I’m a fan of exploring the United States, especially the South, where I live. Georgia is a state that has always impressed me with its beautiful, lush mountains, delicious cuisine, lovely beaches, and unique attractions. If your travel plans take you to Georgia, here are nine cities that are big on Southern charm that will win you over at once. They include Savannah, Cordele, Adairsville, Athens, Hiawassee, St. Simons Island, Dunwoody, Macon, and Helen. These are my favorites.
Disclaimer: I was hosted at a few of these hotels and for some meals and attraction passes.
You’ll feel like you are walking through a movie set in many parts of charming Savannah. Live oaks dripping with moss, historic River Street, sugary pralines, and 22 gorgeous squares await you in this amazing city chock full of Southern hospitality. Consider staying in a quaint bed and breakfast or a classic Historic Hotels of America property on your visit.
Dine at the famous Olde Pink House, trendy Alligator Soul, or Lady & Sons, home of the most renowned lady in Savannah…Paula Deen.
Great things to do in Savannah include:
- Food tours
- Exploring the American Prohibition Museum
- Forsyth Park (the most popular and visited square)
- Eating gourmet chocolates from Chocolat by Adam Turoni
- Savannah Riverboat Sightseeing Cruise
I stayed at my first Georgia State Park when I went to Cordele. If you’ve never had a state park experience, expect to be wowed when you see the pristine Lake Blackshear Resort property. Rooms are comfortable and spacious, the grounds are immaculate, and you can rent a boat, go fishing or swimming, play golf, and eat, all within steps of the resort. There is even a darned tasty eatery, Cypress Grill at the Marina, with the tastiest Beast Burger ever. Does queso, candied bacon, and crispy jalapeños sound good to you?
Cordele has a small downtown worth driving through, but honestly, I enjoyed staying in Georgia Veterans State Park, seeing the military museum, and enjoying the great outdoors there.
One year, my youngest daughter and I ended up in Adairsville (north of Atlanta) on our way to Nashville. The old railroad town is so darned cute and lined with sweet locally-owned boutiques, antique stores, and an 1847 railroad depot and history museum. Adairsville was an iconic town during the Great Locomotive Chase of the Civil War and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Though we stayed at a chain hotel, Adairsville is where you’ll find the fantastic Barnsley Resort, the stuff dreams are made of.
I recommend eating lunch at Maggie Mae’s Tea Room. Have an informal afternoon tea, quiche, or the decadent chicken salad, but do save room for hummingbird cake, a Southern favorite.
The single time I visited Athens was enough to recommend this Georgia city time and time again. First, the UGA campus is stunning and full of history. Second, Athens has had a notable music scene for forty years or more (R.E.M. and the B-52’s got their start here), so I recommend a guided tour. Downtown Athens has plenty of excellent local restaurants and shops to see and sample, and you will find the Georgia Museum of Art nearby.
My two favorite things in Athens were wandering through the gorgeous State Botanical Garden of Georgia and eating at uniquely named home.made. This restaurant attempts to meet all of your insatiable Southern needs — from tomato pie and deviled eggs to pepper jelly pecans and fried chicken.
I can’t mention going to Athens, Georgia, without including two tasty craft breweries: Creature Comforts and Terrapin Beer Co. I truly loved everything about hospitable Athens, from decadent candies at Condor Chocolates to the well-stocked Avid Bookshop.
I visited the North Georgia mountains with my youngest daughter, Peyton. It was a fantastic getaway with plenty of outdoor opportunities, space for social distancing, and incredible mountains to hike, photograph, and be at one with nature in. We stayed at Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa, popular for horseback riding, in nearby Young Harris. The resort was nothing short of spectacular.
You can go waterfall chasing in Hiawassee and rent fishing or pontoon boats to get out on the lake. Bell Mountain was one of our favorite attractions. I thought the colorful graffitied rocks added something unique to the landscape, but it is a controversial subject for the locals. Wine and beer tastings are other primo attractions in Hiawassee. Crane Creek Vineyards is a popular winery and Hiawassee Brew a well-known brewery.
Save time to browse through Always Christmas, a year-round holiday shop, and have a meal at Sundance Grill. I loved their gyro and feta omelet.
6. St. Simons Island
You can’t speak of Georgia’s southern hospitality and not mention one of the top cities — St. Simons Island. This lovely coastal Georgia town is still a hidden gem for many, but some of us fell in love with King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort twenty years ago. After seeing KOP’s chic rooms and welcoming lobby and enjoying a few of the amenities, you will, too. The swimming pool is my favorite part.
St. Simons Island offers boat tours, uncommercialized beaches, the historic Fort Frederica National Monument, exceptional restaurants, and a picture-perfect lighthouse. St. Simons is the largest of the small towns that make up Georgia’s Barrier Islands (known as the “Golden Isles”) along with Jekyll, Sea, and Little St. Simons. If you are a golfer, you will really love it here.
My favorite place for dinner is Georgia Sea Grill, where the melt-in-your-mouth filet is my standing order, and the escargot is the best I have ever tasted.
Dunwoody is a suburb of Atlanta that I had not heard of until my visit. Many things in Dunwoody make for a perfect girlfriends’ getaway, like the relaxing body treatments at Woodhouse Day Spa, terrific selection of local and mall retail shops, art offerings, and elegant wine stores — namely Cafe Intermezzo and Vino Venue. Don’t miss the Spruill Gallery, a local art gallery showcasing beautiful artworks ranging from fiber arts to pottery and jewelry.
Try Alon’s Bakery & Market, Eclipse di Luna (a tapas and paella restaurant), and Novo Cucina for your dining needs. At Alon’s, order the tabouleh or hummus, followed by Midnight Cake, and at Eclipse, the patatas bravas and sangrias are pretty delicious. Novo Cucina has tasty Arancini (Sicilian risotto balls with meat sauce and marinara) and an impressively long list of gelatos.
Did you know that Macon, Georgia, is home to one of the biggest cherry blossom festivals in the country, right behind Washington DC? Spring is the perfect time to enjoy the Cherry Blossom Festival when the Yoshino cherry trees are in bloom and the whole city goes pink for the “Pinkest Party on Earth.” But, of course, you can still visit any time of year.
Macon is another historic music city where The Allman Brothers, Jason Aldean, and Otis Redding got their starts. Rock Candy Tours will give you all the details about Macon’s legendary musical roots, and you can tour The Big House, where the Allman Brothers lived. Two other things I like doing in Macon are visiting the Tubman Museum and eating burgers at The Rookery.
One of the best bed and breakfasts ever is Macon’s Burke Mansion, an 1887 Queen Anne Victorian home. Stay in the Martina & Mae Suite, then browse the priceless antiques that the owners have collected through the years. The gourmet Southern breakfast will knock your socks off, especially as it is served on Wedgwood china.
Pro Tip: If you are a cemetery enthusiast, go to Rose Hill on the Ocmulgee River, where 1,746 Confederate soldiers are buried.
If you’ve seen pictures of the alpine town of Helen, Georgia, chances are you want to go there. For me, Helen is like an off-site version of Disney. It has shop and restaurant-lined streets that look straight out of a Bavarian village or fairytale. I was so busy taking pictures of everything cute, adorable, neon, sparkly, and gasp-worthy that I didn’t focus on doing much of anything else.
There are several German restaurants in Helen — Bodensee is the highest-rated. A popular place for a wine tasting is at Habersham, one of the most talked-about attractions. If you want to get off the beaten path, consider a hike to Anna Ruby Falls or tubing (floating) down the Chattahoochee River. Helen is 76 miles from Atlanta.