Last week I had the chance to explore Chattanooga, Tennessee for a day. In my short 24 hours, I soaked in the modern, the vintage, the local and the weird in River City and found it is worth the stop if you’re headed down Interstate 24.
“Step aside partner, it’s my day
Bend an ear and listen to my version
Of a really solid Tennessee excursion”
–Glenn Miller, Chattanooga Choo Choo
For shopping I hit up Warehouse Row and the NorthShore vintage district.
The NorthShore neighborhood sits right along the riverfront just across the beautifully renovated Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge from downtown. Both Frazier Avenue and River Street are lined with local restaurants and, even better, great vintage shops. I spent the afternoon leisurely wandering and window shopping for souveniers and gifts.
At Tangerina’s I found recycled art and jewelry, leaving with a pair of beautiful handmade wooden earrings. At other shops along the way I found wares such as locally-made, ceramic soapdish monsters, vintage digs and even old carnival game machines that read my fortune for a quarter.
While in NorthShore, I also took time to do something I like to do in every new city: check out the local bookstore. Usually you can spot a section in the front with great reads by local authors filled with history, art and culture of the place you are visiting. It is a perfect way to browse the city’s highlights and get a sense of place. Plus, smaller independent shops are often more in tune with the local scene. So in addition to browsing the bound literature, I like to check out the flyers for local happenings. In Chattanooga I stopped in Winder Binder Gallery and Bookstore--also home to Chad’s Records. I found cool vintage toys, local art, and of course lots and lots of books on Chattanooga.
As much as I love sifting for “new” dated wardrobe pieces and musty books, I had to stop at Warehouse Row for some high-end shopping… or at least window shopping. I was mostly drawn to the building, being an adaptive reuse project that not only saved some old warehouse buildings and their character, but also updated the interior using a modern approach. Inside you’ll find modern finishes and fixtures, yet the scale takes you back to the turn of the century.
But enough about the cool building, let’s get to the shopping. Warehouse row is a varied high-end experience from Anthropologie to local interiors retailers. One of my favorites was Lines Orchids, an interiors shop that had beautiful orchids, handmade pottery, and modern decor. Almost everything in the space was finished in white or natural tones, with only a few pops of color here and there from the blooming flowers or the occasional pigmented sculptural flowerpot. In addition to the shopping you’ll find a pilates studio, spa, a hip coffee bar, and an excellent public house with craft cocktails and local fare. Basically, I could have spent the whole day here.
I love architecture and Chattanooga is a hodge podge of architectural styles from turn of the century main street to art moderne to brutalism. On the outskirts of the city you can even find a home straight out of atomic America.
Hands down, the coolest thing in Chattanooga I had a chance to visit was the Spaceship House on Signal Mountain. I found the spot on Altas Obscura, my favorite road trip resource. The Spaceship House is a private home in a little subdivision up a dizzying mountain road and for fans of all things architecture, atomic America, or just plain weird, I highly recommend the 15 minute trip outside of downtown. Since its a private residence the interior is not accessible, so I just took some time to snaps few pics and ponder what living inside a fiberglass spaceship from the 50s must be like. I also found out the exhaust for the HVAC system is designed to exit the home from the bottom. So if you visit during the colder months when the heat is going, it looks like the spaceship is landing with steam billowing out from underneath. Whatever the season though, this oddity is a Chattanooga wonder fun for any time of year.
If you are more interested in less bizarre historic American architecture, Chattanooga certainly isn’t lacking. Some of my favorite turn of the century beauties include the Dome Building at 736 Georgia Avenue known for it’s newspaper history in connection with the New York Times, the old Terminal Hotel turned restaurant, bar and microbrewery at 1470 Market Street, and the Pickle Barrel at 1012 Market Street. The Pickle Barrel is one of the oldest bars in Chattanooga with a beautiful wooden spiral staircase leading up to a second level and rooftop outdoor patio. This place is the perfect stop for some fried pickles and a cheap beer. Just don’t forget your ID. This establishment is 21 and up only and you need proof to enter.
In addition to turn of the century structures, I also found modern architecture in Chattanooga. Built between 1932-1933, the Solomon Building is an Art Moderne structure that earned recognition from the American Institute of Architects in 1938 as one of the finest buildings built during the 1930s. It a full block historic post office with signature Art Deco influences and has some significant history tied to the Civil Rights Movements. The Hunter Museum of American Art also has a Gehry-esque addition completed in 2005. Altogether the museum is more of building with an identity crisis. The original classical revival mansion from 1904 is abutted by the modern addition on the west and a brutalist addition from 1975 on the east. It’s also situated on an 80-foot bluff overlooking both the city and the Smoky mountains.
Betwix all of the beautiful architecture is a very active art culture including public art and street art throughout the city, and a number of art museums spotting the riverfront landscape. With more than 50 permant outdoor scultpures, I found plenty to see just wandering around, especially near the Hunter Museum. And downtown I found Art on Main, a rotating outdoor gallery of temporary sculpture exhibits right along the main stretch. As a huge fan of street art, my favorite public art in Chattanooga was what I found in the North Shore neighborhood. From graffiti to old murals and painted signage to chalk art, this vintage ‘hood shows the character of it’s resident artisans, all of which is easily seen as you wander shop to shop.
A good day of wandering is not complete without a good cup of coffee. I found delicious caffinated satisfaction in a toffee latte at a little coffee truck along River Street, Spill The Beans. Now I typically don’t go for flavored coffees; I’m a plain cafe au lait kinda gal. However, this cute little vintage truck coffee spot had a few more obscure flavors and I had to try one. Spill The Beans is perfect for a great coffee on the go.
If you are wanting to sit down and enjoy some joe while blogging, computing, or just relaxing, Stone Cup Cafe is a just stone’s throw away. This little local coffee shop has a larger menu and, like many great coffee houses, doubles as an art gallery for local art. They’ve also got an outdoor patio for sipping alfresco.
Parks and Hiking
Chattanooga sits in a valley below both Signal Mountain and Lookout Mountain and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful parkland in the Smoky’s. I couldn’t go without walking through the riverfront parks and taking a hike to catch a good view of the city down below.
I stayed in a cozy Airbnb spot a short walk from the Stringers Ridge Preservation Easement, so I started my morning off walking the trails. There were both walking and jogging trails as well as mountain bike trails twisting up the mountain. You can spend a good couple of hours exploring this beautiful park. With only a day to spend, I headed straight for the lookout that offered an entire view of the city and the Smoky’s surrounding it. Quiet and peaceful, this spot is only a ten minute drive from the heart of downtown.
Later in the afternoon, I took the opportunity to walk the riverfront parks and riverwalk in NorthShore and downtown. Both a combination of wide open park space and winding trails, the parks on either side of the river offer recreation, art, and even some history lessons about the area. The trails also connect some of the major attractions in Chattanooga including the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Tennessee Aquarium, the Bluff View Arts District, the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Southern Belle Riverboat.
That’s about all I had time to explore, so it’s time to Chattanooga Choo Choo me home…