Georgia Theatre in Athens. Photo by Ben Galland

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

Peter Buck and Friends at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia
Peter Buck and Friends at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia

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.

More: Athens Music in Three Days or Less

Mercer Music at Capricorn in Macon, Georgia. Photo by CI Smith, Mercer University
Mercer Music at Capricorn in Macon, Georgia. Photo by CI Smith, Mercer University

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.

More: How to Make the Most of Your Macon Music Experience

C.F. Hays & Son General Store in Musella, Georgia. Photo by @bonniemoretphotography
C.F. Hays & Son General Store in Musella, Georgia. Photo by @bonniemoretphotography

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 in Macon, Georgia. Photo by @rumersongs
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon, Georgia. Photo by @rumersongs

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.

More: 5 Native American Sites Not to Miss in Georgia

Kirby House Bed & Breakfast in Madison, Georgia
Kirby House Bed & Breakfast in Madison, Georgia

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.

More: Georgia B&Bs and Inns You'll Never Want to Leave

Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia
Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia

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.”

More: 4 Places to Feed Your Faith in Georgia

Farmview Market in Madison, Georgia. Photo by Laura Rotroff
Farmview Market in Madison, Georgia. Photo by Laura Rotroff

Farmview Market

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 in Athens
State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens

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.

Covington Walk of Stars in Covington, Georgia. Photo by Mystic Falls Tours
Covington Walk of Stars in Covington, Georgia. Photo by Mystic Falls Tours

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.

More: Visit the Real Town Behind The Vampire Diaries' Mystic Falls

Ask a local

Derek Chitwood, @peachstatepride, and his wife, Kari Beth, own clothing lines Empire South and Peach State Pride. He has lived in Milledgeville, Athens, and Watkinsville.

Downtown Milledgeville, Georgia
Downtown Milledgeville, Georgia

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.

Mural at Last Resort Grill in Athens, Georgia
Mural at Last Resort Grill in Athens, Georgia

What’s your favorite restaurant?

In Athens? The Last Resort Grill. In Milledgeville? The Brick. And in Watkinsville? Chops & Hops and Krimson Kafe.

Where would you recommend someone go with kids?

Pub on Main in Watkinsville for dinner. They have a grass lawn and great outdoor seating.

Old Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville, Georgia
Old Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville, Georgia

What’s something surprising about your region?

How great the old homes are in each town. Eatonton and Madison boast incredible homes, but Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville is probably my favorite.

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.

Published: February 2020