Since its humble beginnings as a landing on the Tennessee River, the city founded by Cherokee leader John Ross has seen tremendous growth in both size and population. Each district of the city has its own history and atmosphere. From the tourist-friendly plazas of the Downtown Riverfront to the breathtaking beauty of Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga is home to several distinct communities, each of which contributes to the personality and character of this sleepy Southern town that suddenly grew up.
Unlike many cities in the United States, Chattanooga's downtown enjoys a vibrant nightlife. More and more people are returning downtown to live, work and play, and with good reason. Deluxe accommodations, more than 100 shops and restaurants, dozens of music venues and museums, and extensive public transportation combine to make the area between the Riverfront and Lookout Mountain attractive to visitors and residents.
The catalysts for this resurgence of tourism and economic growth downtown are the Riverfront and the Tennessee Aquarium . Once the site of an abandoned industrial river port, the banks of the Tennessee River now welcome people, not barges. The Tennessee Aquarium is the largest freshwater aquarium in the country and features sea and land animals indigenous to the Tennessee River. More than two million people visited the aquarium in 1990, its first year of operation. Today, the aquarium, along with its state-of-the-art IMAX 3D , attracts one million visitors each year.
A visit downtown isn't all about fish and 3D movies, though. The famed Chattanooga Choo Choo provides visitors a glimpse of the past, when the romance of the railroad lured men and women away from their homes in order to embark on a new adventure. AT&T Field is the baseball stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league team.
Art lovers will enjoy a visit to the Hunter Museum of American Art , a beautiful Civil War mansion that houses both traditional and contemporary works from local and national artists. The Southern Belle Riverboat offers visitors a tour of Chattanooga aboard a luxury paddle steamer, and the Nightfall Concert Series brings the best of rock, pop, country and jazz to the Miller Plaza stage.
Nearly as familiar as the Choo Choo is the little red barn with the words 'See Rock City' painted on its roof. Appearing all over the United States, these painted barns have proven to be effective advertising campaigns for more than five decades. Rock City is a beautiful collection of gardens atop Lookout Mountain that provides stunning views of the city and a break from the busy world below. Rock City is one of many popular sites atop the mountain. Ruby Falls is an underground waterfall located half a mile below the surface of the mountain; the walking tour to the falls offers a beautiful look inside one of the largest caverns in the Southeast. Point Park is the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the United States Civil War. Northern armies crept up the mountain under the cover of clouds and engaged the Confederate soldiers in a tremendous battle for the "lookout" point of the Chattanooga armies. For a non-traditional ascent of the mountain, ride the Incline Railway , which offers a mile-long trip aboard an antique rail car that traveling along the eastern incline of the mountain.
Chattanooga's North Shore is the latest in a string of local success stories. Once a forgotten industrial site filled with warehouses and shipping yards, the area has been transformed into a tourist Mecca with specialty shops offering everything from caviar to kayaks. In its new home on the North Shore, The Chattanooga Theatre Centre offers Broadway-caliber productions year round. Coolidge Park offers miles of riverfront walking paths and cafes, along with the wildly popular Coolidge Park Carousel and Fountains. The classic, century-old merry-go-round features hand-carved horses and sleds that were restored right here in Chattanooga. The fountains include huge water-spewing lions, tigers and bears used to help cool youngsters during the hot summer months. The Walnut Street Bridge spans the majestic Tennessee River and connects the North Shore to Chattanooga's downtown area. Once a vital roadway for local auto traffic, the bridge is now only open to foot traffic and is the nation's longest pedestrian walkway.
Not long ago, the Hamilton Place area consisted mostly of failing farmland. Today it is Chattanooga's fastest growing suburban neighborhood and the site of Tennessee's largest shopping experience. The transformation began when Hamilton Place Mall opened its doors to anxious shoppers looking for an alternative to Atlanta shopping malls. The largest shopping mall in the Southeast, Hamilton Place is home to department stores such as Dillard's and Parisian and specialty stores such as The Gap and Eddie Bauer. More than 100 stores, along with dozens of eateries and movie screens, provide not only entertainment and shopping to local residents, but to hundreds of thousands of visitors as well.
The Scenic City may be best known for a song about a train, but you'll find some delicious food in 'Choo Choo' as well. Every restaurant in Chattanooga is an experience in leisurely Southern dining. However, there are a few standouts.
Dine with a view at the Back Inn Cafe or Tony's Pasta Shop and Trattoria . The Sushi Nabe of Kyoto offers something different in its raw fish dishes, while Buck's Pit Barbecue and Sticky Fingers exemplify traditional meat dishes grilled to perfection. Beer-lovers will enjoy Big River Grille and Brewing Works , the city's own microbrewery that also serves up some tasty ribs.
If you'd like something a bit more simple, try a sandwich at Shapiro's Deli . The city's only three diamond restaurant, 212 Market Restaurant , offers an elegant setting in which to dine. Mykonos Greek Grill specializes in traditional Mediterranean, while China Cafeteria offers affordable food from the far East.
In this district, you'll find the colorful and lively River Street Deli , which has a regional menu dominated by Italian and Spanish flavors. The Northside Lunch is small, but its large portions and variety makes it well worth the brief discomfort. The food at Padrino's is popular with locals, while the Vine Street Bakery , set in a 1930s style bungalow, serves more than just pastries. Its lunch menu is filled with deli favorites. The decor at Tubby's Real Burger is styled after a classic 1960s burger joint.
Southside and Hamilton Place
Fine food, coupled with an elegantly casual atmosphere, is the reason local residents have voted this restaurant Chattanooga's finest for the last 15 years. Southside Grill is a young establishment that occupies a row of warehouses.
The Hunan and Cantonese dishes at the Imperial Garden never disappoint. An easy, fun meal can be had at Gondolier Pizza and Carrabba's Italian Grill , where the focus is on service and the food is always delicious.