Florida Man on the Run

Your Guide to a Fantastic Weekend in Chattanooga

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A few years back, my wife and I spent a weekend in Chattanooga. We really fell in love with the city, so much so that when the opportunity to move here presented itself earlier this year we couldn’t pass it up. Now that we are local to the area we have been able to explore so much of the city and I just had to pass on my newfound knowledge. While you might not be able to do all of the things in this post with a single weekend in Chattanooga, you certainly can build a lot of it into any Chattanooga itinerary. Many of these places also make for a wonderful family trip to Chattanooga. The Scenic City is ripe for exploration, and with so many awesome things to see you’d be hard pressed to have a bad Chattanooga weekend trip.

Get Outside in the Scenic City

One of my personal favorite ways to spend a weekend in Chattanooga is outside. Chattanooga has rightfully earned it’s Scenic City moniker thanks to the abundance of outdoor activities in the area. This begins by spending some time outside, but in the city. Coolidge Park on the banks of the Tennessee River is a great park for a picnic in the city. It also serves as an excellent place to put your kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards in the water.

If you’re wanting to get away from the heart of the city during your Chattanooga weekend trip, then there are some great state parks to check out. Harrison Bay State Park is fantastic if you want to spend some family time on the water. The park also features one of three Jack Nicklaus designed Bear Trace golf courses in Tennessee. A little further afield you can find places like Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia, Cumberland State Park just north of Jasper, or Chickamauga Creek Natural Area north of Soddy-Daisy. These are just a few of the amazing places where you can go hiking. You’ve got to have at least one of these on any Chattanooga itinerary you’d be planning.

I’m a sucker for a good sunrise. If you’ve been reading for a while, that won’t be a surprise to you. What this means for everyone is that I’ve got the perfect spot in town already figured out. Now, it’ll take you 45 minutes to get there and you’ll have to cross into the central time zone but it’s worth it. Snooper’s Rock will give you an amazing view of the Tennessee River Valley. We’re talking unobstructed, perfect sunrise watching spot. Don’t spend a weekend in Chattanooga without checking it out, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Just a taste of what you’ll see at Snooper’s Rock!

Spelunking to Ruby Falls

While I highly advise spending some portion of your Chattanooga weekend trip outside, it’s also a pretty good idea to head underground as well. You see, one of the area’s best sights is Ruby Falls. Now, Ruby Falls is certainly no secret. You’ll find plenty of advertisements for it as your drive into town. Rightfully so, too! Everyone should honestly make a trip underground to see this wonder.

The access to Ruby Falls is on top of Lookout Mountain. The mountain stands prominently over the town below, with the entrance to Ruby Falls about half way up. Ticket prices at Ruby Falls vary based on the day of week and season that you plan your visit, but are usually about $26. If you’re making a family trip to Chattanooga, the tickets for kids are cheaper. No matter how many people you’re bringing along, you’ll want to order tickets before arrival to book your time slot in advance.

The Ruby Falls light show is super fun!

Ruby Falls is about a half mile inside the cave. They’ll remind you to go to the bathroom in advance, advice I would definitely heed since there isn’t a bathroom in the cave. Once you’re down there, you’ll head to the waterfall with a group of between 15-30 depending on the time of year. The entire adventure takes a little over an hour. There are a lot of fun little rock formations on the way. If you’re the photographing type, like me, then go ahead and bring the camera along for the trip. I really loved both visits to Ruby Falls, so I’d say it’s a key part of any weekend in Chattanooga.

See Rock City

Since you’ll already be going up to Lookout Mountain, you need to see Rock City. As the world-famous barns well tell you, you’ve got to see Rock City. Now, when we made our first Chattanooga weekend trip, I didn’t plan enough time to visit Rock City. This was a mistake on my part, so don’t do that. Rock City takes about two hours to complete fully, though you’d be welcome to spend far more time there.

The reason Rock City is so remarkable, is that it was preserved and improved upon when built. Almost all of the rock formations found on site where there when it was first visited by Europeans in the 1700s. The owners of Rock City simply built upon the natural beauty of the existing site. In doing so they create a one-of-a-kind experience that you’ve got to include on your Chattanooga itinerary.

Rock City is an awesome place to visit during a weekend in chattanooga
Just a small snippet of how cool Rock City’s formations are!

For anyone who is visiting, you’ll want to know that there is a lot of walking and a lot of elevation change. This comes primarily in the form is stairs. If this is an issue for you, there is a shortened trail you can utilize. This trail is ADA compliant and does get you to the spectacular Seven States Lookout. It might be generous to say you can see seven different states from this point, but I certainly can’t prove them wrong. In any case, when you get up there keep your eye out for a very special joke in the scenery below.

Visit the Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium is perhaps my favorite place in all of downtown Chattanooga. So I felt it deserved it’s own spot in my discussion on the best way to spend a weekend in Chattanooga. My wife and I loved our first visit so much, we became members so we could visit any time we liked. Which I’ll say has been quite often!

The Aquarium is located in two separated but adjacent building along the Tennessee River. The “first” building houses the Ocean Journey exhibits. The massive tank inside this building is home to a wide array of ocean creatures, including sharks, sting rays, sea turtles, and a huge number of fish. One of the coolest parts is how the tank serves as the center point of the building. This means when you’re descending from the top, you get to see the animals from a variety of different angles. At the top of Ocean Journey is also one of the best places for kids on any family trip to Chattanooga: the sting ray petting pool. Kids love this spot and it’s an excellent hands on learning opportunity for them.

Sharks and other sea creatures inhabit the Ocean Journey building

The second part of the Tennessee Aquarium is the River Journey exhibit. This building is focused on fresh water animals, and in particular those who inhabit the Tennessee and Mississippi River watersheds. By having this focus, it really makes the aquarium an interesting way to learn about the local ecosystem and what we can do to help restore and protect it. Much like the Ocean Journey building, the River Journey descends from top to bottom, but this time with two separate large tanks. There are also some really neat theming pieces, like the bayou section with alligators and turtles. There is also a tank with some of the biggest freshwater fish on the planet, which I found to be super neat!

Go ahead and hang out with these gators in the River Journey building

If there is a single attraction you do when on a Chattanooga weekend trip, I’d say it has to be the Tennessee Aquarium. It’s a real feather in the cap for the city, and a great centerpiece to spending time in downtown Chattanooga.

An Artfully Good Time at the Hunter Museum of American Art

One of the things that surprised me the most when we made our first visit to town was the Hunter Museum of American Art. Most major American cities have art museums, but ones like hunter often get overlooked in favor of the ones like Getty in Los Angeles, Guggenheim in New York, or both of Boston’s amazing art musuems to name a few. Yet, I’ve often found some of my favorite art at smaller museums like Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges or Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum.

One of the main reasons I think you need to make a visit to the Hunter Museum when spending a weekend in Chattanooga is the architectural history of the museum. The neo-classical brick mansion which serves as the centerpiece of the museum is almost 120 years old. It is adjoined by two wonderful additions: one built in the brutalist style of the 50s-70s and another in a modernist style. This collection of architecture gives the Hunter a very unique appearance. Not to mention, it’s location on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River provides some stunning views as well.

The Hunter Museum is a great destination for a weekend in Chattanooga
Use the Hunter to make your own sunset art!

The Hunter Museum of American Art houses a huge collection, in addition to a number of rotating exhibits. That being said, it probably only took us about two and a half hours to explore the museum. We are fairly leisurely viewers as well, so plan with that what you will. However, any visit to Chattanooga really needs a visit to its premier art destination. Plus, if you’ve got some extra time you can explore the surrounding art district or grab lunch/dinner at Tony’s Pasta Shop!

A Quick Trip to the Chattanooga Zoo

The first thing I’ll say about the Chattanooga Zoo is that it is far smaller than most of America’s major zoos. Don’t think you’re making a trip to say, the St. Louis Zoo, when you’re coming here. That being said, it’s still a neat place to bring small children if you’re making a family trip to Chattanooga.

The Zoo is part of the larger Warner Park located just east of Downtown. The Chattanooga Zoo features a number of animals that you’d certainly expect to find a zoo. That would include giraffes, chimpanzees, jaguars, and meerkats. The Zoo even features a sizeable red panda exhibit. It also has some animals that aren’t often found in zoos including coyotes, capybaras, and komodo dragons. Kids will particularly love the petting zoo which features a bunch of friendly goats!

The most curious friends at the zoo are the meerkats!

I’d plan a trip to the Chattanooga Zoo if you’ve got a couple of hours to burn, or you’re a big fan of Zoos in general. After we moved to town we joined the Zoo as members because it’s super convenient to our home and its a laid back way to spend a few hours.

Daytime Adventures in Downtown Chattanooga

Since you’re almost certainly including the Tennessee Aquarium (or the Hunter Museum) on your Chattanooga itinerary, then its a natural extension to spend time wandering downtown during the day. Make sure that you’ve put on your walking shoes though, because they’ll definitely get used.

From either of the aforementioned downtown locations, you can easily reach the Walnut Street Walking Bridge. On a beautiful Chattanooga day, walking high above the Tennessee River is a super neat experience. Especially if you grab some ice cream first from The Ice Cream Show. Alternatively, if you’ve made a visit to Coolidge Park you can cross the bridge to reach downtown. Either way, you’ve got to check out one of Chattanooga’s most beloved locales.

Walk across the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street Bridge

If it’s more of a family trip to Chattanooga, then downtown still has some kid-friendly fun on offer. For hands on fun, head over to the Creative Discovery Museum. This interactive children’s museum is one of the best in the country! As an added bonus, you can find the Moon Pie General Store right around the corner. So tire the kids out then grab some of Chattanooga’s own world-famous desert before heading in for the night.

An Evening in Downtown Chattanooga

No matter where you’re heading for the weekend, it’s not a weekend trip without experiencing the night life. There are a lot of ways in which you can spend a weekend night in Downtown Chattanooga. Fortunately, every weekend in Chattanooga has two nights you can spend out!

I’d recommend that at least one night you take a Sunset Cruise on the Southern Belle Riverboat. When we took our trip to Chattanooga, we booked this cruise and LOVED it. I thought it was a pretty fun way to experience the Tennessee River without any chance of getting wet. The cruise will take you down the River a ways, and then turn back to port. All told, it takes about 90 minutes to complete. Be mindful of what time sunset is, because in the summer it might still be light out when you return.

On your other weekend night in the city, I’d put the Ghost & BOOze Tour on the itinerary. This two hour tour will take you to the best haunted places in town, plus a few fantastic bars as well. It’s a cool way to start off your night downtown. Plus, nothing stops you from heading on back to one of the stops along the way if you really enjoyed it!

Liquor bottles lit up on a wall inside of Unknown Caller visited during a weekend in Chattanooga
I’d also give a big shout out to Unknown Caller as one of the coolest bars in Chattanooga!

For both of the nights on your weekend in Chattanooga, you’ll have plenty of time to do things beyond these tours. You could take in a show at the Tivoli Theater, or maybe catch a Chattanooga Lookouts baseball game at AT&T Field. If you’re looking for a lot more nightlife, then Station Street is Chattanooga’s mini-version of Nashville’s Broadway or Memphis’s Beale Street.

Best Places to Stay on a Weekend in Chattanooga

Well now that we’ve talked about all the amazing things to do on a Chattanooga weekend trip, lets talk about where to stay. Chattanooga isn’t a huge town by any means, but there are a few things to consider when selecting where you’ll spend your nights. The first is how close do you want to be to downtown. There is a ton to see and do there, but as we’ve already discussed there is also a ton of places beyond the city limits. The second consideration is what type of accommodations you’re looking for. There is a plethora of mainstream hotels around town, but also cute B&Bs, boutique hotels, and even camping!

For those wanting to be centered on downtown, I’ve got two main recommendations for you. If money is no object, then the place to stay is The Edwin Hotel. It is situated at one end of the Walnut Street Bridge, as well as the Holmberg Bridge for easy access to the art museum. The Edwin also features one of the best rooftop spots in town, Whiskey Thief. Even if you aren’t staying the night, a night cap here is almost required. For a more budget friendly option, check out the Courtyard by Marriott. It is located directly across from the Tennessee Aquarium and the Imax Theater. It’s also an easy walk to AT&T field for a Lookouts baseball game!

Hard to beat a view like that! Photo courtesy of Whiskey Thief.

There are also a number of great boutique inns and B&Bs in town. Lookout Mountain is home to quite a few of these. The Riverview Inn is tucked just below Ruby Falls. It was built in 1935 and has been a road trip stop for nearly 90 years. If you want to stay a bit closer to Rock City, then check out the Chanticleer Inn. It’s even older than Riverview, having been constructed in 1927. Both are wonderful stays on Lookout Mountain. If you’d rather spend your weekend in Chattanooga closer to the water, then Riverside Bed and Breakfast would be your spot. It is located a good distance north of town, but still gives easy access to the city and surrounding outdoor adventures.

You can also make camping part of your Chattanooga weekend trip. While I wouldn’t suggest it during the winter or summer, camping could be a great option in the spring or fall. There’s no camping in the city proper (and why would you want to). However, there is plenty not to far away. One of my favorites is Hamilton County’s Chester Frost Park. Many of the sites sit right on the water and it has all the amenities one would expect. On the other side of Chickamauga Lake is Harrison Bay State Park. It also has plenty of lakefront camping, plus a world class golf course as well!

Refuel at these Chattanooga Eateries

After all your exploring, you’ll definitely need to refuel at some of the excellent restaurants around the city. There is pretty much something for everyone across town, so I’m going to focus on just a few of my favorites for breakfast, as well as lunch/dinner.

You’ll need to start each day of your weekend in Chattanooga off right with a delicious breakfast. Mean Mug is definitely my recommendation for those seeking great coffee and a quick bite to eat. There are a few locations around town, so there will be one near you. For those bagel connoisseurs, Honey Seed is the place to get a great Montreal-style bagel. For a sweet start to your day, then check out Julie Darling Donuts. We stopped here twice during our visit to Chattanooga a few years back we liked the donuts that much. Last, but certainly not least, for the best full breakfast experience in town you’ve gotta head to Aretha Frankensteins. It’s a wonderful, quirky, small-time breakfast spot that I love!

After you’ve made the right choice for breakfast, you’ll need to follow it up with another excellent pick at lunch and dinner. Fortunately, all of these next places do the rest of the day’s meals justice. A recent find of mine has been Mayan Kitchen. It’s a trendy Latin American focused eatery right off Broad Street in downtown that serves up some delicious food. If you’re looking to spend some of your time at the Aquarium, then Puckett’s Restaurant would be a great choice. It is literally right outside the front doors, so you can save a bit of money on parking or walk off a hearty lunch! Our visits to Lookout Mountain usually include a stop at the Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe. Its a quaint spot with something for the whole family to enjoy. Finally, I’d recommend checking out Giardino’s if you’re looking for some great italian food or want to get away from the hustle of downtown.

Choosing When to Make Your Trip

When you choose to plan your weekend in Chattanooga is going to be heavily influenced by the seasons. Chattanooga sits at just the perfect place to truly experience all four seasons, though I’d definitely say some are better than others for visiting.

Spring is a prime time to make a trip to the Scenic City. The weather is usually warming up, though there can still be some cold snaps. With the right amount of rain (of which there will be plenty) the local waterfalls will be roaring and wildflowers blooming. However, the somewhat temperamental nature of the weather means you’ll always need to have a backup plan for any outdoor adventures. Spring is also a shoulder season for the area, meaning you’ll see fewer crowds for your weekend in Chattanooga.

Summer is going to be the most popular time for a family trip to Chattanooga. The temps are usually mild in the morning or evening, and hot during the middle of the day. If you love the outdoors, I’d say this is the best time to make your trip. Despite the possibility for afternoon showers, these won’t disrupt your days nearly as much as the spring rains will. If you’re planning a Chattanooga itinerary for the summer months, be mindful that with schools out things will be far busier on the weekends.

An amazing overlook of Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain visited during a weekend in chattanooga
You can find this amazing overlook of the city on Lookout Mountain. It’s a great summer hike!

Fall is a wonderful time to make a visit to the city. The color change of the local leaves usually occurs over a wide range of time thanks to the different elevations in the local area. While the colors may have come and gone in the Great Smoky Mountains, Chattanooga will hold onto them for a bit later into the season. Thanks to school going back in session, it also means that crowds are a bit smaller. Of all the seasons I’d consider planning a weekend in Chattanooga, fall would be my pick.

That brings us to winter. It’s not that winter is necessarily a bad time to visit, but it’s just the worst of all the seasons to make a trip. Many of the local area attractions will reduce hours due to slower visitation. The leaves are mostly all gone, meaning that hikes which are gorgeous in the other three months are bare in the winter. Temperatures are usually cold or chilly as well, which makes for a cozy campfire but not great for spending long stretches outside. Plus, there really isn’t a whole lot of snow, so if that’s a draw for you then Chattanooga isn’t the place for your winter trip.

Final Considerations for a Weekend in Chattanooga

Ok, so take a deep breath. If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post then you’ve taken in quite a bit of information. One thing you’ve got to know is that making a Chattanooga weekend trip is 110% worth it. You can do it like I first did as part of a larger road trip, or simply as it’s own standalone trip. Chattanooga is fantastic alternative to visiting cities like Atlanta or Nashville. It can also provide you with access to a lot of wonderful outdoor adventures without the tourist overload of places like Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

My biggest recommendation is to give yourself a set Chattanooga itinerary and plan. Do you want to explore the Scenic City’s outdoor scene? Are you looking for attractions to keep the kids entertained? Is your trip solo, as a couple, or with a few friends or family members. All of this will go into helping you plan what to see, do, and eat while you’re here. I wish I’d had a guide this in depth when I first planned my trip to town. So take advantage of the time to plan and make the most of your weekend in Chattanooga. Who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love and relocate here like me!

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