Imagine sitting at home chatting with your significant other about your next travel destination. With a warm cup of coffee in hand, you both talk of exotic popular places that could be your next stop–maybe Hawaii, Aruba or even that European spot you want to experience for a first or even a repeated time. I get it, I’ve been there. What you probably haven’t found yourself saying is “Gee honey, I really think the get-away we’d enjoy most would be to Chattanooga, TN.” But just yesterday, I told my wife that I wish she could join me on my next trip to TN, because it has way more to offer than I had anticipated. But <gasp> Chattanooga?
As Chattanooga is located in “the south,” as we Americans refer to the area that prides itself on old-ways and steep traditional values, I, as a very openly (and equally overtly) gay woman, would never think to choose it as a travel destination. But– I. Was. Shocked.
I felt surprisingly comfortable in this city and I’m excited to share all I discovered so that you can add Chattanooga to your bucket list of must-see destinations. Let’s start out with the restaurant scene. Are you kidding? There is everything you can imagine here from numerous ethnic cuisines, gluten free options, gastro pubs, and of course good ‘ole southern cooking. I ate at an excellent steakhouse the first night called Rodizio Grill. I think they must’ve thought I was a food critic because who eats at a Brazilian steakhouse alone? The hostess told me I couldn’t sit at the bar if I wanted to order meat because it’s a safety hazard to bring flaming hot meat out on a stick to the bar. Despite my desire to have someone at my disposal, for some entertaining banter, I said, “A table for 1 it is.” I mean, I certainly didn’t walk from my hotel to the Brazilian steakhouse to just have the salad bar! Let me just say that ate some meat that night. Let me clarify. I ate every protein they offered via a stick except for two variants of chicken that my expanding stomach told me “were not worth it.” What I have to say about this place is that the Lombo Com Queijo (applewood bacon wrapped pork topped with parmesan) and the frog legs are simply two of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Everything else was solid but if you happen to make it to Rodizio don’t leave without trying these two items. You’re welcome. Because you will thank me! Just ask the 4-some of unassuming people who were sitting behind me. As you might have already guessed I broke into conversation with this group around slab of slightly-different-cow-protein-number 4 when I finally realized I needed to find a bar-tender replacement to entertain me for at least a portion of the night. (Shout out to all my fellow solo travelers who figure this #*#& out!)
After a full night’s sleep, and all proteins either digested or stored, I was ready to try out the breakfast at my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn. The quality of this breakfast would definitely dictate how I spent the mornings for the rest of the week. They had a pretty simple breakfast buffet with the usual staples of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and turkey sausage. They also offered omelettes made to order. I stuck to the basics on day 1 and returned a couple of other times later in the week to also try the omelettes. All in all? Solid grub for a hotel.
After my first day’s breakfast, I hit the streets, by foot, eagerly seeking out the best coffee I could find. There is just nothing better than “the perfect latte” and I seek it out just about everywhere go. According to yelp, there was a highly-rated coffee house within walking distance from my hotel. Not only that but it was right in the middle of the Bluff View Art District. I walked into it unknowingly but I do remember thinking how beautiful everything was – landscaping, outdoor art, that cozy feel that only such an area offers. Anyway, getting back to that cup of Joe. The coffee at Rembrandt’s Coffee House doesn’t disappoint. Well, let me restate that: The flavor of this coffee doesn’t disappoint. However, for the first time in my entire life I walked out of a cute little joint and sipped my hot ..no wait…lukewarm latte. Have you every been served a lukewarm latte? Ambience: cozy. Flavor: exquisite. Temperature: barely above room? Yeah – it was weird. Everything else was so right on that I decided to give this place a 2nd chance. I went back the next day and ordered “an extra hot whole milk latte.” I felt kind of silly until I got it and it was… wait for it…warm, but WOW, this place just needs to learn how to heat their milk. No worries, though, later I did eventually find that perfect latte.
On day 2 I discovered something interesting. The electrical outlets are upside-down in Tennessee. Of course, this is my non-Tennessee-native perspective. Having said that, I’ve traveled all over the US and never seen such a thing. As an electrical engineer (at least by degree) I had to investigate this anomaly. Apparently this is a way to install outlets with a safety feature in case a hot wire falls on a device only partially plugged in. It’s actually so logical that I’m now asking myself why the rest of the country isn’t doing this yet?!?!
After returning back to earth from the electrical safety tangent, I walked down the street to Blue Water Grill for some wine…I mean dinner too, but mostly wine. This place was slightly more average. Remember the comparison here is a high-end Brazilian Steakhouse. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the giant seafood cob salad and lobster bisque. Yes, I was really craving seafood when I decided to head to this place but the added benefit was that it is really close to the Hilton Garden Inn. I had a nice chat here with a lady who was also in town for work. The bar-tender was also particularly friendly. At one point he pulled out a 500+ page book that he clearly had to read for a class. In case you’re wondering he didn’t pull it out to read, but rather to show all his clients what craziness he had to contend with. “Who has to read all this in one night?” he contended. I couldn’t get over how he seamlessly went from serving food and drinks to each client to having as all engaged in this random exclamation. The shear multi-tasking involved was deserving of the 20% tip I gave.
Night 3 brought me to Sekisui to sample Chattanooga’s take on what is a definite cuisine of choice for me–Japanese! This one was a little bit longer walk from the hotel. After about 15 minutes of downtown exploration, I was sitting at the bar with my glass of wine and contemplating the menu. I was very impressed by the sashimi and salad options (read: raw fish options without all the rice!) Everything here was speedy and delicious. I also enjoyed the intercultural exchange between the sushi chefs. One was speaking Japanese and the other responding in Spanish. The exchange was so natural that you almost couldn’t tell they were legitimately using two different languages to communicate with each other. It made me smile. I also contemplated saying “Arrigato y Buenas Noches” as I walked out but I chickened out.
On Thursday, day 4, I was determined to push myself beyond the boundaries of food and drink to see some sites. I was able to get out of work at a reasonable hour this day and drove straight to Lookout Mountain without a plan. I ended up at the entrance to Ruby Falls and was just in time for the next tour. This was not my first cave tour, but it was still an impressive one. I’m definitely a fan of stalagmite and stalactite formations you typically find in caves but at Ruby Falls I saw something I had never seen before: a 145 ft waterfall that lies over 1000 ft below the surface. Wow!
After coming out of the cool cave my body was enveloped by the unseasonably warm 85-degree weather. Having not eaten much, I grabbed some hot dogs (yes hot dogs plural!) and then headed to purchase a souvenir from the gift shop. I asked the cashier casually where I should be when the sun set. She said without pause “Sunset Rock.” I got in my car, loaded the destination into my navigation app and I was off. When I got there, there were precisely 8 parking spots, and every one was taken. I was disappointed but saw that there was a nearby park, so I headed there instead. Point Park turned out to be a blessing in disguise because some of my favorite views of the Tennessee River came from this excursion.
While there I stumbled upon what seemed like a native and asked him if there was any other way to get to Sunset Rock. He said I could hike there from Cravens House. I have to admit, Cravens House was more than a little difficult to find. I looked it up several times on the internet before I finally found ‘the right address.’ By the time I got there it was about 6:45pm. I had looked up the sunset time earlier on my phone so I knew the sun was going to set at about 7:22pm. Without much time to contemplate, particularly as I saw a sign at the trail-head to allow 2 hours round trip, I started the hike at a brisk pace. As the sun got lower and lower I picked up my pace all the way to an ugly run–I was wearing sandals after all! I decided to put my phone in airplane mode to save battery in case of an emergency situation brought on by a poor decision to start hiking up a mountain shortly before dark.
To my relief, I ran into two other ladies who had made the same highly questionable decision. At least we were together in this. It turns out we just made it, or missed it, depending on your definition of “seeing the sun set.” It was gorgeous. I snapped a few photos and then asked another viewer if she could send me the pre-sunset photo that I missed. I mean, seeing it and taking my own photo would have been preferable but you never would’ve known it wasn’t my original if I hadn’t told you, right?
There were some nice looking college kids who offered to give me a ride back to where my car was parked because I certainly wasn’t going to press my luck and try to hike back in the dark. I didn’t want to leave the two ladies alone though because I knew they were in the same situation as me. They told me they were thinking about hiking back down to the car, and I urged them not to do so as it would get very dark very fast. I suggested we take an Uber. One of the ladies took my cue promptly ordered a Lyft ride, and we were on our way.
Helpful tip: Although it looks incomplete this is the only address I could find that actually correctly routed me to Cravens House with my apple navigation app: Cravens Rd., Chattanooga, TN 37409
After the Lyft dropped me off at my car I drove back into the city to my hotel. Although a bit late, I still wanted to explore some night life, so I parked my car and took a short stroll down the street from my hotel and stumbled upon Hennen’s. I wish I hadn’t already scarfed those hot dogs earlier because everything on this menu was making my mouth water. I ended up ordering a cheese plate which came with a cranberry pecan spread and fig marmalade. The cheeses were not exotic per se but they were really fantastic tasting. Of course, I ordered a nice red wine to pair. We wont’ talk about how I spilled half of it before I could finish.
Friday morning was my last day in Chattanooga and I really wanted to find a superb breakfast joint to round out my culinary exploration in this city. I ended up at The Camp House. This place has a large open seating arrangement and even a stage for live music. I couldn’t help but think maybe I had missed out on a good night time place. As far as breakfast goes, it was an order-at-the-bar kinda place and then they bring you the food when it’s ready. I never quite know hot to “tip” this weird combination of restaurant services. I sat down and opened my computer to do some work, and my food and latte showed up about 10 minutes later. It was a simple dish of fried eggs over easy, bacon and greens but WOW was it good. The greens were arugula with a pesto dressing which was a real pleasant surprise because normally eating greens for breakfast is not that exciting. The latte was also excellent (and the right temperature!)
So that rounds out my first full week in Chattanooga, TN. Let’s summarize. Food? High quality with something for everyone’s tastes. Climate? A bit humid but shorts and T-shirt weather even in October! Nature? A definite wanderlust haven! Atmosphere? Very chill yet super friendly. I’ll be back, folks!