The unique Southern city remains an underrated pleasure to explore.
dish close up of meat
Credit: Courtesy of Heather and Thomas

As far as the South goes, Chattanooga has long been something of a misfit. Outdoorsy, post-industrial-and-winning-at-it, a place of dramatic landscapes and an early arrival to the whole urban renewal trend, Tennessee's fourth-largest city buzzes with a palpable, rather unique energy.

Maybe it's all the coffee, maybe it's all the hiking, the fresh air, the mountains, the rivers; perhaps it's all the beer they drink—it's almost as if there's something distinctly Northwestern about the place, but that's not quite it—Chattanooga is, quite honestly, a tough one to pin down. (Seriously—where else but the South could the MoonPie, which turned 100 this year, have been invented?)

Just around two hours—traffic permitting—from both Nashville and Atlanta and a world away in attitude from either one, Chattanooga makes a great getaway at any time of year—particularly on these crisp, late fall days, when the weather's just right for getting out and experiencing the city's wild surrounds. Dropping by? When you're done scaling cliffs, conquering long-distance hikes, and/or chasing waterfalls, follow the locals to these current hotspots.

Main Street Meats

Chattanooga's downtown is definitely see-worthy, but if you're looking for the local cool crowd, the Southside District, centered along Main Street, is always a good bet, and right now, you can't do much better than this butcher shop and restaurant, right at the heart of the action. House made brats, a killer burger (with great pickles, bacon and gruyere), steaks (oh, why not, go ahead), it's all in play. Make sure to order the pork rinds to start—they're delicate, pretty, perfectly seasoned—even if you don't think you like pork rinds, these might just bring you around.

Oddstory Brewing

One of the newest additions to an up-and-coming commercial strip just east of downtown, this brewery uses crowd-pleasing flagship beers—a Vienna Lager, an American Pale Ale, and a Belgian Blonde—to get folks in the door; once on the hook, there are more than a dozen additional taps to choose from, filled with far more experimental beers, such as a refreshing, higher-alcohol, cherry-lime gose.

Plus Coffee

Carved out of a narrow valley below Lookout Mountain and just minutes from downtown, historic St. Elmo is a post-industrial relic that by the 1970's was all but forgotten; one of the city's more fashionable coffee shops (there are plenty to choose from) can now be found right at the entrance to the neighborhood, inside the restored Landmark Building. Pop in for a carefully made cortado. Note: If you're downtown, look for their newer Georgia Avenue location, which opened this summer.

Mathilda Midnight

Tucked into Chattanooga's coolest hotel (The Dwell), this civilized cocktail lounge at times can feel like a best-kept secret, even though it's just a couple of blocks from the action along Downtown's busy Broad Street. Drop by for a drink to start your evening, perhaps something with Chattanooga Whisky, a preferred local tipple.

Main Street Farmers Market

If you're looking for edible souvenirs, or something tasty to throw in your pack for a hike along one of the challenging local trails, Chattanooga is crawling with talented artisans—look for Sequatchie Cove Creamery's terrific raw milk cheeses, crusty loaves from Bread & Butter, and loads of other great product at this producer-only, farmer-run affair, held Wednesdays year-round.