Editor’s note: TravelQ is a series that documents the diverse experiences of queer and trans travelers as we negotiate dressing our most authentic selves with navigating complex travel obstacles unique to our communities. We have returned with a very special piece featuring the best of Chattanooga and celebrating Chattanooga’s Pride events.
Over the last few years, states have advanced a record number of bills that attack LGBTQ+ rights. According to Rolling Stone, “Tennessee doesn’t just have the largest number of anti-LGBTQ policies of any state in the country. It leads on this count by a considerable margin.” Many LGBTQ+ and ally travelers have united in boycotting travel destinations that are introducing or have passed legislation that is harmful to our communities. However, many members of LGBTQ+ communities, including business owners, performers, and the most isolated and economically vulnerable, often disproportionately experience the social and financial costs of such boycotts. While some are choosing to boycott, which is effective, others are increasing their social and economic support of thriving and resilient local communities that are continuing their fight against anti-LGBTQ+ bills and laws.
I had the honor of visiting Chattanooga — a liberal enclave described by locals as “not typical Tennessee” — and celebrating their unique Pride events. I also put together an LGBTQ+ guide to Chattanooga based on my experiences as a Black queer traveler that features the best LGBTQ+ owned and LGBTQ+ ally businesses and safe spaces that desperately need our support. I genuinely had a good time and felt welcomed in the city. Keep reading for my picks!
The Dwell Hotel | 120 East 10th Street
The Dwell Hotel is a boutique hotel in the heart of Downtown Chattanooga. The decor is “retro-reimagined” with on-site ammenities including soulful creative craft cocktails at Matilda Midnight.
As someone who has lived in Manhattan since 1999, I prefer to explore cities by foot. The Dwell Hotel was the perfect location, central to many of the attractions below, which are a 8-15 minutes casual stroll door-to-door.
EAT & DRINK
Sleepyhead Coffee | 735 Broad St (LGBTQ+ owned)
My first morning in Chattanooga, I headed to caffinate at LGBTQ+ owned Sleepyhead Coffee. I am a bit of a coffee snob, so I can say for certain that their coffee is much better than what any chain has to offer. The plant-deco coffee lounge was a vibe. Even better is that Sleepyhead serves as a welcoming community space, as outlined on their website:
– ALL races
– ALL religions
– ALL countries of origin
– ALL sexual orientations
– ALL genders
We stand with you. You are safe here.
Cashew | 149 River Street (LGBTQ+ owned, vegan)
After biking through Chattanooga (more below), I wanted a replenishing meal that would not immediately result in an afternoon nap. Chashew was perfect. Their menu is 100% vegan and incorporates absolutely no meat, eggs, or dairy in any dish or baked good. I ordered the Southwest baked sweet potato with a side of split pea soup and small salad. I was recharged, but of course could not resist getting at least one of their tasty and Instagrammable baked goods.
Alleia | 25 East Main Street
For day one dinner, I went to Alleia, which offers a menu of rustic Italian that incorporates regional flavors. Alleia has hands down some of the best contemporary Italian dishes I have had in a long time, even beating out some of the most recent on-trend NYC Italian restaurants in terms of taste. The pork shoulder was so tender, the arancini had the most perfect proportion of rice and meat/cheese filling (and I just got back from Rome in July where I ate arancini), and the refreshing balance of tuna and melon in their chilled tuna and heirloom tomato with cucumber, melon, citrus and herbs dish was an amazing goodbye dish to summer.
Mean Mug Coffeehouse | 114 West Main Street
Day two of my trip, I grabbed breakfast at Mean Mug Coffeehouse, one of Chattanooga’s locally owned favorites. I did not have much time, and what I appreciated most was how quickly everything was prepared while also maintaining freshness. Mean Mug offers a full espresso menu, drip coffee, Kyoto style cold brew and slow bar options. Their full breakfast and lunch menu is served all day featuring comfort food, diverse dietary options from vegan to paleo, and made-in-house baked items including cinnamon rolls, biscuits, muffins, and more.
Pickle Barrel | 1012 Market Street
I couldn’t leave Tennessee without eating fried green tomatoes, which I ordered before my flight home at Pickle Barrel, an iconic pub in Chattanooga’s iconic flatiron building. The outside of each of these little bites was perflectly lighly crisp, and the tomato inside was the just the right amount of firm and juicy.
LEARN, PLAY & SHOP
Outshine Adventures | Biking (LGBTQ+ owned)
Outshine Adventures is a queer-owned, women-led company dedicated to providing sustainable eco-tours and immersive outdoor experiences for all. I met up with Co-Founder and expert guide Sunshine Loveless at Pedego Electric Bikes, 157 River Street, for a biking tour to explore Chattanooga.
The tour delivered beautiful views of the Riverfront, local sculptures, Coolidge Park (home to the Coolidge Park antique carousel that you can ride for only $1), and the Hunter Museum of American Art. We also biked over the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian walkway bridges in the world at 2,370-feet.
Trigger Warning: Anti-Black violence: The most moving part of the tour for me as a Black queer woman was paying my respects at the Ed Johnson Memorial sculpture by artist Jerome Meadows. The sculpture was erected to memorialize a young Black man named Ed Johnson who was murdered by a white lynch mob in 1906.
While this may seem dark to some visitors, I thought it was important for Sunshine to take us to the sculpture and learn more about the bridge because, as The Washington Post stated, “Before the Walnut Street Bridge became a tourist draw, it was a lynching ground.” When I have visited other cities with memorials where content creators did not know the history and just used structures as backgroups to get viral Instagram likes, I found a deep sense of sadness that the erasure of darker histories leads to history repeating itself. There is so much more work to be done, and I am grateful to the local activists and advocates who continue to protect our existing rights and stand for a more just future.
EROS Hat Co. | 45 East Main Street (LGBTQ+, Black, Veteran owned)
After my bike tour and dining at Cashew (above), I shopped in Chattanooga’s Southside district. My first stop was EROS Hat Co., a Black LGBTQ+ and Veteran owned boutique experience specializing in customized hats, permanent jewlery, and unique accessories. As a Black birder, I could not pass up purchasing handmade hummingbird earrings.
Poor Taste | 61 East Main Street
As a GenX-er, I cannot express enough how happy I am to see 80s and 90s clothing coming back into style, and really appreciate shops like Poor Taste that offer vintage clothing, accessories, and VHS tapes because the originals are more authentic and better for the environment and human rights than purchasing similar items from fast fashion. Poor Taste is not only a shop, but a lifestyle brand that hosts a permanent sip & shop (buy a beer from their cooler before spending hours combing through all their treasures) and one-off events.
Black History Murals | MLK Nighborhood
The MLK community reflects over 100 years of Chattanooga and Black history and commerce in the city. Martin Luther King Boulevard is full of public art, showcasing vibrant murals dipicting Black life, history, and activism, including a mural of queer musician Bessie Smith.
Ruby Falls | 1720 South Scenic Hwy
One of the best things about Chattanooga is the city’s proximity to nature, including Outlook Mountain’s gorgeous views. While there, I went on an underground tour of Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public in the United States. Walking through the caves takes about 1 hour (with a tour guide for safety) and is absolutely worth the breathtaking views upon arriving at the falls.
Chattanooga Pride | Various Locations
I was lucky to be in town during Chattanooga’s annual official Pride events, including the Pride Parade and, one of the largest events of the weekend, “Rainbow Review,” a two-act drag extravaganza hosted by Hormona Lisa and featuring 40+ performers including Malaysia Babydoll Foxx of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Tennessee became the first state in 2023 to restrict drag performances, but a federal judge has since ruled Tennessee’s anti-drag show law unconstitutional.
This and similar laws have not fared well in court, and organizations such as @chattpride continue to proudly host inclusive and safe drag events where performers can share their talents and maintain their legacy as leaders in the LGBTQ+ liberation movement.
And, that’s a wrap…for now. The dapperQrew and I will definitely be back to visit Chattanooga to explore more (if not for those arancini alone)! In the meantime, head to Visit Chattanooga for more information about this welcoming destination.