While Chattanooga has topped many “best of” U.S. cities lists in top publications like The New York Times and Lonely Planet for years, the popularity of Tennessee’s fourth-largest city popularity has particularly boomed in the last 19 months. With its alluring combination of affordability, access to outdoor pursuits, and high quality of living – not to mention, the fastest internet in the country – people from all over are flocking to Chattanooga.
As it turns out, all the reasons people are moving here also make it a terrific travel destination as well. On top of that, mid-October through early November – when fall foliage peaks in the surrounding mountains and gorges, lending a brilliant backdrop – is an especially sublime time to visit. (There’s a good reason why Chattanooga’s been nicknamed “The Scenic City.”)
Below, five more reasons why Chattanooga should top your fall travel wishlist.
Opened in March, Kinley Chattanooga solidified Southside’s reputation as the city’s hippest neighborhood. Part of Vision Hospitality Group, the 64-room boutique hotel embraces an open, convivial vibe without sacrificing comfort or style. The lobby’s “uncheck-in” desk – where the super-friendly staff handles all your requests – replaces the standard, stuffy front desk, while the accommodations are bright and cheerful with pops of earth tones (nodding to the city’s green reputation) and bold art curated by local mixed media artist Hollie Chastain. (Fun fact: the entire hotel expressly features pieces by women local artists.)
The rooms are a bit snug, but have everything you need to decompress: cushy, custom-designed mattresses from local company MurMaid, plenty of drawers and shelves to stow away your things, blackout shades, and in true Chattanooga fashion: blazing fast WiFi. As Kinley’s all-day cafe and eatery, The Exchange partners with local purveyors like Goodman Coffee Roasters and Oddstory Brewing for its Southern-leaning menu of beverages and small plates. But Kinley’s crown jewel is Company, a swanky speakeasy bar. Tucked away adjacent to the lobby behind a bookcase, it’s a hushed, handsome den that pays homage to legendary hotel bars like The Savoy’s American Bar in London.
Located on MLK Boulevard, Proof Bar and Incubator didn’t just survive the pandemic – it thrived. Equal parts incubator and consultancy for chefs who want to test the waters before striking out on their own and traditional restaurant, Proof currently is home to several resident chefs, including Kenyatta Ashford of Neutral Ground. Of why he teamed up with Proof, Ashford explains: “They’re willing to take chances on chefs, and help them reach a wider public. We’re able to influence people in the right way, and help them make connections through food.” With that in mind, Neutral Ground’s menu is a thoughtful blend of beloved staples from Ashford’s hometown of New Orleans (Po-Boys and Yakamein) and dishes that speak to the African diaspora, like the Ghanaian Fish and Kenkey.
If fine dining is more your speed: reserve a table at Bridgeman’s Chophouse at The Read House for sizzling chops and pristine seafood in a polished, art deco-inspired dining room. At The Edwin Hotel, Kinley’s sister property just steps from the iconic Walnut Street Bridge, there’s two enticing options. On the roof, Whiskey Thief marries breathtaking views of the Tennessee River with over 100 bottles of whiskey, while its signature restaurant Whitebird specializes in contempory takes on Appalachian cuisine.
After relocating to Chattanooga’s West Village last fall, Easy Bistro by beloved local chef Eric Niel feels brighter than ever. What’s remained unchanged is the kitchen’s imaginative spins on savory small plates – the popular pickled hen’s eggs are musts – and extensive raw bar offerings. For the best bread and pastries in town, look no further than Niedlov’s Cafe & Bakery. Craving pizza? Dive into the terrific Detroit-style pies at Community Pie. And if you’re seeking a chill, hip place to hunker down with great music and strong cocktails, check out the newly-opened bar No Hard Feelings.
This time of year, Chattanooga is especially ideal for leisurely, scenic strolls on the Tennessee Riverwalk and Walnut Street Bridge. Prefer to break a sweat? Then pick one of 50 trails, all within easy driving distance of downtown. (Stretching across 92 acres, Stringer’s Ridge is well-suited for all types of outdoor enthusiasts, from runners to cyclists.) You can also choose to paddle down or fish – Tennessee is home to the most species of freshwater fish in North America – the Tennessee River. But for the most expansive, spectacular views of the area: pay a visit to Rock City on Lookout Mountain, with astonishing ancient rock formations including Lover’s Leap.
Arts and Culture
Perched on Tennessee River’s bluffs and overlooking downtown Chattanooga is the Bluff View Art District. This charming and postcard-perfect haven is home to independent art galleries, picturesque landscaping, and the Hunter Museum of American Art. Comprised of three buildings with distinct architectural styles, this under-the-radar gem shows an extensive permanent collection dating back the 1700s alongside thoughtful rotating exhibitions. A current one features photographs addressing Arab female identity by contemporary Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi.
Tucked away on the ground floor of The Edwin is Chattanooga’s top spa. Taking inspiration from the healing, restorative qualities of water – “Ama” is the Cherokee word for water – this small, but sparkling oasis cloaked in crisp turquoise and white goes beyond basic facials and massage for full balance of body and mind. Noteworthy treatments include the HydraFacial, a non-invasive device that exfoliates, hydrates, and treats the complexion, and Gua Sha, a traditional Chinese healing method that boosts circulation and lymphatic drainage while relieving tension in the face. In addition, the retail area stocks lifestyle brands founded by local women like Jonesy Wood, Forget Me Not Candles, and Reiko Rymer.