I grew up just an hour north of Chattanooga but my trips down that way were usually reserved for soccer games and tennis training (my coach lived there). Up until writing my Tennessee book two years ago, I hadn’t really played tourist—not in two decades at least. So while we were home for the holidays that year, we took a little drive down I-24. (Note: You know you’re on the right path when you see the garish fireworks signs littering the interstate near the Alabama border.)
If you’ve ever driven through Tennessee, you’ll notice red barn signs all along the interstates directing you up Lookout Mountain to Rock City, a park made primarily of, well, rock that has been open since 1932.
I have to admit, Rock City seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid (isn’t that generally the case?). We meandered through the whole place in about 15 minutes this time, whereas I remember wasting hours here when I was younger. When we went, I should note, it was Christmas time, and while I was expecting the park to be packed, we had many of the trails to ourselves. Even the elves were on break!
(I’m sure it’s a lot more beautiful this time of year when the trees are in full bloom. You should probably go, like, now before the heat arrives. It was already close to 90 earlier this week.)
My favorite part is the swinging bridge—who doesn’t love swinging bridges? OK, maybe acrophobes aside—that leads out to Lover’s Leap, a giant outcropping of rock.
One of the things I just love about my home state is that it’s bordered by nine others, making quick jaunts to other major Southern cities easy. At Rock City, you can see seven of these states at once: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee (natch) and Virginia. Though I’m not quite sure how you can tell exactly which you’re looking at.
That night, we slept in an old train car.
There’s something just so charming about the Chattanooga Choo Choo in its throwback to the glory days of the railroad industry.
We both suffered pretty serious food poisoning from a dinner theater whose name I won’t mention (*cough, Vaudeville Cafe, cough*), so the next day we only managed an hour or so wandering through the Tennessee Aquarium before ending our bout as tourists.
Being divers, we’re huge fans of aquariums, and while Georgia no doubt has the best in the world, I think the Chattanooga one is a close second. It has a huge array of North American freshwater species—some sinister, others not so much—which you don’t find in a lot of aquariums.
We used to go here every year for school field trips, so I’m not going to lie: I embraced my inner child for the day and pretended I was back in fifth grade.
Sometimes you’ve just got to.