FAMILY FUN ALL YEAR LONG
If Chattanooga had a human face, she would be the graceful mature model whose makeovers are so professional that no one could guess what she used to look like.
During the Civil War, Chattanooga collapsed in a bloody battle with Union forces under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. Just as she was regaining her composure, waters from the Tennessee River rose 30 feet and nearly washed her away in the first of a series of floods that ultimately forced The Scenic City to raise her street levels as much as 15 feet.
Background: By the 1940s, Chattanooga had become known as the “Dynamo of Dixie” — a bustling, mid-sized industrial town with a heart as big as all outdoors. Fifty years later, her old-school economy was in deep decline. Downtown, once a magnet of vibrant commerce, stooped under the weight of crime and decay.The city, once immortalized by the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, had finally run out of steam.
In 2002, Mayor Bob Corker announced the 21st Century Waterfront Project — a visionary public-private collaboration to revitalize 129 acres on banks of the Tennessee River near downtown Chattanooga.
Thirty-six months and $120 million later, the plan was virtually completed — including a rerouting of Riverfront Parkway, a glass bridge connecting the Bluff View Arts District with the Tennessee Aquarium, new green space and public arts on the South Shore and new housing. Subsequently, the new Renaissance Park — adjacent to Coolidge Park on the North Shore — was also finished.
Why go now: Winters in Chattanooga are relatively mild, with average temperatures ranging from mid-30s to mid-50s — perfect weather for bicycling, hiking, kayaking or even tandem hang gliding at Lookout Mountain Flight Park, the nation’s largest hang gliding school (www.hanglide.com). Remember: There’s no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing. Layer up. But even if you’re not the outdoor type, the city is teeming with indoor activities for the whole family — from shopping to sports, museums to live concerts, plus generational favorites like Ruby Falls and Rock City.
Spend your day: Dive into Chattanooga at the Tennessee Aquarium (www.tnaqua.org) —voted Best in America for three years — and IMAX. You’ll want several hours to absorb the thrills of 10,000 animals, a six-story 3-D theater screen and a riverboat cruise on the River Gorge Explorer.
Later, visit the Moonpie General Store (www.moonpie.com) to taste the original confection manufactured at the Chattanooga Bakery since 1917.
Finally, hop on over to the Creative Discovery Museum (www.cdmfun.org), where the whole family can become a rock band! Sing a melody, pound the drums, strum chords on an electric guitar and a play backups on a keyboard in the museum’s new recording studio.
Must do: Chattanooga is draped in a rich tapestry of arts and culture. Make time to visit the world-class Hunter Museum of American Art (www.huntermuseum.org), itself housed in an architectural triptych comprising a 1905 classical revival mansion, a low-slung 1970s building and a 2005 contemporary structure of steel and glass.
Afterwards, walk over the glass bridge to explore galleries, boutiques and restaurants in the Bluff View Arts District (www. bluffviewartdistrict.com).
Don’t bother trying to ride the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway (www.ridetheincline.com) until spring. Beginning January 13, the attraction will be closed for seasonal repairs.
Where to eat: St. John’s Restaurant (www.stjohnsrestaurant.com; $$-$$$$) Think Garden & Gun magazine on a plate and pad your wallet for upscale Southern first courses like Kenny’s Cracklin’ Cornbread with pork belly “butter.” Seafood is flown-in-last-night fresh. And entrees are diverse as quinoa pilaf and buffalo sirloin.
In recent years, companies like Outdoor Chattanooga have branded “outventures” as a way to connect people with outdoor activities like rafting kayaking, mountain biking and rock climbing.