Families love Chattanooga, and for good reason. Each season offers annual events that bring loved ones together for music, athletics, fine arts, historical experiences, and holiday fun. Here’s what to add to your schedule for the coming year.
3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival, Fall
Founded in 2007 by bluegrass fiddler Fletcher Bright, 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival is a free two-day event in Chattanooga featuring some of the most prominent musicians in bluegrass. The annual event has hosted Bela Fleck, Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, and others. Held at Ross’ Landing by the Tennessee River and named one of the Top Five Bluegrass Festivals in the United States by American Country magazine in 2017, the festival is kid-friendly and dog-friendly (provided your dog is friendly). The fall 2021 lineup includes Missy Raines, Twisted Pine, New Dismembered Tennesseeans, Del McCoury Band, Chatham County Line, Ricky Skaggs, and Fireside Collective. Note: 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival is a non-camping event, and outside food and drink is not allowed.
The Tennessee Aquarium does Halloween right. The weekend before Halloween, the aquarium hosts a night of indoor trick-or-treating that includes a dance party with R2D2, animal meet-and-greets, animal exhibits decorated with jack-o’-lanterns, and costumed scuba divers swimming in tanks. Scattered throughout the two side-by-side buildings – Ocean Journey and River Journey – are candy stations manned by pirates, princesses, and other special guests. Kids love AquaScarium because it’s the ultimate trick-or-treating experience. They get a lot of candy, and it’s the good stuff (think chocolate). AquaScarium is a ticketed event, so keep an eye on the Tennessee Aquarium event listings for details.
Enchanted Garden of Lights, Winter
One of Chattanooga’s most beautiful Christmas traditions, Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights offers families a magical night walking trails adorned in 30 Christmas scenes and more than a million LED lights. While listening to familiar carols and greeting characters like Jack Frost, elves, and an ice queen along the way, you’ll see light displays including a candy cane forest, toy soldiers, rocking horses, teddy bears, a sledding snowman, a giant gingerbread house, a giant Christmas star atop a 100-foot waterfall, and more. High atop Lookout Mountain, Rock City is an outdoor attraction made up of a woodland path, massive rock formations, more than 400 native plant species, a swing-a-long bridge, and views of seven states. An evening at Enchanted Garden of Lights also includes cookie decorating, live entertainment, a retelling of the nativity story, and a meet-and-greet with Santa.
Christmas Underground, Winter
Ruby Falls’ annual Christmas Underground is a unique adventure for Santa enthusiasts and kids at heart. Throughout the month of December, guests can take a magical journey to the North Pole; along the way, encounter snow flurries, Sugar Plum Village, synchronized musical Christmas trees, and a glittering ice cave. At the end of the journey is a meet-and-greet with the big man himself! Kids will get a keepsake geode and a digital photo with Santa, while everyone is sure to enjoy the remarkable natural surroundings – not to mention the thundering 145-foot waterfall – that awaits 1,120 feet underground. What’s more, the entire Ruby Falls complex is decked out in holiday decorations, making spirits bright for the whole family.
A charming tradition in Chattanooga’s Southside neighborhood, Mainx24 is basically a big block party kicking off the Christmas season. The entire day is scheduled, hour by hour, with holiday-themed fun. For example, in 2019, Mainx24 kicked off with a pancake breakfast at 6:30 a.m., a toy and coat drive at 6:45 a.m., a kids’ coloring station at 7 a.m., a wreath sale at 8 a.m., music at The Granfalloon at 8:30 a.m., an Ice Plunge Challenge at Sisu Sauna Studio and a recharging station at The Center for Mindful Living at 9 a.m., a parade at 10 a.m. – you get the idea. In the past, Mainx24 has also included gallery open houses, Christmas crafts, live music, gift-wrapping demonstrations, pet portraits, a ballroom dance party, and an adult big wheel race. After a year off in 2020 due to pandemic precautions, the event is set to return in 2021.
4 Bridges Arts Festival, Spring
An outdoor juried fine arts festival hosted at First Horizon Pavilion downtown, 4 Bridges Arts Festival showcases the talent of 120 artists and gives away $20,000 in cash awards. What’s great about this event for families is that it’s a simple way to give your kids access to the visual arts. Also, youth under age 18 get in free. In addition to the artists’ booths, 4 Bridges Arts Festival features live music and local food trucks. The nationally recognized festival is produced by the Association for Visual Arts.
Day Out With Thomas, Spring
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) is best known for its nostalgic train rides through Chattanooga and the Hiwassee. An organization dedicated to collecting railroad artifacts for preservation and display, it’s key to preserving and commemorating the role railroads played in the history of the region. For families with young children, Day Out With Thomas™ is a can’t-miss annual event at TVRM. You’ll meet Sir Topham Hatt, Controller of the Railway, then play with train tables, listen to storytelling, and enjoy crafts and coloring sheets. Every hour, Thomas the Train – a TVRM steam train outfitted as everyone’s favorite blue engine – departs for rides.
Hug-a-Bunny Days, Spring
Kids of all ages will love this interactive event at the Chattanooga Zoo. Celebrating the arrival of spring and the Easter holiday, Hug-a-Bunny Days allow guests to meet some of the zoo’s cutest furry creatures (yes, including bunnies). A scavenger hunt, games, and special animal enrichment activities are set up around the zoo, and children can also have their photo taken with the Easter Bunny. While you’re there, be sure to explore the 13-acre zoo and see some of its wildest residents, from giraffes and chimpanzees to snow leopards and komodo dragons. Details on Hug-a-Bunny Days will come available as the event date approaches.
Chattanooga Lookouts Home Games, Spring/Summer
Chattanooga’s Minor League Baseball team plays at AT&T Field in the heart of downtown. The stadium is walking distance to some of the Scenic City’s most noteworthy attractions and restaurants: Creative Discovery Museum, Tennessee Aquarium, High Point Climbing & Fitness, Classic Arcade Pinball Museum, Big River Grille, The Ice Cream Show, and more. A night at a Chattanooga Lookouts game is a stress-free and exciting experience for families. Looie, the team mascot in a big red hat, meanders around the stadium for autographs and photos with children. On-field games between fans and Lookouts staff will keep you entertained in between innings. (Imagine three grown men racing each other to put on a frozen t-shirt.) During dance breaks, your kids will obsess over trying to catch themselves on the big screen. Plus, the food in the concession stands is nostalgic and, honestly, really tasty. After you’ve had a hot dog, nachos, or soft serve ice cream, settle in until the final inning, especially if it’s Friday. Many Friday night games end in fireworks.
Pops on the River, Summer
Coolidge Park on Chattanooga’s Northshore draws quite a crowd for this annual outdoor Independence Day celebration. The evening begins with a patriotic concert by the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera (CSO) and ends with a remarkable fireworks display. Families are known to make a day of it, setting up chairs and picnic blankets, exploring the Walnut Street Walking Bridge’s views of the Tennessee River, and perusing the local restaurants and businesses on Frazier Avenue. Coolidge Park is also home to a 100-year-old restored wooden carousel and an interactive water fountain where the kids can cool off. One block over, accessible via sidewalks, Renaissance Park is home to two massive grassy hills that often play host to children sledding on cardboard boxes.