Best Town Ever...Outside Magazine list of best towns for outdoors living has Chattanooga going down to the wire with Port Angeles Washington.
I’m in Chattanooga for the second time, and confirming that it tops my list of this country’s smaller cities. Chattanooga follows the curves of the mighty Tennessee River.
Walking along the River downtown, or through the neighboring Bluff Arts District, we watched joggers, walkers, bikers– everyone, it seemed on the move. And on the river people paddle their canoes or kayaks. Up on the mountain they can hang glide or zip line. The vibe is colorful, casual, active. This seems to be an Eastern outpost of the California lifestyle.
With only about 170,000 people, Chattanooga has some amazing cultural attractions as well as the outdoor parks. The stunning architecture of the Hunter Museum of American Art stands next to the original building, a historic mansion. Both hug the edge of the cliff over the river. A walk through the art district is a visual delight with sculptures in unexpected places, like the old man and child in front of the Chocolate Maker. The chocolatier, by the way is considered one of the artists you can watch at work.
Down below the buff more glorious architecture houses the Tennessee Aquarium. Buildings and institutions like these exist because Chattanooga is home to some very big businesses, making everything from Volkswagens to Moon Pies and more.
The transportation routes of river, rail and roads also made Chattanooga a key prize during the Civil War. We took a caravan ranger-led tour of the National Military Park of Chattanooga, after visiting Battles for Chattanooga, a sound and light show played out on a mini battlefield. This commercial site is next door to the Point National Park on top of Lookout Mountain, from which you can look down on the fields of battle where the Rebs under Gen. Bragg fought the Union’s young Gen. Ulysses Grant.
You can ride a scenic railroad, see the hokey Chattanooga Choo Choo, but most people come for Lookout Mountain. Not so much the historic sites we were interested in but a climb through giant boulders at Rock City or a visit to awesome Ruby Falls–a waterfall deep underground.
As I write this, I don’t know who Outside Magazine chose, but Chattanooga will always be Best City Ever to me. NOTE: To see who won, check the Outside web site.