Located within a two-hour drive of several major cities in the Southeast, the Chattanooga region hosts dozens of annual festivals.
Here are some events to plan your year around.
* Bella Sera (April 9): Enjoy an evening of food and wine tastings with a silent auction and the dulcet sounds of area musicians. Normally held in North Chattanooga’s Renaissance Park, this year the festival is relocating to downtown’s iconic Tennessee Aquarium at the terminus of Market Street. Cost: $70 or $100 for a premium tasting of wines selected by area vino experts.
* 4 Bridges Arts Festival (April 16-17): This juried fine art show sponsored by the Association for Visual Arts is held at the 50,000-square-foot First Tennessee Pavilion, with an adjacent outdoor area hosting food/drink vendors, musicians and crafting activities for kids. Last year’s attendance was about 18,000. Admission: $5 adults, free for ages 18 and under.
* Chattanooga Traditional Jazz Festival (April 29-May 1): The 21st annual celebration of New Orleans and Dixieland jazz at the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo will feature Bob Schulz Frisco Jazz band, Grand Dominion Jazz Band, New El Dorado Jazz Band and Uptown Lowdown Jazz band. General admission tickets are $145 for the weekend.
* Tennessee Strawberry Festival (April 30, May 7, 10-15, 17 and 21): This free “celebration of small-town life” was started in 1947 as a one-day festival sponsored by the Dayton Lions Club but has blossomed into a weeks-long extravaganza attracting thousands. Events include musical acts, food, a parade and the crowning of the Strawberry Festival Queen.
* Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival (May 5-7): This event is one of first on a long list of regional bluegrass festivals. The lineup typically features about a dozen acts, including local, regional and nationally recognized talent. This year’s lineup includes local favorites Dismembered Tennesseans, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out and The Grascals. The festival is held at the Raccoon Mountain campground. Three-day passes are $45. Single-day tickets are available.
* Children’s Hospital Dragon Boat Festival (May 21): Watch about 2,000 paddlers navigate sleek, 46-foot boats racing up and down the Tennessee River. Activities on the shore include Asian cultural entertainment, music and food and activities for children. This year marks the event’s fifth anniversary and is expected to draw 10,000 spectators to its new location at TVA Park at Chickamauga Dam. Teams must pay to register to compete, but the event is free to watch.
* Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival (June 9-12): This festival held on a 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tenn., is 75 miles from Chattanooga and is considered one of the marquee musical events in the country, attracting tens of thousands of people for four days of performances by bands and comedians. This year is the event’s 10th anniversary. Past headliners have included Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews Band, Kanye West, Metallica, Radiohead and Stevie Wonder.
* Riverbend music festival (June 10-18): For nine days, Chattanooga’s downtown waterfront is the stage for about 100 national, regional and local acts for a massive festival that is the city’s pre-eminent musical event. Riverbend attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. Miranda Lambert, Huey Lewis and the News, Jeff Coffin and the Beach Boys are among the first acts announced for the event’s 30th anniversary celebration.
* Pops on the River (July 3): Chattanooga rings in the nation’s birthday with a free, patriotic concert by the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera in North Chattanooga’s Coolidge Park.
* SwingFest (Sept. 3): Labor Day weekend kicks off in Coolidge Park with this free evening of music and dance featuring some of Chattanooga’s largest swing orchestras. The bands consist of local professional musicians, teachers, band directors and well-known performers. Free dance lessons have been provided in past years.
* Three Sisters Music Festival (Sept. 30-Oct. 1): Started in 2007 by a local businessman and accomplished fiddler, Fletcher Bright, the Three Sisters Festival on the waterfront at Ross’s Landing is becoming one of the banner events of the fall. Local, regional and national bluegrass all-stars perform for free for two days on a stage framing the river.
* River Rocks (Sept. 30-Oct. 9): Begun in 2010, River Rocks is family friendly, environmentally conscious celebration of the natural resources of Chattanooga and the rest of the Tennessee Valley. This year, the 10-day schedule includes 90 events ranging from live music and hot air balloons to river cruises.
* Wine Over Water (Oct. 1): More than 100 wineries from around the world have their wares on display along the historic Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges. Tickets are $60 per person and include a commemorative goblet and samples of an array of wines. All proceeds go toward historic preservation in Chattanooga.
* Chattanooga Oktoberfest (Oct. 22-23): Thanks to Volkswagen’s recent decision to build a factory in Chattanooga, the whole city has Teutonic fever, and this celebration of all things German (beer, polka and dancing) is the perfect cure. There will be a traditional biergarten featuring 18 varieties of local and seasonal brews. In honor of the automaker’s presence in the city, there also will be a classic VW car show. The Chattanooga Market hosts the free event at First Tennessee Pavilion.
* Fall Leaf Cruises (Oct. 15- Nov. 6): Chattanooga was built along the scenic Tennessee River, and this guided cruise on the vintage steamboat Southern Belle takes passengers downriver through the beautiful Tennessee River Gorge when the foliage is in full display. The cruises include live entertainment, narration, bingo, pilot house tours and brunch or lunch.
* Grand Illumination on the River (Nov. 25): The Winter Days & Lights holiday season, awarded Top 20 event status by the Southeast Tourism Society, kicks off with this event. Following a parade of lighted boats on the Tennessee River, the free celebration continues with a stage show at Ross’s Landing and a fireworks finale.