One of the first things you need to keep in mind when visiting Chattanooga is that nobody calls it the 'Noog. Those tacky tourist shops sell the bumper stickers and T-shirts, but if you utter it out loud there, you'll probably have a little extra tax added to your bill when it's time to pay up. Nobody calls it "the Scenic City," either, which is city's official and more appropriate nickname. Tucked away at the intersection of the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau, 120 miles northwest of Atlanta, Chattanooga is an ideal weekend garden spot. There's a thriving tourism industry built around the city's fresh-water and salt-water aquariums. Then there's Lookout Mountain towering over the city. It's home to the incline railway, which offers an old-school train ride up the side of the mountain, and yes, the train car nearly goes vertical. But just when the angle begins to surpass your comfort level, you realize that most of your fellow passengers are members of the 60-plus club, and if they can handle it, so can you.
Rock City sits at the top of Lookout Mountain, a legendary roadside attraction that's been a staple of Southern Lore since before the Civil War. It's an outdoor theme park that relies on the natural contours and rock formations of the area to draw crowds. There's also Lover's Leap, which is a rocky outcropping from which seven states can be seen. There are a couple of rather curious fixtures, known as the Fairyland Caverns and the Father Goose Village, both are rock caves that have been decorated with blacklight sculptures of gnomes, trolls, and various other fairy tale characters — it's trippy.
Below the mountain, the Tennessee River carves a path through the center of town separating North Chattanooga from downtown, but the metro area is quite walkable. There's even a pretty magnificent footbridge that arches over the river, taking pedestrians past an Audubon Society bird sanctuary.
Chattanooga is also a community that supports the arts. From the Hunter Museum's collection of fine art and photography, to Winder Binder and Rising Fawn's cache of folk art, to the linear sculpture garden that stretches out along the banks and the bluffs of the river, there's never a shortage of things to see and do in Chattanooga. But all of these things are accouterments for a truly charming Southern city that has done everything in its power to preserve its architecture, history, ambiance, and its livelihood, making it the perfect getaway spot.