The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee became a household name in 1941 when the Glenn Miller Orchestra song The Chattanooga Choo Choo went to number one on the pop music charts, and remained there for 9 straight weeks. But while Chattanooga became a household name, it has never become a tourist mecca, which is great for those of us in the know! There are also tons of things to do in Chattanooga, which makes weekend in Chattanooga a great option. A Chattanooga weekend itinerary will particularly suit outdoor adventurers, history aficionados, and art lovers, and most of all, those who fancy trains.
The city has other claims to fame beyond the pop song. It is the home of the US first National Military Park, patented miniature golf, the first invented tow trucks, the first franchised bottled Coca-Cola, and the gooey sweet Moon Pie. A weekend in Chattanooga might give you a taste of all of these things, and it offers and entirely different flavor than a weekend in Memphis, or a weekend in Nashville. Chattanooga also boasts one of the finest river walks in the US, an up and coming art scene, the best rock climbing in the eastern US, and of course, trains. You can plan your Chattanooga weekend getaway to include them all.
Chattanooga curves around a horseshoe bend in the Tennessee River, and is nestled between the western Appalachian’s Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. With both indoor and outdoor attractions, lovely scenery in the surrounding area, and no huge crowds, a Chattanooga weekend getaway makes a fun experience for everyone. We have put together this Chattanooga weekend itinerary, to appeal to a large base, but well suggest some other things to do in Chattanooga for the more adventurous, near the end.
Getting to Chattanooga
Chattanooga is an easy destination for driving since it’s just off I-75 just north of the Georgia Tennessee line. It is almost a straight shot from many of our favorite weekend destinations in the eastern United States, including Savannah, New Orleans, and Nashville, while it is easily drivable from some others, such as Richmond, Little Rock, and St. Louis.
You can also fly into Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.
Getting Around in Chattanooga
It’s an easy-driving city without a lot of traffic, but you can park and take their free electric shuttle, The CARTA. It runs between the Choo Choo to the Aquarium and stops each block in-between
At present, almost all attraction tickets are sold on a specific timed entry so book ahead to avoid long waits and possibly not getting into an attraction if all the times are sold out.
Lodging for Your Weekend in Chattanooga
For great lodging that is convenient to the attractions, I have two suggestions. I have stayed at both on different visits. The new Hotel Indigo is just a short distance from the Creative Discovery Museum, Aquarium, and other attractions. You can stay here without a car.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo was recently renovated and offers an unusual opportunity. You can sleep in a boxcar. It’s not your hobo style car but more of a return to the Golden Age of Rail when all the millionaire robber barons had a sleeping car of their own when they traveled. Naturally, they also offer luxury traditional hotel rooms. If you are not staying there, it is worth a visit to see the famous Choo Choo and the Glenn Miller Rose Garden.
Buy tickets for other great Chattanooga Tours and Attractions now.
Chattanooga Weekend Itinerary – Friday
Breakfast at The Wanderer in Hotel Indigo is delicious and ample if staying there or the Frothy Monkey at the Choo Choo if there.
Let’s start with Chattanooga’s top attraction, Rock City. No first-time weekend in Chattanooga would be complete without exploring this wonder! It sits high atop Lookout Mountain and is actually in Georgia. It opened in 1932 and is still going strong. Rock City is an intriguing combination of garden, natural mountain formations with incredible views, art and fairytales.
Three different routes wind their way through Rock City, including one that s wheelchair and stroller accessible. You can step out onto Swing Along Bridge and feel the earth swaying, or use the bypass stone bridge that is much more solid. Fat Man’s Squeeze and the Needles Eye are a good way to tell if you need to diet. They are tight fits. Bring your camera because you will come upon some spectacular views, and some evocative selfie oppotunities.
You’ll find thought-provoking works of art along the Enchanted Trail, and you’ll also find gnomes all over. The garden’s founder, Frieda Carter, was a German immigrant who loved them and Grimm’s fairy tales. Fairyland Caverns are a delightful review of all the old fairytales you heard as a child. Rip Van Winkle is awaking from his long sleep. Jack is at his beanstalk.
Ruby Falls is nearby at the top of Lookout Mountain. It’s an even greater natural wonder than the Rock City Gardens. Leo Lambert, who discovered in 1929, named it for his wife. At 145-foot, Ruby Falls is the tallest underground waterfall open to the public. You’ll hike about a half a mile down 230 feet below the surface to reach the falls. Along the way, there are some amazing natural formations. The lighting makes them even more spectacular.
Lunch at The Purple Daisy
When you’re ready for lunch, try The Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe in Historic St. Elmo at the foot of Lookout Mountain. It’s mostly sandwich and light fare. The hot dogs are great.
The Incline Railway
There’s another way up to the top of Lookout Mountain and I mean straight up. Take the Incline Railway. It’s a mile ride, and the view is spectacular. When you get to the top, the lower deck had a place where you can view the machinery. The upper observation deck offers a wonder view.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park includes 9,000 acres in six separate locations around the Chattanooga area. The park was the first such military park in the US and it both memorializes those lost, and educates the living about this series of battles that was a key turning point in the Civil War. It is such an important part of the city history and visit is essential to any Chattanooga weekend itinerary. About a quarter-mile walk from the Incline Railway there are two must-see sites within the Lookout Mountain Battlefield portion of the park.
Battles for Chattanooga Museum
The Battles for Chattanooga Museum is a combination diorama and video plus museum about the battles that occurred in the area. As you watch the video, the corresponding area on the diorama lights up at that particular site.
Just across the street is the entrance to historic Point Park. The Battle Above the Clouds took place here, and there are many cannons and placards to tell the story. In addition there are a number of monuments and memorials, as well as some spectacular views. The battles here were a precursor to the capture of Atlanta and ultimately to the fall of the Confederacy.
Naughty Cat Cafe
When you are back off the mountain again, go for something tamer. Naughty Cat Café is a chance to meet some cats looking for a forever home. Admission includes coffee, tea, or a non-alcoholic beverage. You can purchase beer or baked goods. Spend an hour petting and mingling with about 30 friendly kitties. Youngsters must be at least 11 years old. If you fall in love, the cats are adoptable.
The International Towing Museum
The International Towing Museum goes back to the earliest days of towing. Incidentally, towing as a profession started in Chattanooga in 1916 when Ernest Holmes, Sr. pulled a car out of Chickamauga Creek. He created a series of block and tackles called a Holmes 680 Wrecker Bed attached to his 1913 Cadillac. There is a replica in the museum. There’s Bessie, a yellow truck with a red wrecker, that was the first heavy duty wrecker in central New York. There’s even a cute little yellow truck where you can take selfies.
Dinner at Old Gilman’s
For dinner, Old Gilman’s Grill offers choices that will please everyone. You’ll find anything from fish or chicken to steaks with a slightly French flair. For dessert, try the Chocolate Flourless Torte with raspberries and vanilla ice cream.
Chattanooga Weekend Itinerary – Saturday
Breakfast at Pucketts
Pucketts Grocery for breakfast is a down-home style restaurant. The names tell you a lot. There’s Bubba’s Eggs Benedict consisting of a split biscuit topped with bacon or sausage, two fried eggs, and white pepper gravy on a bed of home fries. Or you could choose The Hoss or the Little Joe. You can’t go wrong, but fill up, as you have a lot to see, and it will probably be a late lunch!
The Tennessee Aquarium
Start the day getting acquainted with the creatures that depend on the Earth’s waters. As the primary downtown attraction, the Tennessee Aquarium must be part of your Chattanooga weekend itinerary. The aquarium consists of two sections, River Journey and Ocean Journey. Begin with River Journey. It was the first section built. It was the world’s largest freshwater aquarium when it opened in May 1992. You begin on the fourth floor and “visit” all the rivers of the world.
Ocean Journey explores life in the saltwater. From penguins to sharks, even a seasoned oceanographer will learn something here. It gets interactive at the touch pool where you can touch a shark or ray. Did you know that shark’s skin has a type of teeth on it?
Both the Aquariums are very detailed and you can spend a lot of time here. Plan on at least 2-3 hours, but more if you plan to take in a showing at the IMAX theater.
The National Medal of Honor Center
The Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center is just next door to the Aquarium. It is an excellent introduction into our nation’s highest honor. The first Medals ever issued went to soldiers involved in an event that has become known as The Great Locomotive Chase, which began in Chattanooga.
The interactive exhibits then take us from Chattanooga’s Second Presbyterian Church, the makeshift civil war hospital of Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to ever receive the Medal, all the way to the bunkers of Vietnam. The Heritage Center encourages a deep exploration of the characteristics the Medal of Honor are meant to exemplify: patriotism, sacrifice, courage, citizenship, integrity and commitment.
Lunch at 3rd Deck Burger Bar
After all that learning, take the short walk to the riverfront, for lunch at the 3rd Deck Burger Bar. They specialize in build your own burgers, but the concept carries over. So, if burgers aren’t your thing, you can also build your own chicken sandwich, black bean veggie burgers, and even salads.
The Southern Belle
No Chattanooga weekend itinerary would be complete without some time on the beautiful Tennessee River, and the Southern Belle is a perfect way to do so. Other paddlewheelers, or steamboats as they are more commonly called, have docked in Chattanooga. But today, the Southern Belle seems right at home on the city’s popular riverfront.
The Southen Belle offers a variety of cruises, including sunset cruises and dinner cruises. The 1.5 hour sightseeing cruise lets you relax as you wind your way down the river between the forest covered mountains and ridges. The number of departures offered, and the specific times, vary by months and seasons. Depending on when you spend your weekend in Chattanooga, there will be a couple of options between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon.
Late Afternoon Fun
Creative Discovery Museum
Creative Discovery Museum is kid Heaven. For the tiny ones, the Little Yellow House lets them play in a tree house or be a pretend chef in a miniature kitchen. For the school-agers, there’s Buzz Alley where they can pretend to be a beekeeper or even a little honeybee. The rooftop garden helps them learn about plants.
Chattanooga Pinball Museum
If your group is made up of bigger kids, the Chattanooga Pinball Museum may be more up your alley. Featuring 50 pinball machines and classic video games spanning 40 years of gaming history, the museum has a broad appeal. There is an entrance fee, but that includes unlimited play for the whole day. It is open until 9 on weekdays and 10 on the weekend, so there is plenty of time to get some good games in!
Dinner at Stir
Stir in the Chattanooga Choo Choo Complex is upscale dining in an old-fashioned train station atmosphere. It features an eclectic menu that ranges from burgers to seafood, from unique fusion combinations to southern comfort foods.
Should you have the energy for any nightlife, there are plenty of options at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Gate 11 Distillery produces a wide range of fine spirits and offers a distillery tour. You can enjoy live music at the cocktail bar. Visit The Comedy Catch if you are in the mood to have your funny-bone tickled. Backstage Bar offers happy hour specials, shareable appetizers, and live acoustic music.
Get tickets for other great Chattanooga Tours and Attractions now.
Chattanooga Weekend Itinerary – Sunday
Breakfast at City Cafe Diner
You can start your day with breakfast at City Café Diner as early or late as you want. They are open 24 hours. Try the Banana Pecan Waffles filled with Pecans and Topped with Bananas. Or any of the huge menu choices. They claim they have the largest menu in Chattanooga and I believe them.
Chattanooga Zoo has seven sections. From the Savannas of Africa to the wildlife right here in the United States, there are countless spots where you will want to stop and stare awhile. Whether it’s feeding the giraffes, or watching the two blue duikers, Branch, and Poppy. Blue Duikera is a small antelope species that inhabits parts of central, eastern, and southern Africa. You can’t pass the big cats or the chimpanzees without admiring them.
Besides wandering around being enchanted, you can book behind-the-scenes WILD Encounters. You must book them in advance. Plan on spending at least two hours here. You can have lunch at the zoo. Wild Burgers offers burgers, chicken tenders, salads and other foods, plus there are snack carts around the zoo.
Tennessee Valley Railway
If zoos aren’t your thing, book the Local, a trip to Missionary Ridge and back, on the Tennessee Valley Railway for 11:00 am. Then you can rest up a bit before maing the one-hour round trip back in time with a knowledgeable guide that tells the history of the run. You pass through a Civil War era tunnel and make a stop at the end of the line where you watch how a turntable works to turn the engine around. There is also a tour of the train restoration shops.
You need to arrive early, as you will want to admire some of the engines, cabooses, and passenger cars on display at the rail yard. It’s also a pleasant spot for lunch if you are a hamburger, hot dog or p, b, and J sandwich person. They do not serve food and drinks on the train, but you can get some at the deli in the depot and take them aboard.
Lunch at Coolidge Park
Another lunch option is to take a walk across Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. Grab some takeout at one of the many establishments at the end of the bridge, and enjoy a picnic in Coolidge Park. While there, take a ride on the 1894 Dentzel carousel. The little ones might want to cool off in the splash fountain.
Bluff View Art District
Chattanooga is proud of it’s developing art scene, and it is showcased in the Bluff View Art District. Even the landscape is art here, and there is a spacious outdoor River Gallery Sculpture Garden. You can browse lots of galleries and there are shops and working artist all over.
The centerpiece of the district is the Hunter Museum of American Art. Hunter features a permanent collection of American art that ranges from the colonial period through modern art. It also hosts a number of temporary exhibits throughout the year that feature all mediums and all walks of American life and history.
Dinner at Tony’s
Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria is the perfect place to end your weekend. One option on the menu is a pasta choose your own where you pick which pasta, sauce, and fillings. There will be tons left over as the servings are huge.
Ready for Your Weekend in Chattanooga??
If you are looking for a weekend getaway from anywhere in the eastern US, and even from further afield, a weekend in Chattanooga is a fantastic option. There is so much more to do in this mountain city than we could cram into our Chattanooga weekend itinerary. If you are a history buff, outdoor adventurer, foodie, or art lover, Chattanooga is right up your alley. If our plan isn’t exactly right for you, you’ll find plenty to fill in the gaps!
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Kathleen Walls, former reporter for Union Sentinel in Blairsville, GA, is publisher/writer for American Roads and Global Highways. She is a photographer with many of her original photographs appearing in her travel ezine as well as other publications. She contributes to many online and print publications.
She is the author of travel books, Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways, Finding Florida’s Phantoms, Hosts With Ghosts, and Wild About Florida series. Her fiction includes Last Step, which was made into a feature movie of the same name by Forbes Productions, Kudzu, Under A Bloody Flag and Under A Black Flag.