Chattanooga is a great destination for a relaxing weekend on the river, and its chill vibe makes the city a premier low-key getaway with enjoyable, family-friendly attractions, too–especially for folks who enjoy science, nature, and history.
What to Do?
A trip to Chattanooga is incomplete without a visit to the aquarium, which consists of two separate buildings, one for freshwater and one for saltwater. I remember when theirs was the only major aquarium in the Southeast, and I was pleasantly surprised by all of the improvements that have been made to it since my last visit about seventeen years ago.
With lemurs, penguins, river otters, and a butterfly exhibit, there’s certainly more to enjoy than the fishes (though I’m not saying fish aren’t enough, especially since their saltwater collection consists of rare specimens from all over the world), and the thoughtful top-to-bottom design of each building adds to the fun.
In the courtyard area between the two main aquarium buildings runs a small stream and miniature water park of sorts, consisting of animal-shaped fountains and usually full of splashing children. Restaurants and shops surround the courtyard as well, but we didn’t check any of those out.
You don’t have to go to the aquarium to experience water excitement, though. The stream from the aquarium’s courtyard flows under the nearby road and cascades down some stairs, gathering in a little public pool area right before it continues to the river. There’s no entry fee for this area; as Kenton says, Chattanooga really “embraces the water,” sharing it with all who want to enjoy it. Next time I go in the summer I’ll likely wear a swimsuit under my clothes most days for convenience, because little random swimming holes exist all over the place.
The area around the aquarium isn’t without its more somber elements, as the spot actually marks the beginning of the Trail of Tears, the forceful removal of Native American tribes from the Southeast.
Near the pool area is a mural of the Seven Sisters playing stickball, meant to commemorate the peoples who suffered this profound injustice. Seven Sisters refers to the Pleiades Constellation, from which the Cherokee believed they came. The stairwell waterfall and pool I mentioned earlier are also symbolic, meant to represent collected tears.
The area is nice, and I like that the city is using art and architecture, as well as a historical walking trail, to acknowledge this past. That said, it did strike me as dissonant or odd to witness all of the splashing joy, clean, tourist-friendly amenities, and live music in that same spot once I was aware of the site’s sordid history.
Where to Eat?
There were only two young women working there, and the cook made it a point to come all the way to our table to confirm whether we wanted dairy products and faux rather than real bacon bits. She was really thoughtful, and I appreciated her coming to ask so that she didn’t accidentally give us chunks of bacon. So, they were already earning five stars on service before I even tasted the food.
I also gave points for their quirky but not over-the-top decor and for the diversity of the crowd who was in there munching when we got there.
While this place offers tofu hot dogs, we opted for the in-house, handmade black bean sausages. So delicious.
I got the Jamaican Jerk, a jerk-seasoned chicken sausage with homemade lime cream and mango-tomatillo salsa as well as queso fresco and facon.
Kenton got the Chicken-apple sausage, which came with curry ketchup, gouda, arugula, grilled onions, and roasted red peppers.
We also got some topped frites, which were great, but I wished I’d ordered regular fries in the cone so I could use the holes in the table.
The best part was the toddler in the table beside us who, growing impatient with the wait on his food, began singing, “Hoootddoooooog,” rocking side to side à la Ray Charles, “wheere areee you hooootdoooog?” Somebody get that kid in the commercial.
Anyway, I unreservedly recommend that you stop by here after you play with the fishes!
Just one more Chattanooga post left! Stay tuned!