Why Georgia Really IS On Your Mind

Aug 2, 2019

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.

Ray Charles Plaza in Albany, photo by Ralph Daniel

Maybe the fifth anniversary of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights has been your reminder that you still really need to get to Atlanta to take in this new cultural icon. Or maybe seeing Georgia on Newsweek’s 2019 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 the just-released, much-buzzed-about third season of Stranger Things has you desperate to tour the various Georgia towns that serve as stand-ins. (To say nothing of all Avengers: Endgame, Black Panther and other Marvel fans who want to see the Georgia backdrops of their favorite movies.) 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 fall escape.  

The seriously great outdoors

Brasstown Bald, photo by @luke_theodorou

With all due respect to New England, some of the nation’s best fall leaf-peeping happens along the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

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Among the most spectacular rides in the country—surrounded by seasonally Technicolor trees—the Railway’s Fall Foliage tour starts at the historic Blue Ridge depot and winds along the Toccoa River for 26 miles.

Cloudland Canyon State Park, photo by @risaonaridge

A rival fall foliage destination is Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, where the hiking and mountain biking routes—as well as the yurts available for glamping—encourage you to get right into nature. And Vogel State Park in nearby Blairsville is another vibrant fall mecca, where experienced hikers won’t want to miss the Bear Hair Gap, a four-mile hike with a great view of all the colors around Lake Trahlyta. For an even longer trek, check out the trail that Outside magazine recently pronounced one of the best in the nation: the Len Foote Hike Inn Trail—an almost 10-mile loop through the foliage-adorned foothills of north Georgia—in the aforementioned Amicalola Falls State Park. The star attraction? The park's namesake falls—the tallest in the state.

But perhaps the leaf-peeping spot to end all leaf-peeping spots is Rock City Gardens atop Lookout Mountain because—at least according to local lore—you can see seven states' worth of foliage from here. However many states you're gazing upon is almost irrelevant though: The fact is, you're in a surreal natural setting—think ancient, towering rock formations surrounded by forested slopes. Take the 4,100-foot walking trail  through the woodlands, caves and gardens, or—if you're here for an October weekend, add some polka lessons, German food and specialty brews to the mix at Rocktoberfest

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.

This 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).

The Grey, Photo by @FindingMeggan

Of course, sometimes you just want no-frills Southern staples (fried chicken, collards, okra gumbo, banana pudding) in which case, head to Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, where all the favorites have been served up family-style since 1943.

But Savannah’s just as happy to turn tradition on its side, as you’ll find at 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, is busily opening a French restaurant called By George (all-day caviar service!) in Atlanta’s Candler Hotel. 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.

Five & Ten

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 Pittypat’s Porch (named after Scarlett O’Hara’s aunt), which still prints its menus on fans and sets tables with pewter serviceware (save room for the pecan pie). And you’ll 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).

Civil rights and Black history

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

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta—a museum that’s also commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer racial uprisings with selections from photographer Wendel White’s powerful Red Summer series (on view through the end of August).

This is also the year that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Vine City home—where he spent the last four years of his life—became part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. 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.

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.

Freedom Singers, Photo by Explore Georgia

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

Georgia locations were inspiring movie sets as early as 1939, when a Covington home stood in for Twelve Oaks plantation, home of the Wilkes family in Gone With the Wind. (In fact, the home underwent a $2 million renovation in 2017, and is up for sale.) More recently, Georgia has become the most popular state for film production, overtaking California in 2016, with Stranger Things, virtually every Marvel movie, and Walking Dead all filmed here. There’s even new Delta non-stop service between Burbank and Atlanta (aka the “Hollywood of the South”).

So where to go first? Probably Covington, which has been busy filling in for all kinds of places since its Gone with the Wind days. The Vampire Diaries filmed here, as did My Cousin Vinny, Dukes of Hazzard and many more. There’s even a Covington Walk of Stars.

Mystic Grill in Covington from Vampire Dairies, photo by @helloitsjasper

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 in the grips of Stranger Things fever thanks to the just-released Season 3, 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.

Hopper's Cabin, Photo by Explore Georgia

And speaking of Atlanta, we'd be remiss if didn't call it out to Marvel fanatics. Seems every family's got at least one—and if that's you, kick your tour off 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, 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

This year, Travelzoo is falling for the South. Check out our picks for the best eye-popping autumn colors, entertaining festivals, charming small towns and mouth-watering foodie finds.

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