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After visiting the random unclaimed baggage center in Alabama, our next stop was the awesomely named city of Chattanooga in Tennessee. This turned out to be one of my favourite stops on our Road Trip USA Deep South Tour, and I now have a bit of a crush on Chattanooga. What a lovely place! Unfortunately, we only had a day here as there are so many things to do in Chattanooga with kids. I would have loved to see more.
I’m not sure exactly what it is about Chattanooga that had me so hooked. Maybe it was the trees, the water or the views as we came into town. Or the good looking downtown and riverfront area. Maybe the food, the attractions. Most probably all of this added together. I loved our day here. My only regret? That we only had 24 hours here, and we couldn’t extend it for longer.
Nevertheless, our day in Chattanooga has been the best day of our Road Trip USA Deep South Tour so far. It is also the worst day of weather that we have had so far as it rained all day. I think this makes it extra impressive that we enjoyed the day so much!
Here’s our list of things to do in Chattanooga in a day with kids…
This was actually a last minute inclusion as we had been planning on saving our aquarium visit for Atlanta’s aquarium, but I am glad we changed our mind about this. The Tennessee Aquarium is fabulous and was perfect for our family. It is apparently the world’s largest freshwater aquarium and reputed to be one of the best in the US.
It is housed in two buildings, the “River Journey” and the “Ocean Journey”. We started with the river journey.
This building was fabulous and our favourite. You start by heading to the top floor and then slowly head down 4-5 stories passing by many tanks and aquariums as you do. The idea is that you are following the journey of a raindrop as it makes it way from the top of a mountain to streams, lakes, swamps and rivers.
There was so much to love about this. The tanks were often at floor level or just above with areas for the kids to stand on and get close to the fish. We saw sharks, sting rays, turtles, sea horses, fish, trout, alligators… It was impressive, especially for someone who has just been to Melbourne’s lacking aquarium. There are opportunities to touch some fish which delighted S.
The Tennessee Aquarium’s ocean journey started on the top story as well. This is a jungle area where we could touch small sharks and sting rays. There is also a butterfly enclosure. We then passed by penguins, lots of jelly fish and many other sea life on our way down. At the bottom, there was a cave like area set up with fish on our sides and above. The kids favourite part was a small cave like area here, where the 4 of us could huddle together surrounded by fish.
The Tennessee Aquarium cost us $64.83 for two adults and a child (under 3’s are free). One of the pricier activities we have done on this trip but so worth it, especially as the Atlanta one would have cost us $50 more! The ticket gives you access to both buildings and you can come and go as you please over the day.
Next stop was lunch! We don’t usually go to restaurants recommended in our guide book, but I am very glad we did this time! It was awesome and we never would have found it otherwise…
This diner was the type of place we dreamed about when we decided to do a Deep South road trip. It was southern food and hospitality at its best, and we loved it.
From the outside, Zarzours didn’t look that great and we nearly didn’t go in! It looked all shuttered up and is situated next to vacant lots. I would never have expected to find the homey loving place we found inside. It was small, but lovely and full of attentive and accommodating people.
The manager, Shannon, told us that the restaurant had been running for 95 years. Zarzours was started by her husband’s great great grandfather. She went through the small menu for us and made suggestions for the kids, that we could modify so we got the perfect meal for them. She gave Z a toy and a high chair. I have not been to many places as welcoming as this for kids either. When S decided to crawl around pretending to be a cat, Shannon just made sounds like a cat as well and told us not to worry about her.
We had what she recommended for us – some roast beef on bread covered in gravy, some beans and mashed potato which she said is typical of the region. The whole thing was delicious. I don’t usually even like beans but I devoured these. The kids actually attacked their vegetables before their chicken!
We tried some lemon ice box pie for dessert which I have never even heard of, but it was just delicious. I may have to convince J to learn how to make this when we get home!
The place had a constant stream of customers but Shannon talked to us when she could. She said she loved our accents. I think she is definitely the one with the great accent!
Zarzours was a fantastic experience, one that will probably make all diners a disappointment from now on, but I am sure we will back in this gorgeous town to try it again one day. It was also incredibly good value. Only $27 for everything before tip (which was very generous!). This diner was one of our favourite things to do in Chattanooga.
After lunch, it was time to check into our motel, as Z was very tired and becoming hard work. Unfortunately for me, I was on nap duty while S and J checked out Chattanooga’s Children Museum.
The Chattanooga Children’s Creative Discovery Museum was so big and such a hit that it has its own post! It was easily the best children’s museum that we visited during our USA road trip and a definite must visit if you are looking for things to do in Chattanooga with kids.
J and S didn’t finish at the children’s museum until closing time at 5pm, so it was straight off for dinner once they picked Z and I up.
This “burger lounge” was recommended to me by Lesli at 365 Atlanta Family. I’m glad she did!
It is popular and uses great locally grown ingredients. It is in a lovely building and had a great atmosphere when we were there. The kids were welcome and well catered for. They also have a great bourbon cocktail menu! J enjoyed an old fashioned.
We stayed at the Ramada Chattanooga, and it was fabulous. Our only complaint is that we were hanging out to use the indoor pool, but they wouldn’t let us use it the following morning as they only allowed entry after check out time which was annoying, mean and a bit stupid.
Ramada Chattanooga $76 including wifi, breakfast and a lovely room with fridge and microwave. We loved this motel. Read more reviews and see the latest prices here.
For a more central option, we also recommend the following hotels in downtown Chattanooga:
We went a fair bit over budget with our day in Chattanooga.
We used Christmas money from my mum for the attractions, and then we were about $20 over budget after eating out twice. It was worth it though!
Overall they loooooooved the things we did in Chattanooga.
S was ecstatic about going to the aquarium. It was a big hit for her. Z was scared at times, and it took a little while for him to get into it. He was probably actually happier chasing his sister than seeing the fish, and it did back up our feeling that there isn’t that much point taking him to some of the bigger attractions on this trip. He is basically always free, but to take two kids generally means having to pay for both of us adults, so it does end up costing money effectively to take him along.
The Chattanooga’s Children’s Creative Discovery Museum was an even bigger hit.
In case you can’t already tell, we loved Chattanooga!
There are more things to do in Chattanooga that we would have liked to do if it hadn’t been for the bad weather. We would have loved to walk around the river area, visit Collidge Park and gone to Rock City. In a way, though, I am glad the weather was bad and we had our day exactly the way we did, as it was fantastic! If it wasn’t for the Christmas parade and events that we were travelling to Helen, Georgia for the next day, we would definitely have extended our stay in Chattanooga.
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