50 must-see places in Georgia
BY MARY ANN ANDERSON
Georgia is a most wondrous state with its incredible scenery, historic sites, hidden gems, offbeat places and unusual museums.
Patricia Schultz’s “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” still on bestseller lists since its publication in 2003, has inspired a similar exploration of our great state from the mountains to the coast and every place in between.
There are at least 1,000 places to see in Georgia, but it is possible to narrow the list to 50. So, start your sojourn today.
Historic High Country
Take a ride with the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (1), a vintage train that travels from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, and Copperhill, Tenn. Blue Ridge. www.brscenic.com. (706) 632-9833; (800) 934-1898.
Landscaped in magnificent gardens and brimming with history, the original Italianate home at Barnsley Gardens (2) dates to 1842. Now an English village-style hotel complete with spa, restaurants and golf, the scenery alone is worth a visit. Adairsville. www.barnsleyresort.com. (770) 773-7480; (877) 773-2447.
Take a drive along Georgia Highway 52 in Gilmer County (3) and you’ll understand why it’s known as Apple Orchard Alley. The apple tree-lined highways of “Georgia’s Apple Capital” wend peacefully through the rolling hills of North Georgia. Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce, East Ellijay. www.gilmerchamber.com. (706) 635-7400.
North Georgia’s history isn’t complete without mentioning the marble industry. One of the most photographed homes in Georgia, the Tate House (4) in Pickens County was built from locally quarried, exquisite pink marble. Tate. www.tatehouse.com. (770) 735-3122.
Ancient rock formations, swinging bridges, caves and an enchanted trail are the highlights of Rock City Gardens (5) (remember “See Rock City” emblazoned on barns across the South?). Rock City Gardens is family- and pet-friendly. Lookout Mountain. www.seerockcity.com. (800) 854-0675.
Dating back to the 10th century, Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site (6), one of the largest Indian mounds in North America and now a Georgia state park, is an archaeological, cultural and historical peek at early Native American life. Cartersville. www.gastateparks.org/info/etowah. (770) 387-3747.
Northeast Georgia Mountains
Standing sentry over the Northeast Georgia mountains is Brasstown Bald (7), Georgia’s highest peak at 4,784 feet, with panoramic views, hiking trails and wildflowers galore. Blairsville. www.fs.fed.us/conf. (706) 745-6928.
Dahlonega (8) is the epitome of a North Georgia mountain town with a host of historic venues, festivals, fairs and events. It’s one of the greatest escapes Georgia offers. Dahlonega Welcome Center, Dahlonega. www.dahlonega.org. (800) 231-5543.
When you visit Helen (9), you may feel you’ve been transported to a Bavarian town in Germany. Great care has been taken to re-create Helen into an alpine village that is one of Georgia’s top tourist attractions. Helen Welcome Center, Helen. www.helenga.org. (800) 858-8027.
The Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia (10) houses the priceless collections of folk potter legends such as Michael Crocker and the Meaders family. Sautee Nacoochee Center, Sautee Nacoochee. www.folkpotterymuseum.com. (706) 878-3300.
Amid the picturesque beauty of Tallulah Gorge State Park(11) lies the 2-miles-long, 1,000-foot-deep canyon, waterfalls, hiking trails, rugged terrain and gripping mountain history. Tallulah Falls. www.gastateparks.org. (706) 754-7970.
The Foxfire Museum (12) is a fascinating lesson in Appalachian simplicity and survival of the not-so-long-ago era of no electricity, running water or grocery stores. Mountain City. www.foxfire.org. (706) 746-5828.
The world’s natural oceans and waterways aside, the Georgia Aquarium (13) is undeniably the largest aquarium on Earth. With more than 120,000 creatures ranging from penguins to whale sharks, the 8-million-gallon aquarium is a sight to “sea!” Atlanta. www.georgiaaquarium.org. (404) 581-4000.
The architectural splendor of the circa-1920s Fox Theatre (14), originally built as the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque, is akin to taking a journey through the “Arabian Nights.” Now home to film festivals, plays and concerts, the “Fabulous Fox” is a National Historic Landmark. Atlanta. www.foxtheatre.org. (404) 881-2100.
The Varsity (15) first opened in 1928 and still serves its customers as fast and friendly as it did back then. While the menu is simple, from hamburgers, to onion rings, it’s almost a sin to not order a chili-cheese dog. Atlanta. www.thevarsity.com. (404) 881-1706.
All sorts of critters, reptiles and birds live at Zoo Atlanta (16), which brings an incredible array of wildlife to Georgia from around the globe. More than 800 animals and 200 species live in naturalistic habitats, making Zoo Atlanta one of Georgia’s most beloved attractions. Atlanta. www.zooatlanta.org. (404) 624-5600.
For “Gone With the Wind” fans, the circa-1899 Margaret Mitchell House and Museum (17) captures the heart, soul and imagination of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Mitchell and her husband lived in the home in Apartment No. 1 while she penned the most famous book ever written about the South. Atlanta. www.gwtw.org. (404) 249-7015.
Beneath the 23-karat-gold dome of the Victorian-style Georgia State Capitol & Museum (18) lies a treasure trove of artifacts, flags, artwork and films. Completed in 1889 and finished with six immense Corinthian columns, Georgia-quarried marble and a statue of “Miss Freedom” at its top, the Capitol’s legacy endures. Atlanta. www.sos.state.ga.us. (404) 656-2844.
There is perhaps no place better to learn about the civil rights era than at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site (19). Now encompassing King’s birth home and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the site includes beautifully landscaped plazas and gardens. Atlanta. www.nps.gov/malu. (404) 331-5190.
An Atlanta icon, the new World of Coca-Cola (20) has expanded and offers a 4-D theater, the world’s largest Coke memorabilia collection, a functioning bottling line, and a Pop Culture Gallery with works by artists such as Andy Warhol and Steve Penley. www.worldofcoca-cola.com. (800) 676-2653.
Rising above the North Georgia skyline is Stone Mountain (21), Georgia’s most visited attraction. While there is plenty to see and do—dining, attractions, natural beauty—the 825-foot-tall, 583-acre “Memorial Carving” of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson will leave you in awe. Stone Mountain. www.stonemountainpark.com. (770) 498-5690; (800) 317-2006.
Legend holds that the town of Madison (22), which has the largest designated historic district in Georgia, was spared during Sherman’s “March to the Sea” because of its beauty and architecture. One visit and you’ll know why. Welcome Center, Madison. www.madisonga.org. (706) 342-4454; (800) 709-7406.
Filled with gardens, historic homes, music venues, Civil War trails and the nation’s first state-chartered public university (University of Georgia), downtown Athens (23) blends everything from Southern heritage and cooking to Southern trends and soul. Visitors Center, Athens. www.visitathensga.com. (800) 653-0603.
Lane Packing Co. (24) grows more than 4,000 acres of peaches, pecans and strawberries. A Middle Georgia landmark since 1904, Lane Packing includes a roadside market, café, gift shop and processing facilities. Fort Valley. www.lanepacking.com. (478) 825-3362; (800) 277-3224.
Macon (25) is home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Think Ray Charles, Alan Jackson, Bobby Jones, Nancy Lopez, Aretha Franklin, Hank Aaron—some of Georgia’s finest talents and sports figures. Macon. www.gamusichall.com. (888) 427-6257; www.georgiasportshalloffame.com. (478) 752-1585.
Eatonton’s Uncle Remus Museum (26), constructed of two slave cabins said to resemble the one in which “Uncle Remus” lived, is filled with first-edition books, memorabilia and characters created by author Joel Chandler Harris. Eatonton. www.uncleremus.com. (706) 485-6856.
Exploring the almost nine miles of the Augusta Canal’s (27) towpaths and waterways is fun and educational. The canal, dating from 1845, is the nation’s only industrial power canal still used for harnessing water and power from the Savannah River. Augusta. www.augustacanal.com. (706) 823-0440.
Looking for another nice mess to get into? Head to Harlem, birthplace of Oliver Hardy and home of the Laureland Hardy Museum (28). Paying homage to one of Georgia’s most well-known comedians and his sidekick, Stan Laurel, the museum is chock-full of memorabilia. Harlem. www.laurelandhardymuseum.org. (706) 556-0401.
The small town of Washington (29) in Wilkes County instantly charms with Old South architecture and historic sites, including the restored circa-1898 Fitzpatrick Hotel, Callaway Plantation, Kettle Creek Revolutionary War battlefield and the Robert Toombs House Historic Site. www.washingtonwilkes.org. (706) 678-5111.
Deep in the heart of Georgia lies the desert-like oasis of the Ohoopee Sand Dunes (30) near Swainsboro in Emanuel County. The dunes are estimated to be about 20,000 years old. The Nature Conservancy has set aside a 267-acre tract within the dunes for conservation and study. www.emanuelchamber.org. (478) 237-6426.
No place in Georgia epitomizes the haunting legacy of the Civil War more than Andersonville National Historic Site (31). More than 40,000 prisoners of war were held here, which is now comprised of Andersonville National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum. Andersonville. www.nps.gov/ande. (229) 924-0343.
Known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon” and revered as one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, Providence Canyon State Park (32), formed by years of rainwater and erosion, is like an immense natural mural and nearly defies imagination. Lumpkin. www.gastateparks.org. (229) 838-6202.
Callaway Gardens (33), a 13,000-acre resort with gardens and nature trails, is an inspiring environment. Open since 1952, Callaway Gardens is a place where man and nature harmonize perfectly. Pine Mountain. www.callawayonline.com. (706) 663-2281; (800) 225-5292.
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (34) in Plains (like its counterparts, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum and the Carter Center in Atlanta), encompassing the train depot and Carter’s boyhood home, portrays the peanut farmer who would become president. Plains. www.nps.gov/jica. (229) 824-4104.
There is much to see in and around Warm Springs (35), where Franklin Delano Roosevelt began visiting in 1924 hoping to find a cure for his polio. Notable sites include Roosevelt’s Little White House and Museum, F.D. Roosevelt State Park (Pine Mountain), and the National Fish Hatchery. Welcome Center, Warm Springs. www.warmspringsga.ws. (706) 655-3322; (800) 337-1927.
The Chattahoochee RiverWalk (36) in Columbus highlights yet another of Georgia’s most important and scenic rivers. Spanning 15 miles through city and country, the RiverWalk meanders past the ancient historic waters that flow from North Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico. Welcome Center, Columbus. www.visitcolumbusga.com. (706) 322-1613; (800) 999-1613.
At the intersection where the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers meet, the Altamaha River (37)—Georgia’s “Little Amazon”—forms and then meanders for 137 miles. From just above Hazlehurst to Darien, the Altamaha is an ecological and natural marvel, hiding treasures like ancient Indian villages and rare wildlife. www.altamahariverkeeper.org. (912) 437-8164.
No need to wait until Christmas for fruitcake when you can find it year-round in Claxton, the self-proclaimed “Fruitcake Capital of the World.” Between Claxton Fruit Cake and Georgia Fruit Cake Co. (38), millions of pounds are shipped worldwide every year. Claxton Bakery (Claxton Fruit Cake). Claxton. www.claxtonfruitcake.com. (912) 739-3441; (800) 841-4211. Georgia Fruit Cake Co., www.georgiafruitcakecompany.com. (912) 739-2683.
In April, head to Hawkinsville to see the Hawkinsville Harness Festival (39). The festival showcases the Lawrence L. Bennett Harness Horse Racing Facility that has drawn horsemen (and women) from across the globe. Hawkinsville-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, Hawkinsville. www.hawkinsvillechamber.org. (478) 783-1717.
Once a secret known only to those around Coffee and Jeff Davis counties, the Nature Conservancy’s Broxton Rocks (40) is a natural anomaly of sandstone outcroppings and caves. With rare species of plants and animals, including the indigo snake, the Broxton Rocks belies the laws of nature. Guided tours only. City of Douglas. www.cityofdouglas.com; www.nature.org. (912) 384-4555.
The Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum at Old Mt. Zion Church (41), is the premier repository to learn about the civil rights movement in Albany and South Georgia. Albany. www1.surfsouth.com/~mtzion. (229) 432-1698.
Stretching for more than 3,000 acres across Thomas County, Pebble Hill Plantation (42) offers a glimpse at an era of gentility now past. With rich furnishings, venerable columns, and gardens with dogwoods, azaleas and camellias, it’s reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara. Thomasville. www.pebblehill.com. (229) 226-2344.
Designated by the legislature as the “Official Folk Life Play of Georgia,” “Swamp Gravy” (43) at Cotton Hall in Colquitt transforms the hardships of early Georgia settlers into a dynamic theatrical production. Only in October and March. Colquitt. www.swampgravy.com. (229) 758-5450.
Recently opened in 2007, the Ray Charles Plaza (44) on the banks of the Flint River in Albany will keep Georgia on everyone’s mind. The life-size sculpture of Charles sitting at a baby grand piano is heightened by soft background music of his melodies. Albany Convention & Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, Albany. www.albanyga.com. (229) 434-8700.
The Savannah Historic District (45) is filled with cobblestone streets, original architecture dating to the 1700s, churches, and landmarks like the Mercer-Williams House and Paula Deen’s Lady & Sons Restaurant. Savannah Convention & Visitors Bureau, Savannah. www.savannahvisit.com. (912) 644-6400; (877) 728-2662.
The 240-acre Jekyll Island Historic District and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel (46), once the winter home of the Astors, Rockefellers, Morgans and Pulitzers, is a fine example of architectural restoration from the Gilded Age. Jekyll Island. www.jekyllisland.com. (912) 635-3636.
During winter and spring, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge (47), with nearly 3,000 acres of marshland, forests, and saltwater and freshwater ponds, estuaries and habitats, comes alive with thousands of birds. Shellman’s Bluff. www.fws.gov/harrisneck. (912) 832-4608.
Nature reigns on Cumberland Island (48), one of Georgia’s barrier islands that protects the mainland from the often tumultuous Atlantic, and where feral horses roam. The island, once owned by the Carnegie family, contains the remains of mansions and landmarks including Dungeness, Plum Orchard and First African Baptist Church. St. Marys. www.nps.gov/cuis. (912) 882-4336.
The haunting atmosphere of Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (49), another barrier island, contains all the elements of a remote island community, including the candy cane-striped Sapelo Lighthouse, the Gullah community of Hog Hammock and the University of Georgia Marine Institute. Accessible by ferry only at Meridian. www.gastateparks.org. (912) 485-2251; (800) 864-7275.
Despite years of natural disasters like fire and drought, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (50)—Okefenokee means “Land of the Trembling Earth”—still evokes images of prehistoric Georgia with its swirling mists, black water, alligators and birdlife. Entrances at Folkston and Fargo. www.fws.gov/okefenokee. (912) 496-7836.
Within all four corners of Georgia await a tremendous diversity of places to visit. As you travel from one of these 50 places to the other, remember to pay close attention to all of the rest of Georgia’s beauty, culture and history in between.
—Mary Ann Anderson is a travel and nature writer living in Hazlehurst.