Georgia Theatre in Athens. Photo by Ben Galland
Best Things to Do in Central Georgia
Hear live music, see where The Vampire Diaries was filmed, and much more in charming historic towns from Athens to Macon.
Cities in central Georgia are full of surprises and hidden historical gems. Athens, Macon, Madison, Milledgeville, and more punch way above their weight with culinary and literary attractions, beautiful hotels and homes, and live music scenes that are nothing short of legendary. It's no wonder this region inspired such diverse musicians as Duane Allman and Otis Redding.
Follow these tips to begin exploring the region's musical roots and historic sites. Keep reading for tips from locals about what to do, where to eat and great places for kids.
Things to see & do
Live music & historic sites in Athens
When it comes to Georgia's musical legacy, this region is the fertile ground on which many of the state's most lasting tunes were made, and where important monuments to that musicianship still stand. On the region's northern end, Athens is famous for launching the careers of titans such as R.E.M., the B-52s, and Drive-By Truckers; at one point, each of their musical home bases was the 40 Watt Club, a 500-person-capacity venue now on downtown's West Washington Street. Around the corner (and twice as large) is the iconic Georgia Theatre, a former YMCA, Masonic Temple, and church that's hosted everyone from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony to Bob Saget and A Flock of Seagulls.
Southern rock music history in Macon
In celebration of its 50th birthday, Macon's long-shuttered Capricorn Studios recently reopened, giving fans the chance to experience a building the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, and other artists once made synonymous with Southern rock. Explore the museum and around-the-clock recording studios at the rechristened "Mercer Music at Capricorn."
And the Big House on Macon’s Vineville Avenue was a focal point and flophouse for everyone in the band’s hemisphere for three years in the early 1970s. The mansion now serves as a museum, with Duane Allman's bedroom crystalized with his personal belongings and the "Roadie Room" crowded with flotsam that fans will love.
C.F. Hays & Son General Store
Backdrops don't get more classic than the Musella landmark that is C.F. Hays & Son General Store, open since 1900 and still dishing up Cracker Jacks and small-town hospitality.
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park
Around 900 AD, Native American cultures constructed mounds for their elite, outside what is now present-day Macon. The hills still dominate the landscape today at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park.
Kirby House Bed & Breakfast
Kirby House, a smartly furnished bed and breakfast nestled in Madison's renowned Historic District, has an abundance of animal art on the walls — and a gorgeous pool around back.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit
Twenty-five miles east of Atlanta is the enchanting Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a Roman Catholic complex in Conyers highlighted by the massive Abbey Church, which took young Trappist monks 15 years to complete, beginning in the 1940s. Today, the monks are dedicated to worship through prayer, silence, and solitude. They also welcome visitors. Guests on the monastery’s Facebook page (yes, it has one) have described the experience as: “Holy Ground ... yet warm, inviting, and fun.”
Just a turnip's toss from Interstate 20 is Madison’s Farmview Market, set in a huge, barn-like structure. Fresh veggies and sirloin are on the menu along with the cafe’s popular Rooster Biscuit and Rock House Creamery ice cream, with creative flavors like cinnamon roll and butter walnut.
State Botanical Garden of Georgia
Five miles of nature trails wend through lovely displays of wildflowers, southern flame azaleas, and more at this 50-year-old botanist's haven near downtown Athens. The State Botanical Garden, part of the University of Georgia’s Office of Public Service and Outreach, counts more than 230,000 visitors annually. Bonus: Admission, like parking, is free.
Walk of Stars
What do Reese Witherspoon, Burt Reynolds, and the Vampire Diaries’ Ian Somerhalder have in common? They all have their own big hexagonal pavers— alongside more than 30 others and counting — around Covington’s picturesque downtown square. It’s part of the Walk of Stars, which honors TV shows and films shot in the area.
Ask a local
What’s one thing all visitors to your region should do?
Just drive around the streets of our towns — not just the main drags, but the side streets — and take in the quaint, Southern beauty.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
Where would you recommend someone go with kids?
Pub on Main in Watkinsville for dinner. They have a grass lawn and great outdoor seating.
What’s something surprising about your region?
What do you love most about living here?
In the region as a whole, there’s a positive energy right now; the future is bright.