The blue bridge stretches above me as I get my first glimpses of Chattanooga and the surrounding hills. My kids have of course sprinted ahead, but I’m still taking in the lovely green, the flowing river, and the steam boats.
Chattanooga was the one place of the few places we didn’t make it to when we were living in Mississippi.
It might seem a bit random to hop on a plane from NYC to Chattanooga, TN but it was a random idea I would happily do again.
A Weekend in Chattanooga TN
Chattanooga is a small charming city in southeastern Tennessee. It sits on the banks of the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. I imagine Fall here is truly spectacular.
Below are our top picks for family fun. We visited with friends from Nashville so we had a 3 year old, twin 6 year olds, and a 7 year old and 4 adults to keep happy.
We stayed in a suite at the Hilton Double Tree in downtown Chattanooga and loved it.
The room provided us with a living room area with a fold out couch for our kiddos, a king sized bed in a separated room for us, a mini-fridge, and a nice bathroom.
The hotel also has a yummy (for purchase unless you’re an honors member) breakfast buffet and a decent outdoor pool.
The best part however was the location. It was half a block from the Children’s Museum and walking distance to everything else in downtown including some great food options.
I was SO impressed with how food allergy friendly the restaurants in Chattanooga were. Our son has a severe dairy allergy and our friends have a gluten and egg allergy so we definitely put the restaurants to the food allergy test, but we found some delicious options.
Due to our son’s severe daily allergy we tend to stick to places we know (boring I know – but huge on ridding anxiety for all of us). There was a Five Guys, Panera, and Subway all within walking distance. We did go to Five Guys, but there were also many other non-chain restaurants that were allergy friendly. YAY!
Milk & Honey
This is my favorite. We went for breakfast after a walk across the bridge. It had so many delicious options I’m not really sure to start except to say that all 8 of us had something different and we all loved our meals.
Okay this is technically a chain in the South, but it was new to us. It has pizza and a variety of other options. Great for families. Good kids menu. Awesome with allergies.
This restaurant was also located on the far side of the bridge from downtown in the same strip as Milk & Honey. It was your typical Mexican food but good and allergy friendly.
Ice Cream Show.
There are a lot of ice cream spots in the area so you are never far from a sweet treat, but I liked this one for our allergy kiddo. They had a soy option for both vanilla and chocolate, as well as regular ice cream. Everyone picks either chocolate or vanilla and toppings of your choice. They then mix up your chosen flavor for you on the spot. Our kids like the fun space, I liked the patio, and after our first walk across and back on the bridge it was the perfect treat.
There is a ton of stuff to do with kids in Chattanooga. I was amazed. We ran out of time long before we ran out of things to do. Guess that means we’ll have to go back!
Walk Across Walnut Street Bridge
This is a short bridge across the Tennessee River for foot and bike traffic only. It offers pretty views of the area. It is a very doable walk for little legs. On either side there is ice cream for a little extra motivation.
If you walk across the bridge away from downtown, you land next to this fun space. The park has a green space, a carousel, and a splash pad fountain that’s the perfect place to cool off. There are also cute shops and yummy restaurant and treat options nearby.
This was the only time we jumped in the car our whole weekend but it was incredibly worth it. About 15 minutes from downtown and up into the mountains is the entrance to an incredible cave.
About a mile walk round trip. I recommend it for ages 5 and up. There were younger kids in our group but they weren’t that excited and many of them were afraid of the caves even though they are pretty well lit.
Our 6 year olds twins loved it though. Our tour guide had the humor of 5-9 year olds nailed. They laughed at all of his jokes and were fascinated by all the silly shaped rocks along the way. (ie. Huge piece of bacon, a chicken surfing, etc.)
At the end of the walk through the caves is the incredible Ruby Falls that is highlighted with a light show.
There are no bathrooms or sitting spaces inside the cave so make sure you use the bathrooms in the visitor center before the tour. One mom did nurse while we walked which I found super impressive but obviously isn’t ideal as a baby nursing situation.
Food is available in the visitor center along with lots of gift and souvenir buying options.
Upon returning, your guide will give you the option of heading up a flight of stairs to the top of the castle. Do it! You are rewarded with a pretty view of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River.
Creative Discovery Museum
We almost skipped this and I’m so glad we didn’t. The title is so well suited to the space. It is full of opportunities for creativity and discovery. Our kids loved it.
They saw this climbing course from the outside and they were dying to try it. It apparently doesn’t disappoint because they were up there for a half hour before I encouraged them to try another area and they still wanted one last go before we left.
On the first floor there are spaces to explore building, dinosaurs, music, art, creating, and more.
There is also a 4 and under space with pretend play, building and more. It has cute stroller parking outside the area. My kids being 6 we didn’t try it out, but I peeked in and it looked like lots of fun for toddlers and preschoolers.
My son was fascinated by the Electricity station. He tried out all of the experiments and the computer simulation. In this area were also some fun building and tinkering opportunities for younger and older kids.
The Art Studio was an incredible space. The walls were covered with ideas and color and inspiration.
In another corner was this doctor pretend play area. Our kids played in this doctor area for a long time.
Compared to other children’s museums this one had substantially less opportunity for pretend play. To me this was not a negative. It was a well balanced museum that was truly inspiration for creative thinking and discovery.
This pretend play spot was full of details and our kids loved it. There were also some other pretend play opportunities tucked into other areas.
Up the stairs there was a special exhibit – Eric Carle in this case, an exhibit about bees, and an outdoor section.
Our kids love Eric Carle books so it was fun to see the books come to life a bit. Their favorite part was imagining to be crickets in the tall grass in the picture above. (PS. Most genius use for pool noodles I have ever seen)
I loved this cozy little nook for reading and creative bug construction. There was also a spot to crawl through a web and peek through a kid sized version of the Very Hungry Caterpillar’s story.
Throughout the museum I was impressed by the quality of the open ended activities and the thoughtful use of technology integrated in the different exhibits.
Outside there are some basic physics challenges that were a lot of fun. As if it needed more going for it, the museum also has a Nursing room with nice space, comfy chair and changing table and offers discounts for active military, AAA, teachers, and reciprocal discounts for other children’s museum memberships.
Truly an awesome Children’s Museum from top to bottom. It felt unique, which is rare in the world of children’s museum. One of the best I have seen to date.
I adore aquariums so I was super excited to visit the TN Aquarium. It did not disappoint.
There are two buildings for the aquarium – an ocean journey and a river journey – and you buy your tickets at another unconnected building (or online).
We started with the Ocean Journey.
You are immediately sent up a long escalator to the top floor. There you will find monkeys, sting rays, and butterflies. I’m honestly not sure what most of that has to do with the ocean but our kids loved it all the same.
The touch tanks was a particular hit. There was one in each building and our kids spent more time there than anywhere else.
Both buildings or journeys had a variety of animals from sharks and jellyfish to penguins and turtles. There were also loads upon loads of fish.
I think what I was most impressed with was the layout. The two buildings thing is a little odd, but once inside a building they have laid out a path for you to follow that is natural and greatly reduces the feeling of crowding or the annoyance of backtracking through spaces you’ve already been.
We all loved the aquarium. It is a beautiful, clean, well lit, and fascinating place to visit with kids.
So, what did we miss? Anything you think we absolutely must do on our next visit to Chattanooga? Share it below!