When I first visited Chattanooga in 2005, it was love at first sight. I was living in metro-Atlanta at the time, and I spent my short visit wandering around downtown, marveling at how quaint everything felt while still giving off the “city” vibe I adored. Just three years later, I found myself married with a baby and living smack dab in the middle of my beloved Chattanooga. Of course, as with any romance, I learned over time Chattanooga was not as perfect as I once thought, but it still holds my heart like no other city ever has.
These days, our family of six resides in Highland Park. For the first three years of our oldest son’s life, however, we lived in the heart of the city; first on the North Shore and then on the Southside. We lived in both places as they were growing into the bustling parts of town they are today and we loved every minute of it.
I am fairly certain that during that time in his life, my son thought that all of Chattanooga was a part of his house. Battle Academy’s playground was his backyard, the Creative Discovery Museum was his playroom, the Tennessee Aquarium housed his personal pets, and MeanMug Coffee provided his daily afternoon snack. We really got to know our city in a way I do not think we would have otherwise.
While my children could probably hit the many family-friendly “must-dos” in Chattanooga every day of their lives and be perfectly content, I have to admit that after a couple of years, I was looking for some new ways to spend our time downtown, and I found them!
Here are some of my favorite kid-friendly spots in Chattanooga that you may not have considered, but you should definitely check out:
Have you been to the Choo-Choo lately? It is so much fun! Kids will enjoy the kid-friendly food at Frothy Monkey and awesome Coin-Op arcade. But even without spending a dime, it is a great place to walk around, enjoy the Glenn Miller gardens, play a game a giant Jenga or checkers, and let the kids check out the huge train engine! In the winter months, this is where Ice on the Landing is located too.
The Downtown Electric Shuttle
Riding the free electric shuttle is a great way to get around downtown. It is also one of my kids’ favorite things to do, even if we aren’t going anywhere in particular!
We often park on the Southside and take the shuttle to the library just for fun! You can park at the Choo-choo and ride all the way across town to the Tennessee Aquarium, perhaps stopping for ice cream at Clumpies or hot cocoa at The Hot Chocolatier. There are stops conveniently located at every block and a shuttle runs about every five minutes so you can hop off to grab a bite to eat, check out some of the shops (like Rocket Fizz!), and then hop back on again. The shuttle is wheelchair accessible, but strollers do need to be folded down. I generally skip the stroller and use a baby-carrier to make our shuttle experience less complicated.
The Chattanooga Library
Speaking of the library, I could not make a list of our favorite things to do downtown without mentioning Chattanooga’s amazing library.
Not only is the library an incredible resource for locals, it is one of my favorite places to bring out-of-town guests for low-key downtime on rainy or cold days. The second floor not only has books, computers, and fantastic kid’s programming, but it also has indoor playground equipment, blocks, toys, games, crafts, video games, and great spots for lounging. The fourth floor is a completely unique “public laboratory and educational facility” with tools and resources for sewing, screen printing, virtual reality and so much more. And did I mention the coffee? Head down to the check-out desk for a latte or white mocha from Shush café.
Another great resource that should be taken advantage of by families is Outdoor Chattanooga. Outdoor Chattanooga is a division of the Department of Economic and Community Development. It helps to connect people to the outdoors with beginner-friendly low-cost or no cost activities. You can try archery or learn how to ride a bike for free through Outdoor Chattanooga. They offer guided hikes, canoeing and kayaking workshops, family-friendly programming and a lot more. Currently, they are offering Winter Workshops at their indoor location on River Street on Thursday evenings. You can improve your bike maintenance skills, learn about search and rescue or discover some new fishing techniques!
Bluff View Art District
While many people know to spend a pretty day enjoying the Walnut Street Bridge and riding the carousel at Coolidge Park, you could also spend a whole afternoon on the other side of the bridge, enjoying all Bluff View Art District has to offer. The fenced-in patio at Rembrandt’s is a great place to enjoy a coffee or pastry with kids. Tony’s Pasta Shop has delicious kid-approved spaghetti. The River Gallery Sculpture Garden has beautiful artwork, breathtaking views of the Tennessee River, and a quiet mediation area. Finally, the Hunter Museum of American Art has an entertaining family guide that kids can pick up in the lobby to keep them engaged with the exhibits. The museum also offers free admission to the permanent collections for adults on Thursdays. Kids 17 and under are always free!
Main Street Farmer’s Market
Most people have heard of the Chattanooga Market. There is always something to do and see on Sundays between April and December, and with all the food trucks, vendors and events, it is a great stop for kids and adults alike. But have you ever checked out the year-around Main Street Farmer’s Market? Located just a few steps away from the Chattanooga Market at the corner of Main Street and Chestnut Street, the Main Street Market is open every Wednesday afternoon all year! It is a producer-only, farmer-run market and is a fantastic place to pick up local vegetables, bread, meat, eggs, and dairy products, along with a wide variety of other local goods. I adore bringing my kids to the market where they can shake hands with the people who grow the food they eat, enjoy a still-warm cookie from a local bakery, and often enjoy live music or crafts at the special events the market holds throughout the year.
When anyone asks about downtown parks, the first couple that come to mind are always Coolidge Park and Renaissance Park, for good reason! These two neighbor parks on the North Shore are the perfect place to spend a beautiful Chattanooga day. However, the downtown area is home to many additional great playgrounds and parks. As a special needs family, we are partial to the Miracle League Playground at Warner Park as well as the accessible playground available at Ross’s Landing. On the Southside, you can also enjoy Main Terrain Art Park, which is a great place to ride bikes! Just up the road is the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park, another gorgeous art park that hosts incredible events all year long.
And who can forget the Tennessee Riverpark? Another beautiful place to ride your bike, walk your dog, or just take a stroll and enjoy the beauty surrounding you and your family right in the heart of Chattanooga.