With big cities, iconic small towns, picturesque mountains and a spot on the Atlantic Ocean, Georgia has a lot more to offer than its peaches. To help you decide which Georgia spots are most worth your time and vacation dollars, U.S. News took into account the variety and uniqueness of attractions, availability of accommodations and opinions of everyday travelers to decide the best places to visit in Georgia. Vote for your favorite spots below to help determine next year’s list. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
The charm of Savannah is undeniable. From the remnants of its antebellum past in the Historic Landmark District to the romantic Spanish moss-lined streets and iconic fountain in Forsyth Park to the shops, eateries and party-hard reputation of River Street, Savannah encompasses what the state of Georgia is all about: Giving a nod to the past while bringing its own personality into the present. Plus, the city offers a heavy dose of laid-back Southern hospitality to match, earning it its Hostess City of the South nickname.
These barrier islands and port town along the Atlantic coast get their name from the golden sand beaches that dot the Georgia coastline. The region’s larger islands feature all of the amenities out-of-towners could want, while Brunswick serves as a mainland town complete with a wharf and plenty of shrimp boats. Smaller islands like Little St. Simons and Sea Island offer private, world-class resorts. No matter which island you choose, don’t forget to snap a photo of the stunning sunsets over the ocean’s horizon.
History buffs should make a beeline to Athens. The city marks the starting point of Georgia’s Antebellum Trail, which highlights Civil War-era homes and period architecture in its 17 historic districts. The University of Georgia, the country’s first public institution of higher education, is also worth visiting, as it is home to the Georgia Museum of Natural History, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and the Georgia Museum of Art. For a more modern getaway, check out Downtown Athens’ shops, restaurants and live music venues.
Georgia’s capital city wears many hats and goes by many nicknames – ATL, Hotlanta and A-Town, just to name a few. The Empire City of the South is a hub for business (Coca-Cola, CNN and Delta are all headquartered here) and music (rappers have long made ATL their home), as well as a family-friendly destination with world-renowned sights like the Georgia Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta. The city also houses several impressive historical attractions, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. What’s more, this major metropolis is still quintessentially Southern, with the friendliness and manners to match.
The largest and southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands, Cumberland Island offers both a rich history and a beautiful landscape. You’ll have to catch a ferry from nearby St. Marys to get here, but the journey is well worth the effort. When you arrive, you’ll discover nearly 10,000 acres of protected wilderness and 17-plus miles of secluded beaches. Cumberland Island also features multiple historical sites, such as the Plum Orchard Mansion, the First African Baptist Church and the Dungeness Ruins, that tell the story of the Carnegie family, enslaved African Americans, Native Americans and others who once lived on the island.
A trip to Callaway Gardens is all about reconnecting with nature. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the small town of Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens features 2,500 acres of gardens, a butterfly center with 1,000-plus butterflies and more than 10 miles of bike and nature trails, among other amenities. Additionally, visitors can head to Robin Lake Beach to swim, kayak, paddleboard or simply soak up some sun during the warmer months. Families can also take advantage of the beach’s inflatable water playground called Aqua Island.
Georgia might not come to mind when you think of wine destinations, but Dahlonega is worth consideration. This northern town is often labeled the Heart of Georgia Wine Country thanks to its 12 wine tasting rooms, five wineries and locally owned and operated vineyards. For a festive atmosphere during your vacation, arrive in May when the annual Dahlonega Arts & Wine Festival takes place. Dahlonega is also where America’s first gold rush occurred, so be sure to save time for a visit to the Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site and a former mine.
The southernmost of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island beckons to travelers seeking a quiet beach getaway. The entire island is designated as a Georgia state park, meaning conservation and wildlife preservation are top priorities. Visitors can see sea turtles, alligators and other coastal animals at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the 4-H Tidelands Nature Center, lounge on 10 miles of pristine beaches or meander through the historic district (also known as Millionaire’s Village) to see homes that have belonged to some of America’s richest families, including the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers and the Pulitzers.
Situated less than 20 miles southeast of Savannah, this small barrier island has been a popular family vacation destination for more than a century. Tybee Island’s miles of sandy beaches and relatively warm weather most of the year make it a prime spot for swimming, surfing and sunbathing. Additionally, travelers can spend a few hours looking for the island’s 200-plus bird species. Other Tybee must-dos include climbing up the Tybee Island Light Station, the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and participating in educational programs at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.
Featuring three lakes and more than 2,000 acres, Arabia Mountain offers plenty of opportunities for adventure close to Atlanta. Visitors can hike through the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve or walk or bike the Arabia Mountain PATH. The latter also boasts 60 geocaches for travelers to find. For those who enjoy fishing, there are numerous waterways ideal for casting a line. But remember, fishing here requires purchasing a Georgia fishing license.
Head to this central Georgia city to enjoy a variety of attractions. Macon must-dos include visiting Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park (a prehistoric Native American site), the Tubman Museum (one of the country’s largest museums dedicated to African American history, art and culture) and Amerson River Park (where you can hike, kayak or float in a tube). The city also features deep musical roots thanks its ties to the Southern rock and soul music genres. To get an overview of Macon’s music history, check out the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House and Mercer Music at Capricorn.
With its sandy beaches and laid-back lifestyle, the Golden Isles’ largest island invites travelers to slow down and relax. Visitors can head to East Beach to enjoy activities like shelling and fishing or make their way to one of the island’s golf courses to practice their swing. Plus, St. Simons offers more than 20 miles of bike paths, many of which lead to can’t-miss attractions like the World War II Home Front Museum. While exploring, keep an eye out for tree spirits: These faces were carved into the island’s oak trees in the ’80s by American artist Keith Jennings.
If you want to feel like you’re in Europe without leaving the U.S., consider taking a trip to Helen. This small northeastern Georgia town is modeled after a Bavarian Alpine village, so you can expect to find lots of colorful architecture, authentic German cuisine and fun renditions of German festivals like an annual Oktoberfest celebration. But beyond its charming atmosphere, Helen offers all kinds of amenities, including more than 200 stores and a winery, plus proximity to Unicoi State Park & Lodge’s lake and hiking and bike trails.
For a look at jaw-dropping natural wonders, venture to Tallulah Gorge State Park. Located just west of the Georgia-South Carolina border in the northern part of the state, the park is home to Tallulah Gorge, which measures 2 miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. Visitors can get a bird’s-eye view of the gorge from its rim or obtain a free permit to see it from its floor. Tallulah Gorge State Park also features a suspension bridge that provides fantastic views of the park’s five waterfalls, plus more than 20 miles of hiking and bike trails.
Get a dose of Georgia history during a trip to Marietta. This city, which sits about 20 miles northwest of Atlanta, boasts five National Register Historic Districts, plus a historic town square that you can explore on your own or via a narrated trolley tour. Must-see attractions include the William Root House Museum & Garden, the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. No trip would be complete without catching a show at the beautifully restored Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre.
Millions of people flock to this Blue Ridge Mountains lake every year to take advantage of its many outdoor activities. At Lake Lanier, vacationers will find nearly 700 miles of shoreline and 76 recreational areas, including dozens of parks, campgrounds and islands. Popular lake activities range from fishing and swimming to kayaking and water skiing. Visitors can also enjoy waterslides, a wave pool and more at Margaritaville at Lanier Island before exploring the lake’s islands and parks via various hiking trails.
Amicalola Falls State Park gets its name from the Cherokee word for “tumbling waters,” so you can expect to see an impressive waterfall during your visit. The northern Georgia park’s namesake measures 729 feet tall, making it the tallest waterfall in the Southeast. The park also offers multiple hiking trails – including traveler favorites like the East Ridge Trail and the Base of the Falls Trail – as well as areas for archery, zip lining, GPS scavenger hunts and survival activities. If you’re traveling with kids, consider staying at the on-site lodge, which hosts free animal encounters every weekend.
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