Trip Ideas

4 Georgia Small Towns with Big Charm

Stretch your legs in the Wild West, grab a bite in a caboose and more reasons to take a detour from the highway.

  • Downtown Cartersville

Most people travel through Georgia on the Interstate highways, but it’s worth taking a break from driving and visiting Georgia’s many small towns. Here are four places located just off major Interstates with unique places to eat and surprising things to do.

  • Cartersville

    The Tellus Science Museum sign is visible from I-75. A visit here can include dinosaurs, stars and even gold panning. In addition to the world-class Tellus Science Museum, Cartersville also has the Booth Western Art Museum, the only museum of its kind in the Southeast, and the largest permanent exhibition space for Western American art in the country, plus they have some awesome special events, like the Cowboy Festival in October. 

    Be sure to save some time after a museum visit to take in historic Cartersville’s downtown area. Take a picture in front of the very first painted wall advertising Coca-Cola, then grab a seat at the counter at Ross’ Diner for a hot dog or meat-n-vegetable plate. Visit on Thursday or Friday, and they are open until 8 p.m., but Monday through Saturday, you’ll need to get there before 2:30 p.m. Or, stop into the Swheat Market Deli and see why they made ExploreGeorgia.org's list of 100 Plates Locals Love in 2015.

  • Hampton

    You may know Hampton best for the Atlanta Motor Speedway, but if you haven't stopped in the actual town of Hampton off I-75 in Henry County, you don't know what you're missing. Browse through the Speakeasy Bookstore located on Main Street. If you're lucky, they may show you the actual 1920's speakeasy located in the basement. 

    Pretend the speakeasy was raided, and head out the back door to the old jail, which is now home to Jailhouse Brewing. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, they offer brewery tours and tastings. Try the Usual Suspects, Slammer Wheat, Mugshot IPA, Misdemeanor Ale or seasonal brews like Conjugal Visit or Breakout Stout. Kids are welcome and can play corn hole or Twister while the adults 21+ taste. Afterward, take the kids to watch the locomotives go by at the historic train depot down the street.  

  • Harlem

    When the railroad town of Saw Dust, Ga., got a bit too rowdy, a few residents picked up and moved down the road to start their own community, and that is how Harlem was born. Now, this little town less than a mile off I-20 is a mecca for Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts. Each October, the town bursts with visitors for the Laurel and Hardy festival. You can see the movies anytime, as well as lots of memorabilia at the Laurel and Hardy Museum, but call first to make sure it’s open.
  • Rutledge

    Most towns have a landmark they use to give directions. In Rutledge, it's the four-way barrel stop. You know you’ve arrived in this historic town, just three miles off Georgia I-20, when you reach the steel barrel painted red with four stop signs affixed to it. Fans of Leann Rimes and Luke Perry might recognize several locations in town from the 2010 film "Good Intentions." While you’re here, visit Rutledge Hardware, a store that is a bit like a museum that sells plumbing fixtures. Step next door to Eastlings, a mix between artist market, organic grocery and coffee house.

    All that shopping will make you hungry. Rutledge has two wonderful restaurants that are worth the stop alone. You can’t miss The Caboose, located inside the bright red caboose train or Yesterday’s Cafe, next to Eastlings, in a building that was once the town’s general store. Try the Engineer at The Caboose, and you simply must get the buttermilk pie at Yesterday’s.

  • Sue Rodman is Georgia's official Smart Travel Explorer. Find more of her budget-friendly tips and trip ideas on ExploreGeorgia.org, and find more reasons to stop in Rutledge on her blog.

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