Why Chattanooga, Tennessee Belongs on Your Bucket List

My name is Lily Tillman and I’m a food fanatic, good view fanatic and wannabe photographer. I’m here to introduce you to the other city in Tennessee: Chattanooga.

While Nashville probably sits at the top of your “Cities to See in the Volunteer State” list, my goal is to convince you that Chattanooga deserves a spot right underneath. To say this stunning mountain city has completely transformed over the past 20 years is an understatement. The views, the food and a river cruise are just a few reasons why Chattanooga, Tennessee belongs on your bucket list. In just a day and a half, you can taste, see and experience the best of Chatt and see for yourself why it’s worth the scenic, two-hour drive from Music City.

Whether you’ve arrived in Chattanooga on a business trip or simply to experience the beauty of this riverfront city, you’re sure to be craving coffee after your striking, mountain-lined drive. I recommend Mean Mug Coffeehouse as your first stop: Mean Mug is a locally owned and operated restaurant and coffee bar in Chatt. The best news is that there are two locations – one on the north half of the river, recently added in 2017, and the original shop on the Southside. No matter which side of the river you’re coming from, you can stop and enjoy this unique caffeine experience. Since we arrived late in the afternoon, we were looking solely for good latte options. My sister and I visited the Main Street location in the Southside area and were pleasantly surprised by a wide range of menu options.

Immediately, the four-dollar superfood lattes caught our eyes. I tried the “Golden Latte”, which included turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, honey and coconut milk. I added espresso and it was phenomenal. My sister tried the “Black Latte”: espresso, activated charcoal, vanilla and whole milk. The entire menu was incredibly creative and we wished our appetites had been big enough to try the smoked salmon bagel or the peanut butter toast.  

Our next stop was the Walnut Street Bridge. Built in 1890, the Walnut Street Bridge was the first to connect Chattanooga’s downtown with the North Shore. Today it exists as one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. From the bridge, you are gifted a fantastic view of both sides of the river, the Hunter Museum of American Art and any kayakers, paddle boarders and river cruisers down on the water.  

After our brief exercise of the day, we headed to the Westin Hotel to check in for the night. The Westin Chattanooga was the perfect place to stay – the hotel, located on Martin Luther King Boulevard in the lively downtown district, offered outstanding views of Lookout Mountain and Downtown Chattanooga. We especially enjoyed the bar, Alchemy, on the top floor – complete with an upscale, open-window lounge looking directly over the mountains.

From the “Small Plate” menu at Alchemy, we ordered the “Thorny Devils”: delicious Sriracha, bacon and chive filled deviled eggs (pictured above). For drinks, we took the bartender’s recommendations: the “Clockwork Orange,” concocted with Chattanooga Whiskey Reserve, Cointreau, lemon, and Peychauds bitters, and the “Pomegranate Desire,” a delicious mix of Lass and Lions Desire Vodka, Triple Sec, pomegranate syrup and lime juice. We enjoyed both drinks — especially the Pomegranate one — and the breathtaking views and excellent service made the experience worth the steep elevator ride to the top.

After relaxing at the Westin for a bit, we decided on a place for dinner. I am a huge fan of Italian food, so if I’m ever in a new city I can’t help but want to try what they consider their “best” or most “impressive” Italian cuisine. My pasta craving ultimately drove us to choose Alleia as our stop for dinner in Chattanooga.

Alleia can be found in the Southside of Chatt in the old Harrington building not far from the Chattanooga Choo Choo. This trendy spot boasts simple, Italian inspired foods exploring true, rustic Italian flavors and quality. We immediately fell in love with this intricately artistic spot the moment we walked inside – and continued to appreciate it more and more after each course.

For appetizers, we went with the melt-in-your-mouth, hand-dipped ricotta bruschetta with truffle honey and the seasonal risotto complete with squash and pumpkin. Both were delicious when paired with the Chianti Classic and the Aperol Spritz from the drink menu.

For my entrée, I tried the gnocchi with blue crab and tomato – it was smoky, rich and bursting with flavor: I would go all the way back to Chattanooga to experience it again. The pizza was just as good as it looks in the photo above.

The next morning, we had planned to visit Lookout Mountain but were sadly rained into other plans. We stopped at Maple Street Biscuit Company for breakfast. Maple Street is a chain that began in Florida and has finally made its way up to Chattanooga, bringing with it fluffy biscuits, savory eggs, fresh-pressed juices, and sweet, puffy waffles. We ordered the “BAM”: delicious house-made vanilla waffles with asiago cheese and pecanwood smoked bacon baked inside, topped with honey butter and Bissel Family Farm’s real maple syrup. I promise they were as incredible as they sound. The maple-flavored drip coffee and biscuits with sausage gravy made the casual, cozy brunch even better.

After some brief shopping at Warehouse Row, we visited Wildflower Tea Shop and Apothecary: a quaint, café-style spot complete with a washed brick interior, plants, and racks and racks of fresh, aromatic loose leaf teas. The sweet-smelling space also sells bulk herbs, essential oils, flower essences and locally and regionally made herbal products. I chose a rose and turmeric black tea latte for a little caffeine-boost before the drive home — it looked just as good as it tasted.

Chattanooga has many other things to offer — state-of-the-art museums, an impressive aquarium, river cruises, music festivals, a growing, popular state college campus, incredible mountain trails, views, and camp sites, lots of shopping options and much, much more. My dad grew up in Chattanooga thirty years ago, and back in those days Chatt was a tiny little town with nothing but mountains and a river. Today, the city is thriving and has become a trendy, go-to tourist destination for all ages. Hopefully these photos and descriptions will help you decide where to stay and what to eat while you wander around this picturesque, unique slice of Tennessee — and hopefully I’ve convinced you that Chattanooga, Tennessee belongs on your bucket list. 

Stay tuned two weeks from now for tips on how to make the most of one night in Music City!

~ Lily