Biking on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Photo by @wandernorthga
1. Soak Up the Scenery on a Lake Blue Ridge Getaway
Take a lake trip to Blue Ridge, and you’re signing up for more than just a getaway — it’s truly an immersive experience. Surrounded by the beauty of the mountains and the mesmerizing clarity of the lake, you’ll find no shortage of water activities. And when you’re done making waves, hit the town for good eats or stop by an orchard and indulge in a cold glass of hard apple cider.
A good trip starts with great lodging. Take in the gorgeous scenery of North Georgia when you book a stay with Escape to Blue Ridge cabin rental. Whether you’re going for a luxurious or laid-back feel, there’s a host of cabins available to suit your fancy, including dog-friendly and waterfront options, and those with game rooms and other family amenities — all set amid the lush greenery the area is known for. Plus, the area is a treasure trove of natural wonders if you’re looking to connect with nature. There are 106,000 acres of national forest and more than 100 miles of rivers and streams to explore.
Head to Lake Blue Ridge’s crystal-clear waters for some aquatic fun. Naturally, the 3,290-acre lake offers an array of dynamic activities: Bask in nature at the abundant campsites, plunge into public swimming spots or navigate the waters with help from the full-service marina. Take a short excursion to soak up gorgeous views on the Toccoa River Swinging Bridge after a quick, family-friendly hike on the Benton MacKaye Trail 45 minutes from Blue Ridge. The trek is brief but the payoff is big. The 270-foot suspension bridge dances and bounces with each step, as it’s suspended over the gently rolling Toccoa River. On the other side, you’re rewarded with the sight of a stunning waterfall.
After adventures on the lake, or maybe even before heading out, drop by Rum Cake Lady — a Cuban cafe — for award-winning rum cake, including their original golden bundt cake, red velvet bundt cake and Cuba libre rum cake. Fill up before dessert with authentic food, including the Cuban food bowl with chicken, yellow rice and black beans, while hanging out on the outdoor patio.
On your way out of town, make the short drive to Mercier Orchards’ market for butters, jams and honey, or indulge your sweet tooth with their fried pies, apple-cider donuts and cinnamon-apple bread. Take it a step further with a trip to the orchard’s candy kitchen, where you’ll find handmade peanut-butter cups and more. Pop by their Hard Cider & Winery to treat yourself to a flight of cider, sampling options like the dry Cold Day in Hops or the tart Adele’s Choice.
2. Experience Georgia Film Favorites in Senoia, Covington & Conyers
Any fan of movies and television has seen the Georgia-peach logo at the end of the credits for projects that receive a film-tax incentive for shooting in Georgia. And while studio complexes have risen from Savannah to Athens, filming on location in Senoia, Covington and Conyers has been going on for decades — well before the incentives.
Covington, where classics like "Remember the Titans" and the most recent Netflix series "Sweet Magnolias" came alive, is a solid place to start your experiential adventure. Grab lunch at Mystic Grill, which was partly inspired by "The Vampire Diaries." The popular CW series about blood-sucking night-stalkers was filmed in town and inspired the restaurant’s owners to bring the on-screen story to life — in edible form. From there, take the Mystic Falls Tour, which leads junkets through more local areas featured on the show, including the clocktower, town square, the Gilbert family home and Malivore’s portal. Then hop on the Main Street Trolleys & Tours, whose Covington movie tour includes more than 40 filming locations, like where scenes from "The Dukes of Hazzard" were filmed. Behind-the-scenes details are shared by their tour guides. Rest your head at Twelve Oaks Bed and Breakfast, a historical home that was recommended as a model home for the movie "Gone With the Wind." Less than a 10 minutes’ walk away, find yourself at City Pharmacy for brunch or dinner, particularly if bacon-glazed salmon sounds enticing.
For your next movie-and-TV stop, take a quick 10-mile day trip to Conyers. An easy way to get your bearings is the Filmed in the South guided tour, where you can see places like Olde Town Conyers, which you’ll recognize from TV series like "The Originals" and "In The Heat of The Night." As part of the tour, you can make a reservation at Celtic Tavern, aka "The Originals’" Gillespie’s Pub, for on-set dining before or following your tour.
If you’ve got time for a bit more sightseeing, the town of Senoia was not only the site of the state’s first stage complex, the Raleigh Riverwood; the town itself was the practical shooting location for "The Walking Dead." For memorabilia such as signed posters and officially licensed products, visit The Woodbury Shoppe, whose owners include "The Walking Dead’s" executive producer, graphic-novel creator and former studio co-owner. There’s also Georgia Tour Company, which offers the Southern Fried Films Tour for insights into classic Southern films. Senoia has a long history of filming — from "Fried Green Tomatoes" to "The Fighting Temptations."
When hunger comes back into focus, visit Nic & Norman’s, owned by "The Walking Dead" actor Norman Readus and TWD’s producer and special-effects mastermind Greg Nicotero. It boasts brisket nachos, fried-chicken pot pies and an array of gourmet burgers. And if you’re ready for a break after all that "Y'allywood" action, take a trip to France without a passport. Lisa’s Crêperie, a cafe where sweet and savory crepes are the main fare, offers a variety of specialty coffees, teas, wines, beer and shakes for the happiest ending ever.
3. Girls Trip to Athens
Grab your besties and gear up for a getaway that’s all about catching up on old memories and making a few new ones. You can take an action-packed escape to Athens with people who really get you.
Once you’ve settled into the chic and centrally located Hotel Indigo, make your way to the happiest of vacation hours at one of the city’s renowned craft breweries. Share some laughs as the sun sets over Creature Comforts’ expansive patio and you sip their tangy, mimosa-esque Athena Paradiso sour, or head to Terrapin Beer Co.’s backyard for live music and a friendly cornhole competition accompanied by a pint of their crisp Los Bravos Mexican-style lager. Both are stops on the Athens Beer Trail, made up of seven local breweries where you can collect stamps. Visit them all to receive a keepsake at the Historic Athens Welcome Center.
Now that you’ve sufficiently shifted into getaway mode, pull up a chair at one of the restaurants credited with putting Athens on the foodie map. At James Beard winner and “Top Chef Masters” alum Hugh Acheson’s Five & Ten, savor sophisticated Southern dishes like cast-iron cornbread and half-roast chicken.
Walk that goodness off along the 5 miles of garden trails at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, where you can really get the heart pumping or pick a more leisurely route — luckily, for those who might be distracted while catching up on old times, there’s plenty of signage to point you back the way you came.
Pop into a few of the independent shops downtown, including home-goods stores, artists’ studios and vintage-clothing hotspots. Agora Vintage, Cheeky Peach, Heery’s Clothes Closet, Fringe Boutique and Epiphany are a handful of stylish options you’ll have to make room in the suitcase for. For something a little different, there’s Lumberjaxe, where you can see which of you will surprise the others with the most accurate axe-throwing skills, and the Bear Hug Honey Company, whose infused honeys, body butters and candles make sweet souvenirs of your weekend.
After freshening up at your hotel, set out for Last Resort Grill, an eclectic former music venue, to savor items like cornbread-crusted trout and maple-smoked tofu before you really hit the town.
Start by dancing to the electrifying energy of live music at the historic 40 Watt Club, where high-profile acts like John Mayer, Snoop Dogg, R.E.M. and Pylon have graced the stage. Then, walk over to a hub for established and emerging musicians, the Georgia Theatre, where a rooftop bar offers stellar live performances and views of Athens. If you’re not ready to call it a night, this college town offers plenty of lively places to have a cocktail and grab some late-night bites, including The Old Pal and The Root.
4. Wag Your Way Through Savannah
Wrapped in Southern charm, Savannah is a haven for pet lovers with a diversity of dog-friendly offerings that delight both humans and their furry companions. At the luxurious Perry Lane Hotel, their friendly welcome extends to your pupcakes. Book a room at the pet-friendly hotel, which welcomes dogs that weigh up to 50 pounds and service animals of all sizes for a fee. Surprise your fluffy buddy with treats made by Oliver Bentleys, a comfy pet bed made just for them and a bandana with the Perry Lane logo, all of which are included in the pet fee.
Who said your four-legged friend isn’t a history buff, too? Oliver Bentleys Historic Dog Walk Tour is just over a mile in length, and it is specifically designed for people visiting Savannah with their dogs. Explore the city’s 22 iconic squares, beginning with Oglethorpe Square, and relish the gorgeous greenscapes that paint the downtown area. Walk historic Bull Street and savor the history behind its famous monuments, all while learning about the many canine-friendly establishments along the way.
Dogs are always welcome on the expansive patio at Collins Quarter at Forsyth, a charming location styled after historic Collins Street in Melbourne, Australia, that boasts an overlook of the iconic Forsyth fountain. Bring your fur baby and indulge in the eclectic cafe experience, savoring the pairing of specialty coffee with innovative brunch cuisine while the barista at the walk-up coffee window spoils them with a free treat. Revel in the delightful fusion of Southern hospitality and Australian chic, all within a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere that effortlessly combines the charm of Savannah with the cosmopolitan culture of Melbourne.
Located in Savannah’s vibrant Starland District, Starland Yard Food Truck Park is a pet-friendly spot that offers a variety of rotating food trucks and a fully stocked bar. Grab a slice from Vittoria Pizzeria, kick back and people watch while your best friend rests at your feet. Or enjoy a Mercier Grumpy Granny Cider, crafted in North Georgia, from Yard Bar and play a round of cornhole while your dog cheers you on.
Finish your pup-cation less than an hour outside the city at Skidaway Island State Park, home to one of the most popular dog-friendly hikes in Savannah. As one of Georgia’s barrier islands, the park is dotted with live oaks dressed with Spanish moss, and its picturesque trails are perfect for wandering with your leashed pup. They wind their way through a forest and over a salt marsh. Don’t be surprised if you spot a variety of maritime-forest-dwellers, including deer, fiddler crabs, raccoons, egrets and migrating birds.
5. Brush Up on History in Macon
For an immersive journey through history — whether you’re interested in music, art, culture, architecture, stories of the Black and Indigenous experience in Georgia, and more — there’s no place like Macon. The charming town has an abundance of activities, landmarks and opportunities to see the paths that laid the foundations for life as we know it today.
Begin your historic journey at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, which may soon become Georgia’s newest national park. The national park would be co-managed by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, who were forced off the land in the first half of the 19th century. Occupied for more than 12,000 years by up to six Native American cultures, the land is central to the foundation and prehistoric origin of Macon. Before visiting the magnificent mounds, check the calendar for recurring programming at the site — including annual cultural events like the Ocmulgee Indigenous Celebration held in September, and the Lantern Light Tour (every year during Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival), where you’ll walk from the Visitor Center to the Great Temple Mound with a lantern and hear interpretive talks at various points along the paths.
Continue down history’s path with a visit to sites relating to Black history, stopping first at the Tubman African American Museum. Named in honor of the courageous Harriet Tubman, the museum celebrates African American art, history and culture. Tour the museum for a nine-panel mural by Georgia artist Wilfred Stroud depicting the origins of men and women from Africa to America, an exhibit on African American inventors, and one on Macon’s musical heritage — from Little Richard to James Brown and the Allman Brothers Band. Next, head to Mercer Music at Capricorn’s sound studios and museum, considered one of the birthplaces of Southern rock. Here you can listen to songs from the Capricorn Records catalog (including tunes from Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and others). Plus, talented musicians still perform, rehearse and record at Capricorn today.
Fans of architectural history will love the distinguished Hay House, an expansive, four-story Italian Renaissance Revival marvel where construction ended in 1859. Take in opulent design details, like soaring 35-foot ceilings and a magnificent collection of porcelains, stained-glass windows, paintings and more.
Feeling famished from all that history? Dine at The Rookery, which opened during Capricorn Records’ heyday and serves burgers inspired by the Allman Brothers, Ray Charles, Little Richard and more. If you’re in the mood for something a little more specifically Southern and indulgent, try H & H Soul Food. The Macon institution is history itself, having been founded in 1959 and famous for classics like fried chicken, collard greens and mac ‘n’ cheese, all of which wash down perfectly with an Arnold Palmer. You can get a literal taste of history in one of Georgia’s most celebrated cities.
Find your home away from home at another Macon gem — the 1842 Inn, a B&B that exemplifies Southern hospitality. You’ll enjoy nightly hors d’oeuvres and mint juleps in the parlor, an elegant courtyard and gardens, an expansive front porch and sweet in-room amenities like fresh flowers.
6. Take on Augusta's Aquatic Adventures
When the weather gets a little toasty, you can always find a deeper level of cool on Augusta’s waters. If you like to keep it above the surface, you’ll love taking the Serene 18 Paddle Trail challenge, which invites you to paddle the Augusta Canal, the Savannah River and Clarks Hill Lake. If you can collect all five stamps on a souvenir passport along the trail, you’ll get a free T-shirt. For a guided float through areas of Columbia County, head to Stallings Island, where Cole Watkins Tours lead you to the best spots via kayak to see wild deer, otters and friendly donkeys, the latter of which you can stop and pet or take a selfie with. Also available for a tour is the county’s most popular local waterway, Betty’s Branch, which offers morning and sunset times.
Anglers will relish the chance to catch bass at Mistletoe State Park, which also offers year-round programs including nature walks and concerts. Discovery Center at Enterprise Mill is an essential trip through Augusta’s industrial history, with stories and exhibits explaining the building of the Augusta Canal and its use of hydroelectricity. Enjoy acoustic performances on the water as you tool through the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area on a Moonlight Music Cruise. Or spend a day scanning the shoreline to spot the bountiful wildlife and hear about historical buildings dating back to the Civil War.
Or if you’d rather stay more grounded, take a stroll down the Fifth Street Pedestrian Bridge, with its unimpeded views of the Savannah River, and plenty of ways to keep the kids busy — from mazes and spin wheels to music. Farther down, between Sixth and 10th streets, is the Augusta Riverwalk where, along with the natural wonders of the Japanese Gardens, you’ll find weekly programming such as the Sunday Candlelight Jazz Series between May and August, and Saturday markets at the Eighth Street Plaza and Bulkhead.
Since you’ll eventually need something sturdier than water to keep going, make a reservation for Cork & Flame, a hybrid restaurant that mixes fine dining with tapas-style, shareable plates and a wine market for movable feasts. Secure a table in advance for morning bites at Brunch House Augusta for its cozy diner-style setup and amazing shrimp and grits, among other tasty day-starters.
For a one-of-a-kind hotel stay that matches the grandeur of Augusta, stay at The Partridge Inn. This meticulously maintained historical-landmark building happens to be the closest hotel to Augusta National Golf Club and is beloved for its fabulous rooftop bar. Or you can always head downtown for an old fashioned cocktail at Edgar’s Above Broad. Here, you’ll appreciate an elevated experience with a grassy, green-and-white-checkerboard-floored rooftop lounge, and a stellar selection of breakfast and lunch menu items.
7. Sample Local Flavors in Ellijay
Nothing says down-home fun like a spirited festival celebrating local culture and community. This is why the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay has been a highlight of the “apple capital” of Georgia for more than 50 years.
Held on the second and third full weekends in October, the folksy gathering honors the apple harvest. Here, you can browse roughly 300 vendors selling food, art and handcrafted items, or pause to check out the on-site craft demonstrations. Enjoy family-friendly events held throughout the four-day event, including the popular Annual Apple Classic Auto Show, the Apple Festival 5K Road Race and the Apple Festival Parade, which starts and ends in downtown Ellijay.
Of course, local orchards are in on the charming festival fun. At the family-owned R & A Orchards, not only can you pick apples from the tree during the u-pick apple season (September–October), you can also grab a pair of clippers and a cup to create a custom bouquet in the flower fields with a vibrant selection of zinnias, sunflowers and wildflowers. After dropping by the u-pick apple orchards at Red Apple Barn, hop on over to the pumpkin patches, where you’ll find the one that awaits your carved masterpiece, for more fall delights.
While apples get all the Ellijay glory, there’s no denying that the area’s wineries are starting to garner some serious attention. Several serve up spectacular countryside views, live music and other ways to relax along with their tasting flights. Sip vidal blancs in Cartecay Vineyards’ 1890s Tasting Barn, dry apple wines in the relaxed environs of Buckley Vineyards and rose and sprinkling wines in the rooftop garden bar at Roo Mountain Vineyards.
Nestled in 265 acres of vibrant scenery, kickstart your mountain fun with a stay at The Lodge at Walnut Grove. With its spacious living rooms, an in-house library, dual kitchens, a wraparound porch and serene stone patios, its stylish presentation harmonizes with stunning valley views.
Enjoy an awesome view of Ellijay when you head to the trendy downtown restaurant, The Roof. Treat yourself to Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, boiled peanuts and bologna sliders on the spacious outdoor patio.
8. Roam Solo in the Golden Isles
It is entirely possible to enjoy an island escape without a traveling companion, especially when the destination is one of the Golden Isles of Georgia. The collection of barrier islands — along with the charming port city of Brunswick along the state’s east coast — was recently ranked No. 1 among U.S. islands in Travel + Leisure’s 2023 World’s Best Awards survey.
Make leisurely, pedestrian-friendly St. Simons Island your base. The 18-square-mile stretch is ideal for a solo stroll or bike trip. You can rent a beach cruiser at several businesses, some of which are happy to deliver your bike to you. Hotel Simone — the island’s newest, all-suite luxury boutique hotel — offers casual, coastal splendor in the form of nautical design, a gorgeous rooftop pool and lounge, plus easy access and discounted pricing at The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort nearby. After check-in, take a 1-mile southbound walk to the Pier Village district, where you’ll find Neptune Park and the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum, as well as the fishing pier. Browse nearby stores like the Savannah Bee Company for sweet honey treats or stop into the Live Oak Shop for beachy gifts and souvenirs.
On your way back, pass the hotel and continue for just over half a mile to the World War II Home Front Museum, which is full of artifacts and history detailing the unique role St. Simons, and hundreds of thousands of Georgians, played in the military effort. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, visit Southern Soul Barbeque, one of Georgia’s best barbecue restaurants, serving exceptional wings, ribs, brisket, pulled-pork sandwiches and more. If you’d rather ride after your meal, check the schedule for trolley tours that meet under the big oak tree along the pier. No St. Simons trip is complete without spending time on one of the island’s beautiful beaches. East Beach, Gould’s Inlet, Massengale Park and the Coast Guard Station Beach are all amazing shores worth visiting.
For natural wonders of a different kind, plan a day trip to Jekyll Island. Here you’ll see everything from interactive exhibits at Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to Driftwood Beach, where weathered driftwood trees are fantastically shaped by decades of natural erosion. There are also bicycles, tricycles, surreys, dual trikes and other pedal-assist vehicles available for temporary use at Jekyll Island Bike Barn. Be sure to make a pit stop at the Jekyll Market gourmet grocery store in Beach Village for an unparalleled selection of snacks, wine, meats and food from four on-site restaurants.
Take a quick trip to the mainland, Brunswick, where you can see the Romanesque design of Old City Hall, historical elements of The Ritz Theatre and the natural beauty of Mary Ross Waterfront Park. Wind down with an elegant sip of the award-winning Richland Rum, offered in tasting flights upon completing a tour of the distillery. And be sure to visit Silver Bluff Brewing Company for the freshest pours of beers like Golden Isles IPA.
9. Family Fun for Every Season at Callaway Resort & Gardens
With 2,500 acres of gorgeous terrain to explore, the kiddos won’t get bored on a trip to Callaway Resort & Gardens, no matter when you visit. Early March to mid-April, the Azalea Bowl bursts onto the garden scene with a riot of petals in Barbie pink, Corvette red, brilliant white, twilight lavender and dozens of other shades. More than 3,000 hybrid azaleas line the walking paths and climb along the hillsides within the garden. Plan your trip around the bloom to catch this quintessential spring scene.
Or plan a visit more toward summer to soak up the rays at Robin Lake Beach, a scenic backdrop for basking in the sun and building memories (and castles) in the sand. Kick up the fun with the floating obstacle course, Aqua Island, where you can climb across winding bridges, soar high on giant trampolines, swing on the monkey bars and ascend inflatable mountains. Rent beach essentials like beach chairs, paddleboards, umbrellas and even a luxury cabana for some time in the shade. Between all those activities and the Beach Pavilion — where you can pick up burgers, hot dogs, pizza and cold drinks — you may never leave! Summer's highlight is the July 4th Beach Party, loaded with water fun and nightly fireworks. Add on the summer concert series filling the air with festive notes every Friday and Saturday from June to July, as well as other live performances, and you’re guaranteed full days and nights of beach bliss.
Full days can be filled with year-round activities at the gardens, so you won’t miss out no matter when you visit. Make a stop at Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, one of America’s largest tropical-butterfly conservatories, where you'll witness the enchanting spectacle of more than 1,000 free-flying butterflies drifting and dipping onto vibrantly colored plants. Next, venture to The Discovery Center, complete with zipline courses that soar up to 70 feet above the forest floor, a larger-than-life MEGA BUGS exhibit, and the Birds of Prey presentation, where several of these aerodynamic raptors swoop and soar while an expert teaches those gathered about their strength and speed.
Callaway Gardens is home to a bounty of holiday activities, too. Labor Day Weekend is a hit for kids of all ages with beach access and putt-putt golf. Don't miss the hot-air-balloon show, guaranteed to wow even the pickiest little ones. In the fall, explore the Enchanted Pumpkin Forest and Cason's Corn Maze during Pumpkins at Callaway. And during the winter-holiday season, earn your cool-parent stamp of approval with a visit to Celebration Lake for a spectacle of 30 dancing trees.
Immerse yourself in natural beauty when you book a stay at Southern Pine Cottages at Callaway. The screened porches and decks are the perfect place for the entire family to relax, breathe and appreciate the surrounding natural wonders. Cottages come with a fireplace and spacious living and dining areas. Choose your own adventure — completely unplug or, if you need to stay connected, there’s free Wi-Fi. No matter which you choose, you’re sure to strike the ideal vacation balance of relaxation and fun activities at this year-round destination.
10. A Serene Couples Getaway to Sea Island
Float away on an ocean breeze with your lover at Sea Island. This private-island getaway promises both comfort and luxury, along with views of a tidal river, salt marshes and miles of scenic coastline.
When you arrive at The Cloister, one of two Forbes Five-Star lodging options at Sea Island Resort, prepare to be dazzled by the lush scenery that beckons you. Unload your bags, then take a spin in a complimentary BMW — just pick up your keys and a map at the bell stand to enjoy the luxurious, smooth ride for up to 2 hours. Rejuvenate from your travels at The Spa at Sea Island, a sanctuary influenced by the therapeutic power of naturally flowing water. There, you’ll find interconnected fountains, pools and waterways that enhance the tranquility of the services provided, including hydrotherapy, water treatments, tailored aromatherapy and distinctive bodywork.
While you’re on the island, don’t forget about one of the most consistently romantic seaside activities — a memorable horseback ride along the shoreline. Soak up the beauty of the rich Georgia coast as you explore the south end of Sea Island’s beach on horseback. As you ride side by side, let the rhythm of the waves and the whispering sea breeze create an unforgettable atmosphere of serenity and shared adventure. Whether you decide to relax or fill your day with activity, before it ends plan to reconnect on an idyllic cruise aboard the Sea Island Explorer, a 71-foot yacht. The picturesque journey takes you through marsh-lined waterways and you can spot wildlife from the open-air viewing deck.
For a laid-back dining experience by the water, make your way to the Beach Club, where you can enjoy a crispy fried-chicken sandwich, complete with house-made sweet-and-sour pickles in a private cabana by the adult pool. If you’d rather stay in the water, no worries. The Snack Shack has you covered with its poolside service. You can even choose to sit on the terrace, which provides an elevated view over the water.
For dinner, spark an intimate experience by enjoying a leisurely five-course dining adventure at The Cloister Wine Cellar, where each plate is thoughtfully complemented by a selection of rich vinos chosen by the head sommelier. Your setting is the cozy, gorgeous backdrop of the cellar’s diverse wine selection, and it’s the perfect way to set the tone for a night of togetherness. If you’re in the mood for eats from across the pond, soulful Italian fare wrapped in gracious style is what you’ll find at Tavola. The rustic Italian eatery is located in the Cloister Main Building, and features authentic dishes like Cresta De Gallo Al Tartufo with roasted-garlic marsala cream, forest mushrooms, pecorino and black truffle.
11. Pregame Like a Local in Atlanta
Atlanta is most definitely a sports town, with professional teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Falcons, Dream and United drawing fans from across the country. Georgia’s capital city is also a place where you’ll find lots of love for our local and statewide college teams, including frequent contenders and repeating national champions, University of Georgia; the impressive sports programs at Georgia Tech; and the always-fun experiences of the Black Colleges and Universities of the Atlanta University Center Consortium. But every sports fan needs proper places to pregame, and ATL has plenty no matter which team you claim.
Since most pro sports events are held in the central downtown district that houses Mercedes-Benz Stadium (home of the Falcons and Dream) and State Farm Arena (home of the Hawks), you won’t have to go far to find a place to prepare for the big game. Right behind “The Benz” is the Home Depot Backyard, where you can purchase individual parking passes for ATL UTD matches and hang out with tailgaters. The nearby Park Bar offers fantastic pub food, more than 40-plus bourbon varieties and monthly specials like burgers topped with traditional Bloody Mary ingredients. Don’t miss their famous “3-2-1” drink special (that’s three shots, for the price of two, in one glass).
Or stop by The Backyard’s outdoor Truist Night Market, with live music, craft beer and cocktails strictly for those 21 and up — it’s a great place to drink and dine with locals. Love beer? Check out Wild Leap Atlanta, the 15,000-square-foot downtown location of an award-winning, LaGrange-based brewery. Insider’s tip: The tart LMN ADE sour ale is a refreshing choice for game-day weather. Beerheads can also revel in pints of expertly crafted, hip-hop-inspired brews just steps from The Benz on Northside Drive. They’re, in fact, made by beloved rap outfit (and now Atlanta residents) Nappy Roots at Atlantucky Brewing. Ready for an Ale Ale Cool J double IPA? Game on.
While you’re in the area, see the sights surrounding Centennial Olympic Park, which sits central to downtown and has lots of places to relax before kickoff. The Chick-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame has, among other amazing history and facts related to undergrad gridiron action, a wall of all college football teams’ helmets ready for your selfie. Test your pigskin skills on the indoor playing field, and see some of the greatest moments in college-football history immortalized in the Game Time Gallery.
For a victorious stay not far from the action, book a room at the Omni Atlanta CNN Center, which is only a few short steps from State Farm and The Benz. Definitely make a play for Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, but consider ordering ahead to enjoy your chicken, beef, salmon or pizza hoagie faster, as the line sometimes winds down Forsyth Street. Hit the downtown location of Daddy D’z Bar-B-Que Joynt, too, where the baby-back ribs are part of the reason Atlanta’s barbecue scene is undefeated.
12. Uncover Gullah Geechee Culture on Sapelo Island
Find a blend of culture, history and beauty on Sapelo Island, accessible only by ferry and via a pre-booked driving tour with a local guide. Start your day at the Sapelo Island Visitors Center in Darien for introduction to the area, including the Gullah Geechee — descendants of peoples from West Africa who were enslaved on cotton, sugarcane, indigo and rice plantations. Admire baskets made of sweetgrass and other artifacts in the center’s interpretive exhibit on the Hog Hammock Gullah Geechee community. Before heading out, grab snacks at The Local Exchange to prepare for your trip to the island which has limited accessibility to food options (unless pre-planned).
From the visitor center, head outside and hop on the ferry for a half-hour ride to Sapelo Island; upon arrival, you’ll see it’s as close to living history as land can be. Part of the official Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, Hog Hammock was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. While 500 Geechee people once thrived on the island, Hog Hammock’s 30 residents make up the only documented intact Saltwater Geechee community remaining today.
Some guides are descendants of the original Hog Hammock families who were enslaved on the island’s plantations, so — if it’s local knowledge you’re after — you’re in good hands. There’s no one-size-fits all experience here, either: Each guide provides a unique tour, so make sure you read up on what your guide offers before booking.
Indulge in the natural wonders of Sapelo Island’s sweetgrass marshes, the powdery dunes of Nanny Goat Beach and clusters of saw palmettos spreading their fronds like green fingers. The lovely scenery, however, pales in comparison to the Geechee culture. Rooted in agriculture and fishing, the Hog Hammock people honor their heritage by passing on traditions like weaving cast nets and baskets. Schedule a basket-making demo with resident Yvonne Grovner in advance to marvel at this artistry firsthand or pre-order baskets to take home.
You’ll also find no shortage of historical structures important to the culture on Sapelo Island, including gabled homes, St. Luke Baptist Church and First African Baptist Church — the latter founded in 1866 by Geechee who were freed from slavery. If you have a group of 10 or more, be sure to call ahead to Lula’s Kitchen. Lula — the chef and a Gullah Geechee descendent — prepares a hearty dinner including ribs, chicken and Lowcountry broils.
Reynolds Mansion, operated by the Department of Natural Resources, stands in stark contrast to the simplistic buildings of the Geechee people. Cruise past the grounds to take in oaks dripping in Spanish moss, keeping an eye out for dusty pink spoonbills and listening for the clattering bills of wood storks. The mansion, made of an oyster-shell cement called “tabby,” was built by Thomas Spalding in 1802. The opulent home served as the manor of the Spalding Plantation, on which many Gullah Geechee were enslaved. In fact, Hog Hammock is named after Sampson Hogg, an enslaved livestock tender on the plantation. The mansion is available for overnight stays for groups of 16 or more.
Know before you go: Sapelo Island is a great place to visit for both day and overnight trips, however, additional pre-planning is highly recommended for any overnight trips. Ferry times are typically limited, and it is suggested you arrive the night before to ensure smooth sailing. Consider making Darien, the gateway city to the island, your home base for your trip. Lodging options in the area include Oaks on the River Luxury Boutique or Open Gates Bed & Breakfast.