Bunk at the Crash Pad (from $30), a stylish spin on a hostel just off the downtown circuit. Surrealist touches funk up the place, from the building’s off-center placement to a spiral staircase winding down the right side and an elaborate Dali-esque sculpture on the front patio. The lobby gives way to a rustic, LEED Platinum–certified interior that includes a serve-yourself kitchen with fresh loaves from nearby Niedlov’s Breadworks every morning. Hang out in the common room and hear tales from guests hiking the Appalachian Trail or kayaking down the Tennessee River.
Sleep in southern bliss at the Chattanoogan (from $198), a 199-room, handsome city landmark with views of nearby Lookout Mountain. Relax in the indoor pool or tan on the sundeck surrounded by magnolias. The bar here, the Foundry, is a great spot to sip on Chattanooga’s own Big River IPA ($5) and listen to live, local bands on Saturday nights.
Tread where Civil War soldiers once did at the StoneFort Inn (from $163), a cross between a bed and breakfast and boutique urban inn. Although built over a century ago, a total renovation in 2012 spiffed up the guest rooms with gas fireplaces, terrazzo floors, and balconies. Ask for a Private Balcony Room, which feels like a personal mini-spa with a two-person jetted hot tub on the terrace and claw-foot tubs and French showers in the bathroom. Chattanooga’s free shuttle, located just minutes from the lobby door, will easily whisk you into the vibrant downtown scene.
Dine like a Don at seasonal Italian restaurant Alleia. Chef Daniel Lindley imports ingredients from Italy to blend with goods from local farms. Step into the dim, candle-lit wooded space and settle in at one of the communal tables for small plates like spring onion fritti ($7) and grilled duck wings with cascabel pepper sauce ($9), then try hearty plates like gnocchi with housemade chicken sausage ($17) and quail breast with charred tomatoes ($24). Top it all off with one of the housemade gelati prepared daily, in bracing flavors like maple, mandarin, and basil ($7).
Taste the flavors of Appalachia at Terra Mae, a farm-to-table spot located in the StoneFort Inn. Start off with a warm kilt cabbage salad ($10) sprinkled with jerky bacon and cheddar cornbread croutons, or the cheeky Appalachian Lunchable ($18), with deviled eggs, pickled shrimp, benne seed bacon, and smoked gouda pimento spread. Then dig into bourbon-braised short ribs with wilted greens and a crispy grit cake ($26) and sip on a New South Sour ($12), a vanilla-infused Chattanooga whiskey cocktail with citrus, blackberry-pecan bitters, and egg whites.
Grab brunch at Beast + Barrel, a “gastro smokehouse” located just over the Market Street Bridge from downtown. Try hearty southern specialties like the Jack Benny, poached eggs and a fried herb-crusted portobello mushroom served over cornbread with béarnaise ($9), or tempting sweet plates like cannoli-style French toast ($11): challah bread stuffed with chocolate-chip ricotta and smothered in walnut syrup. Wash it all down with a carafe of one of the refreshing brunch cocktails, like the Imposter, a blend of rum, St. Germain, peach bitters, and hibiscus-orange soda ($16).
See Chattanooga (and glimpses of seven other states) from way up high at Lookout Mountain Flight Park (packages from $199), a hang-gliding school touted as one of the best in the country. Beginners can train on bunny hills with instructors who will set you up with equipment and instruct you in runs off five- to ten-foot hills before doing a tandem flight of up to 3,000 feet. More adventurous or experienced visitors can partake in solo flights that take off from Lookout Mountain’s main 1,340-foot launch pad, soaring over the mountains and rivers of southern Appalachia.
Trek through a centuries-old cave system to Ruby Falls, the largest underground waterfall in the U.S. The 145-foot National Historic Landmark, located within Lookout Mountain, was discovered in 1928 by excavator Leo Lambert and named for his wife. Go between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. for tours offered during the day ($18.95), but come back again for night expeditions on Fridays and Saturdays ($25.95), when all of the staged lighting is turned off and the 30-minute walk to the falls is lit only by the lantern you’re holding in your hand.
Hone your climbing skills at the brand-new High Point Climbing and Fitness. A day pass ($15) grants you full access to explore the state-of-the-art 30,000-square-foot space filled with training zones, yoga rooms, auto-belay walls, and two 15-meter speed-climbing walls. For a real challenge, step outside on their balcony and climb up the outside of their massive, 60-foot-high building with the help of a trained spotter.
Chris Brown, owner of Pints and Pedals—which provides a 15-seat bike tour (in the name of a worthy cause) of the breweries, bars, and restaurants in downtown Chattanooga—picks his favorite Chattanooga haunts.
Dive Bar: “The best under-the-radar bar is definitely T-Bones. They have great drink specials ($2 beer, $2 shots), very generous pours, and fun, local rock bands on the weekends. The crowd is an eclectic mix of college kids, families watching football games on Sundays, and regulars that have been sitting on the same bar stool since the place first opened.”
Local Music Venue: “Track 29 is a pit stop for a ton of great bands traveling from Atlanta to Nashville or vice versa. Great acoustics and a chance to get up close with the band—making the show a much more personal experience.”
Hiking Trail: “I highly recommend Cloudland Canyon, right outside of Chattanooga. It has amazing scenic views off of Lookout Mountain and is a great place for a picnic or a peaceful hike/walk on a lazy Sunday.”
Restaurant: “A real gem in Chattanooga is a little-known restaurant called Big Table. It looks like a converted older home on a side street at the base of Signal Mountain. When you walk in the door, it feels like Mom and Dad are serving you dinner—BYOB, amazing pot roast, great desserts, and even homemade soaps to take home after the meal.”
• Get filled in on all manner of sporty stuff, from bike tours to paddling lessons, at Outdoor Chattanooga.
• Consult weekly alternative newspaper The Pulse for the latest events in the music, arts, and culture scenes.
• Jumping on Chattanooga's recent farm-to-table movement, TasteBuds gives residents a guide to finding locally crafted foods and lists upcoming farmer's markets, foodie events, and CSA programs.