Pardon Me Boys – Pardon Me Boys – Is This REALLY Little Old Chattanooga? – Chattanooga, Tennessee

Pardon Me Boys – Is This REALLY Little Old Chattanooga?
Chattanooga, Tennessee

I was sitting on a bench outside of the Chattanooga Aquarium when a woman came up to me and asked if I had possibly left a digital camera in the bathroom inside. A quick check in my bag confirmed that my camera was not there and since I had just come from the bathroom – it seemed probable that the camera that we were discussing was mine. The woman had turned in my camera to security, which in itself was commendable but on top of that, she decided to approach me as well. So not only did she turn my camera in – she made sure that I didn’t leave without realizing that I had lost it.

This story exemplifies my impression of Chattanooga, Tennessee as being a place filled with warm, helpful, people who are willing to go out of their way for you. The mayor leads the charge in this respect. With unprecedented drive, he has helped the town to come up with a redevelopment plan that will make Chattanooga even more pleasing to tourists than it already is.

Known as the 21st Century Waterfront Plan, the changes that are already in the works involve a $120 million revitalization of downtown Chattanooga. Some of the major changes will involve the creation of pedestrian piers, waterfront parks and restaurants, new stores and an enhancement of the local artisan community.

As well, the popular Tennessee Aquarium will be enlarged through the addition of a new 60,000 square foot building that will house saltwater exhibits, the Creative Discovery Museum will undergoing renovations and the addition of new Rooftop exhibit, and the Hunter Museum of American Art will be transformed from a museum in the middle of a parking lot to one in the middle of a sculpture garden. Changes at the Hunter are key to the redevelopment project since there will now be three pedestrian connections between the museum and the downtown area.

Seeing how green and pretty Chattanooga is now, it is difficult to believe that in 1969 Walter Cronkite announced on the evening news that Chattanooga had been rated the dirtiest city in America. Now the picturesque city, which is ringed by mountains and sits on the Tennessee River – has been voted as one of the top family friendly getaways in the country by the readers of Southern Living magazine and has been named one of the ten best vacation cities in America by Family Fun magazine.

While there will be a lot of new things to see in Chattanooga in the coming months, the historic attractions have stood the test of time and are well worth a visit. I had no idea what to expect from natural attractions such as Rock City and Ruby Falls and I was very impressed by both of these places which appeal to tourists of all ages.

Rock City is located on Lookout Mountain, just 6 miles from the downtown area. One of its claims to fame is the panoramic views from various lookout points where signs point out that you can see seven different states from these perches. Walking through the self-guided paths that take you past wondrous rock formations and beautiful gardens is an enjoyable and surprisingly relaxing way to spend an afternoon. One of the coolest sights is the 1,000 ton balanced rock that somehow stays in an upright position without ever falling over. For the kids, there is an area called Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village which takes the youngsters on a cave-like journey through the rock to scenes where gnomes and fairytale creatures are magnificently displayed.

Ruby Falls was discovered by local cave enthusiast Leo Lambert in 1928. While drilling an elevator shaft into Lookout Mountain he found a small opening 260 feet below ground. He crawled through for 17 hours and when he emerged he had discovered a spectacular 145 foot underground waterfall and miles of interesting rock formations and mineral deposits. He named the falls Ruby after his wife and another wonderful tourist attraction was born.

Donkey's Behind
Donkey’s Behind
Today, tours are offered numerous times a day with tour guides who lead groups past the many geological formations, which as the signs and the guides point out, look like things such as a giant potato chip or a donkey’s behind. The corny jokes help to relieve any anxiety that people might feel being underground for so long and the grand finale of the underground falls makes the long walk worthwhile.

The third must-do while you’re at the lookout mountain complex is to go down the mountain on the world’s steepest incline railway. A fine ride with an excellent view.

To see a more elegant side of the city, visit the Bluff View Art District. This district was planned by local entrepreneur Dr Charles (Tony). Portera who wanted to create a taste of Italy in Chattanooga.

Entertainment at the Market
Entertainment at the Market
This beautiful area has a very European feel with its restored historic homes, quaint shops, galleries, upscale restaurants, patios and a lovely Italian Sculpture Garden. There is even a bocce court. Eateries such the Back Inn Café and Tony’s Pasta Shop are particularly wonderful and a great place to have a delicious meal.

Another great place to spend an afternoon is the Chattanooga Market. What I loved most about this place was the main stage which features unique local talent. We were entertained by some fabulous belly dancers while eating delicious food purchased by vendors who managed to create home cooked flavour from their tiny stalls. The wares were interesting and colourful and this is another good way to get a sense of what the citizens are really like.

Choo Choo
Choo Choo
Most people only know Chattanooga as the place in the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” song made famous by Glen Miller in the 1940s. It is interesting to note that this song became the first gold record ever. The famous Chattanooga Terminal Station with its majestic domed roof was built in 1908 and still exists as the lobby of the Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn. I enjoyed this historic connection during my stay at this hotel which celebrates a time when Chattanooga was the hub of North-South railroad travel. The sprawling property boasts guest rooms and restaurants that were built into original train cars as well as a railway museum, quaint shops and cafes and the original Chattanooga Choo Choo which still sits on “Track 29”.

It was a lot of fun dining at the Station House, one of the Choo Choo’s many eateries. Here the waiters double as the entertainment, taking turns performing songs on stage yet still managing to provide excellent service.

Within walking distance of the Choo Choo, I found great outlet shopping on Warehouse Row. It was great fun browsing (and buying) in stores such as Casual Corner, Ralph Lauren and Coach which sold their wares at greatly reduced prices. If you don’t want to walk, there is a free CARTA electric shuttle that makes stops all over the city.

My last night in town, I feasted with a bunch of friends at Sticky Fingers, a rib joint with some of the best BBQ that I’ve tasted in the U.S. Our hostess went out of her way to accommodate requests and make us comfortable.

I would have disappointed if I had gone all the way to Chattanooga and not seen the famed “Choo Choo Train” but I was surprised and pleased to also find sophisticated dining, an abundance of high quality cultural attractions, fantastic shopping and down home Southern friendliness and charm.

If you go:

Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Rock City

Ruby Falls

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel
800-TRACK 29

Bluff View Art District

Sticky Fingers Restaurant

The Chattanooga Market

The Tennessee Aquarium