Travel in TN: Kid Friendly Chattanooga
See Rock City!
Back in the summer we took our kiddo to Dollywood for the first time, and that was the first of what I hope will be several trips exploring our home state of Tennessee over the next couple of years. There are so many gorgeous spots and so many fun things to do within driving distance of us, and we haven’t yet even begun to scratch the surface!
When it came time to plan our fall break this year, I decided we should head down to Chattanooga, which is only a 2 hour drive from Nashville. I hadn’t been down that way since before Archer was born, so over six years ago. I knew the city offered a plethora of family friendly activities, and during our 4 day/3 night stay we packed as many in as we possibly could.
Chattanooga Kid Friendly Activities
Alleyway to Coolidge Park
We rented an Airbnb in the Northshore area of the city, and it was a great location with easy access to everything we wanted to do. There was a Publix within walking distance of our house, as well as one of my kiddo’s favorite discoveries, Coolidge Park.
Coolidge Park, 105 River Street, Chattanooga, TN 37405
This park – adjacent to shops, galleries, eateries (including a Clumpies ice cream!) – is home to a 100-year old restored antique carousel and the entrance to one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges, Walnut Street Bridge. But what interested Archer the most was the interactive water fountain, where he spent over an hour splashing and playing with other kids.
Splashing in the fountains at Coolidge Park in Chattanooga
Perhaps two of the best known and oldest tourist attractions in Chattanooga are Rock City and Ruby Falls, both of which I visited as a child while vacationing with my family many moons ago.
Ruby Falls, 1720 South Scenic Highway, Chattanooga, TN 37409
Ruby Falls is America’s deepest commercial cave and tallest underground waterfall open for public viewing. This 145-foot wonder is located 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain, and as you travel down, you get to hear lots of fun facts about the discovery of the cave system and the waterfall itself, as well as glimpse some cool cave formations, including one that looked like bacon and another that looked like potato chips!
Something important to note is that this is a guided tour, and you won’t be moving at your own pace, so you should probably allow 1.5 hours for the entire experience. Archer is at the age now (5 1/2 years-old) that he has more endurance and was able to navigate the hike down and back without any assistance from us. Younger kiddos might need a little help.
Ruby Falls, Chattanooga, TN
Rock City – 1400 Patten Rd, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750
Also located atop Lookout Mountain, less than 10 minutes from Ruby Falls, is Rock City, my absolute favorite tourist attraction in the Chattanooga area. Sure, it’s totally kitschy, but it’s so beautiful and such a blast winding through all the pathways – particularly with an adventurous 5-year-old.
Each turn leads to a new discovery, with narrow passageways, dark caverns, ancient rock formations, and gnomes hiding just around the bend.
Along the 4,100 foot walking trail you’ll find a Swing-a-Long Bridge, 90-foot waterfall, and be able to see 7 states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Although there is a lot to take in here, you could quickly go through the entire park in about 1.5 hours. I tend to enjoy going at a slower pace to take in all the sights, and pausing to relax and enjoy my surroundings a bit, but can still easily make it through in 2- 2.5 hours.
Lover’s Leap at Rock City
Before you visit, if you haven’t heard the history of Rock City, it’s certainly interesting, so take some time to read it. It’ll definitely give you a better understanding of the gnomes, Fairyland Caverns, and Mother Goose Village – all parts of the gardens that could seem a bit odd to those who don’t know the back story.
“I love Rock City!”
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway – 3917 St Elmo Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37409
Known as the world’s steepest passenger railway, Lookout Mountain Incline Railway gives you a spectacular panoramic view of the valley from the roof of the train. I’ve been on the railway a few times, and while you can start your ride at the top or the bottom, I suggest riding from the bottom to the top, which is the address noted here. I’m not sure exactly why, it just seems a little more thrilling that way.
The ride itself takes about 15 minutes each direction and leaves every 20 minutes from the stations. Plan for the entire thing to take approximately 1 hour total, as you’ll probably want to spend a little time at the lookout point at the top station.
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway
Creative Discovery Museum – 321 Chesnut St, Chattanooga, TN 37402
Ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s museums, the Creative Discovery Museum has a plethora of hands-on exhibits, art lessons, science demos, an Excavation Station for digging dinosaur bones, and a 2 1/2 story climbing structure with an interactive watercourse. Best for children 8 and under, you can expect to spend about 2 hours here.
Click here to see the museum hours, as they vary by season.
Tennessee Aquarium – 1 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37402
The Tennessee Aquarium is definitely a must-do if you have kids. You’ll want to allow at least 3-4 hours to get through the two separate buildings – freshwater and saltwater. With proper planning and time management, you can actually pack your Aquarium visit, an IMax 3D movie, and the Creative Discovery Museum all into one day in downtown Chattanooga like we did!
Aquarium entry times: 10 am – 6 pm (last admittance at 6 pm)
Tennessee Aquarium’s IMAX 3D Theater – 201 Chesnut St, Chattanooga, TN 37402
Archer got to see his first IMAX 3D movie when we were in San Diego last spring and he absolutely loved it, so we definitely wanted to make sure this was on our agenda for this trip. We chose the Amazon Adventure 3D which was the very educational true story of an 1850’s explorer through the Amazon rainforest. Even mom and dad learned a lot from this movie!
You can click here to see showtimes and what is currently playing.
Raccoon Mountain Caverns – 319 West Hills Dr, Chattanooga, TN 37419
And last but definitely not least is Raccoon Mountain Caverns, an attraction I’d never even heard of until I stumbled upon reviews of it on Trip Advisor when planning our trip. What specifically caught my attention was the option to pan for gemstones, as Archer is currently fascinated by all gems and stones.
I’m so glad we made this stop as we were heading out of Chattanooga on our way back to Nashville, as it ended up being one of the highlights of our visit. Rated as one of the Top 10 caves in the country, Raccoon Mountain Caverns consists of over 5.5 miles of underground passageways and is considered to be the most geologically active in the South.
While they offer spelunking tours through several miles of undeveloped cave passageways, that was a little too adventurous for our blood, so we opted for the Crystal Palace Tour, a 45 minute guided walking tour through the front, lit portion of the cave, and let me tell you- it was breathtakingly gorgeous!
Crystal Palace walking tours are available daily beginning at 9 am, with the final tour of the day departing at 4pm. Tours run every hour on weekdays, every half hour on weekends. Allow 1 hour for tour, and an extra 20-30 minutes for gem panning.
Chattanooga Family Friendly Dining Options
Tiki drink at Embargo 62 in Chattanooga
I’m very excited to report to you parents out there that Chattanooga has some great dining spots to choose from that are kid-friendly without having to sacrifice ambience or food and cocktail quality. We had some truly outstanding meals on our visit–meals that made mom, dad, and kiddo happy, and that’s not always easy to do!
Camarones Enchilados at Embargo 62 in Chattanooga
Embargo 62 – 301 Cherokee Blvd, Chattanooga, TN 37405 (Northshore)
Chattanooga’s only authentic Cuban Cantina & Rum Bar, Embargo 62 was our first meal upon arrival into town. It just so happened that there was a monsoon (okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic) that day, so we didn’t get to take full advantage of their super cute open air patio, but I still drank my tiki cocktails, ate my shrimp, and savored the fact that I was on vacation. A little (or a lot) of rain was not going to dampen my spirits.
The Feed Co’s Fried Brussels Sprout Salad
The FEED Co. Table & Tavern – 201 West Main Street, Chattanooga, TN 37408 (Southside)
Housed in the historic Chattanooga Seed Co. building on the Southside, The Feed Co Table & Tavern describes its food as elevated comfort grub. Although there were plenty of heavier items like Sloppy Joes, Fish & Chips, Burgers, and wings, they also had a healthy number of salads to choose from. I love a good salad you guys, and the Fried Brussels Sprout Salad with spinach, chicken, roasted pears, goat cheese, toasted pecans, and pepper jelly vinaigrette delivered.
Craft Cocktails & Oysters & Kids Menus at Stir in Chattanooga
Stir – 1444 Market St, Chattanooga, TN
Built in the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo terminal station, Stir restaurant blew us away in more ways than one. First, I’ve never dined in a place that was this nice, served such excellent craft cocktails, made such delicious food, and not only was tolerant of my child, but actually welcoming of my child. When we walked in, I almost thought we’d made a mistake coming here with Archer because the place really did not look like the type of restaurant I’d normally take the kiddo to.
Then they gave us the kids menu, which was printed on an activity placemat. And handed us crayons. And just like that, my worry was gone. They are prepared for children. Hallelujah.
Seared Tuna Salad and Seared Scallops with roasted vegetables at Chattanooga’s Stir restaurant
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, just steps from the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant – 2 W Aquarium Way, Chattanooga, TN 37402
If you live in Nashville, you’re probably thinking – why did she go all the way to Chattanooga and then eat at a restaurant she can easily eat here? Well, I’ll tell you why. I checked out all of the dining options surrounding the Tennessee Aquarium, and honestly, Puckett’s menu was the most appealing. We needed to take a break between all of our downtown activities, and I knew that Puckett’s meat-and-three format would have something to appeal to all of us…plus I could get some vegetables into Archer!
Public House – 1110 Market St #101, Chattanooga, TN 37402
Located on Warehouse Row, Public House is a white tablecloth restaurant that, like Stir, is a bit deceiving. While it doesn’t look like it would be kid-friendly, it totally is. In fact, their kids menu is cutely set up so that the kids meal seems more adult-like with a “first course”, followed by the main entree, then a dessert. And it’s only $6.
Rocket Ship Archer at Mojo Burrito
Mojo Burrito – 3950 Tennessee Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37409 (St Elmo)
Right across the street from the Incline Railway sits one of 3 Mojo Burrito locations. The timing and location worked out perfect for us so we got to enjoy a quick lunch at this Chattanooga owned Tex Mex fave before taking the ride up the side of the mountain on the railway.
Tacos and Burritos at Mojo Burrito in Chattanooga
Sweets, Treats, and Coffee in Chattanooga
For those times you aren’t necessarily looking for a full meal, but are in need of a little pick-me-up, whether in the caffeine or sugar form, here’s a list of some Chattanooga favorites~
Hot Chocolatier in Chattanooga
The Hot Chocolatier- 1437 Market St, Chattanooga, TN 37402 (across the street from the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex)
A European-inspired gourmet specialty shop producing artisan chocolates, desserts, and drinks. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a house made truffle or bonbon.
Clumpies Ice Cream – 26B Frazier Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37405 in Northshore ~and~ 3917 St Elmo Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37409 (right next to the Incline Railway)
Each micro-batch of ice cream is hand crafted with only the finest ingredients ten gallons or less at a time. The result is a rich, creamy, delicious ice cream crafted with care.
Milk & Honey -135 N Market St, Chattanooga, TN 37405 in Northshore
From their gelato and fresh fruit popsicles, to the muffins, scones and cookies, everything is made from scratch. Milk & Honey also offers a selection of craft coffees, seasonal drinks, sandwiches, breakfast specials and other light snacks.
Frothy Monkey– 1400 Market St, Chattanooga, TN 37402 (Southside, in the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex)
Frothy Monkey is the breakfast through dinner coffeehouse featuring creative folks using local ingredients to prepare original dishes served in a cozy and approachable atmosphere. Expanded beverage offerings include coffeehouse standards as well as craft beer, wine and cocktails.
Chattanooga’s Frothy Monkey
For more information on travel and other fun things to do in Chattanooga, visit www.chattanoogafun.com.