Chattanooga, Tenn., is a city filled with delightful surprises, from outdoor art markets to vintage boutiques to a guitar museum, a dancing scene and everything in between.
By Kelly Dinardo, Photos by Kelly Dinardo and courtesy of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau
With its laid-back vibe, lively music scene and chef-driven food-and-cocktail culture, Nashville, Tenn., has become a superstar attraction for quick weekend getaways. But if you’re ready for a fresh spin on the status quo, all you need to do is look two hours south to under-the-radar Chattanooga, Tenn., a city in the midst of a renaissance with new music venues, boutique hotels and restaurants springing up.
We took to the road, conducted some research and came up with the ideal must-do itinerary for a fun-filled weekend in this up-and-coming city.
Crawling distance from the downtown restaurants and pubs, The Dwell Hotel is the perfect old-Hollywood-style hotel to hang your fedora for the weekend. Inside the three-story brick building is an explosion of color and vintage charm. Each of the distinctly decorated 16 rooms features a bold, retro-patterned wallpaper that nods to the respective room’s theme, from vibrant green palm fronds in the Tropicana room to an eruption of pink and turquoise flowers in the Palm Springs room. Throughout, velvet chairs, shaggy rugs, funky lamps and vintage artwork create cozy nooks, enticing visitors to curl up and read or enjoy a cocktail.
Grab an early dinner at Easy Bistro & Bar. Tucked into a century-old building that once housed the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant, the restaurant serves classic bistro fare—oysters, steak and frites—as well as updated takes on Southern classics, from shrimp and grits to tomato pie, all cooked up by a James Beard-nominated chef.
Once a week, the newly opened Songbirds Guitar Museum slides a few cases of vintage guitars aside and creates an intimate live-music performance venue for a wide range of artists, from the BoDeans to the Victor Wooten Trio.
Grab a nightcap at Matilda Midnight, the cozy, turquoise-and-gold bar inside The Dwell. Beneath hundreds of twinkly lights, bartenders are in constant motion, shaking up inventive cocktails and serving snacks.
Complimentary breakfast is included in the room rate at The Dwell and should not be missed. In the sleek and airy Terra Mae restaurant, the hotel offers a small pastry, fruit and yogurt bar and made-to-order breakfast that includes biscuits and gravy, omelets, grits and a to-die-for fried-egg breakfast sandwich on a brioche bun.
Work off breakfast with a free yoga class at the Chattanooga River Market (open March through October). Situated along the Tennessee River on the plaza outside the aquarium, the weekly art-centric market features yoga, local musicians and regional artists displaying craftwork ranging from clothing, jewelry and photography to soap, woodwork and more.
Kick-start your afternoon with a snack or meal at Milk & Honey, a charming black-and-white-tiled café that features all-day breakfast items like the Elvis sandwich—peanut butter, caramelized banana and honey on a sourdough roll—and lunch fare. Pro tip: Order the turkey and brie pita. But it’s the homemade gelato that draws the crowds, so feel free to take a cue and skip right to dessert.
Tucked into the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, the newly opened Songbirds Guitar Museum houses a massive collection of rare and vintage guitars that showcases the evolution of the instrument. Not just for the curious guitar nerds, the museum offers an interesting display of American history and a fascinating look at post-World War II craftsmanship.
The elegant St. John’s Restaurant dishes up a seasonally changing menu that showcases specialties from local farmers and playful, upscale takes on down-home classics like pork rinds. The restaurant has won several Wine Spectator awards, so consider asking your server for the perfect pairing to accompany your free-range chicken with homemade gnocchi.
Dance off dinner at the Revelry Room. Located in the Chattanooga Choo Choo terminal next to Songbirds, this small, live-music venue plays host to regional artists, tribute bands and DJ battles several nights a week.
Finish up the night at the beautifully designed Flying Squirrel Bar, a swooping, high-ceilinged blend of glass, wood and steel that has more than 30 craft beers on tap, a seasonal-cocktail program and a solid wine list.
Soak up any remnants of last night’s fun at Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken. Several restaurants in town claim to be known for their chicken, but fried chicken—made from a 40-year-old family recipe—served in a slightly dodgy, garage-style restaurant is the perfect hangover cure.
At the top of a 90-foot limestone bluff above the Tennessee River sits the Hunter Museum of American Art. Spread throughout three buildings—a 1905 mansion, a low-slung 1970s building and a 2005 contemporary glass structure—the museum features American art from the colonial period to the present day. A short stroll away is the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world, offering up picturesque views of the museum and city skyline for strolling passersby.