Thursday, September 20, 2018

50 Best Things to do in Georgia

50 Best Things to Do in Georgia
Driftwood Beach
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRINSON+BANKS

Have you bitten into a juicy summer peach at Pearson Farm? Camped among grunting gators at Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge? Cheered a touchdown between the hedges at University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium? In compiling this list (presented in no particular order), we set out to define the essential experiences that offer a survey of the state’s unique character, from the golden isles to the Appalachian foothills, from the kitschy to the jaw-dropping. Whether you’re a fourth-generation native or a brand-new transplant, it’s time to start traversing Georgia’s clay. Here’s your guide:

Turtles on Jekyll Island

Watch hatchling turtles make their way to the ocean at dawn

Every year from around mid-May to the end of July, loggerhead sea turtles amble up Georgia beaches in the middle of the night to lay their nests. Around two months later, the tiny hatchlings emerge, making their way to the ocean guided by the reflection of moonlight.
Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island

String up a hammock between fallen trees on Driftwood Beach

At the end of an unassuming palmetto-lined path on Jekyll Island, you’ll find Driftwood Beach, a surreal natural sculpture garden of fallen trees.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Peer into a blue grotto at Radium Springs Gardens

The water’s searing blue hue is a result of trace amounts of radium, which was once believed to have healing powers.
Boiled Peanuts

Brake for boiled peanuts

In the South, you’ll spot hand-scrawled signs for boiled peanuts across the state’s back roads, but our favorite is Fred’s Famous Peanuts, outside Helen.
Little White House

See Georgia through FDR’s eyes

An hour and a half south of Atlanta, you’ll find Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vacation cottage, the Little White House, and the warm springs where he swam for polio therapy.
Dixie Speedway

Watch a dirt track race at the Dixie Speedway

Bring the kids, the grill, and a case of beer to get the full Saturday night tailgating experience at this authentic red clay racetrack in Woodstock.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Get lost in a story at Flannery O’Connor’s farm

Pay homage to the eccentric Southern writer at her circa-1860 Plantation-style home in Milledgeville.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Dig back 17,000 years at the Ocmulgee National Monument

In the 1930s the country’s then-largest archaeological dig ever revealed hundreds of burial sites and excavated 2.5 million artifacts from more than 10,000 years of Southeastern Indian culture.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Admire the antebellum and contemporary at SCAD Museum of Art

Cool, contemporary artwork isn’t the only draw at SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah. The building that houses it is itself destination-worthy.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Light a candle at the largest Hindu temple outside of India

With its pristine white exterior, intricately carved pillars, and towering spires, the sprawling 27,000-square-foot BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir stands out like the Taj Mahal next door to a Lilburn Walgreens.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Browse the Allman Brothers Band’s treasures

Hippies use front door! From 1969 to 1973, members of the Allman Brothers Band lived—and jammed—in a circa-1900 Tudor-style Macon home.
Peachtree Road Race

Don your patriotic best for the Peachtree Road Race

A simple stars-and-stripes headband works, but don’t be surprised if the runner next to you sports a flag cape or Uncle Sam top hat.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Volunteer on the MLK Day of Service

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Make a presidential pilgrimage to Plains

In the dusty heart of South Georgia farmland, find Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign headquarters, a tiny wooden depot that now serves as a museum.
Cabbage Patch Kids

Adopt a Cabbage Patch Kid at Babyland General Hospital

The conceit behind Cabbage Patch Kids is that they spring from cabbage plants in a “hospital” in Cleveland, the tiny northeast Georgia town where they were invented.
Silver Comet Trail

Bike all the way to ’Bama—or just a mile—on the Silver Comet Trail

This paved former railway cuts a 61.5-mile path from Smyrna to Alabama, passing junk-filled backyards and bucolic pine groves.
UGA game

Attend a revival between the hedges at Sanford Stadium

If college football is a religion, then stadiums are its shrines, and one can argue that no spot deserves reverence more than UGA’s Sanford Stadium.
Forest Hostel

Commune with nature at the Hostel in a Forest

Down a dirt rut off Highway 82 near Brunswick, you can bunk up in a screened-in tree house (one of nine) among 133 acres of wetland woods with nothing but a simple bed, candles, and a tattered novel.
Providence Canyon

See every shade of Georgia clay at Providence Canyon

The “Little Grand Canyon” may look like a natural phenomenon, but it’s actually the result of human tampering.
40 Watt Club

Party with legends at the 40 Watt Club

Since its start as a rehearsal space for pioneering alt-rock band Pylon nearly 40 years ago, the 40 Watt Club in Athens has launched world-renowned local acts like R.E.M., the B-52s, Of Montreal, and Drive-by-Truckers, and hosted headliners from Snoop Dogg to Nirvana.
Sea Island

Splurge on a trip to Sea Island

Short of an invitation, the only way to visit the private Sea Island is to book a room at its resort, the Cloister.
Gibbs Gardens

Tiptoe through the daffodils at Gibbs Gardens

Jim Gibbs of Gibbs Landscape Company spent decades turning his 300 acres near Big Canoe into a public garden.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Pretend to be a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail

Even if—like most folks—you’re not inclined to hike the AT all the way to Maine, you can still get a taste of the glory at the trail’s southern terminus at the top of Georgia’s Springer Mountain.
Staplehouse

Try to book dinner at America’s best new restaurant, Staplehouse

Reservations at the 40-seat Staplehouse, a modern Southern restaurant in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, have been hard to come by since it was named America’s Best New Restaurant by Bon Appétit last September.
Rock City

See Rock City, the original Disneyland

Part natural treasure and part retro amusement park, Rock City offers breathtaking views, ancient rock formations, and bizarre exhibits of European folklore that glow in the caves under black lights.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Gaze at gators in America’s largest blackwater swamp

Paddle South Georgia’s otherworldly Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where lily pads dapple mirror-like water, alligators bask in the sun, and ancient, Spanish moss–draped cypress trees provide shade.
Savannah River

Hoist a (legal) cocktail to the Savannah River’s marine traffic

Duck into the world’s smallest liquor store—the closet-sized River Street Liquor—and emerge with a cup of beer, a cocktail, or even a shot, all totally legal in Savannah’s open container–friendly historic district.
Paradise Garden

Sleep inside folk art wonderland Paradise Garden

Nearly 50 years ago, God inspired Howard Finster to build Paradise Garden, an enormous display of sculptures and paintings scattered among a mirror-covered tree house, a tornado of rusted bicycles, and a towering church. Now Airbnb makes it easy to spend the night there.
Greyfield Inn

Live like a Carnegie at Greyfield Inn

Originally part of a sprawling estate built by the Carnegie family at the turn of the 20th century, the colonial-style Greyfield mansion is the only hotel on Cumberland Island.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Sleep (and hike) under the stars at Cloudland Canyon

Reserve one of the 10 canvas-topped yurts and you can immerse yourself in nature while remaining cozy as a bug.
The masters

Go to the Masters

With the wait list closed years ago, organizers have made available a select number of tickets via online lottery.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Ponder the meaning of America’s Stonehenge

The Georgia Guidestones, a mysterious 19-foot granite monument near Elberton, dictates 10 philosophical commandments (engraved in eight languages) for governing humanity in concurrence with nature. Show up at noon to see the sun illuminate an engraving of that day’s date.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Climb on the Noguchi Playscape

The artscape is a study in vibrant color and geometry—plus it’s one masterpiece you’re encouraged not only to touch but to tackle.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

See a nationally acclaimed theater company perform on a farm

Last year at the Serenbe Playhouse, a 6,000-pound helicopter landed on stage each night for Miss Saigon. This spring the playhouse’s founder built an entire drive-in theater.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Get dizzy at Tallulah Gorge State Park

On Hurricane Falls Trail, take the 600-plus stairs down into this spectacular 1,000-foot canyon, cross the suspension bridge, behold six waterfalls, then ascend hundreds of leg-torching stairs on the other side, and savor your pride.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Witness the toll of Civil War battle in Andersonville

The largest and most notorious of Civil War prisons, Camp Sumter had a short but deadly history: Nearly 13,000 of the 45,000 Union soldiers died, mostly of starvation and disease.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

View Macon’s cherry blossoms from the top of the Hay House

Completed in 1859 in Italian Renaissance Revival style, this elaborate residence was the “smart” house of its day.
Honda Battle of the Bands

Experience “showtime” at the Honda Battle of the Bands

At the annual showcase of the country’s best HBCU bands, high-stepping drum majors with plumed hats and drill canes perform spins and splits, sequined majorettes and dance squads execute fierce routines, and the crowd roars and dances in their seats.
Peaches at Pearson Farm

Eat a peach at Pearson Farm

This is the Peach State, after all, and you’ll experience it best by going straight to the source.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Catch a flick under the stars at Swan Drive-In

One of only four drive-ins still operating in Georgia, the Swan Drive-In Theatre opened in 1955 in tiny Blue Ridge.
Dragon Con/Trader Vic's

Ogle the Dragon Con costumes (or show off your own) at Trader Vic’s

Our fave spot to eyeball the Dragon Con crowd: Trader Vic’s, a festive tiki bar located on the lower level of the Hilton.
Chattahoochee

Tackle a Class V rapid on the ’Hooch

After some man-made channels and rapids were engineered, the 2.5-mile stretch became the world’s longest urban whitewater course, featuring a whooshing rapid called Cut Bait, the biggest wave east of the Colorado.
Center for Civil and Human Rights

Pull up to the lunch counter at Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights

In the 1960s thousands of peaceful protesters risked violence and arrest to desegregate Atlanta’s lunch counters.
Madison in May

Admire Madison’s white columns in May

The best time to admire Madison's pristine Greek Revival, Romanesque Revival, and Victorian architecture is during the annual Tour of Homes & Gardens in May.
Yoder's Deitsch Haus

Chow down on pie at Yoder’s Deitsch Haus

On a backroad through the fertile farmland near Montezuma, find Yoder’s, a cafeteria and local gathering spot for a community of Mennonites.
Buford Highway

Drive (and eat) along Buford Highway

Don’t let the drab strip malls fool you; Atlanta’s most soulful dining experiences can be found along this corridor.
50 Best Things To Do in Georgia what to do in Georgia

Witness a rare diamorpha bloom on Arabia Mountain

Stone Mountain isn’t the only enormous granite monadnock around.
White Oak Pastures

Eat a steak fresh on the farm at White Oak Pastures

Will Harris's family farm in southwest Georgia, White Oak Pastures, is the largest organic farm in the state and has gained nearly every accolade for sustainable farming techniques.
ATLiens

Listen to “ATLiens” at the Sound Table

At the Sound Table, a hip restaurant and music venue on Edgewood Avenue near downtown, a local DJ spins almost every night of the week.
Northwest Georgia fall leaves

Admire a blanket of autumn color in northwest Georgia

Winding through the mountains on the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest, State Route 52 drips with deciduous jewels in fall: golden-yellow oaks and ginkgoes, deep-purple sweetgums, blazing-red maples.

ATLANTA 101 - HAVE YOU COVERED THE BASICS?

  • Slurp a Frosted Orange (F.O.) at the Varsity.
  • Meander through the trees on the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s canopy bridge. 
  • Trek to the summit of Stone Mountain for sweeping skyline views.
  • Debate local politics over a loaded Dogzilla at Manuel’s Tavern.
  • Concoct your own flavor of soda at the World of Coca-Cola.
  • Tether a cooler to your inner tube and shoot the ’Hooch
  • Listen to live jazz as you ponder works of art on third Fridays at the High Museum of Art
  • Let the Wren’s Nest ramblers spin you a yarn.
  • Impress your date with an evening at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra or the Atlanta Ballet.
  • Order your hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered at Waffle House.
  • Snap a selfie in front of Forward Warrior’s murals in Cabbagetown.
  • Watch the stars—both onstage and twinkling on the ceiling—at the Fox Theatre.
  • Take a spin on the Pink Pig at Macy’s during the holidays.
  • Catch a scintillating show from Blondie at the Clermont Lounge.
  • Meet the South’s greatest living writers at the Decatur Book Festival.
  • Get caked in glitter and good vibes at Atlanta Pride.
  • Reflect on recordings of MLK Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
  • Sip a cocktail over a revolving view at the blue-domed Polaris atop the Hyatt Regency.
  • Pay homage to the spirits of Atlanta with a tour of Oakland Cemetery.
  • Visit the giant panda twins at Zoo Atlanta or the bottlenose dolphins at the Georgia Aquarium
  • View the world’s biggest collection of Jim Henson puppets at the Center for Puppetry Arts
  • Discover champion trees on the trails of the old-growth Fernbank Forest.

Illustration by Katie Carey

ON THE COVER

June 2017 cover

FROM THE EDITOR

Driftwood Beach

Editor’s Note: The symmetry of 50

Back in 2011, when this magazine celebrated its 50th anniversary, we latched onto the number 50 and spent the year casually obsessed with it. But when we talked a few months ago about expanding the “50 Things” conceit statewide, I got a little nervous.
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