Modern Nomad is a weekly column dedicated to mobile gear, must-see world destinations, tips for life on the road, and traveling better through technology.
When it comes to Tennessee travel, Memphis and Nashville get all the love. But, during the last five years, the relatively pint-sized city of Chattanooga (population: 173,000) has been quietly making a name for itself as a destination in its own right. Legitimate gastropubs, a thriving downtown core, and some of the best outdoor opportunities in the country are all reasons for adventurous travelers to take a second look. Here are a few of our favorite places to play, eat, and stay in and around Chattanooga.
For those not in the know about such things, it may come as a surprise that Tennessee (and the area around Chattanooga in particular) offers some of the country’s best adventure sporting opportunities. The Ocoee River is home to world-class whitewater rafting and OAR – Outdoor Adventure Rafting in Tennessee (Outdoor Adventure Rafting) can organize a half- or full-day tour to suit your needs.
Just 40 minutes from downtown, the Lookout Mountain Flight Park is arguably the busiest in the country for beginner and expert hang-gliders. Here, newbies can take a brief, 20-minute intro flight or even continue on to secure their FAA certification in flying these unique aircrafts.
EAT + DRINK
Chattanooga is home to a small, but burgeoning food and drink scene. Among the most noteworthy downtown standouts are Urban Stack Burger Lounge and Taco Mamacita. The former, built in the vintage-cool, 150-year-old Southern Railway Baggage Building, guarantees “killer burgers & manly drinks”. Here, it’s all about the confluence of two great menus – burgers and bourbon. Grab a properly made Old Fashioned and pair it with the restaurant’s famous Big Mike (bacon, atomic horsey sauce, BBQ sauce, onions, and cheddar cheese).
A stone’s throw from the city’s downtown core, Taco Mamacita offers some of the most authentic Tex-Mex anywhere in the Deep South. Score a spot on the outdoor patio and pick anything off the a la carte menu, from the Baja Tacos to the Sloppy Jose.
Related: Best Barbecue Spots Across the U.S.
For a real taste of Chattanooga, round out the night at Pickle Barrel – a staple of the city’s late-night dive bar scene.
In many ways, Chattanooga is still building out a proper tourism infrastructure. Boutique accommodations can prove hard to find, but the Stone Fort Inn is a noteworthy exception. This centuries-old property is a proper B&B in every sense of the world with plenty of old school charm and lovely, modern touches throughout. The charming onsite restaurant, TerraMae Appalachian Bistro, is a nice added bonus with an excellent locally-inspired menu.
For something a little more mainstream, the city’s SpringHill Suites Chattanooga Downtown is a surprisingly good option. Look past the chain hotel facade as this location has a few great things going for it. The large, expansive outdoor patio provides a great waterfront spot for grabbing tapas, drinks, and watching the sun set over the Tennessee River. The hotel’s location on the city’s Bike Share route also means you can hop a rented bike right outside the lobby and explore the downtown core for just $8 per day ($15 for a 3-day pass).