It’s no secret that Chattanooga has become a major destination for foodies, offering everything from wine and white tablecloths to barbecue sauce and paper napkins. And while the thriving restaurant scene is certainly something to boast about, the summer brings a new opportunity: picnics. With an abundance of markets and restaurants offering fresh, takeaway meals and plenty of nearby places to enjoy your food al fresco, picnicking in the Scenic City is as good as it gets. We’ve rounded up some local spots that offer scrumptious snacks to-go, and a few favorite places to enjoy the perfect Chattanooga picnic.
Where to Find Food
The pinnacle of locally grown and prepared food in Chattanooga is the city’s weekly markets. Each Wednesday evening, the Main Street Farmers Market pops up on the Southside, where small-time farmers and artisans come from around the region to sell fresh, seasonal produce. For your picnic, stock up on Blue Indian Kombucha, Rafting Goat cheese, Wild Alaskan smoked salmon, and fresh-baked goodies.
On Sundays, the Chattanooga Market appears at the First Tennessee Pavilion, and visitors can easily spend a day perusing the crafts, snacks, and activities. Food trucks from all over the city open their doors and offer picnic-worthy fare from bulky burritos to pizza by the slice. You can also easily piece together a snack-style picnic with treats like locally baked bread, make-your-own salsa, fresh cheese, granola, and refreshing frozen drinks.
For to-go sandwiches and salads, there are several great downtown cafes that will wrap up your order for a picnic. Frothy Monkey is known for using local ingredients to create delicious, original sandwiches and pastries. Add a sharable to your order like the house-made hummus or artisan cheese plate to start your picnic in style.
Across town in the Bluff View Art District, Rembrandt’s Coffee House is a local favorite for specialty drinks and light meals, perfect to grab and go. All of the bread in its classic sandwiches is baked right next door at the Bluff View Bakery, and definitely don’t pass up the delectable, handmade chocolates for a post-picnic treat.
If you’re searching for a true Chattanooga classic, pick up your picnic provisions at the River Street Deli in the Northshore neighborhood. This New York-style deli has been around for years, and offers the perfect lunch spot for busy folks. The sandwich list is extensive, with everything from zesty Salsalito Turkey to traditional chicken salad. Can’t decide? You can never go wrong with the rotating daily special, or simply ask the owner for his recommendation while he personally takes your order.
To bring all the trappings of a time-honored southern meal to your picnic, stop by Southern Star for hearty meat-and-threes already packaged and ready to go. All the dishes, from meatloaf and mac and cheese to casseroles and mashed potatoes, are made from scratch daily. Everything is pre-portioned, so you can quickly grab a delicious meal that is anything but fast food.
Where to Picnic
The most obvious place to lay down your picnic blanket in Chattanooga is at the sunny, centrally located Coolidge Park. This gorgeous grassy park is right on the banks of the Tennessee River, looking out at Maclellan Island, the Walnut Street Bridge, and the Aquarium on the opposite bank. With an interactive fountain, walking path, carousel and plenty of grass to stretch out on, Coolidge is always the first place that comes to mind when thinking of a classic family picnic in Chattanooga.
Another nearby picnic paradise is the Riverwalk, a miles-long paved path along the Tennessee River that’s perfect for biking, walking and, of course, picnicking. Restrooms, playgrounds, and picnic shelters are located all along the Riverwalk, so you need only to choose the spot that’s ideal for your group. The path originates in the Art District, but there are many access points including the Hubert Fry Center, the Rowing Center, and at the Chickamauga Dam.
Another option is to head out to Lookout Valley and revel in the beauty and peacefulness of Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center. Explore the visitor center and the native animal exhibit before setting out on the hiking trails or the scenic driving loop to find your ideal picnic venue.
For a picnic with an even more stunning view, Chattanooga has plenty of splendid, easy-access overlooks that are perfect for a fresh-air feast. Signal Point is a favorite panorama atop Signal Mountain, and offers a small pavilion and restrooms near the main parking lot.
If you don’t mind trading the amenities for a little bit of seclusion, drive the dirt road of Prentice Cooper State Forest to Snoopers Rock, which overlooks a unique s-curve in the river. Perched atop the steep wall of the Tennessee River Gorge, Snoopers Rock is a truly unique vantage point from which to admire the Grand Canyon of the South.
For the most quintessential Chattanooga picnic, though, you’re going to need a boat. From Coolidge Park, it’s a short paddle to Maclellan Island, an 18-acre wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the Tennessee River. The island, which looks out at downtown and the famed four bridges, is managed by the Chattanooga Audubon Society, which works to protect its many species of plants and animals. Though it’s only a few minutes’ paddle from downtown, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a different world—one full of geese, owls, foxes, nesting Osprey and Great Blue Herons. Spend a day exploring the island’s hiking trails, lounging on the little beaches and, of course, enjoying your refreshments at the picnic area. Day-use permits are required, and there are several nearby places to rent kayaks and paddleboards.
Achieving the perfect picnic in Chattanooga doesn’t require hefty coolers, lots of planning and long car rides. Within just a few minutes of downtown, you can experience delicious, local cuisine alongside some of the city’s most iconic views and attractions. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to enjoy a fun, outdoor meal in a beautiful spot during your visit to the Scenic City.