Dreaming of Travel: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Published on October 19, 2021 - Updated on February 24, 2022

It's hard not to fall in love with Chattanooga.

With beautiful mountain views, an outdoorsy reputation and the nickname “Scenic City,” this Tennessee town makes for a memorable family destination.

My family and I recently drove the two and a half hours from Nashville to Chattanooga to spend a long weekend exploring, playing and eating our way through the city. Let’s just say I wasn’t ready to leave after three days and I may have spent the car ride trying to convince my husband to relocate there. (FYI, I’m still working on it).

Although we’re not moving anytime soon, I am already planning our next Chattanooga vacation. Here are my top tips for visiting.

Where to stay

Southside rentals

We’ve taken two family trips to Chattanooga and opted both times to stay in Airbnbs in the bustling Southside neighborhood. Located in the downtown area, the Southside has undergone extensive revitalization and is now one of the most thriving areas of the city. I love being able to walk to an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants, shops and art galleries.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel

Once home to the first railway station in the South, this downtown Chattanooga site now houses a historic hotel, a mix of restaurants and shops and actual train cars you can explore. It would be a great spot to stay with kids because you’d have food and entertainment on-site, including a FrothyMonkey coffee shop/restaurant and a kid-friendly arcade. You don’t have to be a hotel guest to visit the property and we spent an afternoon there playing cornhole and arcade games, and checking out the train cars.


Across the Tennessee River is another of Chattanooga’s most popular neighborhoods, the Northshore. This charming area has great shopping and restaurants, in addition to a gorgeous, sprawling park along the riverfront. We spent about half our trip on the Northshore, so you can’t go wrong with lodging on this side of the river.

Must-see sights and activities


Tennessee Aquarium and on-site fountains

My boys loved the Tennessee Aquarium, which is housed in two adjacent downtown buildings. The property itself is impressive and we actually spent almost two hours playing in the shallow fountains outside the aquarium one morning. It’s free to play in the water and there were lots of toddlers and little kids splashing around. Bring a couple of buckets and toys and make a morning of it! Inside the aquarium you can explore the freshwater exhibits in the River Journey building and then pop over to the Ocean Journey building to take in salt-water species. You can even touch sharks and stingrays in the ocean building.

Rock City

Yes, it’s touristy, but I think Rock City is a fun activity with young kids. Located atop Lookout Mountain, Rock City features huge rock formations, gardens and views of supposedly seven different states. One of our favorite parts was the magical Fairyland Caverns, which are colorful fairytale scenes on display inside the caves.

Coolidge Park and Northshore shopping

This large park on the Northshore is thoughtfully designed along the riverfront with activities for the whole family. My kids loved riding the restored historic carousel and the nearby play fountain where you can splash around on hot days. We later strolled down to a dock on the river and enjoyed a nice sunset. While you’re on the Northshore, I recommend stopping in some of the cute local shops. Locals Only Gifts & Goods is a great store with exclusively Tennessee-made items. Boxcar General Store is another fun one, with nostalgic candy, classic toys and Southern goods.


Where to dine

Urban Stack

Good local burger joint that was kid-friendly and fast.

Fiamma Pizza Company

We liked this low-key pizza restaurant, which specializes in Neapolitan and Sicilian pizzas, in addition to salads and sandwiches.

Mean Mug Coffeehouse

I walked each morning to this local coffeehouse and was impressed with the extensive food and drink menu. It has lots of vegetarian options and delicious pastries.

Clumpies Ice Cream Co.

This Chattanooga favorite has several locations around town and is sure to make your kids happy.

Does your family have a favorite road trip destination? Please reach out to team@happyly.com and tell us about it, or share your highlights on Instagram @gethappylyfor a chance to be featured!

Explore our blog for more inspiration such as Exploring Your City from A to Z and The Ultimate Guide to RV Travel or take a few moments to prepare with Five Healthy Homemade Snacks for On the Go to fuel your next adventure!! 

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Thoughtfully captured by:
Lizzy Alfs
Lizzy is a Michigan transplant living in the always bustling Nashville, Tenn. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she spent a decade working as a business journalist in Ann Arbor, Mich. and then Music City. She recently transitioned her journalism career to freelance writing so she could stay home with her two little boys, Milo and Jude. Lizzy grew up in the summers on a lake in beautiful Northern Michigan and she spent the winters making the most of the state's endless snow and slush. She lives by the motto "There's no such thing as bad weather" and you'll find her outside rain or shine. These days, Lizzy and the boys like to adventure around Nashville, looking for toddler-friendly hikes, parks and swimming holes.
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