The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau lists on their “Take Me There” website notable tourist attractions in Chattanooga. As the tourist season begins to kick into full-swing, I thought I’d take a look at a few of the attractions listed and relay my experiences at each. Though some of them were interesting, there's no need to do most of them more than once. What are your “once is enough” Chattanooga attractions?
Rock City/Fairyland Caverns
The barns beckoned, and I took heed of their advice. “See Rock City,” they said. As an 18-year-old college freshman in 2001, there really wasn’t anywhere for me to go (with the exception of a few bars that I won’t mention). My friends and I would hang out in Coolidge Park, eat at local restaurants and play hacky sack for hours and hours. Other students were having wild sex orgies, and we were kicking a tiny beanbag around. That was our life. To break the monotony, we would sometimes seek out tourist attractions to explore. Rock City was first on our list, and we actually had a great time. The rock gardens are pretty, and the view of “seven states” is spectacular, even if exaggerated by about four states. Everything was fine until we decided to smoke a joint before entering Fairyland Caverns. This is a place of magic and wonder, neon gnomes with dead eyes and creepy nursery rhymes played through a sound system hooked up to hell. In short, we were freaked out. I’ve never understood why that place existed or why the gnomes appeared sentient, but I haven’t been back. One trip was worth a thousand nightmares.
Speaking of nightmares, why in the living hell did we ever decide to spend an evening at Sir Goony’s Family Fun Center on Brainerd Road? I remember someone in our group of stoned guys indicating that they had never “go-karted” in their lifetime. We immediately hit the Internet and found a single place within driving distance to do such an activity. Sir Goony’s also has mini-golf and batting cages! This night was destined to be one for the record books. What could possibly go wrong? The answer: everything. First, the pictures on the website make this place look as if it’s relatively clean, which it isn’t at all. It was like everything had a layer of crusty boogers (that’s a technical term, I think). The mini-golf course is laughable and decomposing. The battle boats were “out of order,” and the batting cages were crammed with tiny, "professional" baseball players. And the go-karts: Have you ever ridden a donkey? That’s how slow these “speed machines” were. It was a terrible experience. I drive by the complex every day on my way downtown, and it doesn’t appear as if anything has changed since my visit in 2001.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
I am a person who believes it is of the utmost importance to take life slowly whenever possible. This is why I enjoy cigars, long solitary hikes, meditation and conversations with friends that go on for hours. For some reason—and this is probably a character flaw—I never got into trains. A train ride has all of the elements of the slow-paced lifestyle that I promote, but for some reason, I just can’t get into the idea of riding the rails, so to speak. My visit to the TVRM was part of a yearly event called Railfest, which celebrates the history of the museum with train rides, music, storytelling and more. This event occurs every June. For some, trains and train history is an exciting topic. For me, the subject matter is just tedious. Being up close and personal with historic trains was something I thought I would be excited about, yet I wasn’t. The train life just doesn’t speak to me. If you like trains, please go and support this wonderful organization. I haven’t had a reason to go back.
International Towing and Recovery Museum
Chattanooga is home to many strange things these days. Did you hear our city is now home to a stuffed Bigfoot head? The International Towing and Recovery Museum on Broad Street, was, for a long time, a joke among my friends. When we would be sitting around trying to think of something to do, inevitability someone would say, "Tow truck museum?” and we’d all laugh and kick our hacky sack around until sunset. I never actually made it to the museum until 2008. Tickets are just $8, and you basically just walk around looking at old tow trucks. That’s as exciting as it gets. There are no frills, no eye-opening discoveries to be made and no legitimate reason for me to go back. I did learn that the reason the museum is in Chattanooga is because of the fact that the industry’s first “wrecker” was produced here at the Ernest Holmes Company. That’s exciting. Right?
I’ll probably get some flack for this one, but I think the Incline Railway is one of the most overrated tourist attractions in Chattanooga. Sure, it’s neato: The railcar goes up the side of Lookout Mountain at a terrifying 72.7 percent grade. You get to the top and can explore everything the mountain has to offer, including fudge, apparently. I’ve ridden the incline three times, and each time, I’m disappointed. The ride itself is fine, but it is not the “breathtaking adventure” they advertise it to be. It is simply a short ride up a mountain. This seems to be the case with a lot of Chattanooga tourist attractions. The overhype kills the actual experience. If they would just advertise it for what it actually is, then tourists wouldn’t be disappointed when the experience lets them down. I don’t go out of my way to ride the incline, but I’ll do it if I have friends in town. I tell them, “It’s a steep, slow ride up a mountain. Nothing more.”