Tennessee is full of so many charming cities and places to enjoy the weekend. For Brother’s birthday, we wanted to have an adventure in a city that we knew he would love. This is about our weekend in Chattanooga with our kids (7, 4, and 10 months.) We had just come back from Memphis so we only wanted to make it a weekend trip therefore we weren’t able to explore as much as we wanted to but the good news is Chattanooga is so close to us that we can definitely go back whenever we want to!
For my kiddos’ birthdays, we only do birthday parties every other year. The alternate years we go on adventures!! My son LOVES aquariums and zoos and all thing reptiles, fish, amphibians, creepy crawlies, etc. Some kids are into dinosaurs, mine is into deep sea monsters. Seriously, he has about 5 angler fish toys. So I have been saving the Tennessee Aquarium for his birthday since we moved to Tennessee. I just knew it would be one of his favorite adventures and he hasn’t stopped talking about our weekend there since.
WHERE WE STAYED
I really researched and compared prices in downtown Chattanooga before I made any decisions on where to stay. The Tennessee Aquarium has several package deals with other hotels so you can stay at that hotel and get tickets for the aquarium and Imax 3D Theater and these packages may be what’s best for your family. I wanted to make sure we stayed somewhere with an indoor pool so we could go swimming as well. After comparing prices with the aquarium hotel packages and what I wanted for my sons birthday weekend, I actually decided to go a whole different route.
The aquarium and Imax theater has a great military discount and I found that to be cheaper than the package deals. I wanted to take my son to see The Chattanooga Choo Choo so I called to see if they had a military discount (I could not find any information online) and they do for the Macarthur Building! That all together was cheaper than the packages. So we decided to stay at the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo gives you the option to stay in the Pullman Train Cars and they do have one that is family sized but a hotel room was much cheaper and more within our budget so we went with the hotel room.
Things to do at Chattanooga Choo Choo
It’s like you are stepping back in time when you arrive to the station. It is simply beautiful (although I found it odd that there were still what looked like Christmas decorations in the lobby in March.) Even the bathrooms are gorgeous with huge chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. After we settled in our room, we decided to explore the area and put Baby Sister in the stroller. Around the train cars is a beautiful outdoor area called the Glenn Miller Gardens with gas lamps and ponds and games like bocce ball and lawn checkers. There are little spots here and there that you can just sit and enjoy the scene. There are a few places like an arcade and a wood makers shop for the family to enjoy as well. There is also the Songbirds Guitar Museum which looks like so much fun but we simply didn’t have time to go in because Baby Sister was getting really tired at that point.
We then ate dinner at the Frothy Monkey. The service was great and the food was good! I had the Sangria and loved it (At this point in the day Mama really needed a sangria)!! It has a great kid’s menu and the kids actually ate their dinner so that is a win! But it is not necessarily the most kid friendly restaurant we could’ve chosen. Only because of the layout.
Afterwards, we walked down the street for ice cream at Clumpies. It’s a fun and colorful ice cream shop and a favorite of the locals! We always love an excuse to have ice cream and what better excuse than a birthday.
Maybe better for a kids free weekend
We loved the charm of the Chattanooga Choo Choo but I think it would be enjoyed more as a Momcation or a weekend away. Staying in the Pullman Train Cars seems like it would be so much fun and the night life on Station Street came alive (but didn’t bother us at all) as soon as the sun went down. There was jazz music playing, drinks poured, lines for the comedy club, and several ready to have fun! I would love to go and enjoy this area kid free sometime.
The Tennessee Aquarium
Before we went to our hotel on Saturday evening , we visited the Tennessee Aquarium. We went on a cold Saturday in March and had slight difficulty in finding a parking spot. So I am sure it can be a challenge on busy days. There are PLENTY of parking lots but it may take you a few rounds before you find one. You do have to pay for parking also.
There are plenty of places to eat since the aquarium is in the heart of downtown. We decided to grab a quick bite to eat before getting our tickets but there is even food right outside the aquariums so you can grab some food in between visiting the two buildings and have a nice little picnic outside.
Outside the Aquarium
The Tennessee Aquarium is truly one of its kind with its iconic design. It is along the river and there is a beautiful area outside between the two aquarium buildings. There are designed rivers and creeks that the kids can explore that goes around the whole area. Some parts have stepping stones to jump from one to the other across the water. There are huge staircases that just go up and down with no particular destination but the children love to explore it. Like I said, we arrived on a cold day in March so there was no water but that didn’t stop the children from having a great time exploring while we waited for The Hubs to get tickets.
The employees were so incredibly friendly and when they found out it was Brother’s Birthday they informed us that we could get a free photo slip and a button that said it was his birthday. YOU GUYS-the button had a jellyfish on it! Brother was so thrilled!! He’d probably have slept with the pin on if I had let him!
As I said, the design of the Aquarium is wonderful. It is meant to be like you are experiencing the water cycle. The first part of the aquarium is the River Journey. And as you enter the building, you ride this huge escalator that sets the scene of water trickling down to the rivers and eventually the ocean (the building across the walkway.) The rest of the exhibit is all about river life. And it is so cute and so much fun and informative. They have otters (The Hubs and Big Sister’s favorite part), Rivers of the World, an exhibit where you can touch Sturgeons, turtle exhibits, and huge tanks full of beautiful marine life! Part of the exhibit is quite dark which stressed me out a little (anxious mother over here) because I couldn’t keep up with my four year old. He was too excited to stop and listen to me and it was very dark. But in the end, the River section was amazing.
Across the walkway, is the Ocean Journey (we actually went to that part first but that’s not how it is designed for you to experience it.) You start in a beautiful Tropical Forest and you don’t want to forget to look at the plant-life. Brother has a fascination with carnivorous plants and they had a few so he was very excited to actually see them! From there you enter a Butterfly Garden. That was by far my FAVORITE part. It was magical. The butterflies were gorgeous and some were almost as big as a bird. They would fly really close to you and if you stayed still they would land on you. Brother really enjoyed the wall that shows the different chrysalises and if you look very carefully, you can see some of the butterflies coming out of their chrysalises.
The Ocean Journey has penguins, “boneless beauties” such as jelly fish and octopuses (Brother’s favorite part), and underground caverns full of ocean wildlife. You can go more than once and see something different every time.
Imax 3D Theater
After we visited the exhibits, we went across the street to catch a movie at the Imax 3D Theater. We grabbed popcorn and drinks and candy and got comfortable for the BBC Earth’s Oceans 3d:Our Blue Planet because like I said Brother loves his ocean creatures!! I think Brother may be a little too young for 3D movies, he would not keep his glasses on at all. But Big Sister and I were enthralled with the movie! We just loved it.
We saw that there will be a new Island Life exhibit opening later this month (March 15, 2019) and we will be back to visit it!
PS: I baby wore while at the Aquarium. Several brought their strollers but I felt like ours was too bulky for it. The Aquarium also has a very nice nursing area for any one who wants it.
Overall, we spent five hours at the aquarium and Imax movie theater.
The Creative Discovery Museum
On Sunday, after having our annual IHOP pancake birthday breakfast we headed back downtown to visit the Creative Discovery Museum. Brother was asleep when we arrived on Saturday so he didn’t see the museum from the road but Big Sister did and she had been jumping up and down with excitement since we drove past it the day before.
An Amazing Place
Seriously though, I did a little research about the museum before our trip to Chattanooga and it really is an amazing place with amazing programs and events for the children. It also is a wonderful contribution to the community by providing a lot of resources for those that can’t go to the museum. I AM A HUGE FAN!
When you arrive
They have a parking lot behind the museum that they share with a hotel and that is where we parked. You do have to pay for parking though and if it is a Sunday you may be able to find meter parking along the street which is free (only on Sundays.)
Y’all-I am ALL for places that have areas to explore when an adult is in line getting the tickets. And this museum has one!! There is nothing better than a place that understands that kiddos are TOO excited to play and don’t want to stand in line waiting for tickets! Thank you Creative Discovery Museum. They have a military discount and they are so much more affordable than some other museums I’ve been too. Also-they gave my son a Birthday Boy Sticker too!
They also have an on-site cafe for those that want to have lunch there right off to the side of the main lobby.
The very first exhibit is amazing and if it was the ONLY exhibit, we would have payed and stayed all day. Both kids said it was their favorite part. RiverPlay has an indoor playground and a water explore area. But it also has a water table for little ones. The minute Baby Sister saw it, she started getting excited. So I put a smock on her that the museum so graciously provides to keep the kiddos dry and let her have at it. The smock didn’t work. She was having so much fun splashing around and exploring that she was absolutely soaked. Next time, I am going to bring a change of clothes. But it truly will be one of my favorite memories for Baby Sister because of the joy and excitement on her face the entire time.
Afterwards you can walk into the main hub of the museum. Even I got excited as I saw it. There were so many fun things to see and explore. I let The Hubs take the big kids and I took Baby Sister to the Little Yellow House, a 4 and under area, of the museum to let her explore. (Again, there is so much fun things to do in this exhibit alone that I would pay just for this.) I let her crawl around and explore until you could tell she was getting tired then I baby wore her for the rest of the time while I played with Brother and Big Sister. I found them at the Excavation Station and Brother said “Dude! This place is so cool!” And it really was. There were so many fun things to do and explore. But be warned-there is sand!! I know a lot of moms DISLIKE sand. I can be DISLIKE sand sometimes too but the older kids were enjoying it so much that I couldn’t say no.
Big Sister loves art work and I noticed that the Visual Art Gallery had an Open Art Studio Activity with someone who was teaching about collages and profiles. Big Sister sat and let the artist trace her profile and then she was able to decorate it any way she wanted! They had paint, magazines for collages, tissue paper, all other types of media to decorate her profile. She had a lot of fun with it. The art area has all kinds of art to explore with. Live action, computer art, stamping, water paint, you name it! So many wonderful ways for kids to use stretch their creative skills and design!
The Performing Arts Gallery was fun too with lots to explore! Really the children can’t get bored with any of the exhibits because there is so much to do for each child no matter what their interests are. Let them take charge and just play with them because they will learn so much from the hands on play!
Native Voices: New England Tribal Families
By far my favorite exhibit was the temporary exhibit upstairs, Native Voices: New England Tribal Families. The exhibit will be there until May 2019. It truly is a wonderful exhibit and I really encourage you to read and explore as much as you can with your little ones.
It is an absolute joy when you come across anything that enforces what you and your child have been studying for school. Big Sister and I have been studying the states, spending about two to three weeks each on a different state. We had recently finished New England and we researched a different Native American Tribe for most of the states. It was great for my daughter to see exhibits on the actual tribes that she researched!
But there is more, I just recently planned our lessons on North Carolina and want to spend some focus on the Cherokee Tribe. We will be visiting Cherokee North Carolina after our lessons. Before our trip to Chattanooga, I had Big Sister take an online class on Who Are Native Americans. This online class focused on past and present day Native Americans. It outlined how the romanticized version that many of us have of the historic Native American does not do Native Americans justice today.
The exhibit at the Creative Discovery Museum is a really great reminder of this very same thing. It is a great doorway for knowledge and tolerance. Most of the exhibits are about school, celebrations of their history and culture, homes, and children’s activities. In my opinion, it is a shame how we learn about Native Americans in 2019. Children are easily taught lessons that make Native Americans seem like a historical myth and not a group of real people with real present day issues. This exhibit reminds children that is in fact the case.
We spent about 2.5 hours at the museum and probably could’ve spent more if we had been able to go outside but the Rooftop Fun Factory was closed due to the torrential downpour. They also have a very nice nursing area for mothers if you need it. I really enjoyed this museum and I am excited to go back again. I’m even considering getting a membership because it is quite a wonderful place!
On Our Chattanooga Bucket List
We also planned on going to Ruby Falls after the Children’s Museum but I will be honest with you. We had so much fun at the Museum and the Aquarium the day before that I was simply too exhausted to do anymore so we decided to save that for another day.
Look Out Mountain and the Incline Railway can be added to your trip with Ruby Falls and you could probably spend a whole day exploring thee sites.
High Point Climbing and Fitness-honestly, I DON’T want to do this but the building looks so cool that it makes me want to try it! It’s pretty cool to drive downtown and see people rock climbing OUTSIDE the building.