Whether you spend the night in a historic train car or treehouse, or whether you eat Southern comfort foods or chef-prepared dishes, Chattanooga, Tennessee is a great choice for a weekend trip in the fall. The colorful spectacle created by Lookout Mountain as temperatures start to descend will be a visual treat and a wonderful way to recharge your energy and appreciate nature. For shopping, hiking, scenic driving or just eating, this corner of the United States touching Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia is the perfect spot.
Nature puts on a colorful spectacle
The incredible natural combination of Lookout Mountain and the Nickajack Lake portion of the Tennessee River make Chattanooga, Tennessee, one of the most beautiful cities in the southeastern United States. Southern Living Magazine called it one of the “South’s top 15 Prettiest Cities,” and The New York Times included Chattanooga in its list of “52 Places to Go in the World.” It clearly has some important attributes that make it worth a visit.
Rock City is at the top of Lookout Mountain and only six miles (9.6 km) from downtown Chattanooga. Visitors can catch a glimpse of seven states from the vantage point at Lover’s Leap, or they can stroll through the Enchanted Trail, explore Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village or take a dizzying jaunt across the Swing-a-Long Bridge.
Waterfalls provide opportunities to hike and to experience breathtaking beauty, and there are three falls that are less than an hour’s drive from downtown. They are Falling Water Falls, Laurel Falls and Foster Falls. Probably the most famous is Ruby Falls, which is inside a cave.
Special sales and decorations in the stores make shopping attractive
Hamilton Place and Northgate Mall provide the expected big box stores and boutiques, while Warehouse Row has more specialty shops housed in a historic Civil War building. The Chattanooga Market, open every Sunday from April to December, has been named one of the “Top Ten Public Markets in America” and should be on your must-experience list if you visit Chattanooga on a weekend.
The Northshore Merchants Collective is known for its eclectic shops and is proud of its tag #wherehipmeetshistorical. There you can find antiques, collectibles, art, gifts and unique decor items.
The sales and the holiday decorations begin early in the fall, making it a prime time to visit and make your purchases.
Riverfront park, aquarium and art museum provide indoor and outdoor fun
The Hunter Museum of American Art is one of the most impressive fixtures of Chattanooga and the riverfront. It includes both an antebellum house and a sprawling modern building. The River Gallery Sculpture Garden is Chattanooga’s first outdoor art gallery and is a great excuse for soaking up the sunshine while you appreciate the artworks. The Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge is within a few steps of the Hunter Museum and is a photographer’s dream since you are able to cross the Tennessee River and check out the views from both sides without worrying about traffic.
The 13-mile (20.9 km) Riverwalk runs along the banks of the river and beside parks and restaurants. You’ll be joined by joggers, casual walkers and baby strollers as you make your way along the path.
The Tennessee Aquarium is also within walking distance of Hunter Museum and the pedestrian bridge. Turtles, otters, alligators, penguins, stingrays and many species of fish will delight and educate the visitors viewing the coral reef and other habitats inside a freshwater tank in one building and a saltwater tank in another. Plus, there is a six-story IMAX 3D Theater showing movies from noon to 4:00 p.m. on the hour, seven days a week.
If you prefer to be IN the river rather than BESIDE it, there are numerous opportunities for kayaking, boating and fishing in Chattanooga and whitewater rafting in the nearby Ocoee River
A wide range of lodging choices
Many cities offer hotels and B&Bs. A few more provide rustic mountain cabins. But Chattanooga is one of the only places where you can sleep in an authentic train car in the heart of the city or in a treehouse in the woods on the outskirts of town.
The Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel provides both traditional guest rooms and Pullman Train Cars for overnight stays. The Glenn Miller Gardens and several on-site eateries create an experience with a vintage atmosphere.
Treetop Hideaways offers two treehouses a short way from Chattanooga’s St. Elmo historic neighborhood, but they both feel secluded and far away from the hustle and bustle. These are particularly nice in the fall because of the firepit and ingredients for making S'mores provided in each treehouse. There are no televisions, but the WiFi is good, and there’s plenty of heat and hot water. The Tuft and Needle mattresses create a cozy and comfortable night’s sleep.
Outstanding dining options
Barbecue, Mexican food, hamburgers and fried chicken are in ready supply in Chattanooga, along with the expected chain eateries. But happily there are plenty of restaurants that can only be found in Chattanooga, making them especially appealing and unique.
Bea’s Restaurant is now into its fourth generation of serving Southern comfort foods. The Boathouse has a sought-after location overlooking the river, and the raw oysters are wonderful. Clumpies Ice Cream shops are scattered throughout the city producing high quality, small batches of cold confections. The Pickle Barrel and Sticky Fingers suggest delicious offerings, and Lupi’s Pizza Pies and Mean Mug Coffeehouses need no further explanation. Meeting Place, Easy Bistro and Alleia are upscale and chef-driven, while Back Inn Cafe caught the attention of the Food Network’s Rachel Ray. The Yellow Deli and Aretha Frankenstein’s get rave reviews from the locals.
An iconic Tennessee creation is the moonpie - a combination cookie/candy with a marshmallow filling sandwiched between two graham cookies and covered in a waxy coating. You will want to spend some time at Moonpie General Store to see all the varieties for yourself.
Chattanooga is a year-round destination but exceptional in the fall
In truth, there are no wrong seasons to visit Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city offers great entertainment, recreational opportunities and educational venues. It has plenty of hotels and restaurants and endless river views. But, no doubt about it, when the leaves put on their stunning show in the fall, Chattanooga may be at its absolute best. You will enjoy all that this Southern city has to show you.
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