As you drive to the end of Market Street in downtown Chattanooga, TN, you will see two rather odd looking buildings at the edge of the Tennessee River. Three story buildings, both having a rather striking glass top in an almost Egypt like pyramid shape dominates the skyline next to the Market Street Bridge. These are the buildings of the Tennessee Aquarium and I volunteer there on an almost weekly basis. If you are ever in the town of Chattanooga, TN, then this is a must stop on your journey.
Tickets will cost you $25 per adult and $15 for kids but this grants you access to both buildings for the entire day. If you only have time to see one building, no worries, the ticket will get you into the other one on the following day. The first building, “River Journey,” begins with a look at seahorses. You then continue through and discover hundreds of species of fish, birds, alligators, snakes and numerous others. Come during the afternoon and you may find handlers with different animals for you to touch and learn about.
The second building, called “The Ocean Journey.” This is where you will have the opportunity to pet stingrays and a species of carpet shark. From there you enter into the butterfly garden where several hundred are released on a daily basis. You will find species both native to the local area and from all over the world. Some guests spend hours here watching the butterflies and some even wear perfume that attracts the insects to land on them.
Moving on you come to the most popular exhibit, penguins. The aquarium has dozens of these birds and daily shows with handlers answering questions. Then you come to the largest tank in the aquarium, The Flower Garden Banks exhibit. Approximately 36 feet deep and the dimensions of a basketball field, this tank holds numerous species, including tiger sharks, sand bar sharks, queen angel fish and numerous others, all native to the Gulf of Mexico. One of the aquarium’s resident sea turtles lives here, named Oscar, he was injured by a boat propeller and lost his hind legs. Since air got into his shell at the time of his injury, his bottom always points up. Despite his obvious handicap, you may see him chasing after the sharks during feeding time.
At 3:00 PM every Monday, you may witness this tank being fed and four times a day there are dive shows in which divers in the tank answer your questions. While the divers use a special mask with a microphone that allows them to talk, most of them also know sign language which is a great ability when we have a group of deaf children visit. If you want an experience no everyone gets, spend a little extra and take the behind the scenes tour where you will have the chance to feed the animals, see how they are cared for and what it takes to keep the buildings running while keeping the animals alive and well.
All together, expect to spend at least three hours for your visit to the Aquarium, and that is if you walk fast. The buildings look small from the outside but the way they are set up inside ensure you get to see every exhibit, some from more than one side. It is also located within walking distance from some of the best restaurants Chattanooga has to offer as well as some favorite franchises, including Buffalo Wild Wings, Ben and Jerry’s, and others.
If you want a unique dining experience, pick up a couple of tickets for the Mystery Diner across the street from the Aquarium. Here you interact with actors trying to solve a mystery while having all you can eat Italian food. Take a walk across the longest walking bridge in the world and visit the North-side. In the past it is this part of town where the African American population resided and the food is full of their influence. It is here that you will find Coolidge Park, a great place to have a picnic.