After getting a phone call that my on the job training would be postponed another week, I decided I deserved a long weekend away. The default day-trip for most people living in western North Carolina is a drive out to the coast to visit one of the many beaches. The weather didn’t bode well for sand and sun, so I pulled up a map and started exploring random cities via Google Images.
After some searching, I discovered that Chattanooga, Tennessee lauds itself to be “The Best City Ever.” At least that’s what Outside Magazine declared and the center of tourism began advertising. I decided to see for myself.
After a few days wandering around the city, I’m ready to cast aside my skepticism and accept that Chattanooga really is the best city ever. Well, the best city in America at least– it’s hard to compete with Paris. Here are ten reasons why ‘Nooga’s got my vote.
With two museums, art galleries, an outdoor sculpture park, and a series of cute cafes, bakeries, lodges, and restaurants nestled in a four block radius, Chattanooga’s Bluff View Art District will satisfy any art lover. Couple that with sculptures on street corners across the city, giant murals covering old brick buildings, and another gallery in the swanky Northshore district and you could spend weeks walking around admiring the local handiwork.
After living in a mostly mono-cultural small town for over a year, Chattanooga’s diversity was refreshing. You’ll find college students living among retirees, young athletes drawn in by the city’s outdoor fitness options, families taking a river walk or skipping around Coolidge Park, tourists from all over the world, and residents representing an array of racial diversity. Coupled with southern friendliness, it’s easy for anyone to feel welcomed.
Although I didn’t explore the city’s history as much as I could have, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Civil War buffs will appreciate the rich military history. You can also pay a visit to the country’s oldest and largest military park or take a sacred walk along a section of the original Trail of Tears.
The real reason Outdoor Magazine named Chattanooga the best city ever– its endless fitness opportunities. You can hike, bike (with convenient rental kiosks across town), kayak, swim, stand up paddle board, rock climb, run, catch a yoga class, join a gym, or enjoy an easy walk along the river. It’s almost impossible to spend any time in this city and not be inspired by the widespread commitment to and love of physical activity.
I can’t pretend to know what anything is called or to talk about architecture like a professional, but I know beauty when I see it. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves. Feel free to comment below if you want to flex your architectural knowledge.
With dozens of restaurants lining the downtown area, the diversity is sure to please even the pickiest eaters. Old familiar chains stand beside independent businesses serving local, farm-fresh ingredients. You’ll find restaurants that specialize in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian, American, and Italian cuisine, plenty of vegan/vegetarian friendly choices, southern-fare, and, along the riverfront, a host of fresh seafood options.
Efforts to make Chattanooga green can be seen across the city. From the restaurants that serve locally sourced food, to toilets with two flushing options, bathrooms containing fabric hand towels instead of disposable paper, establishments that opt for lower lighting, solar panels, and the free zero-emissions electric shuttle buses with stops all over town, the city’s commitment to being Eco-friendly is inspiring.
Chattanooga’s sprawling downtown area feels like just the right size to hold all it has to offer. It’s walkable and definitely bikeable at just over a mile from the lower Southside to the Northshore, but spacious enough that it doesn’t feel crowded or over-populated. Although size is purely subjective, I think there’s something to be said for the fact that I visited during one of the city’s marathons and still didn’t feel overwhelmed by the extra influx of people.
Most towns will claim to be family-friendly, but few will accommodate children quite like Chattanooga. If you’re traveling with kids, you won’t want to miss the Coolidge Park water park (the stone animals are fun to climb even during the waterless off-season months) and its 100 year old refurbished carousel (it’s seriously gorgeous and fully functional). Across the river in Renaissance Park you’ll find all you need for a fun afternoon of cardboard sledding across the lawn. You won’t be alone if you take the troupe for a bike-ride along the wide river walk or fly a kite through the park. Adults and children alike will enjoy the Aquarium, a must-see destination (with two different buildings for displaying both river and ocean animals and fish, a 3D theater, live lemurs, a walk-in butterfly garden, alligators practically within reach, otters, plenty of sting-ray touch-tank opportunities, penguins, jellyfish, sharks, hundreds of different fish, and an almost endless amount of multi-level ocean aquarium tanks including a section that allows you to walk under the fish the Tennessee Aquarium is easily the best aquarium I’ve ever been to.)
10. The River
Stretching for miles across town, the Tennessee River alone is reason enough to call Chattanooga the best city ever. With dozens of opportunities for travel (boats of various sizes, kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddle board), fishing (just beware of the catfish, which are potentially unsafe for human consumption), strolling, biking, jogging, or sunning along side, plenty of park space for sport playing or kite flying within view, and three beautiful bridges spanning its length, the river is a must-see component of the trip. Even though I usually avoid tourist attractions, I couldn’t help but spring for a sightseeing cruise along the river.
Have a reason why you love Chattanooga? Feel free to leave a comment below.