on the Ridge, https://sites.google.com/site/cottageontheridge/. It’s sister location is just as convenient and it’s called Lodge on the Ridge. It’s accommodates larger parties, you know, for family get togethers or group vacations! https://sites.google.com/site/lodgeontheridge/. It’s so great! woot woot!! Visit Chatt-Vegas!!

Marie

Thanks for the great ideas! We’ve been stationed in Memphis the past 18 months and have yet to make to Chattanooga. We will now!

MB@YarnUiPhoneAppv2.4

I’ve liked Chattanooga for its railroad connection…I just wish it were still accessible by rail. That’s just me. If I were to visit again, I’d hit up a knitting shop (what’s the best place) for a fiber souvenir that I could bring home and savor my travels all over again while I’m knitting. Or I go to a fabric shop. I like that better than dorky touristy stuff I have no real use for.

Molly@TheNestingGame

I grew up in Chattanooga. You’ve come a long way, baby… What a great round-up! My family has moved out of the area, but I always love coming back for high school reunions to see what’s new.

Molly@TheNestingGame

Oh and my cousin-in-law is the chef at Meeting Place. We had a great meal there last time I was in town. Well worth a visit!

Southern Star is also a great “meat and three” in the Southside area. Awesome Banana Puddin’!

Dave Johnson III

Wow, what a vibrant art infused fun loving energenic place. We retired here after looking for a year and don’t regret it for one minute. Downtown and Southside are worth a trip, you will not be disappointed. Love the free shuttle and the more than awesome Coker Car and Motorcycle museum downtown.

Dave Johnson III

WOW, what a town,,don’t forget the free shuttle and the awesome Coker antique car and motorcycle collection downtown.

Lee

What a lovely surprise to see my city on D*S! Hurrah!

Lindsay Wilhite

I lived on Lookout Mountain for 9 years and loved every minute of it. Chattanooga has so much going for it!

Mary

Chattanooga rocks!! A few things I didn’t see on the list – check out the walking/bike trail that runs alone the river – it goes on for miles and miles. Also the WholeFoods (NorthShore) is different from other stores of the chain in that it has a great area for eating in. Upstairs has great seating (including an outdoors deck) and the patio outside is a fun place to eat and people watch. You can even order beer on draft and sip it as you shop!

Rachael

Ahhh!! I live in Chattanooga! This makes me sooo happy to read some awesome press for my favorite city ever. From personal experience, The Stone Fort Inn is to die for. Make sure to stay on a weekend and take in their breakfast buffett, complete with White Chocolate Raspberry scones and amazing crepes. Also, the Terminal Brewhouse is amazing. They use mostly local ingredients (especially beef) and they get all their pizza/calzone dough from Neidlov’s bakery. They brew their own beers in the basement (the building is three stories and you can look down through all three to the basement and see it fermenting…pretty cool), too.

Susan

Thanks for posting! Been wanting to get away from Atlanta for a day or two. This will be perfect.

Amber

If anyone has kids, the downtown Creative Discovery Museum is packed with things for them to do as well.

Alisha

Yay!! Chattanooga!! I grew up in the area as well and I truly love it! Seriously like most people have stated above Rembrandts has amazing coffee, tea, and desserts. Tony’s the Italian restaurant in the Bluff View Art District, is still one of my favorites! Chattanooga is a great city filled with tons of wonderful shopping and dining gems. I totally encourage more people to visit.

Cynthia

Whee! I grew up in the Chattanooga area and love home. Absolutely love the Riverfront, Coolidge Park, the whole nine yards. Great article as well as it didn’t mention that Usher was originally from Chattanooga as well!

BarbLed

Wow, great information! We went several years ago when our kids were little but need to plan a trip there with our teenagers. Thanks for the informative guide.

Maura

Love that Chattanooga’s made it here, but I agree with many others that the list is seriously lacking! See Music101 & Rodney for better recs. Makes me question the validity of other city reviews.

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