10 Reasons for Grownups to Visit
By Hope S. Philbrick
On a cloudy spring morning amid the clatter of breakfast dishes being cleared from tables, a representative from the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau rose to his feet and asked the group of 30 visiting journalists, “How many of you have ever been to Chattanooga?” Most hands went up into the air. “How many of you have actually visited Chattanooga and not just driven through it?” Most hands went down, including mine. Don’t make that mistake: Over the course of my five-day visit I discovered ten fun things to do that make Chattanooga a viable vacation destination in its own right.
1. Visit the Tennessee Aquarium, where by following a drop of water you’ll learn about rivers, ponds, lakes, oceans and more. The Penguins’ Rock exhibit features five pairs of macaroni penguins and five pairs of gentoo. From the gallery you can watch the cold climate birds’ activities above and below water. A wave machine creates ocean-like swells that gives the penguins a more natural environment and encourages them to play.
Odds of Encountering Children: Inevitable, but worth it. This is one of the best aquariums around.
2. Hang glide in Lookout Mountain Flight Park, the nation’s largest and most popular full-time hang gliding school and resort since 1978, located just 20 minutes from Chattanooga. Sail through the air at 2,000 feet on a tandem flight with a professional at your side or work toward becoming a certified hang gliding pilot so you can fly solo.
Odds of Encountering Children: Up in the air, you’ll be alone with your tandem pilot (who may or may not be as old as you, but at least old enough to get licensed.)
3. Explore a cave. If you like nature unobstructed, take a spelunking tour at Raccoon Mountain Caverns. You’ll get dirty from head to toe and strain muscles you never knew you had in the process of navigating through rugged rock, but the reward is a chance to see formations like stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and rimstone. If you prefer to walk upright holding a handrail, keep your clothes clean and don’t mind a dose of commercialism, visit Ruby Falls, a cave transformed into a tourist attraction in 1929. The highlight of the tour is a 145-foot underground waterfall.
Odds of Encountering Children: Much higher at Ruby Falls than Raccoon Mountain Caverns.
4. Ride the Incline Railway, the world’s steepest passenger railway with a 72.7 percent grade of track. In operation since 1895, the ride offers panoramic views of Lookout Mountain valley. A one-way trip lasts approximately 15 minutes; round trip rides are offered three times every hour and you can start the trip at either the top or bottom stations.
Odds of Encountering Children: Likely, but it’s a 15-minute ride. If someone proved annoying on the first leg of the round-trip, be sure to choose a different car and/or trip time on the return.
5. See Rock City and wander the 4,100-foot trails that incorporate 200 million-year-old geological formations, gardens with over 400 native plant species and kitschy gnome-adorned caverns. Highlights of the 15-acre preserve include a 100-foot waterfall, an overlook with a panoramic view of seven states and a 200-foot swinging bridge.
Odds of Encountering Children: Very high, but there’s plenty of outdoor areas to walk around.
6. Sleep inside a train car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn. Guest accommodations include 48 Victorian train cars, each outfitted with queen-sized beds (some also have trundles), private baths and modern amenities. The 24-acre complex also includes restaurants, shopping, a Model Railroad Museum and Terminal Station, a 1909 train depot.
Odds of Encountering Children: Zero in your private guest quarters unless you bring them along.
7. Float along the Tennessee River aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat and learn the city’s history while taking in the sights. Sightseeing, lunch or dinner cruises are available as well as special tours like the four-hour Fall Leaf Cruise that sails through the Tennessee River Gorge, which is also known as the Grand Canyon of the South.
Odds of Encountering Children: Depends on itinerary and timing of the trip; ask for adult-oriented recommendations when making a reservation.
8. Make out or actually watch the movie at Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater. Whether you’ve never been to a drive-in or want to revisit the good old days, pull in to view current movies at prices way below most indoor theaters. The concessions stand is also bargain priced. Double features are projected onto a 100-foot by 50-foot screen, the largest in the world.
Odds of Encountering Children: High, but you’ll be in your own car.
9. Stroll through the Bluff View Art District, which boasts restaurants, galleries, gardens and a historic Bed & Breakfast. The historic neighborhood offers spectacular views of the Tennessee River, downtown Chattanooga and the Walnut Street Bridge plus opportunities to play bocce ball, watch chocolatiers prepare tantalizing desserts, gape at sculptures and shop for fine art. Visit Rembrandt’s Roasting Company to learn how coffee beans are roasted and sample a variety of flavors.
Odds of Encountering Children: Likely, but this isn’t exactly Chattanooga’s kiddie hang-out neighborhood.
10. Sip wine at Tennessee’s premier wine tasting festival, Wine Over Water, held on the Walnut Street Bridge each fall. Taste over 100 wines from around the world and dishes from area restaurants while listening to tunes played by regional musicians.
Odds of Encountering Children: Low.
There are more reasons to visit Chattanooga, including art museums, nature centers, shopping boutiques, hiking trails, restaurants, hot spots for kayaking and mountain biking. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll be glad that you took time to explore and not just drive through.
Chattanooga Visitor Bureau
-Photos Courtesy Chattanooga Visitor Bureau
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.