While many community Fourth of July events have fizzled out this year, those who’d like to celebrate America’s birthday in downtown Chattanooga will have more time to enjoy attractions that offer safe, relaxing fun for the whole family, said officials.
The Tennessee Aquarium, Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, and the Chattanooga River Market have announced expanded hours of operations for the Fourth of July weekend.
Thanks to safety modifications outlined in the Aquarium’s phased reopening plan, visitors can focus on relaxing and reconnecting with nature as they explore the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings. Visitors arriving during the holiday weekend can take advantage of special expanded hours from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, July 3-4. The final timed-entry tickets will be sold at 7 p.m. The Aquarium will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday, July 5.
As part of the Aquarium’s new health guidelines, timed-entry tickets must be purchased online before arrival. Daily attendance has been temporarily limited, and a special, mask-only “early bird” admission is now offered each morning from 9-11 a.m.
The Aquarium has declared 2020 to be “The Year of the Turtle.” Once guests begin their adventure, there’s no better place to adopt a more-sedate holiday pace than the all-new Turtles of the World gallery. This recently opened collection of exhibits in the River Journey building is the centerpiece of the “Turtle Trail,” a self-guided tour highlighting turtles and tortoises in both buildings. In addition to seeing a variety of species from Southeast Asia and the Southeastern United States, visitors may suffer a cuteness overload at the sight of dozens of wriggling hatchlings being cared for in the gallery’s working turtle nursery.
Whether they’re finishing up or still waiting to begin their journey from the mountains to the sea, visitors moving through the Aquarium Plaza will find it abuzz with activity, courtesy of the Chattanooga River Market. This collection of regional vendors, artists and craftspeople will be operating Friday through Sunday during the Fourth of July weekend.
For those seeking a quintessentially patriotic way to spend their Fourth of July, the nearby Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center will welcome guests during expanded hours. The Center will be open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, July 3-4. On Sunday, July 5, the Center will be open from 1-5 p.m. Throughout the weekend, living historians in military garb will make appearances on the Aquarium Plaza, where they can be seen and interacted with by visitors.
The heritage center’s interactive exhibits celebrate six character traits embodied by the Medal of Honor and its recipients. Dr. Mary Walker: Surgeon, Spy and Patriot, the Center’s newest addition, arrives just in time to commemorate the centennial of the ratification of women’s right to vote. This temporary exhibit celebrates the life and accomplishments of the first and only female Medal of Honor recipient.
With its central location on the Chattanooga Riverfront, the Aquarium can serve as the launching off point for a weekend-long holiday adventure downtown. Like the Aquarium, most businesses in the area have adopted state-approved reopening plans, so guests can feel safe while they unwind and enjoy their visit, regardless of where they end up.
For those who find themselves feeling a bit peckish as they wander, there are a bevy of restaurants — from chic bars and upscale steakhouses to funky pizzerias — within easy walking distance of the riverfront. For those who don’t feel like dining in, many downtown eateries offer delivery or carryout options to supply an impromptu picnic on any of the abundant nearby greenspaces. A full list of restaurants operating in the area can be found at visitchattanooga.com/restaurants.
After their meal, some visitors may want to move a bit to let their stomach settle. Fortunately, downtown is ranked as the most walkable neighborhood in Chattanooga on WalkScore.com and is full of fun destinations nearby that have recently reopened.
If walking isn’t exercise enough, visitors can strap in and chalk up to tackle 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor climbing at High Point Climbing and Fitness. This Broad Street facility, which also features aerobic, weight and yoga rooms, as well as weekly spin classes, was regaled by Climbing Magazine in 2015 as “the country’s coolest gym.”
Have the kids — big or small — got a bit of excess energy after one too many frozen snacks? At the Creative Discovery Museum, visitors of all ages can explore a variety of exhibits that make learning fun.
When they’re not getting soggy playing in water tables or digging for dinosaurs in the sand, visitors can learn about beekeeping, curl up with a book or put their engineering skills to the test in a maker space. The museum’s current temporary exhibit, Kenya’s Kids, offers an opportunity for youngsters to see the many similarities and striking differences experienced during childhood in countries one ocean and 8,000 miles apart.
To learn more about the many natural and wondrous attractions that led Lonely Planet to name Chattanooga a “destination you need to see,” go to visitchattanooga.com. A summary of valuable information to know before visiting the Aquarium is available at tnaqua.org/welcomeback.