Chattanooga is a town I have always enjoyed visiting, and as an undergraduate at a northwest Georgia college, we were equidistant between Atlanta and Chattanooga and would often choose Chattanooga for our weekend adventures. Although it is hard to believe, I graduated from that college in 2000, and this is my first time returning to Chattanooga!
As a travel advisor wanting to promote safe travel options close to Atlanta, I realized that Chattanooga is a destination that might get overlooked. People often opt for Asheville, Highlands (NC), Savannah, or a Florida beach, while Chattanooga is a quiet gem sitting on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, closer than the other destinations. Contact me to curate a getaway just for you!
Here are the 5 reasons you should visit Chattanooga: River, Nature, Food, People, and Hotel. There's always something better about a city with a river flowing through it. The river, and its bridges, really adds to the character of a city. Of course, the river is part of nature, but with surrounding mountains, there are so many outdoor activities (hiking, biking, kayaking, etc) available. With just a bit of research, I found some fantastic dining options (with outdoor seating) in Chattanooga. Not only was the food great, but it was reasonably priced. The people were SO nice everywhere I went. They love their city, and they took the time to engage in conversation. The Read House Hotel is a destination in itself. It's so beautiful and has such an interesting history that just staying there for a few nights is a great experience.
The Read House Hotel was part of the inspiration for my trip. Some hotels are just a place to stay, while some are a destination in themselves. The Read House has a history dating back to 1847 as The Crutchfield House. After the original building burned to the ground, The Read House was built in 1872. It is now one the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by the same company that owns The Vendue, on of Charleston’s favorite hotels (with an excellent rooftop). Room 311 is haunted, and was happy to be assigned 902!
After an easy drive from Atlanta and a quick visit with some family who live in Ringgold, GA, I arrived at The Read House at 4:00 pm. I pulled up to the main entrance, where a very friendly doorman greeted me at my car to explain their valet parking, which involved circling the building and pulling into a parking deck. This all would have gone very smoothly if an enormous pickup truck hadn’t been in front of me. The driver of the truck moved at a glacial pace to get his things out of the truck. I’m assuming the truck was too big for the garage, because they had to turn it around and park it somewhere else. Remember that if you drive an enormous truck!
I was directed through an entrance from the garage that led to the front desk. My first impression of the hotel was what I expected--opulent and refined! When the hotel was renovated in 2016, it was restored to reflect the hotel’s 1926 grandeur, when the last major construction happened. The lobby, beautifully decorated for the holidays, was quite busy. I found the front desk and was checked in by a friendly gentleman and offered a ticket for complementary champagne, which I was able to pick up at the lobby bar. What a nice touch!
Before getting the champagne, I took the historic elevators up to my room on the 9th floor. The room is beautifully furnished, and the bathroom is definitely a highlight, with chrome, black & white mosaic tiles, and a fantastic walk-in shower. In addition to a small table and two upholstered chairs, there is also a closet with a mini fridge and Keurig coffee maker.
Once I was a bit settled, I went down to get a glass of champagne. The bar would be a wonderful place to hang out, but it was far too busy for my level of COVID comfort. I enjoyed my champagne as I explored some of the less busy areas and then went back to relax in my room.
I made an early dinner reservation at Proof Bar & Incubator, so it was soon time to leave for that. It was raining, and as I was walking out of The Read House, the doorman offered to get me a loaner umbrella. I love to walk, even in the rain, since it gives me a better feel for a town. The rain was light, and the 15 minute walk was very enjoyable.
By the time I arrived at Proof, the rain was stopping. Since the outdoor tables were wet, I decided it was safe to sit inside since no other guests were in the downstairs area, and there was a table in a corner, far removed from everything, while also having a great view of everything. The concept at Proof is very interesting, and I love it. The bar is the thing that is always constant. They have 2 kitchens, and they rent them to restaurants/chefs who are just starting out so that they can establish themselves. During my visit, there was a pizzeria Vinny’s Prince of Pizza and a restaurant called Neutral Ground, which is described as a New Orleans Style Po-Boy and Yakamein Restaurant.
From the bar, I ordered a boulevardier because they had some just-released bourbon from Castle & Key Distillery, which will surely be on my upcoming bourbon trail tour. It was perfectly crafted and delicious. For food, I ordered from Neutral Ground their Sequatchie Cove Smoked Lamb Shoulder & Grits, which was served with root vegetables and lacitano kale. It was absolutely beautiful and delicious, and I didn’t want it to end. Since I ran out of beverage, I decided to order a glass of wine. Interestingly, Proof has one red and one white, so I ordered the red, a merlot.
I must also mention that the staff at Proof were excellent. I’m not sure of Toby’s position at Proof, but he is the person who was working as host and also acted as my server. He took care of my COVID concerns and made sure I was comfortable, then we had a few brief conversations while I was dining. One included some recommendations of other places I should visit in Chattanooga. The bartender also came by and spoke to me and was equally kind. The exciting thing is that if I go back to Chattanooga in a few months, I’ll probably be able to try a new restaurant at the same location but also see the same nice people in the same beautiful space.
One of Toby’s suggestions was to try Whiskey Thief, a restaurant at the top of The Edwin, the other “premier” hotel in Chattanooga. The Edwin is a rather new hotel, which has been built on the river. I walked in that direction, which was about a 20 minute walk. It was a beautiful evening, after a day of rain, so I was hopeful of a seat outside. When I walked into Whiskey Thief, I could see that it was very busy. There was an outdoor area, but they were not allowing guests out there because of an earlier lightning warning. The inside was far too busy for my comfort, but I’m glad I got to see Whiskey Thief and The Edwin, both of which I hope to include on a future visit!
The Edwin is next to the Walnut Street Bridge, a restored pedestrian bridge, which has excellent views of Chattanooga. Several people were out walking on it and taking photos. This was actually one of my favorite moments. The view was spectacular, the lights were reflecting in the river, and the evening was crisp but not too cold. Just as I was ready to leave, a riverboat passed under the Market St. Bridge, which made for a memorable photograph (at the very top of this post).
Since my dinner was early and relatively small, and Whiskey Thief didn’t work out, I decided to stop somewhere else. As I was nearing Warehouse Row, one of Chattnooga’s shopping centers, I decided to stop at The Social, which is a restaurant on the edge of Warehouse Row with lots of outdoor seating. They had some fun holiday cocktails and a nice selection of side dishes, so I ordered the “Fra-gil-e” drink and sides of collard greens & roasted beats with goat cheese. The drink was delicious, and the vegetables were ok.
The following morning, I had a Clif bar and coffee in my room for breakfast and took it easy until it seemed warm enough to venture out. I decided to go to Lookout Mountain. There are several ways to experience Lookout Mountain, such as Ruby Falls & Rock City. There’s also Point Park, which is at the top of the mountain. It’s at the end of a beautiful residential area with amazing homes sitting on the edge of the mountain. You pay to park and pay to enter the park, which is run by the National Parks. The view is amazing up there, and there are interesting monuments and canons, as well as a small museum with information about the Civil War and other history of the area. By the time I was leaving, it was more cloudy, but the clouds were down below!
Next stop was brunch! I had been looking forward to eating at Flying Squirrel. I parked at my hotel and walked to brunch. It was almost a mile walk and took me by the Chattanooga Choo Choo and into the fun Southside neighborhood. For some reason, it gave me the feel that I was somewhere like Boulder, Colorado, and the building of Flying Squirrel is beautiful & funky! I ordered a Bloody Mary and Sweet Potato Hash. Everything was delicious, and the sweet potato hash, served in a cast iron skillet with bacon jam, had amazing crispy bits on the bottom of the skillet. Yum!
Ready to explore some more, I checked out the neighboring restaurants, which also looked fun and had plenty of outdoor seating. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to do a tasting at Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery. They have an interesting history (on their website), but they’re also interesting because they’re an experimental distillery. They make classic whiskey & bourbon, but also unusual spirits, which you can enjoy at a tasting. Considering COVID, the tastings were very limited. Although it was inside, I was very far from anyone else and felt very safe. It was a very fun and interesting tasting, learning about the process and the differences in the whiskeys they produce. I also found out that their 99 Rye is included in Whiskey Advocate’s “Top 20 Whiskies of 2020”!
After a relaxing walk and a substantial nap, it was time to get ready for dinner. It really was too early, but I wanted to eat outside before it was too cold or too busy. My reservation was at STIR, right next to the Chattanooga Choo Choo. As a restaurant that is known for oysters and artisanal ice, I had to try both. I began with a 1/2 dozen raw oysters from different locations, along with whiskey served over a sphere of ice. It was quite the experience to have the sphere prepared at my table, and the server really seemed to enjoy it as well! I rarely eat steak, but steak frites sounded so good. Since I always have to have a vegetable, I ordered a wedge salad. The food really was fantastic, and since it was so good, I couldn’t resist trying dessert. I had the amazing chocolate espresso flourless cake, which was served with bourbon citrus caramel & whipped cream. It was soooooo good, I’m still recovering.
After such an indulgent meal, a walk would have been nice, but it was very cold! I got an Uber to take me back home to The Read House, and after a good night’s sleep, my lovely time in Chattanooga was finished. I highly recommend everything I experienced, and I know that with more time, there are many more outdoor activities, restaurants, and attractions to explore!
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