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Move Over, Nashville

Chattanooga used to be called "the "Dirtiest city in America," but now the tech-forward town has earned a reputation as one of Tennessee's coolest destinations.

Nashville is the Tennessee town that gets primetime television treatment, but drive southeast of Music City for a couple hours and you reach Chattanooga, which burns its own bright stage lights. (It's also really fun to say.) 

New money has flown into Chattanooga over the past few years, partly because of its lightning-fast Internet speed. Only a few places on Earth can claim to run at a gigabit per second, and the city's entry into that club has drawn a number of whipsmart college graduates with propensities towards hack-a-thons and all-night coding sessions here as opposed to Silicon Valley. Now, Chattanooga's startup scene is legitimately vibrant—Bellhops, Ambition, and PriceWaiter, to name a few, are taking off—as are the venture capital firms popping up to fund them (Lamp Post, Blank Slate, Spartan Ventures, Jump Fund, the list goes on).

Add to the techie influx a revitalization that has worked its magic on the city since the 90s. Once called "the Dirtiest city in America," Chattanooga's air quality has been turned around by a few wealthy families, most importantly the late Jack Lupton of Coca-Coca bottling money. Now River City's waterfront area is a model for environmental rejuvenation with electric buses, pedestrian parks, and a public bike system.

Fast Internet, southern charm, plenty of green space…Why bother with Nashville at all?

The Crash Pad, a LEED Platinum-certified hostel that caters to climbers.

TO STAY

Stone Fort Inn: A former fort—a real fort, one that provided security to locals during the Civil War—this 16-room bed and breakfast boasts claw-foot tubs and exposed brick walls.

The Crash Pad: Located in the center of the South's popular rock climbing areas, this LEED Platinum–certified hostel is an affordable spot where the cool climbers stay.

TO EAT

Flying Squirrel: Launched by the Crash Pad team in 2013, the Flying Squirrel has one of the city's most diverse beer lists.

Community Pie: Go here for Neapolitan-style pizza and to its sister restaurant, Milk and Honey, for gelato. Not necessarily in that order.

Velo: With the young tech kids comes the craft coffee, and there's definitely a scene brewing in Chattanooga. Velo is one of the bigger companies that's also a local favorite.

Public House: After opening the white-tablecloth St. John’s Restaurant and St. John’s Meeting Place with his brother Daniel, Nathan Lindley struck out on his own with the more relaxed Public House. Go Friday for the shrimp and grits lunch special.

Champy’s Famous Fried Chicken: Its motto is "Blues, Brews, and Birds" and it returns on that promise. Fried chicken and beer is what you'll find on the red-and-white-checkered tables, and the soundtrack is all blues all the time.

The Chattanooga Aquarium's jellyfish exhibit.

TO DO

Climbing: High Point is an indoor/outdoor climbing gym that opened a few years ago in a former movie theater. If you're an outdoor-only person, hike the Cumberland Trail or hit Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, Rock City, or Ruby Falls.

Street Art: Local muralist Kevin Bate, also known as Good With Faces, has covered a number of buildings with his graphic portraits, including one of Martin Luther King, Jr. beloved by hometown boy Usher. Bate is currently working on the McCallie Walls Mural Project, which he refers to as "Chattanooga's first drive-through gallery."

Museum Art: An oldie but a goodie, the Hunter Museum of American Art features American art from the colonial period to the present.

Mountain Music: Each Friday night on top of Signal Mountain, the Mountain Opry showcases old-school bluegrass.

Shopping: Hit Blue Skies, in the hip NorthShore neighborhood, for knickknacks and giftables, and Warehouse Row for more upscale boutiques.

Fish and Stuff: The Tennessee Aquarium is world-class (in fact, it's the largest freshwater aquarium in the world), and it recently underwent an expansion that includes a new salt water section and a butterfly sanctuary.