A guide to family fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

On our road trip from Chicago to Florida, I was so excited to spend a few days exploring the south since we had never been. During my research, I had heard great things about Chattanooga in Tennessee and couldn’t wait to make it our first major stop. We had no idea how family-friendly the city was! They have so many attractions, places to eat, and is such a walkable city. In fact, visiting Scenic City was one of our favorite stops during our entire road trip.  Find out what we did on our family-friendly trip to Chattanooga.

Disclosure: A huge thank you to Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and their partners who graciously hosted our family. All opinions are our own.

Places to Play in Chattanooga:

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

We’ve been on a few inclines in the past, and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway may have been one of the most memorable ones we’ve ridden. With a 72.7% grade, the incline retains honors as the world’s steepest passenger railway. The enclosed incline was one of the largest we’ve been to and had windows placed on the ceiling for great views of the mountains. The ride may have been a bit nerve-wracking (my husband may or may not have held his breath the entire 10-minute ride!), and we were more than happy to get off and check out the two-level observation deck. The views were incredible! If we had more time, it would have been nice to explore the rest of the area at the top of the mountain which includes Point Park and the site of the famous “Battle Above the Clouds.”

Tip: Get on the incline first thing in the morning, or try later at night. We had no wait!

Rock City

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee including a visit to the Rock City.

On our drive down to Chattanooga, we saw countless signs of “See Rock City”  on the highway. Was it just a kitschy gimmick? No, seeing Rock City in person totally lived up to the hype. In my opinion, it’s a must-see when you’re at Lookout Mountain. We had a fun time walking through the 4,100-foot walking trail, looking for gnomes, and checking out geological and botanical wonders. It seemed like every few minutes was an excellent picture-taking opportunity.  After crossing a swinging bridge (or walking a stone bridge – your choice) you’ll come face to face with the famous Lover’s Leap along with a chance to peep 7 states at once.  Everyone will also get a kick out of squeezing through tight spaces named none other than Fat Man’s Squeeze. Even though it was hot out there, we found plenty of shaded opportunities. Towards the end of our walk, we walked through the Fairytale and Mother Goose area in complete darkness with the scenes aglow by blacklight. I have to admit the figures may have been a bit creepy, but the kids got a kick out of it and it was a welcome escape from the heat. Rock City was easily one of my favorite Chattanooga attractions.

Ruby Falls

We love exploring caves and were excited for cave exploration at Ruby Falls. After our fun, but the long walk in the heat at Rock City, we were more than ready to head underground where the temps are a constant cool 50 degrees. After descending the elevator, we met our tour guide and large group. In all honesty, the tour was a little bit too commercialized for our tastes. It was also a bit of a walk to the falls, and, with our little ones’ tired feet and complaining, it seemed that the walk was neverending. But seeing Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the nation, somewhat made up for the crankiness.

Tip: Go early. I’ve heard that if you visit in the morning you’ll avoid the crowds and tour with a smaller crowd. 

Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium has two separate buildings – River Journey and Ocean Journey. We were really impressed with the amount of things to see. We touched sturgeon and sting-ray, saw the tweeting electric eel, listened to an alligator chat and saw cute baby alligator swimming by, walked through a butterfly garden, saw lemurs, and so much more!

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee including a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium.

If you have the time, I highly recommend a Backstage Pass Tour for either the River Journey or the Ocean Journey. We reserved a 2 p.m. Ocean Journey tour took us through the back to see the Penguins and the feeding areas of the animals. Not only did we watch sharks, fish, and stingray being fed, but we were able to feed lettuce to the fish. We watched turtle feedings and even had the chance to feed some of the sea creatures ourselves

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee including a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium.

Tip: You can leave and come back — perfect for grabbing lunch anywhere nearby. I’d suggest going through one building then taking a break and coming back. 

Chattanooga Ducks

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee including a visit to the Rock City.

Our next destination, the Chattanooga Ducks, gave us a great overview of the city aboard none other than a vehicle that traversed both land AND water. These amphibious vehicles first started on land then slowly made our way to the Tennessee River.  Our driver was funny and knowledgeable about the city and attractions. The highlight, though, was when he asked the kids to steer the boat while in the river. They totally loved that!

Moon Pie General Store

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee including a visit to the Rock City.

Since we were nearby we stopped by the Moon Pie General Store. My kids had no clue what a Moon Pie was, but after one bite into the marshmallow and graham cracker-filled treat, they were hooked!  I suggest getting a box and mixing and matching different flavors. (Salted caramel and strawberry were our favs!) If you happen to be hungry they also serve food. Today the Chattanooga Bakery, their only manufacturing plant, currently produces more than one million Moon Pies a day! Whoa!

Walnut Street Bridge

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee including a visit to Walnut Street Bridge.

How could we not walk one of the longest pedestrian walkway bridges in the world?? The 2,370-ft. bridge connects the downtown area to the North Shore District. We walked, took great photos, and admired the view of the Tennessee River from the bridge. It was also the perfect excuse to grab donuts from Julie Darling Donuts in the North Shore.

 

Places to EAT

One thing’s for sure — there is no shortage of places to eat in Chattanooga! Here are all the places we chowed down at during our visit.

Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

We took a much-needed lunch break from the Aquarium but wanted to stay close so we walked a few feet to Puckett’s. They’re known for their comfort food like barbecue, smoked slow ‘n’ low over cherry wood, and home-cooked sides. We’re all about comfort food, so we couldn’t resist mac ‘n cheese topped with pulled pork as well as a meatloaf bbq. Everything was definitely delicious with the BBQ smoked in cherry wood. We may have been spoiled with portion sizes so far on our trip, and we thought the portions here were too small. Definitely save room for dessert – the fried Tennessee Pound Cake was amazing!

Tip: Visit when they have live performances. 

Purple Daisy Picnic Café

 

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The adorable, kitschy cafe holds a special place in our heart as the first BBQ place we tried in the South. Their BBQ is finger-lickin’ good. The BBQ nachos were also a big hit, along with their Rainbow Sandwich ( homemade chicken salad, pimento cheese & cucumber spread). While the BBQ is delectable, the banana pudding is to die for with fresh banana slices and nilla wafers.

Clumpie’s Ice Cream Co.

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I’m always on the lookout for the ice cream, so when I heard about Clumpie’s ice cream, a popular Chattanoogan ice cream spot that makes micro-batches of ice cream with so many unique flavors and combinations. All the samples we tried were amazing, and it was hard to choose.  I ended up with the whiskey caramel cornflake (yes, sounds weird but it was SO good!) and the blueberry white chocolate (to die for!). The rest of the family had vegan chocolate and a firecracker (with Pop Rocks). All amazing! You’ll find a few locations throughout the area but we went to the convenient location next to the base at Lookout Mountain Incline.

Tip: Ask for half scoops so you can choose two of your favorite flavors. They also weigh by the ounce and a scoop is about $3.

Champy’s Chicken

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Fried chicken is definitely king at this fun dive restaurant. The fried chicken is crispy on the outside and oh so juicy on the inside. The sides (coleslaw and mashed potatoes) were pretty large. We also tried their fried catfish and the fried pickles.  I was addicted to their homemade sweet tea. (We are in the South after all, Y’all!)  Try to find somewhere else to eat if you’re looking for a quick bite – we found service a tad slow plus the food is made to order.

Mojo Burrito

We wanted food (and fast) and heard Mojo Burrito was a great option. The build-your-own-burrito place offers plenty of choices including those the tortilla (or bowl), meat, and fillings. While my husband happily created his burrito bowl, I wanted to keep things simple so ordered a Shrimp Po Boy from their pre-made menu. The kids devoured the huge platter of nachos too. Everything we ate was just right and loved that this Tex-Mex place didn’t skimp on food.

Julie Darling Donuts

What a darling donut shop! Donuts are made fresh every day and have the most interesting flavors. On our visit, we ended up with a variety of flavors including mango, chocolate, strawberry, banana creme, and blueberry. Everything was so good!

Tip: Take an Insta-worthy shot in the alley where they have a pink brick wall!

Places to STAY

SpringHill Suites by Marriott Chattanooga Downtown/Cameron Harbor

Family Fun in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

We had a fabulous stay at SpringHill Suites Chattanooga Downtown. The hotel had a great location right alongside the Tennessee River, and was only a few minutes drive away to downtown. The rooms were modern, spacious, bright, and comfortable. If you felt like exploring the town by bike, there was a bike share. The free breakfast (with healthy options) was great each morning we were there. The kids loved that they had Chupa Chups lolipops at the front desk. It’s the simple things, right?

Have you been to Chattanooga before? What are some of your favorite things to do?

Related: Ready for the ultimate road trip from Chicago to Florida? Read our full itinerary of things that we did, places we ate, and where we slept.