It may sound funny to put a city like Chattanooga up next to the other four cities we’re suggesting, but this little gem on the Tennessee River is a family friendly getaway that is sure to please, with its natural beauty, historical landmarks, and major tourist attractions. So buckle up, head down I-24, and “See Rock City!”
Where to Stay
One of the great things about Chattanooga, the closest of our getaways, is it makes a great day trip. If you don’t mind the drive, you can enjoy a day full of adventure and still be home in bed in time to watch the nightly news. But if you do decide to stay in Chattanooga to enjoy the weekend, consider a stay at The Chattanooga Choo Choo. Inspired by the famous song, a group of investors bought historic Terminal Station and converted it into a hotel: the station’s gorgeous dome was converted into a dining hall, and sleeper cars became very unique hotel suites. The complex now includes one of Chattanooga’s premier music venues, Track 29.
See the Sights
Chattanooga was once made famous by a campaign that painted “See Rock City!” on the roofs and sides of barns across the South. Rock City, a scenic overlook with its view of seven states, and nearby Ruby Falls, an amazing waterfall 1,120 feet beneath Lookout Mountain, remain major tourist attractions, offering natural beauty and a taste of the outdoors.
Voted a 2013 Family Fun Top 10 in the Museums, Zoos, and Aquariums in the US – and the top aquarium – the Tennessee Aquarium was the world’s largest freshwater aquarium when it opened in 1992. Its offerings now include an IMAX theater, its own riverboat for river wildlife tours, backstage passes, and more. Just down the street, the Creative Discovery Museum, also ranked one of the top children’s museums in the country, offers interactive exhibits that will occupy kids for hours.
Chattanooga, and the surrounding area, is also a history buff’s paradise. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park includes the Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga Battlefields, as well as the site of the infamous battle at Chickamauga. Chickamauga is a sprawling and beautiful park facility, and one could easily spend a day there. Point Park at Lookout Mountain offers a view of history, as well as a scenic view of beautiful downtown Chattanooga.
Check Out the Night Life
The Aquarium project revitalized the Riverfront area. Now the neighborhood is full of shops and restaurants, and during the summer it’s a lively place to spend an evening. On Saturday nights, there’s a free concert series called Riverfront Nights, which offers an inexpensive, low key way to wind down at the end of your day.
Art lovers should head up to the Bluff View Art District, which is home to the numerous art galleries and restaurants. Nestled on a bluff overlooking the river, this neighborhood has the look and feel of an elegant European village. Start your evening with an early visit to the Hunter Museum of American Art, then stroll down the narrow streets to River Gallery, which exhibits fine art and crafts. Then enjoy some fine pastries and coffee at Rembrandt’s.
For those who just can’t skip the LGBT-oriented nightlife, Chattanooga offers a few alternatives. Chuck’s II, Chattanooga’s oldest gay bar, has a definite neighborhood bar vibe, while Images is a bar where the entertainment centers on drag. Images hosts such delicately named pageants as “Miss Trailer Park Trash,” which just might be a hoot. Alan Gold’s, Chattanooga’s LGBT dance club, has a show seven nights a week.
A Little Something Extra
Dollywood is Tennessee’s most famous amusement park, but before there was Dollywood, there was Lake Winnepesaukah, or Lake Winnie. Much smaller than Six Flags or Dollywood, Lake Winnie has plenty of charm to make up for it, mixing in a carnival atmosphere and retaining the feel of a bygone age. It’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re into historic wooden coasters.
More from the Staycation vs Vacation series:
Top 5 cities for end-of-summer road trips
Asheville: "the new freak capital of the U.S."
Louisville: "right up I-65 and well worth the drive"
Chattanooga: "a family friendly getaway on the Tennessee River"
Memphis/Tunica: "a Deep South version of 'The Hangover'"
Nashville: "there truly is no place like home"
photo courtesy Jeff Gunn