There's no way around it: Chattanooga is an active-man's town. Nestled between two mountains at a bend in the Tennessee River, the city of 173,000 has a competition going on most every weekend, including both a full and a half Ironman, along with plenty of hiking, whitewater kayaking, and fishing for the more laid-back. While the outdoors are the reason to come, the top-notch food, drink, and hotels are no afterthought.
No matter your athletic flavor, Chattanooga serves it up. There's hiking on the Cumberland Trail, road biking on Stringer's Ride Park, kayaking along the Middle Ocoee River, stand-up paddle boarding in the heart of downtown, rock climbing at Suck Creek Canyon, bouldering at the Stone Fort, or hang-gliding off Lookout Mountain. The bottom line: There's no shortage of killer options all around Chattanooga to get your adrenaline pumping.
All that activity will build up a mean hunger. For a quality meal of local and seasonal fare, head to Flying Squirrel for eclectic small plates — don't miss the crispy duck confit tacos with avocado puree and pickled onion, or the wagyu tartare sandwich with truffle aioli and fried egg — and wash it down with a Traveling Mule, comprising local Chattanooga Whiskey and Pure Sodaworks habanero ginger beer. For something a bit more high-end, try Alleia, the six-time James Beard–nominated chef Daniel Lindley's homage to rustic Italian fare where wood-fired pizzas fight with house-made pastas for your attention (and don't think about skipping the wood-fired pork shoulder). For the most authentic Southern breakfast around, head to the Bluegrass Grill, where the bread is made in house, breakfast is served all day, and you can indulge in four kinds of hash or Southern favorite biscuits and gravy.
No one comes to Chattanooga to lounge in a hotel, which is probably why you find such a wide mix of destinations from simple modern rooms to historic four-stars. Your down-and-dirty option is the Crash Pad. This is the outdoor enthusiast's spot on the Southside of town, the perfect hub for all activities. If you ever stayed at Balmers Herberge in Switzerland while backpacking, think of this as its slightly more sophisticated counterpart. If you want more comfort — and frankly, a private bathroom — check into the Read House Historic Inn & Suites. Centrally located downtown, this reportedly haunted, and definitely stately, hotel has hosted Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, and Al Capone.
What's more Tennessee than sitting in on a bluegrass session? On Friday night, head 10 miles outside of town to Signal Mountain for the Mountain Opry. This free musical gathering has taken place every week since 1979 and offers up true old-time mountain music and Americana pickin' with four to six performances each night from musicians playing banjos, upright bass, fiddles, harmonica, and guitars. Afterwards, hit off-the-beaten-path dive joint Lamar's on your way back into town for great fried chicken in a setting with velvet wallpaper, year-round Christmas lighting and a jukebox that plays only jazz and R&B greats like Miles Davis, James Brown, and Coltrane.