So you have an out-of-town friend visiting Chattanooga for a day, and they want to see the city.
"What should we do?" they ask.
And your mind goes blank.
We've all been there. Coming up with a list of must-sees in one's own town can feel overwhelming – in Chattanooga especially where quintessential experiences abound. There are so many ways to show off the city, where do you begin?
Recently, we asked our readers to tell us about their favorite places to take guests for coffee, food, hiking and more. We compiled their responses to create an itinerary based on local-favorite stops.
Whether you want to entertain guests or be a tourist in your own town, here's how locals suggest you spend a day in Chattanooga.
START YOUR DAY
Chattanooga's robust coffee scene is ever-expanding, helping fuel a full day of exploration with proper caffeination. Here are a couple of spots our readers recommend.
Rembrandt's Coffee House
204 High St., open daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For 12 years running, Times Free Press readers have voted Rembrandt's Best Local Coffee Shop. Located in the charming Bluff View Art District, the European-style cafe offers an assortment of house-roasted coffees along with hand-made pastries, cakes and artisan bread made next door at Bluff View Bakery. The space is romantic and whimsical, featuring a brick patio that comes alive with greenery each spring. After your coffee, take a short walk around back and snap a selfie at the Bluff View Overlook against the backdrop of the Tennessee River.
610 Georgia Ave., open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A newer addition to downtown, Culture Coffee opened in 2021 in the space next to the former Jefferson's restaurant on Georgia Avenue. Centrally located and complete with sidewalk seating, the cafe is an ideal spot to people watch. Take in the local sights while enjoying flavors from around the world. According to Amber Forgani, who co-owns the cafe with her father, the best-selling drinks are its Turkish and Vietnamese coffees, as well as its Honey and Oats latte.
TAKE A HIKE
Two-time winner of Outside magazine's Best Town title, Chattanooga is famous for its outdoor culture. You'd be remiss to not spend time outside while showing off the city. Our readers suggest Sunset Rock, located along Lookout Mountain's western bluff, boasting a panoramic view of the valley below. The overlook can be accessed from the top or the bottom, depending on the level of challenge you're up for.
The easy way (from the top)
Total distance: 0.2-mile out-and-back
Elevation gain: 95 feet
The parking lot for this trailhead is located at 405 W Brow Road and may be full if you visit during a busy time (like sunset). From the lot, you can reach Sunset Rock via a short, rocky path, which takes an average of 10 minutes to complete.
The hard way (from the bottom)
Total distance: 4-miles out-and-back
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Park at the Kiddie Trail trailhead on Garden Road, 1-mile south of Cummings Highway near Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center. The trail begins with a short but steep climb before leveling out -- but only briefly. The hike, which takes 2-2.5 hours, follows this trend to the top: bursts of elevation gain followed by flat intervals. The trail ends at Sunset Rock.
Stringer's Ridge, a 92-acre urban wilderness park in North Chattanooga. Access via Spears Avenue (the avenue dead ends at the trailhead with ample parking).
North Chickamauga Creek Gorge State Natural Area, recently designated a new state park in Tennessee. Access the trailhead at 354 Montlake Road in Soddy-Daisy. Gates close at 7 p.m.
GRAB A BITE
After a bit of exercise, it's time to refuel. Red Bank's Pizzeria Cortile (pronounced kor-tee-lay) was one of our readers' top recommended eateries. Since 2017, the husband/wife-owned pizzeria has offered wood-fired pizzas with unique topping combinations, such as the "Fancy Pants," with a blend of cheeses, country ham, arugula, lemon juice and salt. The restaurant is also known for its wings, cooked sous-vide then air-fried and topped with a variety of sauces, from traditional buffalo to sweet Thai to the "spontaneous sauce of the moment."
Charlene White was one reader who named this spot as her favorite, saying, "I love that they have great, fresh food at reasonable prices. Their outdoor seating is fantastic and has been a huge game-changer with the pandemic. I also love their specials!"
Twelve-inch pies range from $10-$15. Hours are noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and the pizzeria is closed Monday and Tuesday.
SEE THE SIGHTS
Rock City and Tennessee Aquarium tied as the two most-nominated attractions by our readers, which comes as no surprise. After all, See Rock City barns have been iconic across America since the 1930s when they first began appearing along highways, helping promote the quirky, German-inspired attraction, comprising geologic wonders and fairy tale-like installations.
The Tennessee Aquarium, meanwhile, has ranked among the top 10 best aquariums in the nation, famous for having one of the most diverse collections of freshwater animals in the country.
Many of our readers, however, named a newer attraction: The National Medal of Honor Heritage Center opened in 2020 next door to the aquarium. The heritage center honors Medal of Honor recipients, sharing the specific stories of those brave enough to earn the nation's highest military honor, from the Civil War through the War on Terror, told through self-guided exhibits and computer kiosks.
If you go
Rock City Gardens, open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the spring. Admission rates vary based on date and time of visit and may range from $17.95-$29.95 per adult and $7.95-$19.95 per child (ages 3-12).
Tennessee Aquarium, open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $34.95 per adult and $21.95 per child (ages 3-12).
National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $16.95 per adult, $9.95 per child (5-12) and free to children 4 or under. Tickets for seniors and active military are $11.95 per person.
Free For All
If you're looking for free activities to enjoy in the city, here are a couple more options recommended by locals.
Window shopping on Frazier Avenue. Visit the boutiques; explore the riverfront parks; take a photo on the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge. Time spent in North Shore doesn't have to cost a dime – but if your guest wants a Chattanooga souvenir, we suggest popping by Locals Only Gifts & Goods or blue skies gift shop, both located on Frazier Avenue.
Sculpture Fields at Montague Park. For those who love to be active, take a walk around this 33-acre public park and outdoor art museum, featuring more than 40 large-scale sculptures. Located at 1800 Polk St., the park is dog-friendly and boasts about 1.5 miles of trail.
GO FOR DINNER
If you took our readers' advice and spent your morning at Rembrandt's Coffee House, now is the time to return to Bluff View Art District for dinner at Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria. Serving classic Italian with a side of scenic beauty, Tony's is located in the carriage house of an old Victorian-style mansion, which now serves as a bed-and-breakfast. Signature pasta entrees range from $15.50-$20, and outdoor seating is available. Hours are Sunday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Alleia Restaurant, located at 25 E Main St., describes itself as "true rustic Italian" and is a classic special date night spot for locals. Entrees range from $19-$40. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m. and is closed on Sundays.