Georgia offers beautiful, diverse terrains, ranging from the splendid Blue Ridge Mountains to over 110 miles of coastline, home to 15 barrier islands. More than 63 public parks and open spaces are offered, along with many preserved historic sites and designated historic downtown main streets in charming small towns. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
Athens is one of Georgia's most beautiful historic cities, located approximately 70 miles northeast of Atlanta's downtown district. The city, which is located within the foothills of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, is part of the Civil War-era Antebellum Trail and is known for its impressive Antebellum-era architecture, including the 19th-century T.R.R. Cobb House and the Taylor Grady House, which are open to the public as living history museums. Collegiate culture abounds thanks to the University of Georgia's North Campus, with a thriving alternative rock music scene producing nationally-renowned acts such as the B-52s, R.E.M., and Neutral Milk Hotel. Other major attractions include the Georgia Museum of Art, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and Sandy Creek Park, with many specialty shops and restaurants offered within the city's Victorian-era downtown district. Annual special events include the AthFest summer music and arts festival.
Atlanta is Georgia's most populous urban region, home to more than 5.8 million residents, making it the United States' ninth-largest metropolitan area. The lively, diverse city has experienced a major urban revival following its hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, with Olympics-themed memorials on view at the city's lovely Centennial Olympic Park. Sites connected to the American Civil Rights Movement abound, including the free-admission Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which honors the life and career of the noted 20th-century African-American activist. Many public parks and open green spaces have earned the city the nickname "the city in a forest," including the unique Atlanta BeltLine project, which transforms a former railway corridor into a thriving urban connector area. Other major attractions include the Atlanta Ballet, the Georgia Aquarium, and the World of Coca-Cola center and museum. Next read: Weekend Getaways from Atlanta
Blackbeard Island is a 5,618-acre island located in McIntosh County near Sapelo Island, named in honor of infamous 18th-century pirate Edward Teach, best known as Blackbeard, who is purported to have buried hidden treasure somewhere on the island. Today, the island is protected as Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, only accessible to the public via boat, kayak, or guided tour excursion. As one of seven area refuges administered by the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge protects significant populations of native flora and fauna, including important populations of shorebirds and migratory birds. The refuge is open to the public daily between sunrise and sunset throughout the year, with the exception of two three-day hunts hosted annually, open to licensed hunters with advance registration. Popular visitor activities include hiking, biking, photography, and wildlife watching, with saltwater surf and creek fishing allowed with permits.
Madison has been named as one of America's most beautiful small towns by international publications such as Architectural Digest and Southern Living, located within the greater Atlanta statistical area and home to a population of more than 3,600 residents. The town is home to one of the state's largest and oldest National Historic Districts, which preserves a wide variety of beautiful Antebellum homes, some of which are open to the public as living history museums. Hundreds of boutiques, antique shops, and restaurants are offered within the city's downtown district, with dining options ranging from classic Southern-style barbecue joints to fine Mediterranean-style restaurants. Outdoor hiking opportunities are offered at Hard Labor Creek, one of the state's largest state parks. Annual special events include the Firefly Festival, the Chamber Music Festival, and the Madison in May Spring Tour of Homes and Gardens.
Canton is a quaint city within Cherokee County, home to a population of nearly 23,000 residents. The city's historic downtown district is preserved throughout the Canton Main Street Program, offering a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and attractions in an area bounded by North, Railroad, West Marietta, John T. Pettit, and East Main Streets. The vibrant Blue Ridge Mountains river town is also home to many public parks and urban green spaces, offering opportunities for hiking, biking, and outdoor recreational activities at sites such as Boling Park, Heritage Park, and the 58-acre Etowah River Park, which offers an outdoor amphitheater and connects to the Etowah River Trail. Public special events hosted throughout the year include the rain-or-shine Canton Farmers' Market, First Friday music and art events, and the city's annual Chili Cook-Off.
Cumberland Island is a lovely and largely undeveloped barrier island located off Georgia's southern coastline, donated to the National Parks Foundation in 1971 by heirs of the renowned Carnegie family. The island, which has been designated as both a National Park and a National Seashore, is home to the remains of a number of estates formerly belonging to the Carnegie family, including the Dungeness Ruins and the Georgian Revival-style Plum Orchard. The one-room First African Baptist Church is also housed on the island, which was the site of the 1996 wedding of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette. Ferries to the island board at nearby St. Mary's, Georgia and travel to the island's museum and visitor center, which details the island's natural and cultural history. Undeveloped lands on the island are also available for a wide range of outdoor activities, including swimming, biking, hunting, boating, fishing, kayaking, and guided nature excursions.
Dahlonega was the site of the United States' first major gold rush, with gold discovered in the area in 1828. The charming northern Georgia city, located approximately one hour from Atlanta's city center, is centered around the historic 19th-century Public Square, which is home today to a number of tasting rooms for regional vineyards. Visitors can explore the Dahlonega Gold Museum, located within the city's 1836 courthouse building, which details the chronology and impact of the 1828 gold rush, or tour an underground turn-of-the-century mine at Consolidated Gold Mine. On the University of North Georgia campus, visitors can peruse the Bob Owens Art Gallery or see world-class concerts presented by the Department of Music. Convenient nearby access to the Chattahoochee National Forest lets visitors travel to beautiful sites such as the immense Amicalola Falls.
Duluth is a laid-back small town located near Atlanta, named as one of America's safest and most affordable suburbs by populations such as Bloomberg Businessweek and Movoto. The city's historic downtown district is home to a wide variety of specialty merchants and delicious Southern-style restaurants, with sidewalks and bicycle paths connecting many of the city's attractions for easy pedestrian access. Concerts and theatrical performances are offered at the Red Clay Music Foundry, and the Hudgens Center for the Arts, which also offers a sculpture garden and rotating art exhibitions. At the Southeastern Railway Museum, visitors can learn about the history of railroading in the American Southeast and see historic preserved Pullman cars, cabooses, and locomotives. Annual public special events include the Duluth Fall Festival and a free concert series hosted at the city's Town Green Park.
Fayetteville is a progressive, lively community in Fayette County, home to a population of over 17,000 residents. The city, which is located approximately half an hour south of Atlanta's downtown district, is known for its quaint historic charm, designated as a Main Street City since 1996. It is home to the state's oldest surviving historic courthouse, the Fayette County Courthouse, which was constructed in 1825. Other historic attractions include the 1855 Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House, open to the public as a living history museum, and the Margaret Mitchell Library, which honors the American author and holds significant volumes related to the American Civil War. Families can have a blast at the Fun Spot America Atlanta family entertainment center, which offers more than two dozen attractions for visitors of all ages, including the state's only multi-level go-karting track.
Helen is a lovely mountain town located in northeastern Georgia along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, known for its unique Bavarian-style Alpine architecture and culture. The town is home to more than 200 specialty artisan shops, including candlemakers, glassblowers, and antique stores, with a wide variety of German and Southern-style restaurants serving up homestyle meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Outdoor recreational opportunities are offered at Unicoi State Park, including hiking and biking trails and opportunities for swimming at Unicoi Lake. Wine tastings are available at Habersham Winery, with historic attractions on view at the 1870 Hardman Farm State Historic Site, which also preserves Nacoochee indigenous mound burial sites. Ziplining, river tubing, and go-karting opportunities abound, along with scenic overlooks at the beautiful Anna Ruby Falls.
Hutchinson Island is a seven-mile-long island located within the Savannah River just north of downtown Savannah, located at the junction of the Back River. Though the island has historically been used as an industrial site, it has been developed with tourist attractions recently, accessible via free ferry boats that embark daily or across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, spanning U.S. Highway 17. Visitors can enjoy 18 championship holes of golf at the Club at Savannah Harbor, a National Audubon Association-certified course designed by golf pros Sam Snead and Robert Cupp. Luxury spa treatments are available at the Heavenly Spa by Westin, including deep-tissue massages, hot river rock treatments, and aromatherapy sessions. Several public restaurants are also offered at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa, including jazz brunch spots and poolside bars. During the winter months, visitors can walk through the two-mile Savannah Harbor Festival of Lights, which is home to a holiday winter village.
Jekyll Island is located off the Georgia coast in Glynn County within the Sea Islands barrier islands group, owned by the state of Georgia but operated as a self-governing territory. The island, which is named for British financier Sir Joseph Jekyll, a compatriot of Georgia colony planner James Oglethorpe, was historically used as a resort hunting area in the 19th century for elite American families such as the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. Since 1947, the island has been protected as a state park, with historic buildings on the island protected as part of the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District in 1972. Visitors can explore the Jekyll Island Museum, tour the historic Horton House living history museum, or view the Wanderer Memorial, dedicated to the last cargo slave ship arriving in America from the Transatlantic slave trade. Family-friendly island attractions include the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the only sea turtle rehabilitation center in Georgia, and the seasonal Summer Waves Water Park.
Lake Lanier Islands are one of the premiere resort areas in the greater Atlanta region, spanning 1,500 acres on the shores of Lake Sidney Lanier. The islands are a manmade inlet created from flooding in the Chattahoochee River Valley following the construction of the Buford Dam, which filled in territory that had once been part of the city of Gainesville. Since the mid-20th century, the Georgia Department of State Parks has developed the region into a major recreational area with the cooperation of the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority, home to the Legacy Lodge and Conference Center, which offers 214 spacious guest rooms and suites. The Margaritaville at Lanier Islands Water Park serves as a major summer entertainment destination for visitors of all ages, with a golf course, campgrounds, riding stables, boat docks, and miles of beachfront also offered for visitor use. Winter holiday activities include the License to Chill Snow Island seasonal carnival and the Magical Nights of Lights event.
Little St. Simons Island
Little St. Simons Island is one of the least-developed islands within Georgia's beautiful Golden Isles, spanning more than 11,000 acres that are maintained as a private seasonal resort. The resort, which was originally constructed at the beginning of the 20th century by Engle Pencil Company president Philip Berolzheimer, was long known as a retreat for the "Eight Bandits," a group of New York City's top civic leaders and policymakers. Since 1979, it has been open to the public as a beachfront resort, offering seven miles of beautiful unspoiled beachfront with pristine sands and gorgeous Atlantic Ocean waterfront. The resort, which is only accessible via reserved boating trips at the Hampton River Marina for guests over the age of 12, is home to the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, which features six lovely guest cottages housing up to 32 guests at a time. Fishing, canoeing, hiking, cycling, and swimming opportunities abound, with naturalist-led tours available throughout the year.
Little Tybee Island
Little Tybee Island is best known as the site of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics' yachting events, spanning 6,780 acres along the Wassaw Sound. Though the island is named Little Tybee, it clocks in at over twice the size of its nearby neighbor Tybee Island, which offers a wide variety of developed tourist activities. Little Tybee Island remains largely undeveloped and protected as a nature preserve, home to large populations of endangered bird species such as herons, egrets, white ibis, and woodstorks. Visitors can access the island seven days a week and enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities, including chances for fishing, hiking, camping, birdwatching, and beachcombing. A number of charter boat and kayak tour companies operate out of the island, including dolphin tour boats and guided jetskiing opportunities.
Blairsville is a charming Union County city located conveniently near the Chattahoochee National Forest, which offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking opportunities to see beautiful cascading waterfalls, powerful rivers, and Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest mountain peak. Visitors can also explore more than 80 miles of the Appalachian Trail, which traverses elevations ranging from 2,500 feet up to 4,500 feet, or enjoy watersports and beachfront area at Vogel State Park. Within the city's downtown district, visitors can explore a wide variety of quaint boutiques, antique stores, and homestyle restaurants serving up delicious Southern-style comfort fare. A number of wineries and distilleries are located within the city's designated American Viticultural Area, with many offering complimentary tastings and tours. Annual special events include the Sorghum Festival, held in October, and the Spring Arts and Crafts Festival, held in July.
Ossabaw Island is the third-largest barrier island in the state of Georgia, stretching over 26,000 acres approximately 20 nautical miles from Savannah's downtown district. The lovely island is known to have been inhabited for more than 4,000 years, home to remains of settlements from the region's indigenous Guale people and early Spanish explorers. In the early 20th century, the island enjoyed a life as a popular artist retreat colony along the Atlantic Coast, attracting arts and literature luminaries such as Margaret Atwood and Aaron Copland. Since 1978, the island has been protected as a heritage preserve, overseen by the Ossabaw Island Foundation for cultural and scientific studies. More than 9,000 acres of forested area is preserved, along with 16,000 acres of significant marshlands. Public special events are hosted by the foundation annually in cooperation with local university programs and research centers, including the Ossabaw Island Writers' Retreat.
Sapelo Island is a hub for the final known Gullah-Geechee African-American community in Georgia, located within McIntosh County and listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1927. The quaint barrier island, which may only be accessed by boat or aircraft, is accessible for tourists via daily 20-minute ferries from the Sapelo Island Visitor Center. Over 97 percent of the island is managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, including the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, located on the island's western edge and operated as part of NOAA's National Estuarine Research Reserve System. Several public businesses are offered within the community of Hog Hammock, including a bar, general store, and public library. Other attractions include the Georgia State Parks-operated historic Reynolds Mansion, which can be toured as part of organized group tours.
Savannah is Georgia's oldest and most historic city, originally founded and developed in the 1730s by Georgia's colonial founder and noted urban developed James Oglethorpe. Today, the city is known as one of the American Southeast's most beautiful tourist destinations, home to massive Spanish moss and live oak trees, cobblestone-lined streets, and horse-drawn carriages. Much of the city's historic downtown has been preserved as part of one of the United States' largest urban historic districts, including the city's iconic and uniquely laid-out public town squares. Major attractions and landmarks throughout the city include the birthplace site of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, and the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest museums in the American Southeast. Cultural attractions abound, including the Savannah Theatre, the Savannah Ballet, and the Savannah Orchestra, with regular festivals such as the First Friday Art March opening up many of the city's art galleries to the public for free.
Sea Island is a lovely barrier island within Georgia's Golden Isles, which also encompasses St. Simons, Little St. Simons, and Jekyll Island and the nearby mainland town of Brunswick. The Glynn County island is a popular resort district located approximately halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida, accessible via causeway from nearby St. Simons Island. Though much of the island is maintained as a private gated community, two public resorts are operated for visitors, including the Sea Island Beach Club and the Cloister. 200 beautiful guest rooms and suites are available at the Cloister, along with Georgia's only Forbes Five Star restaurant, The Georgian Room. The Sea Island Beach Club is home to luxurious amenities such as indoor and outdoor pools, bars, and an ice cream shop, with three championship golf courses offered for visitor use throughout the island, including the Plantation, the host of the annual RSM Classic PGA tournament.
Skidaway Island is part of the greater Savannah Metropolitan Statistical Area, home to more than 8,300 residents within Chatham County. The island is best known as one of the most affluent communities within the United States, home to the immense gated community The Landings, one of the largest of its kind in the county. Skidaway Island State Park is open to visitors, offering an interpretive center with exhibits on the region's natural and cultural history and opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking and birdwatching. The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is also operated on the island by the University of Georgia, protecting endangered populations of loggerhead sea turtles and wood storks. Visitors can stay overnight at the island's scenic campground facility, which offers tent, trailer, and RV hookups, along with several pioneer campground areas and camper cabins for visitor use.
St Mary’s is a lovely city in Camden County, serving as the gateway to the Cumberland Island National Seashore, which offers a visitor center museum, historic estate ruins, and opportunities for a plethora of outdoor recreational activities. The city, which is home to a population of more than 17,000 residents, offers a charming 600-foot historic walking loop trail which allows visitors to explore sites related to the region's Timucua indigenous population, the American Civil War, and the War of 1812. Relaxing natural scenery is offered at the St. Mary's Peace Garden, which overlooks the beautiful St. Mary's River, while regional maritime history is displayed at the St. Mary's Submarine Museum. Annual special events include the St. Mary's Rock Shrimp Festival, held each October.
Tallulah Falls is an historic Victorian-era town located at the gateway to the spectacular Tallulah Gorge State Park, which showcases one of the eastern United States' most impressive canyons, stretching two miles long and spanning over 1,000 feet deep. Six impressive cascades make up the town's namesake waterfall, once known as the Niagara Falls of the American South. Opportunities for hiking and biking abound along trails such as the three-mile Shortline Trail, which traverses the former railroad bed of the Old Tallulah Falls Railroad. Interpretive exhibits on the region's wildlife and geology are offered at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center, with a suspension bridge offered for river and falls overlooks. Within the town, visitors can view local artwork and enjoy specialty coffees and ice cream at Tallulah Station, with camping and bed and breakfast accommodations offered nearby.
Wassaw Island is one of the few remaining undeveloped natural areas in Georgia, located within the Sea Islands near Tybee Island in Chatham County. The island, which is overseen by the Fish and Wildlife Service and maintained as the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge, is home to more than 10,000 acres of spectacular coastal forests, sand dunes, and salt marshes, offering a plethora of opportunities for outdoor recreation throughout the year. Seven miles of beautiful beachfront are offered, with boat launches available for kayaking and nature trails available for hiking, though visitors should note that the island's interior is closed to the public. Nearby Pine and Little Wassaw Islands are also incorporated into the National Wildlife Refuge, serving as important habitats for loggerhead sea turtles.