Last summer, Livability.com ranked Chattanooga No. 3 on its list of the 10 Best Home Base Cities for Road Trippers nationwide.
The criteria included an affordable cost of living (ahem, gas money), a central location with easy access to other cool places, and an abundance of quirky roadside attractions and things to do nearby.
Whether you've got a day or a weekend, the following three towns deserve a spot on local road trippers' 10 Best Destinations lists.
Drive time: 2 hours, 37 minutes
This alpine-influenced mountain town has a lot to offer visitors, from a lovely day antiquing and enjoying the sights of Georgia's beautiful outdoors, to thrill-seeking adventures up in the mountains or down in the river valley.
What to do:
Georgia Mountain Coaster
8409 S. Main St. | 706-878-1347
Speed through the mountains on the thrill of your life. Georgia's first mountain coaster whisks you through roughly a mile of mountain forests and past hundred-year-old ruins. Don't worry, you can go as fast or slow as you want. You control the speed.
Habersham Vineyards and Winery
7025 S. Main St. | 706-878-9463
One of Georgia's oldest wineries, this family-owned business is one of the most-visited attractions in Helen. The tasting room has a wide selection of samples and gourmet foods to pair with each wine for the perfect picnic, and the grounds house wildlife and a peaceful lake. Enjoy French-American wines or those made exclusively from sweet Southern grapes.
Nacoochee Village Antique Mall
7091 S. Main St. | 706-878-4069
Part of a quaint, turn of the century collection of buildings housing businesses, restaurants and more, this three-story antique mall was built as a family home in 1876. Today it houses unique finds from 40-50 dealers spread out over 7,000 square feet. Discover treasures of days gone by and experience history through all the relics, novelty items and home decor.
Anna Ruby Falls
Nestled in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest sits Anna Ruby Falls, a dual waterfall that conjoins two creeks and flows into the Chattahoochee. Hike along the Smith Creek trail for a challenging climb to the cascading falls, or go an easier route on Lion's Eye Trail and catch a wonderful view of the waterfall after a short walk.
Where to eat:
64 Munich Strasse | 706-878-1026
Helen may be fashioned after German alpine villages, but the cooking at this joint is as authentic as it gets. The menu items may sound intimidating, but don't worry about the pronunciation — it's the taste that matters. The Holzfaellersteak grilled pork loin, served on toast with mushrooms, onions and bacon, will be your new favorite food.
Bigg Daddy's Restaurant and Tavern
807 Edelweiss Strasse | 706-878-2739
Fan favorites at this Southern-influenced taproom include the Appalachian smoked trout dip, Rocky Top spicy mesquite burger and the Balboa, Bigg Daddy's take on a Philly cheesesteak. The casual setting and great food make it perfect for any day of the week, lunch or dinner.
Mully's Nacoochee Grill
7277 S. Main St. | 706-878-1020
Located in an old Georgia farmhouse, Mully's is a lunch, dinner and brunch hotspot in Helen. They focus on farm to table cuisine, using fresh, local ingredients to serve tasty Southern eats. Shrimp and grits, grilled rainbow trout and peppercorn pork tenderloin are among the most authentic and savory dishes. For Sunday brunch, enjoy menu items such as biscuits and gravy, frittatas and mimosas to end your weekend on a high note.
Drive time: 2 hours, 53 minutes
Historic attractions, beautiful scenery and outdoor fun are just a few of the reasons to visit Clarksville, though it often gets overshadowed by Nashville.
What to do:
Beachaven Vineyards and Winery
1100 Dunlop Lane | 931-645-8867
This vineyard is the oldest single-family owned winery in Tennessee. The award-winning wines, ranging from dry to semi-dry to sweet, draw visitors from near and far, rightfully making Beachaven one of Clarksville's most iconic attractions. Guests can tour the facility, sample batches of quality wines and even design their own personalized wine labels. During warmer months, Beachaven hosts the long-running Jazz on the Lawn series.
Old Glory Distilling Co.
451 Alfred Thun Road | 931-919-2522
Old Glory is a small-batch artisan distillery that specializes in Tennessee spirits. It produces whiskey, gin, rum, vodka and moonshine. Visitors age 18 and up can see how the alcohol experts make each type of spirit from scratch and taste each one along the way, including limited-time experimental batches. Also on-site is a craft-cocktail lounge.
Fort Defiance Civil War Park and Interpretive Center
120 Duncan St. | 931-472-3351
Fort Defiance is a free-admission historical sight where guests can learn about the area's history both before and during the Civil War. The Confederate-built and later Union-occupied fortress was a magnet for runaway slaves, and housed a camp of freedmen during the Civil War. Visitors can tour the well-preserved fort and grounds, crisscrossed by nearly a mile of trails, and visit the interpretive center to hear the story of the fortress, its residents and life in and around the fort.
401 Old Dunbar Cave Road | 931-648-5526
Discover Clarksville's buried secret: an ancient cave used in the 1300s by indigenous Mississippi River-dwelling people. The natives thought of the cave as a sacred place, a portal to the underworld. Guided tours offer a glimpse into the world of ancient America, taking guests past prehistoric cave drawings and stunning natural geological formations. During warmer months, candlelight yoga is offered at the mouth of the 8-mile-long cave.
Where to eat:
Strawberry Alley Ale Works
103 Strawberry Aly | 931-919-4777
This local taproom's goal is to be its customers' favorite watering hole, and with its fresh, made from scratch menu, craft beers and welcoming atmosphere, it's hard to beat. The food is chef-inspired and uses only the freshest locally sourced ingredients. The brews are made in-house with a rotating menu of seasonal cocktails. Favorite eats include the blackened fish tacos and bourbon burger. Wash it down with Joe B's brown ale, a chocolate-caramel malt with toffee and bready notes.
2135 Lowes Drive | 931-802-8988
The Storming Crab is Clarksville's No. 1 Cajun restaurant. Not surprisingly, there is an extensive seafood menu. The specialty is crab and seafood boils, available in four different styles and six different levels of spiciness.
Blackhorse Pub and Brewery
132 Franklin St. | 931-552-3726
Blackhorse has been serving up extensive elevated bar bites and weekend brunch for over 20 years, earning itself an honored place in the hearts of Clarksville natives. The lunch and dinner menus include everything from burgers to specialty pizzas and flatbreads to bourbon glazed salmon. The legendary brunch menu has favorites like Atticus French Toast, a scrumptious Nutella-filled treat; and the Hangover Burger, topped with bacon, pepperjack, a fried egg and bloody mary aioli. Along with great eats, the pub offers specialty beers brewed in-house that bring people from miles around.
Drive time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
Just outside the city limits of Birmingham, Pelham is a small town with a big personality. There's no shortage of outdoor activities with Oak Mountain State Park — the state's largest — in the town's backyard, and the mix of Southern comfort and Cajun cooking makes for great culinary diversity.
What to do:
Ballantrae Golf Club
1300 Ballantrae Club Drive | 205-620-4653
A local favorite, Ballantrae Golf Club boasts that you are likely to play your best game yet on this challenging 18-hole course. Designed by internationally renowned golf course architect Bob Cupp, the scenic course and semi-private club are known as "fast, fun and friendly," and there are also practice greens and a restaurant.
Alabama Wildlife Center
100 Terrace Drive | 205-663-7930
Alabama's oldest and largest wildlife rehabilitation facility is home to the area's injured and orphaned native bird population, caring for over 2,000 birds of more than 100 different species every year before returning them to the wild. Visitors can view the multitude of birds housed within the center and engage in educational programs to learn about their winged neighbors.
Corbin Farms Winery
800 County Road 87 | 205-685-0655
This vineyard is a great couple's retreat. The winery offers tours and tastings Thursday-Sunday, along with a fresh bistro menu that pairs exquisitely with each wine. The wines are crafted from grapes and other assorted fruits grown locally in Alabama and the surrounding area and range from playfully sweet to sophisticated and dry. Try the best-seller, the Tuxedo Junction, a chocolate, caramel, raspberry wine that's an experience like no other.
Blue Water Park
100 Industrial Park Drive | 205-663-7428
Blue Water Park is Alabama's premier scuba diving site. With multiple training pools plus a 26-acre quarry, it's perfect for recreational, technical and training dives. The quarry ranges from 4 to 140 feet deep, offering sights like sunfish, bluegill, Japanese koi, freshwater jellyfish, turtles — even sunken autos, boats, a school bus and the rare "freshwater dolphin."
Taste of Pelham
The town's annual foodie event takes place every spring, highlighting cuisine from dozens of local food vendors and featured chefs. The unlimited samples offer a tasty way to experience Pelham while helping to fund a new city library. Originally scheduled for April 22, this year's event has been postponed due to coronavirus precautions. Visit facebook.com/thetasteofpelham to stay up to date on the details.
Where to eat:
Smiley Brothers Specialty Foods
214 Huntley Pkwy. | 205-406-8421
The menu at this deli, butcher and cheese shop lives up to its name — the food is truly special. The deli menu has classics like club and chicken salad sandwiches along with more unique items such as the muffaletta and Wagyu beef pastrami. They pride themselves on homemade sauces, and offer samples of fine meats and cheeses at your pleasure.
Bywater Oyster Bar and Grill
4085 Helena Road | 205-358-7518
This new Cajun-inspired restaurant already boasts a highly rated seafood menu: mouthwatering appetizers like crabcakes and warm crawfish dip and entrees such as country gumbo, shrimp etouffee and, of course, oysters. The expansive menu has everything you could want from Creole cuisine and hearty Southern specialties.
Farrelly's Southern Bar and Kitchen
5532 Grove Blvd. | 205-968-1408
Southern cooking at its finest awaits guests at this chic little eatery. The homestyle dishes elevate classic Southern foods, turning them into beautiful plates packed with flavor. The shrimp and grits and grilled Duroc pork chop are must-haves. Finish off with tasty desserts like white chocolate and cranberry bread pudding or apple hand pies.