One of the most enjoyable things to do in Chattanooga is exploring all that this southeastern city has to offer. With easy access to nearby civil war sites and plenty of history to learn about, Chattanooga makes for an educational trip. But there are also plenty of activities suitable for both families and adult groups looking for a fun-filled getaway. From outdoor adventures like tubing down the Tennessee River and visiting Lookout Mountain to cultural experiences such as shopping at the Chattanooga Choo Choo or dining in one of its many restaurants, Chattanooga is an exciting destination.
History of Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga was founded in 1838 near the Tennessee River. There are several stories of how the city got its name. One story claims that hunters along the river found a large rock, used the rock outcroppings as shelter during hunting trips, and decided to call the area “Chattanooga.”
Another story is based on Native American history, claiming that a large boulder was used as shelter by the Native American chief, Chickamauga and that this chief is credited with naming the valley region.
A third story conveys that European settlers named the city based on the word Chattanooga, meaning “rock,” but chose the name due to the abundant limestone in the area.
In more recent times, the city is also known as The Scenic City, and it’s easy to understand why.
Industrial Growth in Chattanooga
The Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad, for example, was built in the 1860s to transport iron ore from nearby local mines. This made it possible for iron mills and factories to develop the area. The city soon became a hub of industry, with coal mining and supporting industries being established.
Many local businesses have been growing their companies in this area since before it became a city. In the 20th century, the automotive industry grew rapidly, increasing job opportunities and population growth. Today, Chattanooga is home to several large companies, such as Tennesee Valley Authority, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, and Volkswagen, that are leading the key industrial sectors.
Outdoor Adventures in Chattanooga
Chattanooga has some of the best outdoor sites for adventure seekers. From Lookout Mountain and Rock City to Ruby Falls Caverns or any of its many bike paths and trails, Chattanooga offers a variety of outdoor activities for adults and families.
Lookout Mountain and Point Park
Lookout Mountain is a highly sought-after tourist destination, revered for its breathtaking views of downtown Chattanooga and the winding Tennessee River. Visitors are welcome to take their time exploring the mountain’s numerous walking trails, which offer an immersive experience of the natural surroundings. Alternatively, guests can rent a bike to cover more ground and delve deeper into the mountain’s charm. For those who prefer to soak in the beauty without breaking a sweat, there are plenty of overlooks that provide stunning panoramic views.
Point Park, the ten-acre memorial park located on the mountain’s summit, is a site worth exploring. The park has a paved walking path that circles around the perimeter and passes by several historical tablets, monuments, Confederate artillery positions, and scenic overlooks. This is a perfect spot for history enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
The incline railway is a popular attraction on Lookout Mountain. The departure station is just a few steps from the Point Park entrance. This funicular railway takes visitors to the top of Lookout Mountain. Although it’s not the steepest passenger railway in the world, it’s a thrilling one-mile ride to the mountain’s base.
See Rock City Gardens
Rock City Gardens, located at the top of Lookout Mountain, is a popular destination featuring breathtaking views and spectacular gardens. This unique 4,100-acre park was established by Frieda Utermoehlen Carter in 1932 and features historic stone pathways, gorgeous gardens full of flowers, caverns illuminated by electric lights, and enchanting Fairyland Caverns. The iconic “See 7 States” overlook provides panoramic views from the mountain’s peak. It is an incredible experience for anyone looking to soak up the natural beauty while taking in sweeping views of surrounding landscapes.
Tubing Down the Tennessee River
One of the most popular outdoor activities in Chattanooga is tubing down the Tennessee River. Several companies offer rental services for individual and group floats on rafts or tubes. This activity is perfect for groups looking to cool off with a leisurely float down the river while enjoying breathtaking views of Chattanooga’s mountainside skyline.
Cultural Experiences in Chattanooga
Chattanooga’s history is rich, but the city has also moved forward to become a cultural hub for art and music.
The Tennessee Aquarium is one of our favorite places in this area – and the more than 11 million people who visit each year agree. This world-renowned facility offers an immersive experience for guests of all ages. The aquarium is home to more than 10,000 animals from across the globe, including otters, penguins, and sharks.
Guests explore the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings to learn about aquatic life in different habitats as they observe various species up close. A fun outdoor activity at the aquarium is taking a stroll on the pedestrian bridge connecting both buildings, where you can see hundreds of local birds flocking around. Additionally, there are several interactive exhibits, such as touch tanks and educational programs, that allow guests to get an up-close look at some of the ocean’s most amazing creatures.
Things to Do in Downtown Chattanooga
The Tennessee Aquarium is located in downtown Chattanooga and backs to the river. From here, visitors can explore the cultural district of downtown Chattanooga. This area is active with shops, museums, historical monuments, and art galleries. The historic Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is also located here, where guests can learn about the local railway history while riding a vintage train.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
The Chattanooga Choo Choo is a historic train station turned shopping center with boutiques and one-of-a-kind eateries. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed, happy hour spot with live acoustic music, or a delectable taste of Southern cuisine, you’ll find it here. The Backstage Bar is a popular choice for those seeking a relaxed atmosphere and great tunes. Nic and Norman’s is another excellent dining destination, offering a delicious selection of Southern fare. But no visit to the Chattanooga Choo Choo would be complete without a stop at the beloved STIR. This must-visit spot boasts an impressive menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner, all made with fresh ingredients sourced mainly from local vendors and farms in Chattanooga. Every dish is prepared from scratch daily with the utmost care, ensuring that each bite is exceptional.
Art in Downtown Chattanooga
Learn about local artists at Warehouse Row on Market Street or experience one of Chattanooga’s many museums, like The Hunter Museum of Art, while visiting downtown Chattanooga.
Dining Choices in Chattanooga
There are so many choices when it comes to dining out in Chattanooga. We recommend starting with a Chattanooga food crawl tour and letting your taste buds lead the way to a foodie adventure!
If you’re wandering through the city, rest assured you can get anything from authentic Mexican food (Taco Mamacita 109 Market Street) to river views (Scottie’s on the River 491 Riverfront Parkway) to fine dining (St. John’s Restaurant 1278 Market Street).
And don’t forget STIR Restaurant, located adjacent to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo train station and hotel complex.
Places to Stay in Chattanooga
Places to stay overnight in Chattanooga include hotels and cottages near the riverwalk, such as the Riverfront Hotel. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo is another choice, with its train cars to sleep in overnight. Guests can sleep in one of the train cars, but there are traditional hotel rooms available on the property too.
As you prepare for your trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, here are things that will be useful for the trip and your exploration of the town and surrounding areas.
Quality luggage makes all the difference, whether on a flight or a road trip. We recommend this lightweight hardshell luggage to protect your items and not weigh you down during the journey.
Recommended Hiking Wear
Your exploration of Chattanooga may include exploring the nearby mountainous areas and visiting at cooler times of the year. In either case, a warm hoodie, sturdy hiking boots, and insect spray will help to make your experience much more pleasant.
Prior to your arrival in Chattanooga, history buffs will want to read up on the Civil War history of the area. It will make your visit to Lookout Mountain much better, as you will have a context of the armaments that you will see.
Chattanooga is the perfect destination for a family vacation. From beautiful history and culture to stunning scenery and top attractions, there’s something for everyone in this Tennessee city. We’ve covered some of the highlights so you can start planning your trip.
If You Go