Do you ever want to be a tourist in your own city? So many people miss out on local attractions with the thinking I’ll do that one of these days. We are fortunate to live in a city like Chattanooga with so much to offer, many people make it their destination for a vacation or long weekend. Visiting the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX should be on your bucket list.
Recently we took advantage of what Chattanooga has to offer in the forms of entertainment and great food. We started with one of the major draws, the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX Theater.
Be a Tourist in Your Own City
With one of the days being rainy, it was the perfect day for exploring the Tennessee Aquarium and the IMAX Theater. It’s been a couple years since going through the Aquarium but a perfect time to explore the newest exhibit, Ridges to River. It’s always changing and adding new features to keep you coming back.
A mainstay in the Chattanooga area is the Tennessee Aquarium. River Journeys opened in 1992 and quickly became the first stop for any visitor to the area. In 2005, Ocean Journeys opened to add more to your exploring of downtown. You will quickly notice how much growth and revitalization has occurred in the riverfront area. Thanks to many leaders of the community, this long-range plan is still growing.
Visiting the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX
Being the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, it is unlike any other aquarium you will visit. When we are touring other aquariums, we always compare it this one. Some are larger, like the Georgia Aquarium, many are smaller, but each have their own appeal to visitors.
You won’t pick up a travel magazine or visit a website which doesn’t list the Tennessee Aquarium as a top destination, aquarium, or best family vacation. I’m really proud as a local to have this in my own hometown.
Most Popular to See
The Otters are always a crowd pleaser, and they were really putting on a show for us. They are some of the most playful mammals, above and under water. They are so cute and active, so how can you NOT enjoy them? Their habitat allows them to climb on the rocks and dive into the water, just like in the wild.
The sharks seem to be another crowd favorite. Since people have an innate fear of sharks, it is such a rare treat to be able to watch them at a safe distance. They must constantly be in motion to survive, so when they rest, and sleep is beyond me.
Near the exhibit is a real shark cage to show you how divers can safely study the shark while underwater.
More to See
You will even see how many are hatched and grown at the Aquarium
My Favorite – Penguins
I have always loved penguins. Many think of penguins only in cold weather such as the Artic, but many you see are actually from warmer climates, including Africa.
Maybe it’s because they look like they are dressed up in their black and white tuxedos and standing at attention. I got to have a penguin experience at ZooTampa.
Native to the Tennessee River and Area
When you think of fish in the river, most think about catfish, trout, and crappie. But there’s so much more in our local lakes and streams. Every time I visit the aquarium, I seem to learn about a different species.
Gar and sturgeon are a couple you will find. These fish grow to unbelievable size and a lot of evolution has taken place in the past millennium to allow these fish to survive. They are considered giants of the river.
Ridges to River
Being the newest exhibit to open recently, you will always find new reasons to come back. The Tennessee Aquarium will always promote conservation to any water area. Many people don’t think about what trash can do when you toss it into a river or ocean. The consequences can be deadly to so many animals and fish.
This Brook Trout wall sculpture was created from household plastic, which most can be recycled. Don’t throw it in the water, dispose of it properly.
The Butterfly Garden
Not only will you find beautiful butterflies inside this garden area, but many tropical florals and plants.
You may have to look really close to find them. Many are bright and colorful and popular species you will recognize like the Monarch. But, you may have to look a bit closer to find those that blend into the background, being camouflaged for their own safety.
Fun for Kids
We are very fortunate to have a state-of-the-art IMAX theater in the same area downtown near the aquarium. It’s a unique viewing experience that should not be missed. When you walk into the theater, the first thing you notice is the huge floor-to-ceiling screen.
We saw Serengeti, which I knew was an area, but didn’t really know anything about. Many of these movies shown are almost documentaries, most about animals, land, and space. Sometimes though it’s fun to see a popular type movie on this type of large screen. Like when Top Gun – Maverick came out. So much more exciting in this theater. The surround-sound system makes
you feel like you’re right there on the Serengeti or flying in the jets.
If you are visiting the Aquarium, you can add on a ticket for the IMAX for a discount.
Buying your tickets
Buy your tickets online for the aquarium to ensure entry at the time you want to visit. All tickets are timed to control capacity. If you wait to buy your tickets when you arrive, you may have to wait a few hours, or even the next day. This is especially true during peak times like holidays, school breaks, and summer time.
There is a ticket office at the IMAX for their movies.
Almost all parking is paid. Prices can vary by day and time, plus length of time. A lot of street parking is free on Sunday. My favorite place is the garage at the corner of across from the IMAX. This is also just down the hill from AT&T Field, if you are going to a Lookouts game.
Another thing to check ahead of time about parking – what’s going on downtown like festivals or a game.
Chattanooga Visitor Center
Between the Aquarium and Ticket Center, you will find a small Chattanooga Visitor Center. There’s free maps, activity ideas for kids, and merchandise. The staff is a wealth of knowledge if you are looking for more ideas on how to spend your time or even finding a great meal.
Great photo areas
While in the downtown area and the aquarium, check out all the great places for photos. I love the bridge areas.
Remember to look up as well.
The water isn’t in the fountains yet, but it’s a great place for the kids to play, and cool off later this year.
While visiting Chattanooga, consider all the options you have, whether it’s downtown or not.
Do you like museums?
Here’s some of the top to visit including the International Towing Museum.
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