Welcome to Chattanooga! After a couple of weeks in Western North Carolina, it was time for us to move on, and we chose to head west to Chattanooga for a week.
This city in far-southwest Tennessee is small, but it’s gaining quite a big reputation. It was the first city in the U.S. to offer gigabit internet, and it was also chosen as the best city to live in by Outside magazine a few years ago.
We didn’t choose to visit for any of those reasons, but they were certainly intriguing. We’ll visit anywhere! But, Chattanooga drew us in before we even began our road trip, and before we even returned to the U.S. I’m not sure why, but it looked interesting to me. The more I read about it, the more we discussed it, it felt like a really cool place to spend several days.
Funny enough, the only friend we have who ever spent time in Chattanooga didn’t like the city at all. I thought it was the circumstances of her visit more than anything else, so I didn’t really take it as something to think about.
So, we went, excited to visit a new place and see what it was all about. The city itself is situated west of Appalachia and on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau. It’s more mountain-adjacent than in the mountains, even though it’s overlooked by the towering and historic Lookout Mountain, which lies in the city and runs across the border into Georgia.
A river borders the north and west sides of downtown, and while the center of town feels more like a small city, Chattanooga actually spreads pretty far and wide with typical American sprawl. Every American city has some sort of sprawl like this, so I tend not to judge a place on how many strip malls it has or how much traffic is a pain in the ass while trying to find the local Target store.
It’s more like, How is the downtown area? How is the sense of community? Does the city have pride in itself? Does it invest in itself? Does it care about how it looks and how it feels? Does it support small businesses? Who cares if there are interstates and congested shopping areas, as long as they don’t taint the aura of the center of the city. It’s hard for me to explain. But, if you get it, then you know what I’m saying.
So, we checked into the Staybridge Suites near downtown and next to the convention center. We love extended-stay hotels, and it was the perfect place for us. Easy parking, shooting distance to both the up-and-coming south side and to downtown, comfortable digs, and nice people. Earning IHG points helped, of course.
These people are just…wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful people. Thanks, y’all!
And with that, what’d we do?!
First things first, we hit downtown to walk around a bit. The first thing we ran into is the aquarium, which is certainly a gem to stumble across. Its architecture is outstanding, and it’s the centerpiece of an entire campus along the river that’s surrounded by fountains, sculptures, and more.
Watching kids and parents play in this stepped waterfall was a real highlight of our first day here. All I could think about was how most cities would probably forbid it. Yet, here we were, watching everyone have fun in the heat, outside in the summer air.
Being a small city, Chattanooga is home to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, as well as a minor league baseball team and a soccer team. We didn’t even know they had a soccer team until our hotel was swarmed by players in uniform from Monterrey, Mexico, and we asked them why they were here.
While we were too exhausted to see their friendly vs. Chattanooga FC that day, we did catch a game a couple days later. And boy, this was a real highlight of our visit. We can’t wait to go back and watch another match.
You might not be a soccer fan. And that’s okay. But I can guarantee you’ll have a blast at a Chattanooga FC match. They have a rabid fan base and a huge supporters section that chants the entire match.
You might not think there were a ton of people there by looking at that empty side of the pitch. But, guess what? They don’t allow people on that side for matches. The place was full. And rocking. Thousands of people watching a soccer match. It’s serious business – and serious fun.
We regularly talk about going back to our next game. We already know when we’ll be able to go and when they’re playing. It gave us that much hype, no joke.
So yeah, good times! Before the match, we hit up Chattanooga Brewing Co., which is across the street from the stadium and partners with the team for a lot of cooperative marketing.
They have excellent food and really damn good beer, so that’s yet another thing we can’t wait to get our hands and taste buds on again.
The aforementioned Lookout Mountain is also a place we highly recommend visiting. While a lot of it is developed with an incline railway, Ruby Falls (more on that below), Rock City, and more, it does have a lot of history.
It was the site of a Civil War battle, and because of that, you can find the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park at the top of the mountain, at Point Park. This is a national monument and features stories, artifacts, and more from the Civil War.
It also provides breathtaking views of both Chattanooga to the east/northeast, and the Cumberland Plateau to the west.
While up on the mountain, there are plenty of commercial options for you, too. Since Lookout Mountain is very long from north to south, there’s plenty of space for both nature and business interests. One of the older and highly-marketed ones is Ruby Falls, a waterfall that tumbles 145 feet (44 meters) inside the mountain.
It’s kitschy and full of tourists, but it still makes for an interesting visit. You actually end up walking through caves for quite a while, and the tour guides know how to keep you entertained while zigzagging through the middle of the mountain.
At the end of the road is the falls itself, which is pretty cool and worth a visit, but I’m not entirely sure I needed to spend a few hours of my day to get to it. Y’know?
So yeah, time for a drink! Besides the delicious Chattanooga Brewing Co. and the other breweries we’ll have to get to next time, this region also makes some tasty wine!
There are a few wineries in the region, and due to schedules and such, we chose to visit Georgia Winery. It’s across the border in Georgia, but an easy drive of less than 30 minutes from the city.
They make a lot of fruity, sweet wines, and they currently partner with nearby DeBarge Winery for the more standard reds. Georgia Winery is one of the oldest in the region, and they really know what they’re doing.
We loved tasting all of their wines, talking to the ladies here, and pairing them with local specialties.
If you like wine, you’ve definitely got to stop by and say hi!
Back in town, we decided to spend some more time outdoors. Up in the Bluffview Art District of the city, you can find the Hunter Museum of American Art and its campus. Yet another wonderfully and smartly-developed part of the city that really impressed us.
Extending out from this area is a glass bridge – shown way up in this post – that connects the arts district with the city’s Riverfront Parkway. It’s pretty freaky to walk over this with nothing below!
Unfortunately, the city has recently decided to replace these glass panels with steel grates due to the cost of repairs every year. It’s too bad, because I found it to be really special.
Connected to this area is the Walnut Street Bridge, now a pedestrian bridge that connects the city with its North Shore neighborhood. I love the fact that one can easily walk across the river from downtown, all while getting some great views of the area.
The bridge is now on the National Register of Historic Places as well, so it’s not going anywhere!
If you walk across the bridge here, you’ll end up on the North Shore at Renaissance Park and Coolidge Park. This wide-open green space has plenty of areas for hanging out, letting the kids play, or just taking a walk.
Exploring Chattanooga’s green space seems like an endless endeavor, with all of its parks, arts campuses, and miles-long river walk. It’s just a wonderful thing.
So, in all this muss and fuss, where’d we eat and drink?
We already talked with you about our brewery and winery visits, so let’s get into the coffee and grub.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much to say about the coffee. There are a few locally-owned coffee shops in Chattanooga, and we did our damnedest to support them. Sadly, though, both of the ones we hit up had terrible espresso. Great reviews, great spaces, very popular…but nothing matters if you can’t make a solid espresso. This didn’t please us at all, but we’ll be sure to check out some other ones and give these unmentionables another shot when we return. So, it was Starbucks for us after those disappointments.
Food, though. Oh, the food! We barely scratched the surface, but after reading reviews and endlessly questioning locals, we fell head-over-heels for some of these places.
Thai Smile was pretty good, but we’ve had better Thai food. Decent, with great service, though!
We miss Indian food since we spend most of our time in the south of Spain, so we immediately searched out some of that goodness. Sitar hit the spot! Very delicious, emotionally pleasing, and nice staff. Definitely worth a stop if you’re into Indian food like we are.
Barbecue time! Locals will give you their own opinions about the best, and it can get fierce. We landed at Chatt Smoke House, and it was to die for. We still have dreams about it. So. Many. Drools.
Last but probably the most amazing is Uncle Larry’s. You cannot even begin to understand the wonder of Uncle Larry’s until you eat at Uncle Larry’s. I mean…I can’t even. Ang still talks about it like she had a vision from the gods here. And I totally agree.
I mean. Whoa. Man.
And the dessert! Oh, the dessert. Ever had key lime cake? My, oh my.
You don’t even know! Woo-wee.
And the staff here. Such nice guys. We were fortunate enough to get some time talking to them about the food and the love that goes into it. Uncle Larry hung out with us for a while as well, and we had a blast shooting it with everyone during our visit.
We even got to pin ourselves up on the map for Seville!
While we feel as though we ate like royalty in Chattanooga, we have barely touched all the goodness here. The amount of delicious treats available – especially for a small city – is a wondrous thing.
Chattanooga is getting ever-more popular as time moves on, very much so due to the pride of its residents and the willingness and desire of the city to be something special.
Check it out, you won’t be disappointed. Even better, see us there because we’ve already planned our second visit!
Be sure to check out our other Fabric of America posts.
A very special and very big thanks to everyone in Chattanooga, especially all the fine folks we met at all the places we visited. Thanks to all of you for being so wonderful.
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Have you ever been to Chattanooga? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!