Why Georgia Really IS On Your Mind

Feb 11, 2020

When Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote Georgia On My Mind—and Ray Charles immortalized it—they couldn’t have imagined a moment when so many people, for so many reasons, would have cause to take the lyrics literally. But now is that moment, and you’re likely feeling it.

Tallulah Gorge State Park in Tallulah Falls, Photo by Bernard Alexander.

 

Maybe seeing Georgia on Newsweek’s list of Must-Visit Global Destinations for Foodies—right after the Amalfi Coast, no less—was all you needed to start plotting your pilgrimage. Or—no judgment—maybe Marvel-mania has you desperate to tour the backdrops of every blockbuster from Avengers: Endgame to Black Panther. Or—hello, nature lovers!—maybe you caught Outside magazine's recent declaration that Amicalola Falls State Park is home to some of the best trekking you can do in the U.S.

Point is, Georgia is on everyone’s mind right now. So pick your passion (or a few) from the rundown below, then plot your spring escape.  


The seriously great outdoors

Minnehaha Falls in Lakemont, Photo by Benjamin Galland.

Georgia is, well, overflowing with ways to go chasing waterfalls. And with wildflowers starting to bloom around some of the cascades, spring is a particularly gorgeous time for the pursuit.

A little hike with a big payoff, the kid-friendly walk to Minnehaha Falls culminates in a multi-tiered cascade that descends 100 gorgeous feet (give or take) over stepped rocks.

At the other end of the spectrum (in terms of both the length of the walk and the height of the falls), there’s the trail that Outside magazine recently pronounced one of the best in the nation: the Len Foote Hike Inn Trail. A nearly 10-mile loop, it leads you through the foothills of north Georgia in the aforementioned Amicalola Falls State Park. The star attraction? The park's namesake falls—the tallest in the state.

Much more unexpectedly, but no less dazzlingly, Georgia is also home to a seemingly desertic landscape: dubbed the "Little Grand Canyon.” To see for yourself, hike among the surreal red, pink, orange, purple and white rock formations of Providence Canyon, where there are 10 miles of trails.

Providence Canyon State Park in Lumpkin, Photo by @capturecalliope.

 

Of course, Georgia’s nature is as beautiful from above as from ground level, as you’ll discover on any of a number of zipline courses. A great starter? Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge, which will take you from the treetops into a valley, over pastures and across a creek.

Or if you prefer your nature viewing from the inside of a boat, consider an absolutely singular experience: kayaking through the lily pad- and peat bog-dotted Okefenokee Swamp. If the name alone didn’t give you bragging rights, the resident alligators surely would.

Okefenokee Swamp, Photo by @mykisinott.

Food fanatics

Locals weren’t surprised when The Farmhouse restaurant in the utopian community of Serenbe, on the outskirts of Atlanta, landed on Newsweek’s must-visit global destinations for foodies list. Most ingredients (which are sourced from the restaurant’s own garden or a nearby farm) barely even make a stop in the kitchen before they land on your plate. But Georgia’s experiment in New Urbanism isn’t the only name making culinary waves.

Photo by Benjamin Galland.

 

Last year, Mashama Bailey of Savannah’s The Grey won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast. The elevated Southern bistro is housed in a restored 1938 Greyhound bus terminal where Bailey’s not only serving up spectacular fare, but also helping to preserve local heritage (in fact, you’ll choose your oysters from the display where bus tickets were once sold).

For purists, of course, only an un-remade icon will do. If that’s you, beeline to The Colonnade in Atlanta, where fried chicken livers and salmon croquettes with yeasty homemade rolls have been dazzling diners since 1927. Then there’s the 75-year-old Mary Mac's Tea Room, officially declared "Atlanta's Dining Room" by the Georgia House of Representatives, where the sweet potato soufflé and fried green tomatoes are apparently as popular as they are among visiting celebs (check the walls for fun photos of the latter). You’ll also want to make the trip to Macon for the H&H Restaurant alone (try the “Ramblin’ Man” with smoked brisket, Macon BBQ sauce and a fried green tomato). Equally pilgrimage-worthy is Savannah's Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, where all the favorites have been served up family-style since 1943.

Empire State South in Atlanta, Photo by Benjamin Galland.

 

Just as happy to turn tradition on its side, Savannah is also famously home to the utilitarian-chic Cotton & Rye (try the crispy chicken wings with spicy honey and sumac) or The Wyld, a waterfront hangout that serves amped-up local seafood (steamed banana leaf fish tacos with tomato jam and basil and dill chimi) and great (strong) craft cocktails.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest names on the Georgia food scene, Hugh Acheson, has just opened a long-anticipated French restaurant called By George in Atlanta’s Candler Hotel. Early reviews say the poulet roti pommes Dauphines are must-tries.

But there are plenty of other places to find out how this Top Chef judge, who was a finalist for Outstanding Restauranteur at this year’s Beard awards, earned his demigod status: Visit his Empire State South in midtown Atlanta, or Five & Ten and The National in Athens.

The National in Athens, Photo by Benjamin Galland.

Civil rights and Black history

Photo by Explore Georgia.

Having recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its opening, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta is finding innovative ways to engage even the youngest of audiences with the likes of Shout, Sing-Out, a recurring kid-centric show that doubles as a primer on community and famous Civil Rights figures.

Another iconic local Civil Rights epicenter — the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park— was recently expanded to include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Vine City home, where he spent the last four years of his life. You’ll see the house, among other deeply affecting locations, on a tour by former MLK Jr. aide Tom Houck, whose Civil Rights Tour begins at the King Center and visits the Atlanta Student Movement Rush Memorial Church, the King birthplace, the Ebenezer Baptist church, and the Old 4th Ward where Dr. King grew up.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Photo by @NemoSnaps

 

For a longer view of African-American history in Georgia, follow the Black Heritage Trail to such sites as the National Civil War Naval Museum, the Gothic-style Urban League of Greater Columbus, and the Primus King site. Time your trip to see the Freedom Singers perform in Albany’s Civil Rights Institute in the newly restored 1906 Old Mt. Zion Church on the second Saturday each month.

And if you’re headed to Savannah, don’t miss the Pin Point Heritage Museum, in an old oyster and crab factory just south of the city, where you can explore the heritage of the Gullah and Geechee culture of the former slaves who established this area after the Civil War.


For showbiz fanatics

With a staggering series of Marvel movies calling Georgia home — just for starters —this state has become  the most popular for film production, having overtaken California in 2016. Delta has even added non-stop service between Burbank and Atlanta (aka the “Hollywood of the South”).

So where to go first? Marvel fanatics (seems every family's got at least one) should kick off their tour in the Atlanta area, where Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Black Panther are practically locals at this point. (To say nothing of the recent revelation that Tony Stark’s Avengers: Endgame cabin is available on Airbnb, not far from the city.)  In fact, there’s so much metro-area Marvel lore that you’ll want the kind of overview you get on the Atlanta Movie Tours Hero Tour. One highlight? Seeing the Avengers HQ from Captain America: Civil War. 

Then again, Covington has been busy filling in for all kinds of places since Gone with the Wind filmed here. Since then, every production from The Vampire Diaries to My Cousin Vinny has called the city home. There’s even a Covington Walk of Stars.

The Walking Dead, Driftwood Beach in Jekyll Island, Photo by Andrea David.

 

Just over an hour’s drive to the southwest, you’ll find the town of Senoia, now possibly better known as the Walking Dead town, where the Walkin’ Dead Tours will take you on a private backlot where 17 scenes have been filmed. Meanwhile, Georgia Tour Company combines its Walking Dead tour with other Senoia locations from Fried Green Tomatoes, Pet Sematary II, Drop Dead Diva and more.

But if—like many—you’re still in Stranger Things withdrawal, you’ll want to proceed directly to Jackson, home to a lot of the show’s backdrops. Take your own walking tour of downtown, where you’ll find the vandalized theater, Joyce’s store and the back-alley showdown location. You can even play an escape game in Hopper’s cabin from Season 2 at Escape Woods in nearby Powder Springs. In fact, come fall, Atlanta Movie Tours—known to use series' actors and extras as guides—will be running comprehensive Stranger Things tours that include Jackson (among several other of the show's locations). Meanwhile, the company's just-launched Atlanta Upside Down Tour takes you to Benny's Burgers, the Palace Arcade, the sheriff's department, that creepy pumpkin patch—and several other season-spanning locations.

Stranger Things, Hopper's Cabin in Powder Springs, Photo by Andrea David.

 

Then again, nothing compares to being the hero of your own Georgia adventure, so gather your favorite costars (i.e., travel buddies) and plot your own local exploits.


Ready to go? Plan your Georgia getaway with these trip planning tips

*Header image of Wormsloe Historic Site in Savannah, Photo by @goanniewhere.

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