Itinerary: 3-day family trip to Chattanooga from Atlanta

Disclosure: Our experience was part of a partnership where we received compensation and gratis experiences for our time, and for this post. While our time was bought, our opinions were not. 

Need a family getaway, but don’t relish the thought of flying or driving that far?  Chattanooga is the perfect blend of distance, activities, and natural wonders.  The combination allows for a day trip for those visiting Atlanta;  a weekend getaway for Atlanta families;  or even another stopping point for a road trip extending through Georgia.
We did the planning for you and give you three days that will keep your family, of all ages, active and enjoying Chattanooga’s more popular area attractions.

Day 1

Morning- Within 2 hours of Atlanta, Chattanooga road trips don’t have to start before the rooster crows to still be an adventure packed day.  Leaving by 9:30am will have you pulling into the Chattanooga area for an early lunch. Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken is a perfect choice for families- covered patio (inside seating also available); paper plates; simple but tasty menu; license plate clad walls; whimsical folk-art inspired murals; and an environment welcoming everyone from families, to bikers, to businessmen. Their family meal options provide a substantial, yet economical restaurant experience.  
Afternoon- Before check-in time at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, enjoy all of the onsite railroad-themed activities and museums: ride the trolley; explore the formal gardens; take a self-guided tour of the Model Railroad Museum; take a 30-minute horse and carriage ride; or explore their various shops.
If you are itching to get downtown, then park your car and ride the FREE Downtown Electric Shuttle from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo to the aquarium area.  Walk down to the river and take a hike along the Tennessee Riverwalk. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk across the Walnut Bridge to Coolidge park, or the Holmberg footbridge to the Bluff View Arts District. After your afternoon exploration, hop the electric shuttle back to the hotel. 
It is time to check-in.  Older kids can enjoy a dip in the numerous indoor/outdoor pools at the Choo-Choo, while younger kiddos can get in a nap before the evening activities.
Evening- Around 5pm, take the shuttle downtown to the aquarium.  Pick up your tickets for the River Gorge Explorer from the Tennessee Aquarium Will Call area before 6pm.  We recommend that reservation be made in advance, especially for the sunset trip.  Cooler temperatures, more wildlife sightings, and gorgeous sunset views are all advantages to be had from this particular trip timing.
Grab a quick bite to eat at Cheeburger Cheeburger, located across Market Street off the Ocean Journey side of the aquarium. Other conveniently located family-friendly dinner options include Blue Plate and Mellow Mushroom, both located off the River Journey side of the aquarium.
Board the River Gorge Explorer by 6:45pm, at the Chattanooga Pier. The boat leaves promptly at 7pm. This roundtrip excursion take you into “Tennessee’s Grand Canyon”, the Tennessee River Gorge, and lasts approximately 2 hours.
Be sure to read the full post of our River Gorge Explorer adventure, for a more detailed account.
Around 9pm you will return to the Chattanooga Pier.  By the time you disembark, meander across the street to the shuttle stop, ride back to the hotel, and make it to your room...expect it to be around 10pm.
Get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow is a big day! 

Day 2

Morning- Load the family in the car and head towards Rock City.  Stop at Chattanooga Coffee Company for a light bite and some java.  Don’t worry, there are kid friendly breakfast options- yogurt, fruit, bagel, cinnamon bun, etc.  The roasting studio, located off of Broad Street, provides breakfast entertainment as you watch them roasting the coffee on premises.
Plan to arrive at Rock City NO LATER than 10am to be able to fit all three attractions into one day.  You can arrive as early as 8:30, if your disposition and dynamics allow.
Plan on having a light snack at the Cliff Terrace area at Rock City- about half-way through Rock City. This is a perfect spot to take a break and really enjoy the views over the Chattanooga Valley.

For a more information on all 8 Tennessee road trips highlighted in the "Make Summer Last in Tennessee" promotion, please visit Travel Mindset. Now through August 15, 2013, you can enter to win your own Chattanooga adventure. 

Afternoon- Plan to head towards Ruby Falls around lunchtime.  On the way, stop at Cafe on the Corner for a BIG and filling lunch to carry you through. Now that you are full, it is time to make your way to Ruby Falls.  The heat of the day is a perfect time, as this experience is completely subterranean. The entire tour experience is about 1.5 hours.  Upon exiting you can also climb the tower, play on the playground, eat in the cafe, zip line, and even go gem panning.  Don’t forget that your exit is always through the gift shop.  Build in time and boundaries for that.
Head back up the mountain to Incline Railway. Board from the top and do the roundtrip.
Finish off at Point Park as the cool of the evening hits. Depending on the time of the year, it closes between 5-6.  If your time is getting to close then do Point Park first and save Incline Railway for last.  Weekends year round, and summer all week have later hours, when the last roundtrip car leave at 8:50 pm.
Evening- Should you take the Incline Railway down at a time that allows for dinner. St. Elmo at the bottom has a restaurant. Because it was such a long day of activities, we were exhausted.  We opted for calling Lupi's Pizza before leaving Lookout Mountain, and placing an order with their downtown location. An easy pickup and right back to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, where we ate in our room.  The door opened to the waterfall pool area, that our room looked over, making it the perfect ending to our day.  

For a more detailed itinerary of today’s activities, as well as tips and tricks, see our article- “Spend an entire day: Adventure and family fun on Lookout Mountain”. 

Day 3

Morning- Go ahead and pack up the car to check out. Of the main rotunda area, where you check out, is the Gardens Restaurant with a breakfast buffet. Eat a BIG breakfast to tide you over and accommodate a late lunch. Four tickets to the buffet were included in our package booked at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, as well as MOST of the tickets
for attractions included in this itinerary.
You can take the free shuttle downtown, but we opted to drive downtown and park right at the aquarium. $9 all-day parking.  Do both buildings of the Tennessee Aquarium- start with the River Journey and then onto the Ocean journey.  
Afternoon- Eat a diner style late lunch at Blue Plate, conveniently located at the corner between the aquarium and the IMAX theater.  Check the daily schedule, but most days have hourly or every-other hour showings.  We opted for a 4pm IMAX show with popcorn.
Now is time to start prepping the family for the ride home.  This is a great time to let the kids play in the water features around the aquarium. Between 6-7pm, change the wet clothes for PJs.  Load up and drive back to Atlanta to arrive just in time for bed.

How to get there:

From Atlanta, take I-75N into Tennessee. Merge onto I-24W, via Exit 2.  Look for signs into the downtown Chattanooga area.

Time savers:

Many area hotels, also have attraction packages available.  These not only provide some minor savings, but also help to budget and save time.  Our experience at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo allowed us to pick up all our included tickets as we checked in, with the option to pick them up earlier in the day before check-in.



Southern Soul Barbeque - St Simons Island, Ga

Seen on both Food Network and TLC, as well as being featured in pages of Southern Living; Southern Soul Barbeque serves up it’s celebrated ‘que’ without excessive flair. Pull up a picnic table; the kiddos will be spellbound watching planes descending into the local airport, while the adults bask in a relaxed ambiance complete with ‘soul’ music.

Southern Soul Barbeque
2020 Demere Road
St. Simons Island, GA
(912) 638-7686
Dining Type Sandwiches, barbeque plates, and ‘southern’ sides; full service bar with beer on tap

Ambiance Casual and easy-going

What’s to Eat
Their approach to food mimics the ambiance - simplicity that works. Their barbeque is cooked on smokers adjacent to the outside seating. You will not find meat that is overpowered with seasoning. If you are diabetic though, proceed with caution because these boys use lots of sugar and honey on their products. The sweetness cooked on nothing but wood is moist perfection.
Our pulled pork portion was HUGE. We are talking chunks of yumminess, as opposed to the shaved variety. There are 4 choices of sauce to personalize your grub, including a hot & spicy that is appealing to the masses; a perfect layer of taste with just the right amount of kick.
As a good ‘southern gal’, I have had my fair share of greens. While novices often try them ‘virgin’ style, I was raised knowing you added peppered vinegar sauce for a palatable experience. Just for giggles I opted for a virgin bite here. Shock and surprise!! Southern Soul uses their pork rub in their concoction of greens, making them preferable without pepper sauce.
In lieu of french fry sides, opt for the more unique offering of fried green beans. Their size and shape made for the perfect carrier to sample the variety of sauces on site.

Location, Location, Location
Occupying an old 1940s gas station and situated at the corner of Malcolm McKinnon Airport, this joint oozes ambiance.

Peek Inside
A walk inside this ‘hole in the wall’ style joint yields a bar-like counter to order at with minimal inside seating. If you have a large family or party, then just go ahead and know in your mind that you will be seating yourself outside. Sitting outside is not a banishment, but rather the optimal place to soak up the environment.
Outside you are greeted by three rows of wooden picnic style seating; flanking one end is the side parking lot and the other by the black, hot metal smoker from which the meat of your order was cooked to perfection.
Oddly-situated road-side at a round-a-bout, the noise from cars is minimal. Any noise is drowned out by the sound of Johnny Cash on the sound system.

Kid Focus
Often the hardest thing with kids is keeping them entertained when they are not actively eating. Here that is solved. On the other side of the round-a-bout is McKinnon Airport. Your vantage on the picnic tables allows you to watch as planes come into view just before clearing the tops of the trees and making their landing on the runway just out of view. Our boys cheered with delight each time they spied one of these small planes.
Only caution is on a windy day, the smoke from the giant smoker can whip around and irritate sensitive eyes. Opt for a seat towards the end opposite, which will also cut down on the mommy paranoia of little hands touching the hot smoker.
We have a grilled cheese aficionado is our posse. Even though it was not on the menu, they whipped up a fantastic specimen for him.  

Customer Service
The girls brought our order out with a smile, amongst the throng of our boys clamoring for their edible treasures. One of the joys of this place is its simplicity, so don’t expect a lot of fawning over your party. You will not have a waiter hovering every five minutes to see if you are happy. All our needs were met and questions answered with minimal interaction after our order.
Thanks to the Southern Soul Barbeque for our complimentary meal. Our opinions cannot be bought and are honest and completely our own.

by Lori McMillen Brown


The 4th of May cafe -- St Simons, Ga

Named for the shared birthday of the three friends who founded this restaurant, 4th of May is full of charm, sweet-southern simplicity, and a damn good pimento cheese. This cafe has something for everyone and caters to making you feel comfortable and welcome. Grab a seat outside to soak up the ambiance of the Village Pier area.

The 4th of May cafe
321 Mallory Street
St. Simons Island, GA 31522
(912) 638-5444
Dining Type All day southern comfort: sandwiches, southern staples, pot luck specials,and seafood. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Ambiance Casual and easy-going

What’s to Eat
Expect traditional coastal southern fare, but with attitude: Shrimp & Grits with blackened shrimp and shiitake mushrooms; or Flo’s Burger that is dressed with pimento cheese, fried green tomato and dill pickle aioli. Spiced pecans make an appearance with dried figs and house-made boursin cheese atop artisan lettuce, as a notable appetizer.
Southern cuisine just isn’t traditional without a wide array of vegetables and other side-dishes, and 4th of May does not disappoint. Along with menu residents such as squash casserole, sweet potato fries, black-eyed peas, and tomato pie, be sure to ask about their daily special sides.
We happened upon 4th of May at brunch time. Two mommies traveling with three kiddos were ecstatic to learn that they also had a full bar, allowing for therapeutic mommy-morning MIMOSAS!
While the kiddos opted for more traditional breakfast offerings, we couldn’t help but partake in a pimento cheese plate. While our travels to the Golden Isles offered pimento cheese sampling in plenty, 4th of May was our hands-down, island favorite. The cous cous-like texture was the quintessential balance for pimento cheese consistency. Paired with pickled okra and perfectly toasted points of wheat bread, near perfection was attained. Add the mimosas to the equation and you have found heaven on earth.

Location, Location, Location
4th of May is conspicuously positioned on the corner of Mallery Street and Kings Way. Heralding the turn down the quaint strip of shops to the pier, it provides a perfect place to people watch and take in the ambience of St. Simons.

Peek Inside
Walking in the door, families immediately know that they are not just tolerated but welcomed. The seating area in the entryway has a larger than normal selection of children’s reading, coloring and activity books.
While the inside is inviting and casual, the outside seating is the paragon for your dining experience. Grab a seat towards the railing corner and have some breathing room for the kiddos to be up and about a bit, without fear of invading other customer’s dining space.
Fido bowls conveniently placed outside the railing signal that a well-behaved family bowser could join in the right circumstance.

Kid Focus
The kid menu includes go-to’s such as grilled cheese and chicken fingers. For the ocean-going munchkins, there are smaller portions of grilled or fried shrimp.
Be sure to look past the posted options on the “For the Kids” section, and take advantage of the expansive side dishes. Unlike other Southern restaurants, they don’t label the entire list, including mac and cheese, as vegetable.

Customer Service
The staff was as enjoyable and flavorful as the food. We even had the opportunity to speak to Flo. She is one of the best friends for whom the name sake of the restaurant makes a reference. After the other ‘friends’ retired, Flo’s son joined on. Flo now runs the Fourth of May Catering Company.

Thanks to the 4th of May Restaurant for our media discount. Our opinions cannot be bought and are honest and completely our own.

by Lori McMillen Brown


Membership has it’s privileges - CMA Toddler Book Club

In A Nutshell
Atlanta’s only hands-on museum for kids, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta , continues to bring learning to life by offering a 10-week toddler book club series. Each week, toddlers and their caregivers will gather to enjoy an interactive story time, complete with songs and an art activity. And the best part? Your kiddo gets to keep the book featured that day!

We had an opportunity to visit during the current 10-week program (you know, to give you the KNOW before you go!). While this one is ending, a new 10-week session will be starting soon. Stay tuned for more information so that you can also enjoy the fun.

You’ll begin with an art activity to get your toddler engaged in the theme of the day while you wait for all of the kids to arrive. Not only does this get their little wheels turning, but also it’s a great distraction if you have a little one that is wondering why mommy ushered them through the museum without stopping. Following the art activity and book reading, an Imaginator will help bring the theme to life with songs and role-playing. Our book was The Going To Bed Book by Sandra Boynton. We acted out what you do to prepare for bed, and the kids got to use their energy and cute personalities to answer questions about going to bed. Kids are free to roam the room and express themselves any way that they would like. It can be challenging to get young ones to stay focused, but they enjoyed the activities. The program lasted about 30 minutes.

Let’s be honest, this program is a little pricey if you do not have a membership with Imagine It! already. This is designed as an adjunct opportunity for members; the program charge only covers their cost for 10 books (1 book for each session). As of the writing of this post, there is a membership sale going on RIGHT NOW! Woot!

If you are NOT a member, you can still participate (it just costs more – about $35 per visit over the 10 weeks).

Whether you are a member or not, you can try out a class by dropping in on a class - based on availability. The cost is $10 (plus museum admission) for non-members or $7.50 for members (who already get free museum admission). Just a note, they are expecting the 15-member class to fill to capacity in the upcoming second session, which means 2 things: Drop in option will be very limited, and you should get a membership and sign up right away!

Stay tuned for information and dates for the next Toddler Book Club. We will let you know, but you can also find out more information by checking out the website.

See our general Children’s Museum of Atlanta Adventure Guide

 -- Melissa, Ambassador

Thanks to Imagine It! for our complimentary program visit. While our entrance was gratis, our opinions cannot be bought and are honest and completely our own.

St. Simons Island Lighthouse

St. Simons Lighthouse and Keeper's Museum
For the best view of Pier Village and St. Simons Sound, all it takes is 129 steps...up that is! Make the ascent of this working lighthouse, tour the Keeper’s Dwelling Museum, and take in the surrounding history. Don’t be alarmed if you hear something strange. Many people have reported hearing footsteps in the tower, said to be those of the head keeper who met an untimely end during an altercation with his assistant.

St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum
101 12th St. (at corner of Beachview Drive)
St. Simons, GA
Age Appropriateness
To fully experience it all, you have to be able to climb up 129 stairs and then back down 129 stairs. Should this not be in your ability, there is still the Keeper’s Museum and grounds to see. Admission also includes the Maritime Museum at the Historic Coast Guard Station, located on East Beach at 4201 1st Street.
Caution must be used with younger children. If you have babies/toddlers, then a sling or backpack would be the wisest choice. If utilizing a sling, be sure to wear it on your back so you can still see your feet.
4 years old is our suggested minimum age for climbing. Even with our boys being 4, they were closely supervised on the way up and hands were held tightly on the way down.

Parking is free.

Even though the lighthouse saw a renovation in 2010, the spiral staircase has typical steps known as winders. These steps are narrower on one side than the other. The same way you go up, is the path that others came back down.
Gear Needed
If it is the least bit breezy on the ground, then it will be blustery at the top. For kiddos with sensitive ears, consider a hat or windbreaker. Leave your flip flops for the beach and opt for tennis shoes here.

Time Management
Visiting Hours
The last chance to climb the lighthouse is at 4:30pm. They are very strict about this time for the last climb.
The Maritime Museum, located down the street at East Beach, keeps the same general hours. Be aware thought that they close daily from noon - 1 pm, for lunch.
Exploring the Lighthouse and Keeper's Museum
Don’t expect to sprint up the lighthouse steps. If you are in a hurry, then this is not your cup of sweat-tea. The same steps you are heading up, are the ones that others are coming down. Caution and patience has to be exercised when passing.
Your prize is the view from the top. Take some time to really take it in. This vantage really lets you see that the buoys out in the sound make a "road" for ships to follow.

Money Management
Children under 6 years are free. Admission is discounted for ages 6-11, and Coastal Georgia Historical Society members are free.
Admission also includes the Historic Coast Guard Station, located on East Beach at 4201 1st Street.

Clean restrooms are available just outside the gift shop area. These are actually gorgeous restrooms with massive wooden stall doors that look as though they were made for a giant.

Eats and Treats
There are no concessions located at the Lighthouse Museum itself. Use the time up top to scope out Pier Village, where a mutltitude of eating options exists. Crab cakes at Barbara Jean’s, our favorite Golden Isles pimento cheese at 4th of May, or the most deee-lish ice cream at St Simons Sweets.
Should you have a sudden sugar plumet after your climb, there are some packaged southern sweets in the gift shop by the cashwrap area.

Don’t Miss
Picture Opportunities
Who doesn’t love iconic lighthouse pictures?? Don’t forget to get a picture of your family at the top with the high-altitude scenery in the back, like we forgot to do!
Gift Shop
Their gift shop has a wonderful collection of local history books, and eclectic souveniers with southern charm. This is not the best gift shop to have little kiddos in without you nervously clinging them close. Best to let them play outside with Daddy, and let Mom have a few minutes to gander. Our kiddos loved purchasing a lighthouse pin to put on their backpacks, after conquering their first lighthouse climb!

Kid’s Comments
“Look!! We can see our car from up here!” – Connor, 4 years old. The view afforded a nice vantage of Neptune Parl, Pier Village, and St. Simons Sound.
Thanks to the Golden Isles CVB and St Simons Lighthouse/Coastal Georgia Historical Society for our complimentary tickets. While our visit was complimentary, our opinions cannot be bought and are honest and completely our own.

by Lori McMillen Brown

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