Dallas News, Fun and games: two Southern playgrounds you’ve got to visit, October 23 2018 by Robin Soslow
Science says playing is good for the mind, body and spirit, so how about making your next vacation about fun and games? A boom in grown-up playgrounds gives you new reasons to hit two of the New South’s most winning cities: Chattanooga, Tenn., and Richmond, Va.
Chattanooga: High-tech and old-school fun
Edging the Appalachian Mountains and straddling the Tennessee River, this exuberant city has long been revered by lovers of water sports, hang-gliding, rock-climbing and cave-exploring (underground Ruby Falls plunges 145 feet within Lookout Mountain). Now, you can get your game on all over town.
After Chattanooga fired up America’s first citywide fiber-optic gigabit network in 2010, innovators flooded in, boosting demand for offerings from food to fun. Gig City’s genius spirit is now enhancing pleasurable pastimes. Electric surfboarding, virtual-reality hang-gliding and a stunning 60-foot translucent climbing wall make this an awesome place to visit.
Even novices can easily revel in exhilarating land, water and virtual-reality sports thanks to Adventure Sports Innovation, which was launched in July by adrenaline junkies who curate cutting-edge next-gen adventure gear from inventors around the world.
Sixteen choices include electric Swincar e-Spider electric ATVs with wheels that operate independently to zip quietly across rough terrain; electric watercraft from bodyboards to surfboards and pontoon-bicycles for cruising the Tennessee River; and footpad-powered e-skateboards and e-unicycles you can ride down Chattanooga’s scenic Riverwalk. Expert guides get you started quickly and keep you moving smoothly. Trust me, there’s nothing like zooming 25 mph on a bodyboard up and down the Tennessee River.
Inside, virtual-reality thrills include walking the Vertigo plank between skyscrapers on a kitty rescue mission and safely hang-gliding on Flymax, soaring through clouds, looping mountains and side-swiping trees. For $10, design your dream roller coaster using a 3D tablet, then slip on a VR headset, slide into coaster seats in a 4D experiential theater and rock ‘n’ roll on your custom coaster.
High Point Climbing and Fitness, a mega indoor-outdoor gym in downtown Chattanooga, offers a diversity of rope routes, auto-belays and boulders for learning to master finger and footholds while working your core in new ways. Topping the outdoor features is a wowza 60-foot-high transparent outdoor climbing wall with city, river and mountain views. Across the river in Coolidge Park, Outdoor Chattanooga offers low-cost guided paddling, mountain biking and climbing outings. Downtown offers several convenient equipment-rental businesses.
At two game halls opened in 2015, visitors feel like locals in minutes. Southside Social‘s sprawling luxury rec room features a cool 10-lane bowling alley with comfy sitting areas (no plastic chairs here), pool tables, skee ball, ping-pong, shuffleboard, giant Jenga, and in the outdoor courtyard, fire pits, ping-pong tables, horseshoes and cornhole. Get a Chatt Whisky Slushy at one of the friendly bars, and chase hunger away with cheap fresh-made tacos, pizza and fried green tomatoes.
Over in the revitalized Martin Luther King District, Coin-Op‘s retro barcade is decked out with the owner’s childhood toys and classic video games, Guardians of the Galaxy and other hip pinball machines, and free Xbox and Nintendo 64 gaming. Cereal for noshing and spirited regulars, some with their dogs, add to the vibe.
Another way to play like a kid: Take a hike at Signal Mountain and plunge beneath waterfalls at Rainbow Lake.
At riverfront Coolidge Park, play in the big fountain ringed with animal sculptures and ride the grand carousel.
Smoked cookery and ping-pong fills Hi-Fi Clyde‘s big space. Across the street, elevated comfort food draws lively groups to the Feed Table and Tavern. Nearby, the new Signal concert hall inhabits an industrial-chic warehouse. Walk a few steps for brews on the deck at Chattanooga Brewing Co.
Downwind from Coin-Op, sit by new OddStory Brewing‘s open garage-door windows and pair pretzels made from spent grains with a pint of Madman or Cherry Limeade Gose.
Snoozing is amusing here. Crash for the night at the new riverside Westin Chattanooga after playing Marco Polo in its sleek high-up pool or cards in its Alchemy Lounge, which faces the mountains. The Crash Pad is a friendly LEED platinum-certified hostel, and quirky-cool Dwell Hotel, with its new dining oasis and starlit cocktail bar, is among a fresh crop of boutique hotels serving fun-lovers.
New and nonstop flights from Dallas, free electric downtown shuttles running daily every 5 minutes, and the low-cost Bike Chattanoogabikeshare (ride up to an hour at a time).
More info: chattanoogafun.com
Richmond: On a roll
Virginia’s riverside capital has reached critical mass for having a blast. Adding to solid cultural, culinary, urban rafting and biking scenes, Richmond entrepreneurs are making “getting social” something you do out on the town, instead of on cellphones. Here, new-style bowling, pool, ping-pong, cornhole, cards, arcade games and shuffleboard pair well with casual-gourmet food, craft beverages and smart, comfy settings.
On a recent weeknight, young professionals at River City Roll, a new bowling/social mega-center, included Dallas transplant Amy Tashenberg. “The food, the regional wineries, the breweries, the entertainment” make Richmond a hot spot, she said.
The newest playground is Scott’s Addition. Revitalized at hyper-speed, this industrial district just west of downtown booms with brew-pubs with massive decks, cideries with tasting rooms, friendly restaurants and super-hip social halls.
Tang & Biscuit, a huge, dazzlingly decorated shuffleboard club named for terms for the sport’s stick and puck, opened in August. After sipping Tang (yep, that orange powdered drink lives on) straight up or in cocktails at the 52-foot-long bar, slide your biscuits on one of 10 floor courts. The friendly competition is addictive. In the back room, play pingpong and cornhole. Or watch some pretty intense competitions.
At River City Roll’s dream clubhouse, bowl while savoring The Lebowski, a White Russian riff spiked with house-made coffee syrup, gourmet tacos and the Gutterball, a brick oven pizza with goat cheese, lemon zest and fig jam drizzle. Forget plastic chairs; facing the flashy alleys and digital screens are deluxe tufted sofas. A stage features local bands; an outdoor patio and indoor tables edge the long, fancy bar.
The Circuit‘s 75 retro and modern arcade games include classic coin-ops, skeeball and a plethora of pinball machines. A self-serve beer wall’s high-tech 50-tap system dispenses craft beer, wine and cider.
At Vasen Brewing, a highlight of the new Richmond Beer Trail, mingle barside or in cozy lounges over inventive craft brews such as Figue Rustique that will lube you for rowdy rounds of trivia presented by Geeks Who Drink.
Downtown’s got game, too. Greenleaf’s Pool Room was built by a pro player in 2014 on the ground floor of a classic 1929 hotel. At the old-time luncheonette counter, order a pickle plate and pitchers of local craft beer. In Champion’s century-old velvet-curtained quarters, dine and drink amid super-sized vintage artworks while playing pinball. At bustling all-day breakfast magnet Citizen, sit down for a game of chess in the unisex restroom.
All of these social play spots feature elevated bar food. Other solid choices include ZZQ Texas Craft Barbeque in Scott’s Addition. Opened in March by an Austin-bred pitmaster, it’s already won kudos as Virginia’s best barbecue by Food and Wine magazine and best Texas barbecue outside Texas by Texas Monthly. The menu includes a seitan option. The Melt recently brought new fun to the lively Carytown neighborhood: gourmet street food (mac and cheese, fried pickles, Mexi-corn rice balls) served at counters lining windows of a hot-glass studio where artists create objects day and night. New in Church Hill: The Neighborhood Scoop, a food truck/outdoor social hub serving handmade “High 5” ice cream sandwiches.
Retire to Graduate Richmond‘s peppy-preppy hotel rooms stacked over the lobby café, where you can socialize at long school-cafeteria-style tables amid classic checkered decor. Quirk Hotel, a jewel of the freshly revitalized arts district, lives up to its happy name, with cheerful rooms and a sunlit bay window-walled lobby where you can indulge in some of the New South’s finest fare. The Victorian vaulted ceiling and super-cool furniture in the restaurant-bar make you feel like you’re dining in a movie set. Both Quirk and Graduate have bicycles that guests can use to reach all of these adult play spaces — and rooftop bars with tasty finger food, cocktails, views and tables perfect for playing cards.
Nonstop flights from Dallas and the new low-cost RVA Bike Share (ride up to 45 minutes at a time).
More info: visitrichmondva.com
Robin Soslow, a South-based writer-photographer who explores cool areas on bicycle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.