When I was invited to visit Chattanooga for a few days by the tourism board, I gladly accepted the offer to visit a city I’ve never been to.
My itinerary was completely up to me. I wasn’t given any suggestions of attractions to visit, where to stay, or restaurants to go to, which is exactly how I prefer to travel. I usually don’t plan anything when I head out on an adventure and this trip wasn’t much different. I did some research before hand as many would do on the internet, looking for the best sights and places not to miss. With a short handwritten list, I headed out on my adventure.
The first thing I did was head to Rock City to see the view from lookout mountain. This attraction has a lot of great reviews online and there is no shortage of promotion of this destination. Once I arrived, I knew it was going to be a place to remember. They give you a map of the grounds and send you on your way for a self guided tour. As you casually make your way through gardens and squeeze between boulders on the path, the star of the show is the view from lover’s leap. On a clear day, you can see all seven states right from this viewpoint. After a few hours of touring around, it was time to move along for lunch.
At the top of my small restaurant list was the Bluegrass Grill. This charming and cozy diner on the South side was very casual and it felt like you were dining at a friends house. Everyone I’ve met in Chattanooga so far has been so warm and friendly to me. I asked the waitress where I should go next. It was a hot day so she suggested a few local swimming holes just outside of town. She sat with me for about 20 minutes telling me everything I should see, from a local perspective. As she was sitting next to me, writing down things to do on a guest check, I couldn’t recall a time where I received that kind of focused attention at a restaurant...ever.
From that moment on, I decided that the locals were going to decide my itinerary for the next day and a half. I went to three restaurants and asked my server to write down 3 or 4 things I should do when I am in town and I decided that I would do a few from each list for the remainder of my stay.
I thanked my sweet waitress for the suggestions and headed out to find the blue hole (Well, AFTER I took a pit stop at Milk and Honey for an ice cream). I had a general idea on where to go, so I headed out. Once I found the correct road and started seeing cars parked alongside that road, I knew I was in the right place. From her description, I had a long hike in front of me so I asked a few locals there which direction to head and I began my hike towards their outstretched pointed finger. About 45 minutes in, I started hearing people jumping into a swim hole and once I approached it, it was time to jump in!
One of the best feelings in the world is taking a dip in a natural swimming hole. I submerged myself in the warm water, found a shady spot, and starting watching the kids and dogs climb up and jump off boulders into the water. I could stay and float in the water all night but I needed to hike back to the parking lot and leave before the 7pm gate closure.
Dinner was at The Public House. I was happy to find a place serving dinner late when I arrived. The ambiance was romantic and friendly. As with the Bluegrass Cafe’, my waitress was extremely friendly and was happy to write a list of local must do’s. When I told her that I went to the blue hole a few hours earlier, her immediate response was, “how did you hear about that and how did you find it?” From a local, of course.
Even though I took in the view from Rock City yesterday, I had to see it from Sunset Rock, which was another suggestion from a local. However, there wasn’t any mention on the best place to park to get to the rock so after some website searching, I read that there was a trail from the Nature Center at the bottom of the mountain so I decided to take that trail. To my surprise, I had the trail parking lot all to myself. I headed up on the “Kiddie” trail that led into the “Gum” trail that lead to the final trail to Sunset Rock. It was a little under two miles of ALL UPHILL trails. This hike was very challenging especially when it’s hot and humid. The most rewarding view of all is when you spend a great deal of time hiking to find it. The cool breeze and forever views was the sweetest reward.
After basking in the view for a few minutes, it was time to take the downhill hike back to the parking lot. Next stop was the Hunter Museum of American Art. Before I took a tour of the museum, I went for lunch at Rembrant’s in the Bluff View Arts District and for the last time I asked my server what to do. Since I was downtown, I toured the museum, walked along the glass bridge and then the pedestrian bridge across to the northshore side of town. That is where I had to stop and have a scoop of ice cream at clumpies. This was a much welcomed treat after the long hike. From local suggestions, I decided to take another quick trip to see another swimming hole, but this time with a waterfall.
I arrived at Foster Falls that afternoon and what a treat that was! I was so thrilled to jump in another local swimming spot and swim under the falls. Just like the other hike and everywhere else I went, the locals were friendly and always saying hello with a smile. I also noticed that everywhere I went was dog friendly. I missed Max on my quick trip but it was nice to swim around with my new dog friends.
That evening, I headed back to the Southside and had dinner at The Flying Squirrel. I found myself gravitating more to the Southside of the city and enjoying all of the eclectic shops and historic architecture. The open air restaurant/bar was the perfect setting for my last meal in Chattanooga.
I didn’t know much about this city when I ventured out but after only a few days, I settled right in with the locals. I am so glad that I was able to experience this amazing place, if only for a few days. If you want to see a city like the locals, be sure to ask your server where he/she goes for fun. It turned out to be the best way to uncover Chattanooga.