Moving to Chattanooga, TN: A Bellhops City Guide

Is it possible for a city to experience a renaissance lasting more than 20 years?

In the case of Chattanooga, TN, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Walter Cronkite once dubbed Chattanooga as the "dirtiest city in America." Now, things are a little different for Chatt-town. Far from days gone by, many now know the former armpit of the South as "Gig City," the "Scenic City," and even "The Best Town Ever."

All photos © local Chattanooga photographer, Christina Marie Photography.

For more than two decades, Chattanooga has been transforming into one of the nation's fastest-growing hubs of tourism, technology, and outdoor activity. So, if you’re thinking of relocating to Chattanooga, you have the right idea. Whether you’re already planning on moving to Chattanooga or you're still weighing your options, there’s a few things we'd like to share with you before you pack your things.

Here at Bellhops, we’ve put together a thorough list of things to know about living in Chattanooga. We like to think of this list as the "ultimate guide to moving to Chattanooga." We're pretty proud of it. Enjoy!

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Your Mini 'Nooga Neighborhood Guide: The Best Places to Live in Chattanooga

1. The North Shore - Eclectic, Relaxed, and Fun

North Chattanooga has been at the front of the city’s renaissance from the very beginning. North Chatt features a blend of the hip and the historical, with a wide range of houses, condos, and apartments to match almost any budget. The prime spot here is the North Shore: home to an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, and shops along Frazier Avenue/Cherokee Boulevard.

The North Shore is also home to two popular public parks—Coolidge Park and Renaissance Park. When it’s time to explore the rest of the city, take one of the four bridges across the Tennessee River into downtown. Be sure to check out the Walnut Street Bridge, the largest pedestrian bridge in the country--do it at sunset and tell us you’re not hooked on the North Shore.

2. Downtown & The Innovation District - Energetic, Vibrant, and Growing

It used to be that Chattanoogans fled the downtown area as soon as the sun began to set. Now, things are a little different. In less than 30 years, downtown Chatt has transformed into one of the most exciting places in the city. It may just be the place to be on a Friday night. Anchored by the Tennessee Aquarium, the IMAX theater, and AT&T Field, the Riverfront is a popular area for locals and visitors alike. On top of the tourist hot spots, the Riverfront is also chock full of restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels.

Heading away from the river on Market or Broad streets, you’ll pass through City Center, an area transitioning from sleepy business district to bustling nightlife destination. In City Center you'll find several great spots, including Miller Plaza. Miller Plaza is a smoke-free city park/open-air pavilion surrounded by restaurants. This is a lovely place to eat lunch or to catch a moment while you enjoy the complimentary wifi hotspot there.

But what about housing downtown? Historically, there hasn't been much. But, new and affordable places like The 300 and The Tomorrow Building make downtown accessible for those who want to be close to the action and don't mind simpler living.

3. MLK/University - Soulful, Innovative, Accessible

As the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has grown, so has its need for student housing. The university has added a considerable number of student apartments south of campus in recent years, pushing closer and closer to Martin Luther King Blvd. Not only has the expansion helped meet UTC’s housing needs, but it has also helped MLK revitalize itself, as well.

Already the site of the Bessie Smith Strut—the city’s unofficial, long-running, cross-cultural block party held each June during the Riverbend Festival—MLK is also home to several other Chatt staples. You've got the wildly popular Champy’s Fried Chicken, the always-busy coffee shop and meeting place The Camp House, and J.J.’s Bohemia, Chattanooga’s “favorite little venue” that serves up live music from both nationally touring bands and up-and-coming hip, local outfits.

Also on MLK is UTC’s McKenzie Arena, where you don’t have to be a student to enjoy sporting events and concerts. Also, the area’s biggest hospital, Erlanger, is right around the corner if you ever need it.

If this sounds like a good neighborhood to call home, check out some of the apartments near Georgia Avenue, the restored historic homes in the Fortwood district, or the newer homes hidden in the neighborhood along Eighth Street.

4. The Southside - Cozy, Fun, Relaxed

No bigger transformation has taken place in the city in recent years than on the Southside. Starting just south of 12th Street and running down to 20th, the Southside has evolved from a decaying neighborhood to Chattanooga’s most-talked-about residential and recreational spot. From Cowart Place to Fort Negley, Jefferson Heights, and beyond, the Southside is overflowing with a wide selection of both modern and traditional housing options.

Each year, the 24-hour MAINX24 festival celebrates local businesses on Main Street (the heart of the Southside) with a marathon of free food, parades, parties, and more. The rest of the year, locals and visitors eat at Main Street staples like Alleia, Bluegrass Grill, Taqueria Jalisco, and the local staple Zarzour’s. If you’re in the mood for a drink, hang out for a bit at the Flying Squirrel Bar, one of Chattanooga’s more upscale places to grab an old-fashioned with friends. If you want a burger with your booze, swing around the corner to The Terminal Brewhouse, a fantastic local brew-pub and kitchen.

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel has recently undergone major renovations, and now she shares the property with nationally acclaimed live music venues the Revelry Room and Track29. And the acclaim isn't for nothing-- they've hosted huge acts like Jack White, the Avett Brothers, the Flaming Lips, and Jason Isbell. If you’re in the mood to laugh, check out the touring comedians who regularly appear at the Comedy Catch.

For sporting events, there's the nearby Finley Stadium. Finley draws thousands of people each year to see the UTC Mocs football team, the Chattanooga Football Club, and other events. Finally, if you want to buy local, the adjacent First Tennessee Pavilion hosts the open-air Chattanooga Market every Sunday. Crowds pour in every week to buy local produce, artisan foods, and local arts and crafts.

5. St. Elmo - Hip, Historic, Peaceful

Located at the foot of Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo has seen a renaissance of its own over the last few decades. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, St. Elmo was a thriving, independent municipality before its incorporation into Chattanooga in 1929.

The area was slumping by the 1970s, but things have started to turn around in recent decades. One by one, its turn-of-the-century homes are being restored to their original splendor. St. Elmo’s small business area is bustling, too. Be sure to visit 1885 Grill, Mojo Burrito, or Sawasdee, before hopping a ride on the Incline Railway for a trip up the side of Lookout Mountain.

6. The Chattanooga Suburbs - Plenty of Options

While Chattanooga is a mid-sized city, it still feels very much like a small town. Much of that has to do with the variety of suburbs that surround the city in every direction. If downtown living isn’t your thing, you’ll find a pleasant variety of living situations in Missionary Ridge, Red Bank, East Brainerd, Ooltewah, Hixson, East Ridge, or Harrison. Each 'burb has its own personality, with a variety of shops, restaurants, and attractions.

Chowin’ Down in Chatt-town

7. Don’t miss The Bitter Alibi

Founded in 2014, the Bitter Alibi is in the heart of the “innovation district.” It embodies so many of the best aspects of what’s happening in Chattanooga right now. Local entrepreneurs Matt Skudlarek and Jason Bowers took what was an empty 3 story house and turned it into one of the most popular and unique bars in the city.

The BA (as it’s more affectionately known), is unlike anywhere else in Chattanooga. They offer a delightful blend of divey-unpretentiousness, quirky branding and copywriting, southern hospitality, and a strong selection of all things “craft”--craft beer, craft food, and craft cocktails. With the Bitter Alibi, Skudlarek and Bowers have managed to create not only a bar but a community as well. This is a Chattanooga staple you don’t want to miss.

8. The Bluff View Art District has a little bit of everything

Located next to the Hunter Museum of Art, The Bluff View Art District is one of Chattanooga’s most unique destinations. Here you can enjoy global cuisine at the Back Inn Cafe, classic Italian cuisine in a casual atmosphere at Tony’s Pasta and Trattoria, or a wide variety of sandwiches, coffees, and desserts at the European-style coffee shop Rembrandt’s Coffee House.

9. Chattanooga has a great coffee scene

If you’re a coffee lover thinking of relocating to Chattanooga, it’s okay to get a little excited. Chattanooga is a place that knows how to make and appreciate a good cup of coffee. And when we say that, we don’t mean that Chattanoogans like to order the pour-over at Starbucks.

The Scenic City is home to many local roasteries (like Velo Coffee, where they deliver all their coffee on bicycles) and local coffee shops that serve up artisan coffees harvested around the world. The coffee culture is alive and well in Chatt. In fact, there are several high-quality coffee shops in every single neighborhood we listed above. For a few of our favorites, check out Mean Mug in the Southside, Revelator on the North Shore, The Camp House on MLK, and Plus Coffee in St. Elmo.

10. Let the Monens Cook You a Meal

When it comes to Chattanooga cuisine, Mike and Taylor Monen have the magic touch. They brought “fresh-mex at its finest” to the North Shore at Taco Mamacita, followed by the beloved burger bar, Urban Stack. At Milk & Honey, they offer homemade gelato, fresh fruit, popsicles, craft coffee, and other goodies. Finally, at Clyde's on Main, they've turned an old Auto Glass shop into a delightfully divey bar and restaurant featuring ping-pong, shuffleboard, cornhole and live music. These four are Chattanooga must-visits. Simple as that.

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11. Pizza-town, USA?

Chattanooga might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think “Pizza Capital of America.” That said, it definitely has more to offer than just frozen pizzas and national chains. There are several local spots that make for a deliciously varied pizza-scape (you know, like a landscape but for pizza).

For starters, Crust (both in Red Bank and on Broad Street toward St. Elmo) offers unique “super famous cracker thin” crust and, to be quite honest, the best pizza buffet in town. If you’re looking for a little more “traditional” pizza, you can’t go wrong with Lupi’s Pizza Pies. Lupi’s has been baking up pies for over 18 years, and they always have a fantastic selection of craft beers and local, fresh ingredients for their pizzas. Lastly, the Monen-owned Community Pie at Miller Plaza is a great place if you’re looking for something a little more “interesting” on your pizza (prosciutto, arugula, and fig, anyone?). With creative pizzas, great sandwiches, tasty salads and a wide variety of drinks, Community Pie is worth a visit or two (or three).

12. Use The House App and Be In the Know

The House is a 'what's going on tonight' app for Chattanooga residents. Made locally here in Chattanooga, the app features all the best local restaurants and bars in town. Every day you can log onto The House and see and what is going on that day: happy hours, specials, events, live music, and more. The House also allows the restaurant owner to create exclusive offers within the app and push it to The House members. Download it and always be in the know on what's happening around Chattanooga. The House is available for both iPhone and Android.

Want to Go Shopping?

13. Shop pretty much everywhere

Explore almost any part of town, and you’ll find boutiques and shops centers of all sizes. To us, this is part of the beauty of Chattanooga's "small town feel with big city amenities"-- it still has those "hole in the wall" places you can't help but love.

14. We can’t forget the malls

Hamilton Place off I-75 in East Brainerd and Northgate Mall are the two main malls in Chattanooga. Both are packed with shoppers on the weekends, but visiting during the week will give you more freedom to explore these palaces of commerce. And don’t forget to check out the freshly revitalized Warehouse Row just south of Miller Plaza-- a wonderful conglomerate of fine dining and upscale, boutique shopping.

15. Don’t miss McKay's Used Books and CDs

Looking for a great deal on gently used books, music, or movies? Looking to trade or sell some old stuff for something new? Maybe you’re just looking for a day browsing the stacks and discovering your next favorite fiction writer? If so, McKay's is your place. Once you spend an afternoon getting lost in the book shelves and racks of vinyl, you’ll want to spend another. And another. And then maybe just one more.

Discover Outdoor Chattanooga

16. Start by checking out Roots Rated

The Scenic City’s collection of mountains, rivers, and forests make it a nationally recognized outdoor destination for backpacking, camping, caving, hiking, rock climbing, and more. But don’t take our word for it. Visit Roots Rated, a Chattanooga-based website that curates information on hiking trails, swimming holes, and other outdoor spots, serving up expert recommendations on all that outdoor Chattanooga has to offer.

17. Take a stroll along the riverwalk

One of Chattanooga’s most beloved outdoor attractions is the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a 13-mile riverside path which runs parallel to the Tennessee River from the Chickamauga Dam all the way to downtown. With parks and picnic areas lining the route, the Riverwalk is the perfect place to spend a Saturday in the Scenic City.

18. Visit High Point Climbing and Fitness

It's not hard to see why Climbing Magazine named High Point the “country’s coolest gym” in 2015. The gym features 10,000 square feet of indoor climbing at its Riverside facility and another 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor climbing at its downtown location. Yep, they let you climb on the outside of the building.

19. For the brave, there’s Lookout Mountain Flight Park

“Fortune favors the bold,” said Virgil. We can’t promise you a fortune here, but what we can promise is enough adrenaline to last the next six months of your life--easy. Lookout Mountain Flight Park is the country’s number one hang-gliding school, and it’s only about half an hour away from downtown Chattanooga. Come check out some live action hang-gliding here, and, if you’re feeling up for it, take a flight of your own.

20. Stay a night (or two) at The Crash Pad

Dubbed “an uncommon hostel” by its founders, The Crash Pad provides both clean, affordable accommodations and an outdoor community hub for those exploring the city and the surrounding area. Added bonus: it’s right next to The Flying Squirrel, the classy bar that we mentioned earlier.

Some Other Things You Should Know About Living in Chattanooga (A Few Pros & Cons)

21. Unfortunately, there is some traffic

While not as bad as other cities, Chattanooga has its own issues with traffic. Brainerd Road, US-27, and the Ridge Cut on I-24 can all get congested during rush hour--as can many other main roads.

Although Chattanooga doesn’t have a choo-choo anymore, it does have a mass transit system that is widely available, air conditioned, and wifi enabled. So, depending on where you live, you may be able to ease the pain of your commute with some good-old-fashioned public transportation. Although, we will say, most of the time you’re still going to need your own car or bike.

If you are into biking, you’re in luck. The city has added bike lanes downtown, and you can also rent a bike through the city’s bike share system with 33 convenient corner locations.

22. It’s called “Gig City” for a reason

Through the city-owned Electric Power Board, Chattanooga was the first city in the nation to offer gigabit Internet speeds. Because of this, Chatt has become a hub for tech start-ups eager to benefit from the extremely affordable, blazing fast internet and low cost-of-living.

(We're not kidding about blazing fast and affordable. If you have friends in tech, just tell them that you’re moving to Chattanooga. Watch them drool when they realize how much upload/download speed you can get for your dollar.)

23. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

As we mentioned before, Chattanooga is growing. And, as we all know, growth means jobs. Aside from the growing tech sector, thousands of locals work in healthcare, insurance, and finance, and, yes, even manufacturing. Amazon’s fulfillment center and the Volkswagen Chattanooga assembly plant—both opened in 2011—have brought thousands of jobs to the area.

The city also has a vibrant freelance community, with scores of professionals working together on projects, often in collaborative workspaces like the Society of Work.

24. The nightlife is anything but sleepy (forgive the pun… please)

Downtown Chattanooga used to go to sleep at 5:00 p.m. every night. Not anymore. Now, it’s one of the best places you can be post-sundown. On top of everywhere else we’ve already mentioned, the Tivoli Theater and Memorial Auditorium bring their own energy to Chatt's nightlife. These local venues host nationally renowned outfits, like Matt Kearney, Band of Horses, Iron & Wine, and more.

Every June, thousands of music fans flock to the Riverbend Festival for seven nights of music from national, regional, and local acts. On Friday nights during the spring and summer, the Nightfall Concert Series offers free diverse, quality music right in the heart of the city.

25. It’s still a tourist town (for better or for worse)

Chattanooga will always be a tourist town. Depending on who you are, this could be frustrating, fun, laughable, or totally inconsequential. Most of the time it feels like a little bit of each.

So where do these tourists go? We’ve already mentioned the Tennessee Aquarium and the IMAX theater, but thousands of visitors also love Rock City, Ruby Falls, and (if they have kids) the Creative Discovery Museum. For Civil War buffs, the sights at Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga battlefields are irresistible. Last but not least, we can't forget the classic Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park. This baby features everything from an old-school wooden roller coaster to a brand-new water park, all for a killer low price.

26. There’s an impressive art scene

Chattanooga is not only home to the renowned Hunter Museum of Art (and other galleries), but also many arts festivals and organizations.

For one, there's the annual 4 Bridges Arts Festival which showcases and awards local and national visual artists. Another celebration of the arts, launched in 2013, is the Chattanooga Film Festival. This festival attracts filmmakers and film lovers from across the country for 4 days of independent films, workshops, panels, and parties. During the rest of the year, festival founder Chris Dortch operates the Palace Picture House, a space devoted to bringing new, classic, obscure and genre cinema to the Scenic City.

Local organization ArtsBuild has invested more than $70M in the local community’s leading arts organization. They focus on funding programs for our students and teachers and bringing the arts to Chattanooga’s most underserved.

27. It’s home to some pretty cool organizations

Causeway employs an entrepreneurial approach to inspire and equip Chattanoogans to develop smarter solutions for problems facing the city-- think “start up incubator for non-profits."

The Co.Lab is a nonprofit startup accelerator (not to be confused with Causeway, a startup accelerator for non-profits) that helps Chattanoogans turn their ideas into businesses.

Leadership Chattanooga prepares local young professionals for business, cultural and political roles through a 10-month leadership training program. Want to get involved in a cool project in your new city?

Click here for a list of groups and organizations that could help you and use your help.

Like what you see?

It's not hard to see why Chattanooga is so loved by so many, and this is by no means a complete list of everything it has to offer. Once you've settled into your new place, be sure to take some time to find your own hidden gems (and let us know what we left out!)

Is there anything you’d like us to write about? Email our editor at editor@getbellhops.com