Generations of kids from 1 to 92 make their annual holiday trek to Chattanooga in hopes of capturing some of that old magic found in the city. From nostalgic classics to modern twists, you’ll be sure to awaken your inner child, with eyes all aglow. You can bet on that extra jingle-jangle in your step as you walk the streets. Go ahead and make a wish. Because, by the end of this, you’ll join kids of all ages to once again believe in the magic of the holidays.
Start your search for Santa at Ruby Falls Christmas Underground. More than 1,000 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain, folks have enjoyed the grandeur of Ruby Falls at this historic landmark for close to a century. For the holidays, whether you choose the Elf passage or Nutcracker Lane to Joystone City, Santa awaits your visit at the cave’s North Pole. Let Magic Memories take your picture with Santa (Packages start at $25). The story goes that Joystones have been mined for centuries and a few were left behind. Let the miners guide you through a host of Joystone activities before heading back up to the surface. But, don’t forget to stop along the way and make a wish. You never know, it may even snow.
While atop Lookout Mountain, you don’t want to miss Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights. A cherished family tradition, Rock City is a brilliant way to celebrate Christmas. A beautiful garden any time of year, it’s transformed into a custom light display during holiday evenings. Enter at the original 1932 Gatehouse for a self-guided tour. Stroll through the Arctic Kingdom. Swing along Stone Bridges and Lover’s Leap. Beyond Polar Bear Village is the North Pole Village where Santa greets you. Don’t forget to gaze at the twinkling city of Chattanooga below. There are many stops to be made, but make sure to grab a bite by the fire at Big Rock Grille. Finally, reserve your spot at the VIP dinner buffet with Santa and friends on select evenings.
Once you’ve experienced Christmas cheer atop Lookout Mountain, head downtown to enjoy Holiday Under the Peaks at the Tennessee Aquarium. There are tons of holiday programs scheduled along with the regular Extraordinary Experiences throughout the day, including Penguin Storytime, Sandy Claws and Colorful Chameleons. And, keep your eyes open for the rare sightings of SCUBA Claus.
Catch the 3D Polar Express across the street at Tennessee Aquarium’s IMAX 3D Theater. No matter what your age, the voice of Tom Hanks exclaiming “This is your crucial year” will resonate. You can almost reach out and touch the falling snowflakes and feel the fur on Santa’s cuff as he reaches for that special gift. Show times are every day throughout the holiday season.
Southern Belle Riverboat
While a sleigh may be Santa’s preferred mode of transportation, he loves to spend some of his leisure time aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat. Take a break with a “Tis the Season” prime rib lunch or dinner cruise, or enjoy Breakfast with Santa along the Tennessee River complete with live entertainment. You’re also invited to join the boat’s captain at the wheel to see how he navigates the long and winding waterways.
Navigate the wild at the Chattanooga Zoo Holiday Lights for a special night time treat dressed in holiday style. Nocturnal creatures such as cougars and snow leopards dance in the moonlight, while the festive displays illuminate the colorful palate of peacocks’ tales swaying high above your head, as they roost for the night. Take a stroll in the colorful lighted trail toward the chimpanzee exhibit, or get up close and personal with camels, goats and llamas. No Christmas trip to the Chattanooga Zoo would be complete without Santa and his reindeer!
Head on over to the Chattanooga Choo Choo’s original landing, where you can lace up those skates for a spin or two at Ice on the Landing presented by Volkswagen of Chattanooga. Skates are provided, but you can also bring your own. They’ll even sharpen them for you. Each ticket allows for a two-hour minimum skate, while spectators are also welcome. Think you’re a little rusty or just want to get that spin down pat? Skate lessons are offered each Saturday for $20. No reservations required.
The Blue Plate
Continue your holiday cheer by heading over to The Blue Plate. Santa may be checking his list to see who’s been naughty or nice, but this metropolitan diner is checking their list of ingredients to ensure local farms, bakeries and ice cream take center plate. From the Benton’s Bacon and Sweetwater Valley Cheese Omelet to Springer Mountain Farms Fried Chicken and all the fixings, they’ve got you covered. There’s also a wide array of shakes, cocktails, wine and beer to enjoy. Make sure to try out The Blue Plate’s neighboring Diner Bar and Robar sans the kiddos for date night.
Tennessee Valley Railroad
Listen for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s North Pole Limited whistle as you round Hunziker Curve heading into the tunnel toward Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. While onboard, chefs Nick and Frost share cookies and milk with you as they tell the history of the tracks on which you ride. Get your ticket punched by a conductor, listen to jokes by Elf Tinker, but avoid getting on Elf Snow Ball’s naughty list because Santa Claus is coming to town! He and Mrs. Claus greet boys and girls at the train’s North Pole destination and ride back to the station so all who believe can visit with them. All the fun is for a cause as ticket sales go to railcar restoration efforts.
Chattanooga has many holiday activities you can experience this season. It’s easy to get into the spirit in the city that’s filled with twinkling lights, beautiful displays and endless fun.
The Rocky Top Wine Trail consists of four wineries serving up sweet and dry wines sourced with Tennessee grapes and served with shining hospitality.