You don't need a guide to experience Chattanooga as a tourist: Just follow the billboards to Rock City and take the electric shuttle to the Tennessee Aquarium.
Still, out-of-towners who have friends and family in the Scenic City have an advantage. Insider knowledge counts for a lot when it comes to finding hidden gems.
We asked the Life section staff of the Times Free Press their favorite places to take out-of-town guests. Here's what they said.
Bluff View Art District
When I want to show off my hometown to a guest, I head to Bluff View Art District for good food with a great view.
Bluff View offers one-stop entertainment: shopping at River Gallery, a trip through Hunter Museum, al fresco dining at Tony's and an after-dinner stroll at the sculpture garden overlooking the Tennessee River.
Another favorite option that showcases the area's natural beauty is a day-trip to a fall festival. Ketner's Mill Country Arts Fair in the Sequatchie Valley (Oct. 15-16) is my particular favorite for its scenic drive atting. After all, how often can you offer a guest the chance to shop original handcrafts, canoe the Sequatchie, tour a historic mill, ride a hay wagon and bring home a souvenir bag of homemade kettle corn without leaving one location?
-- Susan Pierce
River Gorge Explorer
If you have lived in Chattanooga for awhile, all your house guests have probably seen the Tennessee Aquarium. Next time, instead of a return trip to see sharks, jellyfish and butterflies at the Aquarium, I recommend a cruise on the River Gorge Explorer.
The Explorer is a sleek, 70-passenger catamaran that makes two-hour loops through the Tennessee River Gorge, also known as the "Tennessee Grand Canyon." If you don't own a watercraft -- and many of us don't -- this might be your introduction to 26 miles of breathtaking river-valley scenery that can only be properly viewed from the water.
Tickets are a little pricey, $29 for adults and $21.50 for kids, but the spectacular cruises are well worth the money. Plan your trip during leaf seasona true treat. Check the Tennessee Aquarium website for departure times and logistical information. The Explorer boards at the Tennessee Riverpark Pier near the Aquarium.
-- Mark Kennedy
Beer and billiards
Living at the edge of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus puts me in prime position to take visitors on a tour of the burgeoning downtown scene, but my favorite stop by far is the Chattanooga Billiard Club.
This three-story venue at 725 Cherry St. was established in 1982 and was renovated in 2007. The first floor features a full-service bar, Avo Cigar Lounge and non-smoking dining area, but I first fell in love when I climbed the narrow stairs and emerged onto the expansive, wood-planked second story. There, 13 pool tables, four dart boards and a second bar line the walls, and the jukebox is constantly pumping out songs.
CBC is also my favorite retreat after the Nightfall summer concert series on Friday nights. Because it's open until 3 a.m., this is one place I know I can show guests a good time, whether our pub crawl is ramping up or winding down. (A caveat: smoking is allowed, so the clientele is 21-and-up only.)
-- Casey Phillips
Walk, eat, walk
One of the great eye-catchers of Chattanooga can hardly be called a tourist attraction because it's so oft-used by residents. Still, the Riverwalk is a great place to take guests.
I live downtown, so this lovely, and thankfully often shaded, path is easily accessible. I've taken all my house guests -- from old college chums, to family friends, to my mother -- strolling on the Riverwalk. It's a wonderful way to show off some of Chattanooga's natural beauty without having to pay an admission fee or contend with an overzealous tour guide. It's also a fine place for some exercise or for a romantic outing.
And along the way, one encounters the Boathouse restaurant, which is a marvelous setting. An outdoor deck overlooks the river, and the menu offers raw bar delicacies, in addition to a full -- seafood-heavy, but not exclusive -- menu.
-- Holly Leber
Trains and roller coasters
People all over the world still associate the city with the Chattanooga Choo Choo, thanks to Glenn Miller's classic song. Sadly, you can't catch a train at the hotel/dining complex at 1400 Market St., but you can spend the night in a Victorian train car, follow the course of a model railroad, explore a stately rose garden and be serenaded over dinner by singing waiters. The biggest eye-popper is the 85-foot-high grand dome in the Terminal Station.
To hear an "All Aboard," you'll need to head over to Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum on Cromwell Road. During the summer, one-hour train rides on the Missionary Ridge Local run several times a day between Grand Central Station and East Chattanooga.
The other place I make tracks to is Lake Winnepesaukah, mainly for its Cannon Ball roller coaster. Let Six Flags and Dollywood have their metal monoliths. The Cannon Ball is 2,272 feet of pure joy captured in the crisscross hatch of gleaming white wood beams. Best yet, the lines move briskly at the Rossville amusement park, so you can make that heart-pumping, 1-minute, 32-second thrill ride until you've screamed yourself hoarse.
-- Lisa Denton
Out-of-town guests typically want to take something home that reminds them of Chattanooga, and two of my favorite shopping destinations are focused on local merchandise: Chattanooga Market and In-Town Gallery.
Chattanooga Market is a one-stop venue for locally grown produce, breads, original art, handmade soaps and fragrances, jewelry, pottery and woodwork. The market is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays in the Tennessee Aquarium plaza and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at First Tennessee Pavilion on Carter Street.
In-Town Gallery is one of the nation's oldest cooperative art galleries. Located on Frazier Avenue, the gallery features original artwork including painting, photographs, woodwork, sculptures, jewelry, lithographs, fiber arts, pottery and glass work. There's a section dedicated to Chattanooga-themed pieces. The gallery is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.
-- Karen Nazor Hill
I like to offer out-of-towners uniquely Southern experiences. So, if it's a Friday night, I take them to Mountain Opry in Walden, where traditional mountain music, hard-core gospel and old-time bluegrass are served up on a small wooden stage. The musical lineup varies. Professionals perform back-to-back with enthusiastic first-timers. But admission is free, and with a bit of luck, you could find yourself buck dancing in the aisles to some of the finest pickin' and grinnin' in the region. (8-11 p.m. every Friday at Walden's Ridge Civic Center.)
-- Lin C. Parker
This is an easy one for me since it's right outside my front door. We love both driving and walking along North and South Crest roads showing off our city from Missionary Ridge.
The 8.3-mile route is a beautiful way to see lovely homes, scenic views of Lookout Mountain and downtown to the west and the mountains in Bradley County to the east. The views are among the best in the area, especially at sunset.
There are four military reservations on the ridge dedicated to the Civil War, and walkers can read all about the importance of Missionary Ridge and the battles that took place there through dozens of plaques along the road.
-- Barry Courter