5 Best Photo Opportunities in Chattanooga

Photo Opportunities Chattanooga

Lee Van Grack

Well-reputed as the "Scenic City," Chattanooga offers beautiful photo opportunities. It is, after all, the true heart of the Tennessee Valley. This southeastern part of Tennessee, along with the Georgia and Alabama borders, comprises a tri-state area full of historic buildings and natural, rugged landscapes – needless to say, some of the area's best photo opportunities. Chattanooga travel photography must include the historic Riverfront and Ross's Landing, too, located at the very edge of the Tennessee River.

Read further to discover what many deem the five best photo ops in Chattanooga.

1. Take It to the Cliffs: The Bluff View Art District

Bluff View Art District is one of the most romantic areas in the Southeast. The neighborhood climbs steeply above the downtown shopping and sightseeing districts and is full of bistros and small art galleries. There are several inns, as well as majestic homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries now restored to their original grandeur.

The centerpiece of this area, and a must for anyone interested in Chattanooga travel photography, is the Hunter Museum of American Art. The museum's original building, now the nucleus of the facility, is a large Edwardian-style mansion that sits imposingly upon the cliff. It dominates the downtown scene – the first of the five best photo opportunities in Chattanooga.

Where does one eat in this artsy area? One of my favorite restaurants in the district is Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria. The authentic Italian food and atmosphere receives top marks by locals ever year. You can sit inside and admire the classic décor, or lounge outside atop the restaurant roof and take in the view of the cliffs.

Later, to work off the superb food and wine, take a walk down to the small park on the riverbank. There you will find several more Chattanooga photo opportunities among the outdoor sculptures. These poignant originals are composed of metal, and you'll find them everywhere throughout the district – on sidewalks, street corners and at business entrances. My personal favorite is the statue entitled "The Prodigal Son."

Although the Bluff View Art District resides barely above downtown, it feels a world away. The cliffs have a quiet, majestic stillness about them. It is no surprise that they were a sacred spot to the Cherokee Indians before the first bluff settlers, or "cliff dwellers," arrived.

Bluff View Art District, 411 East Second Street, Chattanooga, TN 37403; 423-265-5033, 800-725-8338; hours/admissions vary based on gallery/restaurant

Hunter Museum of American Art, 10 Bluff View Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37403;
423-267-0968; Mon-Tue, Fri-Sat 10AM-5PM; Wed and Sun Noon-5PM; Thu 10AM-8PM; Adults $9.95, Children (3-17) $4.95, Children under 3 free; first Sunday of every month admission is free for everyone

Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria, 212 High Street, Chattanooga, TN 37403; 423-265-5033; Mon-Thu, Sun 11AM-9PM Fri-Sat 11AM-10PM

2. Frolic with the Fairies

Another source of incredible Chattanooga photo opportunities is Rock City, a conglomeration of massive rock formations located high above the city on Lookout Mountain.

The Battle Above the Clouds was held here during the Civil War. Both Confederate and Union forces said that seven states could be viewed from the summit. Native Americans inhabited the area at one time.

In the 1900s, Garnet Carter and his wife Frieda purchased the property hoping to turn it into a residential neighborhood. One of his ideas was to have a golf course there, but the rugged landscape made this nearly impossible. So instead, he built one of the first miniature golf courses in the nation. His idea was so successful that he later franchised Tom Thumb Golf. Frieda, meanwhile, worked constantly to create the trail that now winds through the park. She loved fairies and imported gnomes and other fairytale sculptures from Europe to place along the trail. Carter soon realized his wife's passion was something that people would pay to see. Thus, Rock City was born.

Today, those who walk along the trails of these bizarre rock formations can observe more than 400 species of native trees, wildflowers and shrubs. The fairies are still present throughout the park and are a delight to children. This "Citadel of Rock" also features a 1,000-ton balanced rock – one of the park's best photo opportunity. Chattanooga visitors can pose as if they're holding it themselves.

Rock City, 1400 Patten Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750; 706-820–2531, 800-854–0675; Jan 3–Mar 13 8:30AM – 5PM, Mar 14–May 28 8:30AM – 6PM, May 29–Sept 6 8:30AM–8PM, Sept 7–Nov 6 8:30AM–6PM, Nov 6–Nov 18 8:30AM – 5PM, Nov 19–January 1 8:30AM – 4PM; Adults $17.95, Children (3-12) $9.95

3. Pose with the Peacocks at the Chattanooga Zoo

From free-roaming peacocks and spirited spider monkeys to prowling jaguars and charismatic chimps, you can find them all at The Chattanooga Zoo. Photo opportunities here are many, and so are family fun experiences. Located just five minutes above downtown in Warner Park, the zoo features rock and foliage set-ups that make the perfect background for family photos. Another highlight of the zoo complex is the large carousel, where colorful ponies with gilded poles invite both young and old for a ride – and a snapshot of delight.

Chattanooga Zoo, 301 North Holtzclaw Ave, Chattanooga, TN 37404, 423-697-1322; open daily 9AM-5PM (except Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year's Day); Adults $8, Seniors (65+) $6, Kids (3-15) $5, Kids (2 and under) free

4. Sunset Smile on the Walnut Street Walking Bridge

When the Walnut Street Bridge closed to automobile traffic and the city of Chattanooga built a new one, they left the old one intact. Today it has been renovated and is a wonderful pedestrian source for navigating the downtown, historic and business districts. It was on this bridge at sunset, during an annual Riverbend Festival, that my husband asked me to date him exclusively, which a few months later propelled our relationship into an engagement and then marriage. The majestic old bridge straddles the Tennessee River and provides some of the most breathtaking views of Chattanooga.

Walking over the bridge in the daytime provides beautiful and colorful photographs, as well. Often, early on Saturdays, non-profits organize walks and marathons on the bridge. The foresight government leaders had in retaining the bridge instead of tearing it down has proved invaluable, as the structure is a beloved and integral part of the downtown Chattanooga experience. I have not seen the flavor of it duplicated anywhere in the Southeast.

Walnut Street Bridge, Walnut Street over Tennessee River, Chattanooga, TN
5. Southern Belle

Take a cruise on the Southern Belle Riverboat and fill your memory card with photographs. Meanwhile, fill your heart with memories to last a lifetime. The Chattanooga Riverboat cruise line offers excursions of all sorts, from a daytime lunch cruise with a group to a romantic dinner cruise for two. Throughout the year, cruises often feature appropriate themes. One of our favorites has been the midnight cruise where we danced to classic 60s and 70s music into the wee hours of the morning. The breezes beckon and the view of the Tennessee River is incredible in the midnight air.

You can also gather the whole family for a gospel music cruise, or rent out the whole boat for a corporate event or a wedding reception. We attended one wedding reception aboard the boat – a complete evening blast that exceeded the typical cake and punch event. The couple will always have kudos from us and the other guests for such a charming, unforgettable experience.

Chattanooga Riverboat, 201 Riverfront Parkway, Pier 2, Chattanooga, TN 37402;
423-266-4488; Lunch Cruise (1.5 hrs) Adult $19.50, Child $9.50; Sightseeing Cruise (1.5 hrs) Adult $13.50, Child $6.50; Dinner Cruise (7-9PM) Adult $38.50, Child $16.50

All these opportunities and more await in Chattanooga. Travel photography in the Scenic City is a shutterbug's delight!
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