With spring break quickly approaching, families are planning vacations and expeditions across the country and across the world. However, sometimes you can discover an adventure in a place you might not expect.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee families can experience hands-on adventure around every bend during Spring Break Safari Chattanooga, which is a self-guided experience through interactive attractions showcasing all the town has to offer. From Ruby Falls to Rock City to the Tennessee River and plenty of other in-town experiences, kids and parents alike can easily imagine they’re exploring for hidden cave treasure, discovering new species of animals while on a river, shooting a bow and arrow at bad guys in a fairytale and so much more. Families can also take part in the scavenger hunt, designed to help you get the most out of each experience.
My daughter and I recently had an opportunity to preview Spring Break Safari Chattanooga and we had a wonderful time discovering a new city, making new friends and taking time out to experience many elements of town. From unique experiences in nature to spending time at Creative Discovery Museum and the Chattanooga Zoo, this adventure was one we will never forget. Follow along with our experiences below for a preview of the adventure that awaits during Spring Break Safari Chattanooga.
Arrival in Chattanooga, Bluff View Art District & Hotel Check-in
During our stay we called the SpringHill Suites by Marriott Chattanooga Downtown/Cameron Harbor our home for our five day stay and it was one of the roomiest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
Coming from a city like Chicago, where all the hotels are about the size of a shoebox, this hotel was a breath of fresh air and gave both my daughter and I space to spread out. With double beds, a sitting area, a cozy desk space, a large bathroom AND a walk-in closet we fit comfortable in the room and could have even with additional family members. We also had a beautiful view of the river.
The beds were comfortable and the whole hotel was very clean. Additionally, the water pressure in the shower was great (something I’m not used to at home) and room had a small refrigerator, a microwave and even silverware available.
Breakfast was available each morning and include cereal, pastries, fresh fruit, juice options, milk, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, either sausage or bacon and more. The hotel is also mid-construction on a restaurant that is supposed to be completed soon and overlook the river.
Bluff View Art District
I love small nooks and neighborhoods within cities that give you an understanding about the city’s culture and history so Bluff View Art District was right up my alley. If you stop in at River Gallery you can see local artist’s work on display (and for sale) and pick up a Shutterbug Pass that will guide you through the corner of the neighborhood and help you get beautiful photographs of sculptures, culinary creations and hidden, artsy nooks.
As the city’s first art district, Bluff View is set high upon stone cliffs overlooking the river and the cozy places like Rembrandt’s Coffee House, the Bluff View Inn and Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria, which makes all its pasta fresh on-site, help you understand why this small space is a gem in the city.
Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain, lunch at Lookout Grill & Rock City, dinner at
Puckett’s and finally indoor rock climbing at High Pint Climbing & Fitness
This was by far the most exciting day for me. I love to go to new cities to see and do things that I cannot do at home and the experiences delivered.
We began the day at Ruby Falls, which is a waterfall located more than 1,100 feet below ground. It was discovered in 1928 by a man named Leo Lambert who spent hours inside the mountain (crawling much of the time because the “ceiling” was too low) before finding the waterfall. We took a guided tour down to see the falls, which took just over an hour, and the distance to the falls is 4/5th of a mile. The pathway is easily walkable and has been carved out so you don’t have to crawl on your stomach to see this spectacular view. However, there are some spots where it can be slick from water tricking through the mountain and tighter so you might have to walk single file. The pictures speak for themselves.
Located on Lookout Mountain, Rock City is a beautiful combination of nature at its finest and a little bit of imagination come to life. It boasts natural rock formations with more than 400 native plants and incredible views. In fact, there is a spot on the mountain where you can see seven states from one spot.
Pathways weave and twist across the rock through a fairytale-like kingdom and lead you through the natural beauty towards Lover’s Leap and the point where you can “See 7 States.” In the warmer months this area will be a hands-on wonderland for kids. Specifically, during Fairytale Nights you can see Pete Pan, waltz with characters from Beauty and the Beast, meet Fairy Godmother, have tea with Alice and more. This runs specifically during Spring Break Safari from March 23 – April 15.
During the summer there is live music at Café 7 and Rocktoberfest in the fall. Up next is an event called Shamrock City, an annual Irish celebration where you can see live dancing, try your hand (foot) at a jig, sample Irish food and more.
Highpoint Climbing & Fitness
This was easily my daughter’s favorite part of the day, and possibly the whole trip. We have never been climbing as a family before and the last time I did it I was in college so this was a completely new experience for her. She was a bit scared first (she is a cautious kid by nature) but soon she was scaling the walls in the kids’ area of the gym. I appreciated that they had this area of small walls with fun obstacles for the kids. It was easier to keep them contained in one area and really a safe spot for them to become little climbers.
Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant
Our evening dinner was at a restaurant located in the heart of Chattanooga. Puckett’s was a wonderful place to grab a bite to eat with familiarity and Southern flair. I ate Shrimp & Grits, which sis always a must anytime I’m in the Southern Half of the country. This was a different twist on the dish, which I’m used to have a creamier look with more of a white sauce. This dish had a Cajun flavor to it but was delicious in its own right. The table also shared a few appetizers.
Tennessee Aquarium, Big River Grille, Chattanooga Zoo, Songbirds Guitar Museum, Good Dog & Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge
The Tennessee Aquarium is a fun adventure for both adults and kids where you can see everything from sharks to stingrays to penguins to turtles, fish and even butterflies. Encompassing two buildings, our aquarium journey began in the presentation space with a demonstration highlighting the aerial skills of a flying squirrel, which was fascinating for everyone.
We then walked through the whole museum where this kids, “Ooohed,” and, “Aaahhed” and giggled at each new fish, amphibian and mammal they saw. The aquarium really had one of the greatest selections of animals that I’ve ever experienced in a space like that. The butterflies were completely unexpected and the ability to touch some of the animals was really a learning experience for everyone.
The zoo was a nice break in all the action in the afternoon and provided us a chance to get up close and personal with a lot of the animals. From gorillas to tigers to multiple species of monkeys and more, we were able to see all the animals in their natural habitat and even had the chance to watch a kinkajou, a rainforest mammal related to raccoons, eat some honey with its long tongue.
Songbirds Guitar Museum
Music lovers and design lovers will appreciate the collection of guitars and the details of the space at the Songbirds Guitar Museum. Featuring a display of more than 500 guitars from a private collection (which boasts a total of more than 1,700 pieces), the guitar museum is a one-of-a-kind place and the only place in the country where you can see all these pieces of musical history in one place. The main space features a stage and is what you see on the general admission tour. Then there are two, exclusive rooms in the back that include the rarest guitars. While I’m not a guitar player the space was so well thought out and designed. Each detail works for the ambiance of the museum and the space oozes a cool vibe that makes you want to be part of it.
The kids each received a little hands on lesson and were able to strum a few chords, which was the highlight of the visit for them.
We had a quick dinner that night at Good Dogs, which has a wide selection of quirky-topped hotdogs, veggie dogs, bratwurst, Italian sausage and chicken sausage. Being from Chicago, I’m a hard sell on hot dogs but enjoyed the variety of options and the relaxed ambiance at Good Dog. With homemade cupcakes and cold beer, Good Dogs is a place you can where you can bring your kids, relax, try a few new hotdogs and gobble up some tasty fries.
Also, if you bring in a set of salt and pepper shakers you can take a set from Good Dogs. Each table had a different set and that was a special little touch in this relaxed atmosphere.
Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge
After dinner we took a quick walk out to Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge, which is the longest pedestrian bridge in the country. It was dark by the time we got out there and some of the kids, including my daughter, were antsy to go swimming at the hotel so unfortunately we didn’t walk it. However, it is something that would be on my list to do if we were to ever go back. There are also bikes all over the city so you could rent a bike and ride across too, which is something my husband and I love to do when we’re exploring new cities.
Creative Discovery Museum, Lupi’s Pizza Pies, Tennessee Valley Railroad & Blue Plate
Creative Discovery Museum
My daughter loved spending the morning here. She was able to run around, play, experience music, art, science and more while I could watch her enjoy it all. The two floors of fun include indoor and outdoor exhibits that let you get lost in fun.
My daughter made her own parachute, spent time stamping in art, performed in the “theater”, dug for dinosaur bones and spent ample time playing in the water works section of the museum. You could really spend the whole day there if you wanted to and if we were to visit Chattanooga again this would be on our list to visit. I know my son would love it too.
Lupi’s Pizza Pies
Again, coming from Chicago I’m a tough sell when it comes to pizza but Lupi’s delivered. As a group we ordered three large pizzas that we shared – one veggie and two with cheese. I have to say, even though I was begging for the veggie pizza, the cheese was better. It favor was smooth and creamy and there was a perfect cheese to crust ratio. I’m also a snob about pizza sauce but I had no complaints about the sauce at Lupi’s. It was a great place to stop into for a fast lunch.
Tennessee Valley Railroad
We boarded the Missionary Ridge Local train at the Tennessee Valley Railroad after lunch and took a scenic ride out to a train yard where they repair and restore the trains. It’s a guided tour that crosses four bridges and passes through a pre-civil war, shoe horse-shaped tunnel – a highlight for kids.
When we arrived at our destination we watch the train turn around on a historic turntable, which was really fascinating to see if you appreciate history and learning about transportation. The on-site black smith talked about his job at the train yard and we were able to see some trains that were being repaired.
Our last dinner in Chattanooga was at a dinner called Blue Plate. It’s located on the water and there are patio seats as well as indoor dining. We split an appetizer of loaded cheese chips and fried okra, which were both great. I recommend getting breakfast here. The pancakes were delicious and are thick, almost like a personal cake. We finished up with the Moon Pie Cheesecake, which was a sweet way to end the night and the trip. (A Moon Pie is marshmallow sandwiched by round gram crackers and dipped in chocolate and they are made in Chattanooga.)
That concluded our quick trip to Chattanooga, but there is so much more to experience there! If you’re you go for a visit and have more time I’d visit Audubon Acres, Blowing Springs Farm, hop on a boat for a river tour, check out the Chattanooga Choo Choo terminal, explore Cumberland Caverns, take in an iMax movie and visit Lost at Sea (an underground lake!). If you’re children are older, or if you want to just plan a getaway without the kids there are plenty of distillery tours you can visit and some rafting adventures that look like fun!
To see all your options and plan your trip, visit the Chattanooga Visitors’ Bureau website here.