With a growing tech industry and neighbors Nashville and Memphis being the main tourist draw, Chattanooga isn’t Tennessee’s most obvious destination for a weekend getaway. But its location on the Tennessee River, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, make it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. There’s the 13-mile-long Tennessee Riverwalk, scenic hiking trails on Lookout Mountain and natural wonders, like Ruby Falls, one of the world’s largest underground waterfalls, all beckoning adventurers. Wellness is also found in the city, with world-class spa treatments and restaurants getting creative with vegetables. Read on for a weekend itinerary that’s sure to leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
Check in to Bode Chattanooga located on a quiet street decorated with string lights in downtown’s West Village. Set in a century-old, historic office building, the lobby acts as a chic café in the day and a hip bar in the evening. The rooms blend the conveniences of an Air Bnb with the luxuries of a boutique hotel: you can expect a fully stocked kitchen, open concept living and dining areas with high ceilings and a super comfortable bed.
Downstairs you can expect to co-mingle with locals, whether it’s at a Bachelorette viewing party (complete with popcorn), playing ping-pong or co-working. The multi-purpose space makes it the perfect introduction to the laidback Chattanooga vibe.
Explore the Bluff View Art District
Start the day right with breakfast at Rembrandt’s Coffee House located in the Bluff View Art District. This all-day café offers a wide selection of pastries, breads, breakfast sandwiches and beverages, but the standout is their homemade biscuits, a southern classic. They make their own bread and pastries, roast their own coffee and source herbs from their garden, so you can be sure everything is fresh here. Enjoy your breakfast on the tranquil leafy garden patio or take it a few steps away for views of the Walnut Street Bridge, Tennessee River, the surrounding mountains and Coolidge Park.
Following breakfast, have a relaxing morning exploring the surrounding Bluff View Art District. Home to Tony’s Pasta, Houston Museum and an outdoor sculpture garden, the district feels like a small town within the city. The must-visit while here is the Hunter Museum of American Art, built on a ninety-foot limestone bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. Comprised of a 1905 classical revival mansion, a 1970s building and a contemporary structure built in 2005, there is 100 years of architecture and art to explore here. Containing paintings, sculpture, glass and crafts, the collection dates back to the colonial period and showcases some of the finest American art in the Southeast.
Lunch at Sluggo’s
Sluggo’s Vegetarian For lunch, head across the river to the Northshore District for a vegetarian feast at Sluggo’s. This casual vegan eatery has an expansive menu of appetizers, salads, bowls, sandwiches and wraps. Seitan is the star of the menu here, prepared as the meat substitute in sandwiches like the ‘philly seitan’ and ‘bar-b-q sub’. For a vegan take on southern food, the ‘dusted seitan’ is a standout—pecan-crusted seitan cutlets are grilled and served atop garlic mashed potatoes, smothered in a mushroom gravy. The dish comes with the requisite southern sides of cornbread, collards and a garden salad.
Hiking on Lookout Mountain
Following your hearty lunch, head south to explore Lookout Mountain. Save your hiking for the top of the mountain and take the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway from the mountain base to the top. Known as the world’s steepest passenger railway, the ride offers stunning views of the valley. Once at the top, walk a few blocks to Point Park, a ten acre memorial park containing several military monuments and scenic lookouts. For a moderate 3-mile hike, within the park head to the entry for the Bluff Trail which takes you to Sunset Rock. While the panoramic views from Sunset Rock are unbeatable, equally as interesting is the scenery along the trail that takes you there—think, towering sandstone cliffs and historic relics built into rock.
Ice cream at Clumpies Ice Cream Co.
After taking the railway back down to the base of Lookout Mountain, unwind with an ice cream at Clumpies Ice Cream Co., located next to the railway ticket office. While there are several locations throughout the city, you would never guess Clumpies is a chain with their micro-batch ice cream hand-crafted with care. The rich, creamy dessert comes in the classic flavors but fun creations too, like blackberry mojito, blueberry muffin and key lime pie.
Spa experience at Good Fortune Soap & Spa
On your way back downtown, stop at Good Fortune Soap & Spa for a DIY spa experience. If you’re feeling in need of pampering following your hike, they’ve got massages and facials on offer. But the must-do experience here is to make your own product (think, candle, essential oil roll-on and soap.). After choosing a few scents from their expansive collection, a mixologist will help you build a spa product of your choice using your own unique scent blend. Everything is customizable—the soaps, for example, can be made in all different colors and in fun shapes like a heart or floatable duck. Those looking for a total spa weekend can book Good Fortune’s Air bnb on the top floor, a spacious retreat space that sleeps up to 12 people and has a private rooftop balcony.
Head to the Southside District for dinner at STIR, set in the iconic Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Station. Here you’ll find an extensive menu served in an expansive space, with friendly service and a casual vibe. But the food is anything but casual here, with elevated takes on classics like parmesan white truffle fries, seared tuna salad presented like tartare and matcha green tea cheesecake for dessert. Don’t miss the cocktail list which features artisanal ice (300 lbs of water is frozen into blocks which are then cut into unique shapes), local spirits and house-made syrups and bitters. Their collection of rare spirits include a 23 year-old Pappy Van Winkle and 18 year-old Whistlepig Rye.
After dinner, take advantage of your location to explore the surrounding Southside District, which stretches from 12th to 20th street. Within the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex you’ll find the historic terminal station, Glenn Miller Gardens, American Draft, Songbirds Guitar & Pop Culture Museum and Gate 11 Distillery. Across the street, sweet cravings are satisfied at The Hot Chocolatier. Continue on E. Main Street to discover more shops, art galleries, eateries and breweries.
Just a few steps from Bode, you’ll find Sleepyhead Coffee tucked away on the ground floor of the historic James Building. On one side is the café, serving up all the caffeinated classics and a wide range of alternative lattes too (take your pick of maca, matcha, beetroot, ginger or turmeric). Sweet cravings are satisfied with their house-made donuts (think flavors like chai and strawberry matcha) while savory eaters can enjoy a breakfast sandwich made with bagels from local Niedlov’s Bakery, plant-based Just Egg and Beyond Sausage, and Violife cheddar cheese.
After breakfast, walk across the scenic Walnut Street Bridge—one of the longest pedestrian walkway bridges in the world which dates back to 1891—to the Northshore District (there’s also a free electric shuttle if you prefer a ride). This hip neighborhood is filled with cute shops (like Local’s Only Gift Shop and Julie Darling Donuts), art galleries, and Renaissance and Coolidge Parks.
Lunch at Cashew
After relaxing in Coolidge Park, head across the street to Cashew for what is arguably the best vegan food in town. This local hotspot is churning up a wide selection of plant-based bowls, sandwiches, burgers and veggie plates. Barbecued jackfruit replicates the texture of pulled pork on the jackfruit nachos and tacos, and inside the jackfruit sandwich while meatballs swap the real meat for quinoa, mushrooms and walnuts in the meatball sub and meatball bowl (served on their delicious garlicky kale, also available as a side). Wash your meal down with a smoothie, hot chai or CBD-infused fruit drink. Don’t miss their desserts—they’ve got 10+ donut flavors to choose from, black bean brownies and gluten-free cupcakes.
Treatment at Ama Spa
After lunch, head back across Walnut Street Bridge to The Edwin Hotel, an upscale five-story hotel located at the edge of downtown. Tucked away off the immaculate lobby you’ll find Ama Spa, named after the Cherokee word for water. Treatments are designed to heal, inspired by the Cherokee Aboriginal’s daily ritual of “going to water” where they submerge themselves in the river to wash away physical and spiritual ailments. The standout experience is the Whiskey & Wellness treatment which incorporates locally made bourbon to cleanse and revive dull skin. The 2-hour treatment begins with a vigorous Chattanooga Whiskey-infused sugar scrub, followed by a heated body wrap and a full body custom pressure massage. It’s sure to leave you glowing from head-to-toe.
Continue your afternoon connecting with the healing element of water by visiting the Tenesse Aquarium just a stone’s throw from Ama Spa. This family-friendly attraction features two buildings: the River Journey and Ocean Journey. Begin with the River Journey to give you a sense of place—the section highlights freshwater animals that are native to the region, such as alligators, river otters, giant catfish and turtles. The Ocean Journey showcases saltwater habitats with penguins and sharks, and a walk-through butterfly garden.
For your final dinner in the city, a visit to Easy Bistro & Bar is a must. With two-time James Beard Best Chef: Southeast semi-finalist chef Erik Niel at the helm, the shareable plates-style menu showcases the best produce, fish and meat of each season. Born in Louisiana with experience in creole cooking, chef Niel combines French and Southern flavors to create refined dishes unlike anything you’ll find in town. A chilled zucchini soup is given mouthfeel with goat’s gouda and crunchy pistachios; delicate yellowfin tuna is served atop an oyster crema for salinity and topped with potato chips for crunch; and succulent seared scallops lie on a thin layer of charred eggplant puree alongside fairy-tale eggplant. If you like fish, you’ll appreciate that the restaurant boasts one of the only raw bars in Tennessee to feature seafood from all three coasts. Wash it all down with a drink from their nationally recognized wine and craft cocktail program.
For more drinks with a change of scenery, head to Paloma Bar de Tapas following dinner. Located on the 10th floor of The Westin Chattanooga, this Spanish wine and tapas bar offers Spanish wines and specialty cocktails with panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains from floor-to-ceiling windows.
Sandwich-lovers won’t want to miss this popular restaurant which serves unique takes on classics like a turkey sandwich with Sequatchie Waldon cheese, a pastrami reuben with smoked brisket, and a black-eyed pea falafel in a pita. They’ve also got a breakfast for every taste with avocado toast topped with lemon confit, a fried biscuit sandwich with apple butter and hot sauce, and a croque madame on sourdough. An extensive selection of sides (think, braised greens, mac and cheese, and grits) give this fast-casual breakfast or lunch stop southern charm.
Prior to leaving, you won’t want to miss Rock City Gardens at the base of Lookout Mountain. Dating back to 1932, the gardens are filled with geological and botanical wonders along the Enchanted Trail which features a 140-foot waterfall, impressive rock formations and a swing-a-long bridge that spans nearly 200 feat. Rock City even claims that it’s possible to see seven states from the Lover’s Leap spot on the trail. Also at Lover’s Leap, you’ll find Café 7 for a quick meal or snack. Depending on when you visit, you might catch one of the attraction’s seasonal events, like Rocktoberfest and the Enchanted Garden of Lights.