The home of MoonPies and miniature golf, claiming both the world’s longest pedestrian bridge and the world’s steepest passenger railway — that’s Chattanooga, Tenn. The city is about four hours away from Fort Benning, and with dozens of unique attractions you can’t find anywhere else, it’s perfect for a weekend getaway.
If you’re planning a trip, you may already know about the Tennessee Aquarium, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, the Hunter Museum, home to the South’s largest collection of American art, and the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the country’s largest military park.
But there are other sites you won’t want to miss — local favorites and out-of-the-way attractions. Here are just a few of the city’s hidden gems.
OK, so it’s less hidden than in plain sight, yet many tourists might not think to stop by the city’s downtown riverfront park. Named for World War II veteran Charles Coolidge, a Chattanooga native and recipient of the Medal of Honor, this six-acre greenspace has walking trails, interactive sculptures and fountains and a 100-year-old antique carousel.
Be sure to stroll along Walnut Street Bridge, built in 1891 and stretching more than 2,000 feet across the Tennessee River. It offers panoramic views of the park, Lookout Mountain and the city.
National Medal of Honor Museum of Military History
See artifacts from the past conflicts at this free museum. Currently located inside Northgate Mall while plans are made for a permanent facility, this 1,000-square-foot museum houses exhibits relating to the Medal of Honor.
Walk through the different rooms and get to know more about the individuals behind the U.S. military’s highest decoration. Photos and biographies are displayed on a rotational basis, so you’ll see new faces and stories every time.
For more information, visit www.mohm.org.
Chattanooga Nature Center and Reflection Riding Arboretum & Botanical Garden
Chattanooga’s slogan, “a great city by nature,” is true to its word. The city features more than 300 varieties of trees and 900 species of wildflowers — more than any place else, except central China.
You can enjoy the city’s natural landscapes at the Chattanooga Nature Center and Reflection Riding, two preserves located side by side at the foot of Lookout Mountain.
The arboretum features bamboo, an apple orchard, beehives, gardens, ponds, open meadows and all around beautiful scenery. You can drive, bike or walk a 3.4-mile loop around the property or venture further along the trails up Lookout Mountain. To find out more, visit www.reflectionriding.org.
Admission to the nature center includes several trails, a wetland boardwalk, gardens and a tree house. You’ll also see snakes, raptors, red wolves and a bobcat. Visit www.chattanooganaturecenter.org for more information.
After all that walking, you’ll be tired. Relax with interactive theater and delectable cuisine at the Vaudeville Cafe, home of Chattanooga’s best murder mystery shows. As a fan of dinner theater — I’ve been to several over the years — I can honestly say this is the best I’ve seen: humor that doesn’t depend solely on puns, excellent service and food and an original and engaging plot.
While enjoying an Italian buffet and dessert, you can sleuth your way to finding the killer’s identity and motive. Along the way, there’ll be plenty of laughs. You may even have a role in the show and the chance to win the “Best Actor” award.
And it’s all reasonably priced: $21.50-$26.50 for adults and $14 for kids includes dinner, beverages, the show and a chance to meet the actors. Shows include Mystery at the TV Talk Show, Mystery of Flight 138, Mystery at the Nightmare High School Reunion, Mystery at the Redneck-Italian Wedding and Chattanooga’s Got Talent.
It's the funniest way to wrap up your day or weekend stay in Chattanooga. For more details, visit http://funnydinner.com.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series. To learn about Rock City attractions available at Lookout Mountain, Ga., only six miles south of Chattanooga, read next week’s Recreation feature in The Bayonet.