First of all, 48 hours is not enough time to see everything there is to see in this lovely historic city, so you should just plan on coming back. Then you can sit back and relax as you explore at your own pace, knowing there will be a next time to see more. Chattanooga is the perfect place for taking your time. Situated on the banks of the sparkling Tennessee River, this Southern city is a perfect weekend escape, featuring a range of attractions from museums and restaurants to natural beauty and outdoor recreation of all kinds, or you could just find a good spot overlooking the river and spend hours there enjoying the natural scenery and human stories unfolding around you.
Where to Stay:
Using HomeAway, I found the Bear House, specifically Lilly’s Loft, newly opened in the Bear House’s carriage house, in the historic St. Elmo district at the foot of Lookout Mountain. I was utterly charmed from the first moment to the last. I think we actually closed the door to the apartment for the last time with maybe a minute to spare before the 11 o’clock checkout time. The owners of the Bear House have done a wonderful job on the décor and provision of all the comforts of home. Breakfast coffee and snacks were included in the full kitchen. In addition to the Bear House, there were many other similarly charming options in St. Elmo and the other historic neighborhoods of Chattanooga listed on HomeAway.
I have used HomeAway twice now and have been VERY pleased with the quality and value of what I have found there. If you go this route, you will be asked to upload the free app to your phone to receive messages through the app from the owner. You can then use the app, as I do, for future rental searches and reservations. You should carefully read the details of what each place offers (Is breakfast included? Is the bathroom shared?), location in relation to what you want to see, and cancellation and other policies. Customer reviews can also be helpful, as they often give extra details that may not be in the listings themselves.
Where to Eat:
1885 Southern Coastal Grill
3914 St Elmo Ave
Chattanooga, TN 37409
This was a reasonably priced restaurant (from $15 for seafood and chicken entrees to $28 for filet mignon) in the highly walkable St. Elmo historic district. They were conveniently only two blocks from where we were staying, so we enjoyed an evening stroll past historic homes to the St. Elmo town center. They were quite busy on Saturday night, do not take reservations, but will take a call ahead up to 30 minutes before your arrival. 1885 specializes in eclectic dishes, Coastal Southern with Spanish influence, made with fresh local ingredients. Everything we ordered there was delicious, well prepared, and beautifully presented. You can preview their menu at their website: https://1885grill.com/menu/
The Purple Daisy Picnic Café
4001 St. Elmo Ave
Chattanooga, TN 37409
The Purple Daisy Cafe
View Menu at https://locu.com/places/purple-daisy-picnic-cafe-chattanooga-us-1/#menu
Mon-Fri: 11am – 8pm
Sat-Sun: 11am – 4pm
Located in the St. Elmo town center at the foot of Lookout Mountain and ½ block from the bottom of the Incline Railway, is the Purple Daisy. This is a very cute, reasonably priced lunch spot that features a relaxed, if somewhat colorful, atmosphere and delicious smoked chicken and pork sandwiches, salads, and other BBQ related items. The menu also offers BBQ Picnics for 4 or six with traditional sides, and pulled pork or smoked chicken by the pound. At $16.95, a BBQ Picnic for 4 works out to only $4.24 per person! We had the BBQ quesadilla with hot slaw and the chicken BBQ sandwich with mild slaw – both were delicious, though they weren’t kidding about the hot slaw! We did not have any dessert, but apparently if you like banana pudding this place makes the best around.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant – Chattanooga
2 W. Aquarium Way
Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant
Puckett’s Chattanooga is one of 5 restaurants in this small Tennessee chain and is situated in downtown Chattanooga near the famous Tennessee Aquarium. The Chattanooga location did not feel like a chain restaurant and I didn’t know it was until after our visit. We stopped in for a late lunch, 3pm on Friday, and they were fairly busy but we were seated right away. Our waiter told us they are known for their smoked pork, chicken and beef BBQ and “clean” fried catfish so we ordered pulled pork and fried catfish which were both very good. “Clean” catfish was a new descriptor to me, and the thick and flaky filet was very, very white. I learned that farmed catfish are taught to eat what they are fed from the surface rather than eating from the bottom as they do in the wild, resulting in cleaner fish. Whatever the process, the result was tasty. The lunchtime (11-3) Chalkboard Plate Specials averaged $9.50 for meat and 1, 2, or 3 sides. The dinner menu is pricier ranging from about $15 – $25 for most items, but includes live music entertainment.
Where to Shop:
Moon Pie General Store
429 Broad Street
If you love cookies, layered with marshmallows, and covered in chocolate (or strawberry, caramel, banana, vanilla, or lemon flavors) then Moon Pies are for you! The Moon Pie General Store on Broad Street has every kind of Moon Pie treat, Tshirts, old fashioned candies and sodas, and other souvenirs. There’s even a soda fountain where you can order a Moon Pie shake, with customizable ice cream and Moon Pie flavor combinations. We had one chocolate ice cream – chocolate Moon Pie shake and one vanilla ice cream – banana Moon Pie shake at the counter. If there’s a crowd when you arrive, wait a couple of minutes and it will likely clear out quickly.
The Hunter Museum Store – Hunter Museum of American Art
10 Bluff View
Chattanooga TN 37403
After touring the impressive collection of American Art, the museum store is more than a typical museum gift shop. This is a great place to find beautiful home décor, special gifts, and reproduction prints of paintings in the museum. Museum members get 10% off!
International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum Gift Shop
3315 Broad Street
Chattanooga, TN 37408
This is a great place to shop for the tow truck fans and mechanics in your life. This sizable gift shop carries child and adult sized tshirts, safety vests, “truckers” caps, toy trucks and Tervis tumblers. There were coffee table books with beautiful photos of tow trucks of every kind. My travelling companion, a Mechanical Engineer and former tow truck driver, couldn’t seem to put them down! There’s even a small tow truck inside the gift shop that kids can sit in and practice operating the flashing lights and raising and lowering the tow hook! I admit I had fun playing with this myself.
What to See/Tour:
Tennessee Riverpark/Chattanooga Riverwalk
( https://www.traillink.com/trail/chattanooga-riverwalk-(tennessee-riverpark)/ ): This was the main attraction for me in Chattanooga. We brought our own bikes, though I saw several people happily using the city rental bikes (info and prices at https://bikechattanooga.com/). The city recently extended the Tennessee Riverpark bike path nearly all the way to St. Elmo where we were staying, so we were able to ride the 4 miles from there to the Walnut Street Bridge area, on a wide, paved, scenic path along the river, without having to find and pay for parking downtown! For our 2 days there, we concentrated on that section of the trail and the downtown area, though the entire route now stretches 22 miles in all. Speaking of the downtown area, Chattanooga is a very bike friendly city. I especially appreciated the dedicated bike lanes, separated from traffic by a curb, such as the one we took when we visited the Moon Pie General Store on Broad Street. Everywhere we visited in Chattanooga, with the exception of Outlook Mountain and Ruby Falls, was done on bike or on foot, a BIG plus in my book!
Walnut Street Bridge (https://www.tennesseerivervalleygeotourism.org/content/walnut-street-bridge-chattanooga-tenn/tenFA23EB4DAC27E55B3) Built in 1890, this (now) pedestrian bridge linking the North Shore and downtown areas of the Chattanooga riverfront is the oldest non-military highway bridge still in use. Described as a “linear park”, the bridge is now on the National Register of Historic Places. We were there on a weekend day in the summer and, even with many people around, it did not feel crowded. We rode our bikes across it and enjoyed cool breezes and lovely views of the Tennessee River below.
International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum
3315 Broad Street
Chattanooga, TN 37408
I can’t say enough good things about this Chattanooga attraction! As someone who has no particular interest in tow trucks, I had my doubts going in. Once there however, I loved the antique trucks, gas pumps and toy displays! The signage is very well done, and allows the visitor to follow a sequence from truck to truck as their designs and technology developed over the years. Many of the trucks have interesting histories of years in service and restoration journeys. The museum also houses the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum’s Wall of the Fallen. The price is right at a modest $10 for adults, and $6 for children over 5.
Hunter Museum of American Art
10 Bluff View
Chattanooga TN 37403
At the time of our visit, the museum featured an exhibit called “Embodied Beauty: Sculptures By Karen LaMonte. The exhibit is on view from 25 May – 2 September 2018, and consists of 32 dress sculptures in glass and other media, most of which were life sized, of Japanese Kimonos, and Classical Greek and Roman figures. In addition to scheduled exhibits, the museum houses an impressive collection of American paintings and abstract sculpture from the American Colonial period to present day. There was so much to see, that we ran out of time the first day (the museum closes at a very early 5pm even on weekends) and were given rain checks to come back the second day to see the rest.
Lookout Mountain is a scenic overlook from where you can view 7 states at once and has Civil War significance. We drove to the entrance of the park to find long lines and high ticket prices (ranging from 19.95 – 49.90 with Incline Railway and Ruby Falls add-ons, plus tax, for one adult). Child tickets range from $11.95 – $27.90 depending on add-ons. I witnessed a mother with two children experience sudden sticker shock when her total came to over $100 for the 3 of them. The cashier laughed it off and made a joke about sales tax being a silent killer. At that point, we opted not to pay and drove to a scenic overlook where we took this photo of the attraction, free of charge.
This is an underground waterfall that costs $19.95 to look at if you’re an adult, slightly less if you’re a child. There were plenty of people in line willing to pay that price to see this natural wonder, but we were not among them. We did take a virtual reality tour of Ruby Falls while we were there, for seven dollars, and I feel like I saw the Falls.
The Glass Bridge
If you’ve seen this picture, and can’t wait to see it IRL, I’m sorry to inform you that, while the bridge is still there, connecting the Hunter Museum to the Walnut Street Bridge and the downtown area, the glass has been replaced with a more durable material, aluminum.
Other places that looked interesting, but that we decided to save for next time were:
The North Shore area, across the Walnut Street Bridge from downtown. We rode our bikes across the bridge, and around Coolidge Park, but did not linger. From atop our bikes, it looked like a quaint, less touristy neighborhood with antique stores and coffee shops. The famous antique carousel with hand carved horses is in Coolidge Park, and nearby Renaissance Park has a hillside slide and nature trails.
The Aquarium! The Chattanooga Aquarium (https://www.tnaqua.org/) is credited with the rebirth of the downtown area and is a big draw for tourists. It featured fresh water and salt water exhibits and an IMAX 3D theater. Anyone who knows me knows I love water and sea life, so I will definitely come back for this. At $29.95 for one adult, $18.95 for one child, plus an additional $8 for IMAX, this is not inexpensive, though possibly worth the cost.
Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop (https://rocketfizz.com/) Near the Moon Pie General Store on Broad Street.
Maple Street Biscuit Company (https://maplestreetbiscuits.com/) Also on Broad Street near Moon Pie.
Chattanooga Farmers Market (http://chattanoogamarket.com/directions/) 1829 Carter Street, across from Finley Stadium. Opens at 10am on Sundays Spring, Summer and Fall.
Chattanooga Ghost Tours (https://chattanoogaghosttours.com/) Located at 57 E Fifth St, in downtown Chattanooga atby the corner of 5th and Market St. (The entrance is in back of the building. Adults $17.95, Children $11.
As you can see, Chattanooga has a lot to offer. Certainly we could have squeezed more into the weekend, but pedaling around the trails and city I felt like a kid again, reliving a time when “riding bikes” was enough entertainment to fill up a summer day. Whether you’re looking to relive the simple joys of childhood, or crave fine dining and art, you can find it all in Chattanooga!