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When we need a week­end of fun or want to escape busy Nashville and play tourist in anoth­er city, there’s one place that always comes to mind: Chat­tanooga. Chat­tanooga embod­ies the quirk­i­ness of Austin with the peace­ful atmos­phere of a small town. It’s an “It City” that has­n’t been dis­cov­ered yet (until now? Oops.). With excit­ing, fam­i­ly-friend­ly attrac­tions, a pedes­tri­an-friend­ly down­town, and gor­geous moun­tain and riv­er views, there are plen­ty of things to do in Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee! Chat­tanooga is an easy, relax­ing vaca­tion with the added bonus of hav­ing many things to do with kids too. 

 

 

 

 

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Tennessee Aquarium

 

Locat­ed on the banks of the Ten­nessee Riv­er in the heart of Chat­tanooga, the Ten­nessee Aquar­i­um ranks high on every­one’s list when they vis­it the city. This world-class facil­i­ty fea­tures one build­ing focused on rivers and fresh­wa­ter ani­mals and anoth­er build­ing with ocean crea­tures. The pen­guin exhib­it and the giant stingray touch tank are two pop­u­lar attrac­tions, but my favorites are the hilar­i­ous riv­er otters and the amaz­ing but­ter­fly gar­den, which always seems to have but­ter­flies emerg­ing from their cocoons. The aquar­i­um focus­es on edu­ca­tion and con­ser­va­tion, but the exhibits are enter­tain­ing enough for any­one to enjoy (dis­co jel­ly­fish, any­one?). 

 

Pro-Tip: The out­side plaza of the aquar­i­um fea­tures a water play area that will keep kids hap­py for ages — so come with a change of clothes, or be pre­pared to scoot quick­ly past it to the aquar­i­um entrance. 

 

 


The Ten­nessee Aquar­i­um offers stun­ning views of riv­er and ocean crea­tures and their habi­tats. Pho­to by Paul Nicholson.

 


Cre­ative Dis­cov­ery Museum

 

The Cre­ative Dis­cov­ery Muse­um is just three blocks away from the Ten­nessee Aquar­i­um, mak­ing down­town Chat­tanooga full of fun for kids (plus, walk­ing from place to place means avoid­ing car seat bat­tles!). The muse­um’s giant water table cap­tured my preschool­er’s atten­tion dur­ing our vis­it, while the per­form­ing arts area with its instru­ments and record­ing booths were a pop­u­lar stop for our whole fam­i­ly. The Cre­ative Dis­cov­ery Muse­um also offers views of down­town Chat­tanooga from its obser­va­tion tow­er and rooftop exhibits. Trav­el­ing with tod­dlers? Check out the Lit­tle House, designed just for the muse­um’s younger visitors. 

 

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Lit­tle ones have a chance to get hands-on with sci­ence, music, art, and more at the Cre­ative Dis­cov­ery Muse­um. Pho­to by Paul Nicholson.


Coolidge Park

 

While you’re near the Ten­nessee Aquar­i­um or the Cre­ative Dis­cov­ery Muse­um, walk across the Wal­nut Street Bridge to reach Coolidge Park (a stroller is rec­om­mend­ed to pre­vent whin­ing) (for your kids, not for you). The park has an antique carousel, a play foun­tain, and whim­si­cal ani­mal stat­ues. There’s oodles of green space for kids to run and play. And if you need a quick recharge, duck into Chat­tanooga favorite Clump­ies for hand­craft­ed ice cream. 

 

 

Coolidge Park is pop­u­lar for its spray­ground in the warmer months, but kids will enjoy the stone ani­mal sculp­tures in any sea­son. Pho­to by Chris­t­ian Bowen on Unsplash.

 

 

 


Look­out Moun­tain and Ruby Falls

 

If you’re look­ing for vin­tage vaca­tion vibes, head 15 min­utes from down­town to Look­out Moun­tain. There you’ll find some of Chat­tanooga’s old­est and most icon­ic des­ti­na­tions. Take a one-hour cave tour and descend 26 sto­ries in an ele­va­tor to see Ruby Falls,  an under­ground water­fall. Rock City, made famous by their See Rock City ads on barns, has gar­dens, inter­est­ing rock for­ma­tions, and a breath­tak­ing over­look that (it’s claimed) offers a view of sev­en states. The Rock City tour ends with Fairy­land Cav­erns, fea­tur­ing tiny, retro sculp­tures of scenes from fairy tales. Need an adren­a­line rush? Add a zip line adven­ture or a steep ride on the incline rail­way

 

 

Look­out Moun­tain once adver­tised the abil­i­ty to “See Sev­en States” from its cliffs on clear days. Pho­to by Rol­la­lyn Ruis on Unsplash.

 

 

Don’t Miss! A Local’s Guide to the 11 Best Fam­i­ly Friend­ly Tings to Do in Chicago

 


More Adventure

 

Fam­i­lies trav­el­ing with teens might want to dri­ve east to Ocoee, Ten­nessee, to try white­wa­ter raft­ing on the Ocoee Riv­er, which was used for com­pe­ti­tion in the 1996 Sum­mer Olympics. Cave expe­di­tions at Rac­coon Moun­tain and pad­dle board­ing on the Ten­nessee Riv­er also will appeal to out­door fans, while fam­i­lies who love art and his­to­ry will want to sched­ule stops at his­toric Civ­il War sites or the Hunter Muse­um of Amer­i­can Art.  

 

 

Kayak­ing on Chicka­mau­ga Lake and raft­ing the Ocoee Riv­er are pop­u­lar with adven­ture seek­ers. Pho­to by Chris­t­ian Bowen on Unsplash.


Where to Stay: Chattanooga Hotels

 

Con­sid­er stay­ing in down­town Chat­tanooga at the Hilton Gar­den Inn or the Court­yard by Mar­riott for easy walk­ing access to the Ten­nessee Aquar­i­um and the Cre­ative Dis­cov­ery Muse­um. AirBnB offers bun­ga­lows just blocks from Coolidge Park with mul­ti­ple restau­rants and shops near­by. For a unique­ly Chat­tanooga expe­ri­ence, stay in the Chat­tanooga Choo Choo Hotel, where you can spend the night in a refur­bished Pull­man train car. 

Where to Eat

 

Ter­mi­nal Brew­house is a fam­i­ly-friend­ly spot right next to the Chat­tanooga Choo Choo Hotel. In the Coolidge Park area, Aretha Franken­steins is a pop­u­lar break­fast spot. Good Dog offers just about every type of hot dog you can name (and the fries were a big hit with our fam­i­ly). Tony’s Pas­ta Shop & Trat­to­ria is at the top of my list for next time (toma­to sauce with house-grown veg­gies? Yes, please.)

 

 

When You Go

 

The Chat­tanooga Air­port (CHA) is served by Alle­giant, Amer­i­can, Delta, and Unit­ed Air­lines. The city is about a two-hour dri­ve from Nashville, Ten­nessee, and Atlanta, Geor­gia. While you can walk to a few attrac­tions from the down­town hotels, you’ll want to rent a car to reach Look­out Moun­tain and oth­er locations.

 

Christy Nichol­son is a writer, edi­tor, and recov­er­ing per­fec­tion­ist from Nashville, Ten­nessee. When not trav­el­ing with fam­i­ly, she enjoys cozy days at home read­ing, gar­den­ing, mak­ing music, and wran­gling two awe­some kids. Christy writes at Any-Worth.com about trav­el and sus­tain­able living. 

 

 

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