Chattanooga or Louisville for a getaway?
December 3, 2012 5:54 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are planning to take a two night trip to either Louisville, Kentucky, or Chattanooga, Tennessee, during the first week of January (after January 1). What are arguments for/against either place, and which is likely to have cheaper accommodations? And what are your favorite things to do in these cities?

Note: my boyfriend is vegan, so recommendations for vegan friendly destinations are particularly appreciated.
posted by ocherdraco to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Louisville. I can't speak for Chattanooga.

In Louisville, for 2 nights, there's plenty to do along Main Street. On one end there are museums, a couple of super swanky restaurants, and some nifty old buildings. The other side there are a whole slew of new hipstery restaurants that are quite good. (With the worst nickname ever.. "NULU"? really?)

We have the Bardstown Rd area, The Highlands, for lots of small local shops, and innumerable bars.

There are a set of large parks designed by Olmstead himself. As well as a whole bunch of smaller ones.

If you enjoy Bourbon, a whole slew of it is brewed about an hour away from the city, and there are tons of tours of the distilleries, with bourbon tastings afterwards.

I have no idea if that horse racing track is open right now. But it's got some historical value, if you care about horses running in a circle. (checked their site, fall meet ended in late November. but the museum there is actually kinda cool. I worked there for extra credit in middle school 25 years ago)

Right across the river from Louisville are The Falls of the Ohio, It's unique.
posted by DigDoug at 6:17 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in Chattanooga and visited Louisville frequently when we lived in Lexington, so out of the two, I'd recommend going to Chattanooga.

Since there's a large Seventh-Day Adventist population, Chattanooga will likely be more vegan-friendly, and I can personally vouch for Sluggo's and Taco Mamacita. Although Louisville has the spectacular 21c, it doesn't have the same variety of downtown lodging options as Chattanooga, which has a range of hotels at a variety of price points.

The Hunter Museum anchors the Bluff View Art District, and it's an easy stroll along the Riverwalk to Rhythm & Brews for some great live music. You can also use the free electric shuttle to get to Track 29 to see major acts. If that doesn't suit your fancy, take the Walnut Street Bridge over to the North Shore district for people-watching and window-shopping.

If you're into barbecue, Sugar's will fix you up right, and the grilled okra and roasted jalapenos are not to be missed. Big River Grille has amassed a load of awards for its brews, as has the Terminal Brewhouse in the Southside neighborhood.
posted by evoque at 6:33 PM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Somehow, evoque managed to not mention the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the best in the country. If the weather cooperates, and it may, even in January, walking across the Walnut Street Bridge to the North Shore also gets you to Coolidge Park and an 100+ year old carousel, which is a work of art.

And don't forget that Chattanooga is home to the grand-high-holy of all tourist destinations in the South: Rock City. Also usually mentioned in the same breath are Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway, although for sheer touristy fun Rock City beats them all. A very close second for tourists to Chattanooga is probably the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the former train depot turned hotel.

There is no chance you'll run out of stuff to do in 2 days in Chattanooga, guaranteed. The food is also killer and I'll second every place that evoque mentioned above. I'll add Good Dog on the North Shore (they do a mean veggie dog and their fries are killer) and Champy's for the fried pickles and a 40 (although they are legendary for their fried chicken, the best anywhere).
posted by griffey at 7:38 PM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

NNNNNNNthing the Tennessee Aquarium!
posted by michellenoel at 8:20 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never been to Louisville, but Chattanooga is a lot of fun. Cheap, too -- I don't remember the name of the place, but a few years ago we got a suite in an upscale, historic hotel for around $120/night. Beautiful scenery and a vibrant arts community, and the touristy destinations are fun, too (Ruby Falls is hilarious). I've always thought it might become the next Asheville, NC...

And I agree the aquarium should not be missed.
posted by nixxon at 8:38 PM on December 3, 2012

nixxon might be thinking of the Read House. I grew up near Chattanooga and that's the first historic hotel that came to mind.
posted by elerina at 11:54 PM on December 3, 2012

Chattanooga has a few things to do, Rock City (SEE ROCK CITY!), the Aquarium, the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Ruby Falls. Kitchy, fun, what more do you need?

If you're inclined, drive into Georgia and hit the outlets in Dalton.

I've been to Louisville a few times, meh. It's okay, but I'd be hard pressed to think of things to do there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:29 AM on December 4, 2012

We recently visited Louisville- and I absolutly loved it. We went to the MegaCave tour (seriously dorky and so worth it) had a meet-up and did some burbon tasteing. The food and drink was dirt cheap (we're from nyc, so cheap might be subjective).

I can't say a single bad thing about it- and it was freakishly pretty.
posted by Blisterlips at 7:00 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Go to Sugar's for bbq in Chattanooga.
posted by RabbleRabble at 7:13 AM on December 4, 2012

Louisville has Lynns Paradise Cafe. It's awesome for breakfast, or any meal really, and they have cool games on the tables and an even cooler selection of stuff to play with while you wait to be seated. It's basically a cracker barrel for cool people.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:22 AM on December 4, 2012

Rock City, while it has some nice scenery, is kitschy as all get-out, and you could probably see similar scenery in any random state park in east Tennessee. Ruby Falls was quite impressive to me, though. I've been in a lot of caves but not one with a waterfall.

I like to eat at a quirky place called Mojo Burrito. For dessert, there is a great place called The Ice Cream Show near the Walnut Street Bridge. Hmmm, I guess that's not vegan though.
posted by tracer at 8:25 AM on December 4, 2012

Well, the Tennessee Aquarium can be hit or miss for folks, which is why I don't always recommend it. As for fried chicken, I chanced food/alcohol poisoning many times just to eat at Lamar's, so Champy's is probably a safer bet for tourists!

I used to shop/eat at Green Life Grocery before it was swallowed up by Whole Foods, but it had a pretty good prepared-foods section with lots of vegan options available.

For fancier eats, St. John's and Meeting Place are both great, and if you reach out to them beforehand, they can suggest vegan-friendly modifications to their menus.
posted by evoque at 9:14 AM on December 4, 2012

Response by poster: Anyone else want to speak up for Louisville?

(And thanks for all these great suggestions.)
posted by ocherdraco at 11:06 AM on December 4, 2012

Response by poster: we're from nyc, so cheap might be subjective

That's where we're coming from, too.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:06 AM on December 4, 2012

Guess I'll put my $0.02 in for Louisville as well.

21c is really the place to stay, and you can spend a couple of hours just wandering the halls to look at the art and/or collect as many red penguins as you can find. There's also the Brown Hotel, famous for its Hot Brown sandwich (not vegan in the slightest), but stay away from the Galt House.

If you speak to them ahead of time, Proof on Main can work on vegan menu options; otherwise, you'll be spoiled for choice at Ramsi's Cafe, Heart and Soy/Roots, and Zen Garden. Bluegrass Brewing Company's brewpub also has vegan-friendly food to go along with its excellent beers.

The Kentucky Derby museum and Churchill Downs are interesting enough to visit, and if you concentrate on downtown, the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, and the Frazier Museum are within walking distance of each other.

As DigDoug notes, go on a tour of the distilleries. If you don't want to venture too far, you can arrange for a tour of the Brown-Forman cooperage, but visiting the Woodford Reserve and/or Buffalo Trace distilleries is worth the drive. While in Frankfort, pick up some of Rebecca Ruth's bourbon balls or grab a bite at the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe.
posted by evoque at 1:42 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again, evoque!

I am leaning toward Chattanooga (childhood memories abound, from the Aquarium, to Rock City, to the Funicular Railroad), but my boyfriend leans toward Louisville (bourbon!). Both look great; I suspect it may come down to where we can get a cheaper room.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:55 PM on December 4, 2012

So today, I see..

Top U.S. travel destinations for 2013 on CNN

We're #1! We're #1!
Louisville, Kentucky, was named the top U.S. destination for 2013, following travel publisher Lonely Planet's discussions among its group of U.S. editors and authors. While they tend to debate entries into each year's Top 10 list, everyone agreed on Louisville, said Reid.
posted by DigDoug at 8:42 AM on December 5, 2012

Response by poster: Oh my! That's quite a recommendation!
posted by ocherdraco at 11:03 AM on December 5, 2012

Well, if Bourbon* is a tipping (tippling?) point, don't forget Jack Daniel's distillery and the George Dickel Distillery are about an hour up I-24 from Chattanooga. It's a quite scenic drive too, if you take US 41 instead.

Yes, I know it's Tennessee Whiskey, not Bourbon, but still it's distilled, corn mash alcohol, let's not quibble.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:17 PM on December 5, 2012

Yes, I know it's Tennessee Whiskey, not Bourbon, but still it's distilled, corn mash alcohol, let's not quibble.

Hah. Try that in KY sometime. Quibbling will be the least of your worries.
posted by DigDoug at 9:14 AM on December 6, 2012

Response by poster: Well, it looks like Chattanooga has won out, with its less expensive accommodations. We've proposed a meetup—come join us!
posted by ocherdraco at 10:57 AM on December 6, 2012

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