Georgia knows it is the perfect time of year to “get out, get dirty and get fit.”
We’re stepping out of winter’s chill and straight into the warm, sunny days of spring. Flowers are blooming and Dogwoods have come to life overnight. The clear blue sky and shining sun just invite you to leave the car behind and walk for a while or ride your bike. These kind of days remind us that summer is just ahead, and summer usually signifies some sort of release from the normal stress and toil. But if you’re watching your spending, perhaps the dream of that summer vacation is fading away with other luxuries. However, Georgia is more accommodating than you might think. Many have turned to in-state travel to suit their economic boundaries, but if that still leaves you in the lurch, we have the perfect option.
Georgia has 63 state parks and historic sites scattered in an encompassing web across the state that are open all year round. These natural escapes are perfect for daytrips or extended vacations. Chances are, there is one close to your home, depending on where you are and where you’re going. Some, like Kennesaw Mountain and the State Botanical Gardens in Athens, are completely free. Many, however, require a $3 parking fee and additional expenses depending on your activities. This parking fee supports the state parks. If you find yourself a frequent visitor of state parks and historic sites, or if you just like to get outside of your normal sphere, there are discounts to help you along the way.
For the frequent park guest, you can save money by purchasing an annual ParkPass for $30. This exempts you from any state park parking fee for an entire year, although other activities will still cost you. Be sure to check the state parks website to see how this fits in with your plans.
If you fancy yourself a history buff, there is a Historic Site Annual Pass that provides unlimited admission to any of Georgia’s 15 state historic sites. Georgia is full of unique tales and places rich with military history, American Indians, plantations, the gold rush and unique homes. A family can purchase the annual pass for $35 and it covers up to 6 people. Still not wanting to pay? Check out a ParkPass or Historic Site pass from any local library, just like you would a book. All you have to do is show a valid library card at one of Georgia’s public libraries and then you are free to road-trip all over the state.
Becoming one of the Friends of Georgia State Parks is another good deal. This is a membership that allows you to visit parks and historic sites while receiving even more discounts and “giving back to Georgia in a meaningful way.” Different levels of membership are available to suit your purposes.
Just remember: no matter which discount you buy, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Areas, Stone Mountain Park, Lake Lanier, Jekyll Island and any of the Corps of Engineers lakes are not state parks and are not covered by state passes.
Before you hit the road, be sure to check out which parks and sites will fit with your travel plans. Do you want to stay close to home or get away for the weekend? Do you want something adventurous or educational? Do you want to hike up a mountain and rough it in a tent or stay in a comfortable lodge and feel pampered? Each park and site has different, attractive features that are perfect for whatever you are looking to do. Many have beautiful, natural formations like mountains, lakes, rivers or even cliffs, waterfalls and canyons. Camping is almost always an option and you can stay in a mountaintop resort, camp in the forest or try something in between, like a yurt. A yurt is just right for campers who want a little luxury. Similar to a canvas and wood tent, yurts allow for furniture and a grill inside with a deck and picnic table outside. These are available at Bobby Brown, High Falls and Red Top Mountain state parks.
Ready for more than just the average expectations? Georgia’s parks have great trails for hiking and biking, lakes for swimming, fishing, boating and water skiing or grassy greenery for picnicking, golfing and even horseback riding. Each has a specific calendar of events for the year and most of them provide guided hikes, environmental and educational programs, archaeology tours, battle enactments, concerts, animal shows, craft festivals, campfires and hayrides. Some of the parks combine nature and historic sites, such as A.H. Stephens, Fort McAllister and Kolomoki Mounds state historic parks.
Enjoying what Georgia has to offer is a wonderful way to reconnect with the surrounding environment while escaping the normalcy of the work week. Whether you go with friends, family, your pet or just on your own, immersing yourself so completely in nature will create a peaceful memory and bond. There truly is nothing like getting away for a while and enjoying simpler pleasures. If exploring state parks is a new idea for you, find one that suits the kind of experience you want to get out of your day. Unlike theme parks, there is no pressure here to do everything offered; you get out what you make of your visit. It can simply be relaxing and comfortable enough to take a picnic to nearby Fort Yargo. If you enjoy photography, snap some pictures of the mountain in the background or fish swimming by in the lake at Unicoi State Park. Or, you can just jump right in. Be impulsive or daring and climb the 600 steps up to the top of Amicalola Falls. Do something that feels exciting and new like crossing the swinging bridge across Tallulah Gorge. Either way, you will walk away refreshed and rejuvenated by Georgia’s natural offerings.
So, get out there and have some fun! The season has changed and the weather is fine for a trip outside. Visit any one of Georgia’s state parks or historic sites for an exciting adventure that will be easy on the pocket.
The Georgia Aquarium allows you one magnificent opportunity above all of its other wonders: the ability to tour the world as one diverse ocean filled with over 500 species and 100,000 animals. The modern glass and metal architecture houses more than eight million gallons of fresh and seawater and pathways connecting you to at least 60 exhibits, with the promise of monthly additions. The aquarium has worked to reach its title of the world’s largest and even includes such rarities as beluga whales, four young whale sharks – the largest fish in the world – and Nandi, the only manta ray ever to be seen in a U.S. aquarium. There is always something new and undiscovered to be found at the aquarium and special events are a routine occurrence. Most importantly, the Georgia Aquarium is one of Atlanta’s greatest indoor attractions that “is designed to inspire, entertain and educate” all ages.
The Aquarium is truly a gift. Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of The Home Depot, opened his first headquarters and stores in Atlanta. The citizens of Atlanta soon became the backbone of his company and Marcus decided that he wanted to give Atlanta something in return. When Marcus announced his idea to the city, it came with the promise of providing more jobs and increasing Atlanta’s tourism. A driven individual, Marcus provided $250 million of support to the Aquarium’s construction along with the contributions of Atlanta’s leading companies, which allowed the Aquarium to open debt free. Since its opening in 2005, the Georgia Aquarium at Pemberton Place has entertained visitors from all over the world and Marcus’ dream has achieved more than its original intentions.
When you enter the Aquarium, you immediately open yourself up for the chance to tour at least five looping pathways with the addition of special, limited-time exhibits like Titanic Aquatic and a 4D theater. No matter where you begin, you will have the opportunity to explore all of these at your own pace. The Georgia Explorer gallery begins with several touch pools where you can lightly run a finger across the back of a bonnethead shark or cownose ray as they glide by or dare to touch a feisty, darting shrimp before it streaks away. The gallery itself features species with special ties to the habitats on the Georgia Coast, including a shy loggerhead sea turtle and horseshoe crabs. Considered to be the kudzu of the ocean, invading alien fish from the Pacific Ocean, called lionfish, will soon become a touch pool feature to educate all about our changing ecosystem.
Next are the dark caverns of the River Scout trail. Giant catfish swim overhead as you wend your way through the exhibit of electric eels, piranhas and the newest addition of American alligators. This is the closest you can “safely” be to these predators before entering one of the friskiest exhibits in the whole aquarium, the river scouts themselves. Watch as Asian small-clawed river otters play on the banks of a mini waterfall and then dive after one another, shooting through the water. A close relative of these animals, the sea otter, can be found in the next exhibit, Cold Water Quest. Here, you also have the chance to touch colorful anemones and sea stars. This diverse exhibit allows you to see Australian weedy sea dragons, Giant Japanese spider crabs, playful African penguins, a Giant Pacific octopus and three beautiful beluga whales.
As far as amazement goes, the aquarium designed the two best exhibits to be enjoyed last: Ocean Voyager and Tropical Diver. Ocean Voyager begins with an acrylic tunnel that enables you to travel beneath the vast array of fish swimming overhead. Several viewing windows lead you around to the largest of them all, a 23-feet-tall by 61-feet-wide viewing window that enables you to see thousands of fish swimming by in schools, as well as stingrays, hammerhead sharks, bowmouth guitarfish, sand tiger sharks, four massive whale sharks and Nandi, the manta ray. If you’re interested in swimming alongside these fascinating creatures, check out the swim and dive program, Journey with Gentle Giants.
Tropical Diver is especially designed to be the end of your personal tour. Here, you will find the most curious creatures of the ocean. Tiny garden eels pop out of their homes in the sand, swaying like tall grass at the bottom of the ocean. Paisley mandarinfish hide in the shadows alongside shy seahorses. Clownfish, like “Nemo,” dart in and out of their anemone homes. Languorous jellyfish, from the giant Pacific sea nettle to the little puff clouds called “moon jellies.” Last is one of the largest living reef exhibits in the world, presenting corals and a rainbow of the small fishes that call them home.
If you get hungry along the way, Café Aquaria is open to serve your cravings. Also, don’t forget to visit the two gift shops, Beyond the Reef and Sand Dollars. Beyond the Reef features an overlooked fish tank of incredibly colorful fish at its entrance, so make a point of visiting these beautiful creatures before you leave. The shops are filled with sea-themed gifts to delight everyone and provide some unique souvenirs.
After visiting these exhibits, you may want to venture upstairs to the 4D Theater and the Titanic Aquatic exhibit. The 4D Theater combines 3D film, high tech special effects and digital projection with interactive seats that enable you to feel as though you are underwater. As fish swim by you, you can feel the soft brush of their scales on your arms and occasional, small sprays of water. Currently playing is Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow. Deepo, the Georgia Aquarium’s mascot, takes viewers through an adventure under the sea with entertaining friends to highlight the way.
Equally stimulating but of a more serious nature is the visiting Titanic Aquatic exhibit. Take the time to explore the stories behind this international tragedy. At the beginning, you will be given a recreated ticket of an actual passenger. Rooms of the Titanic have been recreated so that you can walk through them while looking at over 190 artifacts removed from the undersea debris field, 40 of which have never been seen by the public. Interactive displays, an “actual” iceberg and video presentations take you through the entire history of the Titanic, from her original construction to recovery efforts of the debris still taking place today. When you reach the end, you will be able to check the list and see if the name on your ticket survived Titanic’s maiden voyage. After this enlightening experience, you will never view the Titanic the same way. The exhibit lasts until September 7, 2009.
Before you make your trip to the aquarium, be sure to check out all of your options. There are a number of specialized tours you can purchase tickets for that give a behind the scenes look at what it is like to work at an aquarium. There is also the shark-themed family tour and even a VIP tour. Look to see if any of these suit your purposes and budget. It is also just as enjoyable to guide yourself through the aquarium, although some give you access that a general admission visitor won’t receive. Go early, especially on the weekend, because the aquarium fills up fast and you will want to spend a lot of time enjoying all they have to offer. Buying your tickets and pass for the parking deck online ahead of time will save you money and check to see if another Atlanta attraction you are visiting is available in a combination package, including the World of Coca-Cola. Ask when the feeding schedule for the Ocean Voyager and Tropical Diver exhibits happen. This is an exciting opportunity to view the animals in action as divers feed them. A coat check is available and while the aquarium is organized, numerous friendly volunteers are on hand to assist and educate you on exhibits. Most importantly, bring your camera! This is the perfect place for captivating pictures. Just remember to turn off your flash; it is harmful to the fish.
Also, be sure to check the events coming up on the calendar. The Oceans Ballroom, complete with Wolfgang Puck catering, hosts events. Tying in with Titanic Aquatic is a special one-night event on the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, April 14. The “last meal” of the first class will be served as it was originally meant to, and afterwards guests can stay for a ghost hunters investigation of some of the paranormal activity surrounding the artifacts at the aquarium. The Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigators will take a tour of interest where previously documented paranormal activity has occurred. You can also check out their Yoga Under the Sea Sunday program if you’re looking for a relaxing experience. Even more intriguing is their sleepover program, for kids and adults, which gives a whole different experience of the sea at night.
Rain or shine, you can always escape to the Georgia Aquarium. It truly leaves you with the knowledge that we are “one world, one ocean.”
Welcome to a place where natural beauty meets historic mystery in a captivating paradox. It is something shared by Georgia with her neighbors of Alabama and Tennessee, bringing all of them together. And it is filled with unusual wonders unlike anything else in the world.
This is Lookout Mountain.
This “mountain” is actually a plateau, which allowsit to reach into the northwest corner of Georgia and the northeast corner of Alabama while extending along the southern border of Tennessee, namely Chattanooga. But it has always been called Lookout Mountain and it remains a reliable destination for people all over the world. The name is said to have come from a Cherokee term that describes “two mountains looking at each other.”
An entire world exists on Lookout Mountain. Since before the Civil War, people recognized its potential as a destination and getaway. Besides being home to four different attractions, a city rests on the ridge of the plateau. Once you find yourself at the top of the mountain, it truly does feel like visiting a town. Beautiful homes sit on the precipice of the brow, overlooking views more scenic than oceanfront property. You can find almost anything you could need here at the top, from Starbucks to a gym and spa. If you’re interested in hang-gliding, the Lookout Mountain Flight Park and Training Center is Georgia’s sole destination for this adventurous sport. There is also the widely visited Christian Covenant College and and if you want to extend your stay in this beautiful place, the charming Chanticleer Inn or serene Garden Walk Bed and Breakfast Inn are nicely situated on the ridge. To explore the entirety of Lookout Mountain, I suggest you start at the bottom and work your way up, beginning with Ruby Falls.
The majestic mystery of Ruby Falls is located at the midpoint of the mountain. It is the largest underground waterfall accessible to the public. It has a long and fascinating history, starting with the original Lookout Mountain Cave. Stories were told about a legendary cave between the foot of the mountain and the banks of the snaking Tennessee River. It was rumored to have lengthy, wending passages and massive chambers. Over the centuries, it has been home to Native Americans, explorers, outlaws, soldiers and even President Andrew Jackson during times of war. When the Southern Railroad came through Tennessee in 1905, they were forced to build a tunnel that sealed off the cave’s natural entrance. Many who had spent their childhood playing in the entrance of the cave were devastated. This inspired Leo Lambert, who had explored the cave before it was closed to the public.
An adventuresome sort, Lambert decided to drill an elevator shaft from a separate point on the mountain down to where he believed the cave to be located. In 1928, one of Lambert’s workers discovered an opening in the rock gushing air. Lambert and a small crew disappeared inside of the 18-inch by 5-feet wide opening for 17 hours, crawling through tunnels and discovering beautiful stalagmites and stalactites, streambeds and wending passages that had never been seen. Then, they discovered the true wonder of the waterfall and Ruby Falls, named for Lambert’s wife, was introduced to the public. Tours have been offered of the Ruby Falls Cave ever since. The entrance to the tour is located in “Cavern Castle,” a building made from the limestone excavated to construct the elevator shaft and widen the cave’s natural trails. It is an intriguing structure modeled after a Fifteenth century Irish castle.
Ruby Falls is 1120 feet below the mountain’s surface and the falls extend for 145 feet before falling into a pool at the base. The source of the water that flows now is unknown, although it is believed to trickle down into the Tennessee River at some point. The water has naturally shaped the smooth sides of the cave walls and soft lighting highlights the cave’s unusual features. Natural formations fill the space where water once rushed through to hollow out the cave. When the water table shifted, it created the perfect conditions for stalactites and stalagmites. The tour to the underground waterfall showcases Ruby Lambert’s Hall of Dreams, where a “chandelier” formation hangs from the ceiling of the cave as you pass along reflecting pools and drapery formations called “angel wings.” See if you can spot the “donkey,” “fish,” “beehive,” “Leaning Tower,” “turtle” and “Ruby’s Drapery.”
When visiting Ruby Falls, plan to spend at least two hours. Bring your camera because you can snap some incredible pictures inside the cave, even without a flash. Weather is never a factor, but rain will enhance the volume of the waterfall, and the temperature is always a comfortable 70 degrees due to natural humidity. Wear comfortable walking shoes, because once you take the elevator ride 260 feet down to the cave, you will walk about a mile round trip. And just remember: don’t drink the water. The mineral content in the waterfall is so high that it cannot sustain living conditions for any type of fish. The return elevator ride will deliver you to the gift shop as well as places for refreshment. There is also an incredible view from the observation point at Cavern Castle.
From this point, you have two choices on how to make your way to the top of Lookout Mountain. You can either continue driving up the steep, skinny road with breathtaking views along the way or drive down the mountain to the Incline Railway Station. Either one affords scenic views, but the Incline Railway is definitely unique. Operating since 1895, it is the world’s steepest passenger railway. Whether you choose to ride it first or last on your trip, make time for this attraction. You travel up the sharpest slope of the mountain gazing out at the view. A clear, windowed ceiling and sides allow you a panoramic view of the city, valleys and even mountains in the distance. It is a slow, steep ride of observation, not a fast rollercoaster. Along the way, you will also learn the curious history of this technical marvel and all of the purposes it has served over the years. When you reach the halfway point, the two cars operating on the pulley system will “switch,” which allows the cars to ride on a single track. You will arrive nearly among the clouds, even reaching a steep 72.7 percent grade of the track at the top. The trip down is just as breathtaking and even more thrilling because of the sheer height where the Incline begins.
Once at the top of Lookout Mountain, especially if traveling by the Incline Railway, there are many intriguing points of interest. Plan to stay and visit for a while here. Just three blocks away from the Incline Railway Station is famous Point Park and The Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map and Museum. Just keep in mind that Rock City is about three miles from this point, so you can either take on the strenuous walk or just plan to drive up the mountain for this adventure. Many visit Point Park and then ride the Incline down to their vehicle.
While visiting Point Park, your first stop may be The Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map and Museum. It will explain the history of the battlefields you encounter later. This is not your average Civil War museum. While there are relic and weapon collections to delight any Civil War enthusiast, there is also the 3-D map, which allows you to hear and see the battles as they originally took place. 5,000 miniature soldiers combine with 650 lights and sound effects that literally take you through the battles that “sealed the fate of the Confederacy.” Afterwards, if you are still curious, visit the bookstore and its collection of well-known works on the “War Between the States.”
Point Park is a historic place to visit and one that many have romanticized. It was here that the famous “Battle Above the Clouds” was fought in November 1863. While this battle during the Civil War was not actually fought among the clouds, the soldiers named it so because of a unique weather phenomenon that still occurs on the mountain. During the morning hours after dawn, the top of the mountain is at its coolest temperature. Fog from this occurrence descends the mountain but stops halfway down and remains for some time. This just happened to occur in tandem with the battle, which is why it is so romanticized. The park is full of history and awe-inspiring views from this vantage point on a precipice of the brow. You can even stand on the bluff where General Ulysses S. Grant once stood during the battle.
Then, there is the grand belle of Lookout Mountain’s generous offerings: Rock City. Its name has been immortalized on barn roofs and birdhouses, a classic of America’s culture. Missionaries once called it a “citadel of rock” because of the naturally formed pathways and the namesake has remained. Lookout Mountain has long been home to entrepreneurs of attractions as well as wealthy families. Rock City began with them as well. During the late 1920’s, Garnet and Frieda Carter decided to develop an expansive walk-through garden on their private estate. Frieda took balls of string to mark the original path in 1930. Because of the Great Depression, the Carters decided to open the completed garden to the public in 1932. The Enchanted Trail with its natural, curious rock formations, over 400 varieties of plants and flowers and a 140-foot waterfall became a destination for families eager to escape the overwhelming Depression.
The gardens are home to all types of fascination, including the claustrophobic Needle’s Eye and Fat Man’s Squeeze, 180-foot Swing-A-Long Bridge, 1,000-Ton Balanced Rock, Fairyland Caverns, Mother Goose Village, legendary Lover’s Leap, See Seven States Summit and even Deer Park, a habitat for rare white Fallow deer. The best view is the summit of Lover’s Leap, where you can also view the sculpture of the Eagle’s Nest. It is believed that you can see Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia from this historic point. Lover’s Leap so named because of a tragic love story. A brave, Sautee, fell in love with Nacoochee, a Cherokee maiden. Their tribes were at war, so they ran away together. Once discovered, Sautee was thrown from the tip of Lover’s Leap. A heartbroken Nacoochee leapt right after him. From an observation point, you can see the side of Lover’s Leap, its waterfall and a formation on the cliff called the “stone face.” Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village will bring out the child within as you travel through Frieda Carter’s fascination with old folklore, including scenes of mischievous gnomes and glowing renditions of Cinderella’s castle. There are simply too many uniquely beautiful spots along the Enchanted Trail to describe, but know that it is a visit you will cherish for a long time.
While visiting Lookout Mountain, if you have the time, be sure to stop in historic Chattanooga, Tennessee. The famous Chattanooga Choo-Choo is there with old trains and a lovely visitors center and restaurants. There are also plenty of other shops and restaurants throughout this city on the Tennessee River. You can even ride the Southern Belle riverboat cruise, which offers lunch or dinner and a relaxing tour of the city. To make your trip to Lookout Mountain easier, parking is free (except at Point Park and the top station of the Incline Railway). At Ruby Falls, many different guides are stationed throughout the lot to easily direct you to a free space. Tickets for the attractions are also available online in combination packages, providing a nice discount and exemptions from state taxes. If you decide to make Lookout Mountain a daytrip, check the estimated amount of time spent at each attraction and closing times. It is best to go early to avoid possible lines. After all, you don’t want to miss anything! And remember, Lookout Mountain is scenic all year round. Don’t forget to consult the calendars for each attraction because the mountain hosts many events, from the Ruby Falls Haunted Cavern at Halloween to Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights during the holidays.
Come to Lookout Mountain, whether for a day or a vacation, and rediscover your belief in the natural wonders of the world. This place of resilience and hope will never disappoint.
The atmosphere is undiscovered, the air snapping with a salty, fresh quality. Here, there is no frantic race to find a spot on the beach and make time for relaxation. Rather, the relaxation seeps right into your pores with the ocean breeze. Regardless of where you have traveled from to enjoy this vacation, you are now on Tybee Time. The sun is your watch; the tides are your timetable. Tybee Island is welcoming from the first moment you arrive. And you will never stop smiling.
The small barrier island has an untouched quality that we seem to crave at any time of year, but especially during these restless days for a struggling world. If you want to escape, even for a weekend or over a long break, Tybee is your place. The island is the perfect size: small enough to feel faraway and cozy but large enough to support the locals and tourists alike. Restaurants, hotels and inns dot the space, but much of Tybee belongs to the natural formation of the island. The 3-mile beach, wild, green marshland and a maritime forest are the main attractions to be enjoyed here. There is also plenty of history to be discovered on what was once called “Savannah Beach.”
For thousands of years, Native Americans inhabited Tybee Island. The name “Tybee” comes from the Euchee tribe’s word for “salt” and they were the island’s main residents until the Spanish laid claim to the land in 1520. Spain, France, England and even pirates would fight for the ideal spot and its inland freshwater source until James Oglethorpe claimed it alongside Savannah in 1732. This is also when Oglethorpe commissioned what is now Tybee Island’s most famous attraction, the Tybee Island lighthouse.
The Tybee Island lighthouse has been guiding sailors into the Savannah River for 270 years. Since completing the first lighthouse in 1736, it has been rebuilt three more times (the last in 1916), renovated and restored after fires, hurricanes and the natural passage of time. The bottom 60 feet were built in 1773, the top 90 feet added in 1867. You can take a self-guided tour up the 178 steps to the top and enjoy the inspiring view of the rolling ocean, entrance to the Savannah River and much of the island. The unusual black and white pattern on the lighthouse has also changed its coloring six times, known as the “day mark,” so that those at sea can identify where they are. Each lighthouse in existence must have a unique color pattern to provide a geographic location. After slowly moving the lighthouse more inland to prevent the sea from encroaching right up to the front door of the structure, the Tybee lighthouse and its historic buildings take up only five tidy acres of land. Visitors can also walk through the head keeper’s cottage, assistant keeper’s cottage and stop for souvenirs in the nautical-themed gift shop. This is an ideal place to begin your exploration of the island and its wild beauty.
The first thing you might see as you take in the lighthouse view is Fort Screven, a battery stretching along the beginnings of North Beach. This historic district comprises the quieter part of the shore. Built in 1855 to provide the island and Georgia coast with a defensive system, Fort Screven played a big part in protecting America’s coastline from 1897 to 1947. It was filled with troops through the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. The military buildings, low-profile gun batteries and minefield were closed after 1947 and sold to the town of Tybee, bringing in a nice return of tourism for the island. Along the top of the fort’s walls are many private residences, but the Battery Garland, a former gun battery and magazine, was converted into the Tybee Island museum in 1961. Once home to two hundred bags of gunpowder and six hundred pound projectiles, this basement now holds exhibits and collections containing over four hundred years of Tybee history.
After allowing the island’s history to surprise you, why not take a stroll down the beach? You will likely encounter The North Beach Grill, one of the best places to eat on this part of the shore. A live band plays old favorites as you snack by the sea. The crab cake sandwich and jerk chicken are definitely recommended, but you certainly can’t go wrong at this friendly outdoor eatery. Prop up your feet and bathe in the afternoon sun while enjoying a seaside lunch. Just make sure to save some room for dessert, especially if you decide to walk down the beach for ice cream.
Continuing down the shoreline will lead you to South Beach, the more active part of this sandy playground for the senses. No matter when you visit, this is the place to be if you feel like enjoying a party atmosphere. Here is where the Tybee pier and pavilion entertain many visitors, including locals, Savannahians and tourists. This is truly the best place to be for people watching. There is always some sort of lively music playing and scrumptious seaside treats to be discovered. The ice cream is especially divine; it will never taste the same once you’ve savored it by the tangy sea air.
Once you leave the pier, there is a path that leads straight into downtown Tybee. It is a small layout with very few streets, but that is the beauty of an island; you always feel completely connected to the surrounding environment. Here you can discover more restaurants, ideal places to shop, art galleries and the one grocery store that serves all of your needs. You can also rent bikes, sign up for tours or charters and find water sport equipment in “town.” But you owe it to yourself to just walk around and take in the sights. All of the beach houses on stilts and brightly painted, eclectic cottages are treasures of Tybee, as are the friendly residents. There are also two public parks and numerous nature and bird trails. The Tybee Island Marine Science Center can also offer you a glimpse inside of the island’s ecosystems and the life of Georgia’s native sea turtles.
No matter where you stay, from the historic beachfront DeSoto Hotel to the southern hospitality of the Tybee Island Inn, make plans to enjoy breakfast at least one morning at The Breakfast Club by South Beach. They have been named Savannah’s best place to eat breakfast for 11 consecutive years and a favorite of residents and tourists alike since 1976. You can enjoy breakfast fare and burgers all day long at this seaside hot spot. Here, you will find some of the most talented chefs in Georgia, although they are humble about it. The food, however, showcases their skill. Among the regular breakfast mainstays of waffles and omelets, they also feature shrimp and grits, homemade polish and chorizo sausage combinations and refreshing specials. Any thing you pick here is sure to be mouthwatering, possibly award-winning (as many of their menu items are) and definitely cooked to perfection. There is nothing like beginning your day early at The Breakfast Club and then taking a sunrise stroll down the beach.
Also, be sure to check out The Sugar Shack, a laid-back, old-fashioned burger and seafood joint close to North Beach. Open since 1971, The Sugar Shack is still run by the original family. Started as an ice cream stand, the restaurant still serves 24 flavors of Jersey Premium ice cream. The ice cream is also used to create phenomenal milkshakes, especially Butterscotch or Georgia Peach, made with fresh Georgia peaches. They are known for their generously sized burgers and crinkle fries, but that’s not all. From subs to Philly cheese steak sandwiches, seafood platters to roast beef dinners, and fried fish to shrimp salad, they have something for everyone. You can stop here for breakfast, lunch or dinner. One visit will make you want to come back for more because the menu is so deliciously diverse. Between the hand-dipped milkshakes, catch of the day specials and Grandma flipping burgers in the back, you will be charmed in many ways.
For each day you visit, make some beach time. Rent a chair and giant, striped umbrella, spread a towel (as well as some sunscreen) and simply enjoy Tybee’s most simple pleasure. Here is where you will discover your best souvenirs. Gather a few shells as you walk among the waves, splash and swirl around in the ocean and then just sit back and enjoy that seamless connection of sea and sky. If you have any favorite music, bring it along. It will never sound the same after listening to it on the beach. The waves are a choice background, as are distant boats and container ships and the sun shining off of fellow beach-goers and stretching, golden sand. Likewise for that beach read you’ve been saving for your island trip; upon the advice of the Venerable Mr. Friedman (my high school English teacher) just dab a bit of sun tan lotion or a drop of the ocean on the top corner of a page. For some reason, the scent never fades and the pages become nice and crinkly with memories. The actual experience of relaxing on Tybee’s beach is indescribable, but it will remind you of how to truly enjoy life.
A unique fact about Tybee Island to remember is that much of the island basically shuts down on Tuesday. Because the island remains open all weekend, the locals choose to take this day off, so it would be wise to keep in mind. Just check, because some stores and restaurants are open. A shuttle service can take you to Savannah for the day and if you’re lucky, you can catch a ride on Omer K. Thomspon’s shuttle, the local expert on Savannah and Tybee’s military history. If you decide to venture off the island, there are some interesting stops to enjoy on the Islands Expressway. Be sure to stop by Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, Paula Deen and her brother’s famous restaurant. By car or by boat, you can stride up the dock to enjoy the fruits of the sea cooked in a dazzling array of ways. But if history and attractions are your angle, do not miss the chance to visit Fort Pulaski.
Built in 1847 to protect the port of Savannah, Fort Pulaski saw a lot of action during the Civil War. They used logs sunk nearly 70 feet into the marsh mud to support the 25 million bricks, some of which are famous Savannah Grey, to build the structure. While it remains a grand historic site, complete with a surrounding moat and original cannons, the fort is a reminder of defeat. During the Battle of Fort Pulaski in April 1862, newly made rifled cannons of the Union army on Tybee Island bombarded the 7-feet thick walls of the fort for 30 hours, causing the Confederates to surrender. This caused the end of masonry fortifications as we know it and allowed the invasion of the South by sea. You can still view the damaged walls today. Guided tours and musket, soldier and cannon demonstrations are available every day. Also, be sure to check for special events. “Confederate Sundays” offer tours of the “Immortal 600” Prison. There are rumors that the spirits of soldiers and prisoners still stand at attention to sharp-eyed visitors. You will find yourself immersed in enlightening and often haunting history.
Perhaps nothing elicits this feeling like viewing the Cockspur Island lighthouse, located just off of the fort. This tiny white tower is like the “little lighthouse that could.” It rests on an islet, usually covered by high tide, giving the illusion that it merely floats on the water. Actually, it sits on oyster shells and marsh grass. Although barely surviving hurricanes before the Civil War, it managed to withstand the bombardment of Fort Pulaski although it was directly in the line of fire. Retired in 1909, the lighthouse was recently relit in 2007. It is certainly a beacon of hope to behold.
No matter when you decide to visit Tybee Island, the time is always right. Check the calendar to make sure you aren’t missing out on one of the island’s many events, such as the famous Memorial Day weekend Beach Bum Parade, Mardi Gras Tybee, St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July Fireworks at the Pier, Labor Day Bash, Pirate Fest or the multitude of kayak and catamaran races, tournaments and beach 5K races.
One visit will be all it will take to dust some of the island’s sand into your soul. Tybee Island is just that kind of paradise.
She is a delicate, open city, a coy lady of the South filled with a myriad of secrets she is just waiting for you to discover. She is always open to visitors and her scenery is beautiful year round. She has aged gracefully but continues to grow and change, always enchantingly unpredictable.
Her name is Savannah.
At the mention of the name, slow jazz and keepsakes of Johnny Mercer float across the mind. Spanish moss and statues decorate the historic limits, cloaking and simultaneously heightening the mystery. Tourists flock from all over the world to embrace the Southern charm, the steeping significance of heritage and the famous cuisine. They come hoping to capture the enigmatic spirit of the South. But Savannah doesn’t travel home with you on a commemorative plate or in a snow globe; you’ll never forget the name or what it can mean to a person. Its silent grace and haunting history brim with untold stories that lace and entangle about the heart like iron latticework. There is no place like it.
Savannah is filled with enticing events all year round and coupled with its location nestled along the Georgia Coast, it makes for a lovely escape. Whether you decide to make your visit for a weekend or for the whole of Spring Break, there is something for everyone to explore within the self-proclaimed “hostess city of the South.”
Savannah, along with the state of Georgia, recently celebrated its 276th anniversary since being founded by James Oglethorpe on February 12, 1733. The original site where Oglethorpe and his men pitched their tents became the Trustee’s Garden, the first experimental garden in America. This location is now home to the Market at Trustee’s Garden. Launched in August 2008, this market has become a place where organic farmers, local restaurants and artists showcase their wares. Regional music and activities are showcased right alongside the green education movement sweeping through Savannah, a sign of the changes the city has accepted so willingly.
The city is also home to many festivals. If you have the opportunity, join the city as they host their 185th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Events leading up to the parade begin mid-February, but the real fun begins in March. Irish heritage events, the “greening” of the Forsyth Park fountain and musical events culminate for the second largest St.
Patrick’s Day parade in the country. The day after this holiday, the Savannah Music Festival begins, running through April 5th. This festival presents the arts while stimulating music education and produces over 100 programs all over the city. A worldwide focus of 400 artists congregate in the small historical city to promote a love of all the arts. This year is sure to feature a wide range, from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to Bonnie Raitt.
If you would like to take your own tour of the city, it is easy to do and very enjoyable within scenic Savannah. Whether by walking or taking one of the Old Savannah Trolley Tours, you are sure to discover the magic within the coastal atmosphere. The historic district, which comprises much of the city, includes 24 squares that were planned out by the original founders. This places Savannah in a grid, which is easy to navigate. Each square of this grid is unique in its features. Johnson Square, the largest, is home to a formal fountain and numerous monuments. Chippewa Square is the famous site of the bench used in Forrest Gump. Monterey Square sits before the imposing structure of the Mercer-Williams house, where the truthful account of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil took place. If you want a grand overview, take a trolley tour. A tour of homes is also available, where you can learn of famous Savannah residents like Juliette Gordon Lowe (founder of the Girl Scouts) and singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer. At night, there are always the ghost tours, where you can hope to spot one of Savannah’s many spirits. Then, supplement it by taking your time to walk through the cobblestone streets and discover the eccentricities of history. Savannah is notorious for its hidden gardens, priceless gray brick, tabby homes and roads (a mixture of limestone, sand, water and shells), obscure monuments and over eight styles of architecture, as well as various shopping districts and fantastic array of restaurants. From several viewpoints within the historic district, be sure to look for the real gold dome of Savannah City Hall as it gleams in the afternoon sun.
A unique and rather direct way of stepping back in time is walking through one of Savannah’s historic cemeteries. Bonaventure, famous for once being home to the “Bird Girl” statue of Midnight fame, is filled with unique statuary, stained-glass mausoleums and the most famous former residents of Savannah. Its 160-acre spot on the scenic bluff of the Wilmington River is just outside of downtown Savannah and a fascinating place with a past all its own. Colonial Park Cemetery, right in the heart of downtown, is the earliest cemetery. It is named as a patriotic resting place for the original colonials, which has been closed for burial since 1853. When Union troops were staying in Savannah during the Civil War, they tampered with dates on the headstones, causing some people to have died before they were born or live to the age of 1700. These headstones are just one unique facet of the old cemetery, which is a quiet place to visit during the day as the rest of the city fills with tourists. This is the real history of Savannah, as well as the South. These are the people, the names, on which we have built our lives. It is a respectful way to revisit the past and learn something about yourself.
As the oldest city in Georgia, Savannah is home to many firsts, and at this point in time, last remains. The First African Baptist Church is the oldest black congregation in America, while Temple Mickve Israel is the third oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S. Minutes away from downtown and across a short bridge is the Isle of Hope neighborhood, home to Wormsloe State Park. It is one of the only remaining old plantation sites in the state. Live oaks line a country lane that takes you to the original site of the grand home and the entrance alone is worth any small admission fee. Traveling this canopied boulevard seems to say, “Welcome home.” If you want to learn more about the Civil War, visit old Fort Jackson, or if art is more your style, take a tour of the Telfair Museum of Art, the south’s first public art museum. Or if you would rather enjoy the fresh air, stroll through Forsyth Park. There are many monuments, the grand fountain and even tennis and basketball courts and playgrounds. The fountain is similar to one at the Place de la Concorde in France and was meant to showcase Savannah’s prosperity in 1858.
If you’re lucky, you might even come across Uga VII being walked by a member of the Seiler family. Savannah has been home to Uga since the Seiler family began breeding the bulldogs in 1956. Sonny Seiler, a University of Georgia Law alum and defense attorney for Jim Williams and his murder trial, still lives and practices in Savannah. The case, which became the subject of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, put Savannah on the map. Seiler even participated in the film version of the best-selling novel, portraying the judge. When visiting Savannah, just ask residents about “The Book.”
A trip to Savannah would not be complete without visiting River Street. This famous walk along the busy port is filled with restaurants and shops that deal in fashion, souvenirs, antiques, books, collectibles and sweets. Art galleries also dot the street and several include sculptures in various sizes of the “Bird Girl” statue. You can walk down the street and watch container ships go by against the backdrop of the Tallmadge Memorial Bridge as a street musician blasts jazzy notes from a saxophone. Grab a cone of your favorite flavor of ice cream from a vendor as you admire the statue of Savannah’s Waving Girl, Florence Martus, who welcomed ships for over forty years. Take a one-hour cruise up and down the river on one of Savannah’s riverboats. The Savannah River House Restaurant and Bakery is wonderful for lunch or dinner on River Street. Be sure to enjoy their fresh seafood entrees and famous praline cheesecake and pay a visit to the John Stobart room, which houses historical paintings of the Savannah River. River Street Sweets is a nice place to enjoy a snack. Truly, there is nothing like munching on a fresh, warm praline sample as the brown sugar and pecans crumble in your mouth.
In addition to River Street are Factor’s Walk, Broughton Street and City Market. Factor’s Walk, which is just behind River Street, is the site of the old Savannah Cotton Exchange. During the Antebellum period, this is where the price of cotton was set for the entire world. Now, it is home to intriguing antique and collector’s shops. City Market, located in the central part of the city, was once considered the “social and commercial center of life,” according to its history. Still enchanting, City Market has been converted into a pedestrian mall of unique shops and restaurants that fulfill the original purpose. Broughton Street has been newly restored and boasts the most eclectic collection of shops. Here, you can find one of the only Marc by Marc Jacobs boutiques in the world (the other is in France) alongside the Savannah Bee Company’s Flagship store, the Honey House, complete with a honey tasting bar. And while you’re walking through the downtown area, look for Shop SCAD, a gallery store featuring the artwork and designs of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s students, faculty, staff and alumni. This is truly the most unique place to find a priceless souvenir.
Between these shopping districts are some of Savannah’s most famous restaurants. Paula Deen’s The Lady and Son’s Restaurant is filled with fabulous southern home cooking, especially the open buffet of fried chicken, the Lady’s Mac and Cheese, southern vegetables and divine gooey butter cake. People line up daily outside of the restaurant, so be sure to go early. If you’re looking for a fancy evening, the Olde Pink House is classy place to try fresh-caught seafood and maybe catch a glimpse of James Habersham’s ghost. But if you have the chance, stop by the Pirate’s House. Originally built as an inn for pirates and sailors in 1753, the location (by the Trustee’s Garden) is now a Savannah staple for history, haunts and honey pecan chicken. Stories abound of a tunnel beneath the Captain’s Dining Room where ship captains would shanghai unsuspecting sailors for their voyages. The dining room is also rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of pirates. The restaurant houses a rare copy of Treasure Island, which details much of early Savannah within its pages. Here, you learn that parchment-colored bones of the beautiful and the damned lay tragic in their barricades of cobblestone beneath the city streets. The bones may have been forgotten, have never spoken, but here their spirits are very much alive. There is no place more historical than the Pirate’s House and even if you don’t have a chance to try the award-winning food, drop in to soak up the atmosphere. You will never forget it.
This is just a glimpse of Savannah. The city in its entirety is truly breathtaking. One visit will probably not be enough to satisfy your entire curiosity because the city is more mysterious once you have been there. Luckily, there is enough to entertain many return trips, because Savannah will wend its way into your soul.
Next week, Georgia Days will cross the Island Causeway to visit Savannah Beach, now known as Tybee Island.
The day is a rare one for February in Georgia, a sunny Saturday meant to reach the soft warmth of 70 degrees to the tune of a balmy, spring wind.
Unfortunately, most of the time we glance out of our windows and see the gray of late winter. The only changes are wind and rain, but almost always gray. Such indoor days, and especially those rare glimpses of spring, make me crave summer.
Wistful for summer, I open the freezer in my apartment and reach for a jar of homemade tomato sauce. I unscrew the Mason jar lid and pop the red sauce in the microwave. It is enjoyed on pizza, a plate of pasta or on the side of a Stromboli. But as soon as the smell of crushed homegrown tomatoes and herbs from the garden hit my nose, I’m home and it is summer.
After a long, lazy breakfast, I begin the mornings of June, July and August by striding out in the hot sun with a giant silver bucket in hand. Methodically, I work through each tomato plant, picking the ones that are ready to leave the vine and filling the bucket. This is my job, to pick the rich fruit before it becomes a food source for the pesky squirrels. Green bell peppers and red chili peppers are also among the bucket’s bounty. The top of the bucket is occasionally scattered with mint leaves, thyme, cilantro, basil, parsley, rosemary and sage. Our kitchen counters become lined with ripe, red Better Boy tomatoes.
The ritual begins every summer. Between late July and early August, depending on when the finicky tomatoes become ripe in tandem and in bulk, we reserve a whole day to make the sauce. Pots line the stove as tomatoes are peeled and ingredients meticulously chopped. Each pot has its own unique flavor and we spend much of the day trying to create an overall texture. Later on, we may not be able to taste the difference, but having our senses filled to the brim with warm, simmering tomatoes and garlic, each slight difference stands out boldly. By late evening, we have emptied the counters of tomatoes and lined them once more with jars of steaming sauce. Their loosely placed lids pop all night long, echoing from the kitchen throughout the house. It smells like rustic red sauce for days. Once the jars are ready the next day, we place the year’s worth of sauce in the freezer. For me, the frozen jars are a move-in mainstay during August.
All of this returns to me in the simple act of opening a jar. Its sweetness comes from sugar, tomatoes and summer, its bite from garlic, peppers and herbs. You can find an entire world of flavor in one taste, the southern summer of my backyard in the whole jar. You can even taste the exact moment the leaves of the herbs broke open—the jar is a time capsule similar to Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. My friends delight in the mystery as they come over to share in some homemade pizza or freshly baked Stromboli. They, too, feel as though they have come home and it brings all of us back to a simpler time when the sun is warm and the languorous evenings end with good food and soothing music on the back porch.
Fortunately, true summer will be here soon. For now, there is the memory.
As you pass through the gates of Stone Mountain Park, you cross the bridge with a clear view of the dancing water beneath and the sight of the mountain evokes an enveloping sense of tranquility.
If you haven’t visited the park in a long time, or ever before, make your first visit for 2009 in early spring. Go when the green in everything is starting to wake up. A clear day, a nice breeze, a relentless yet warm sun and a few pralines from the gift shop are all you need. These are the makings of a perfect day at the park. Start the day early and plan on making a day of it. Afterwards, you will feel like “Mr. Blue Sky.” You won’t regret the visit you didn’t know you needed.
At some point in the day make your way to the top of the mountain. Whether by the Summit Skyride that offers you a close look at the granite carving or your own strenuous hike up the walk-up trail, find yourself at the pinnacle of the park. Take the essentials only—snacks, a nice book and mainstay music are recommended. A friend is also wonderful. Find your own space and rather than just glancing about and snapping a few pictures, sit down. You can find your own special shady spot beneath the branches of a sparse pine or lie right on top and feel the sun warm you and the rock at the same time.
View the breathtaking panorama of Georgia: the scenic Atlanta skyline, Kennesaw Mountain 28 miles away and on a clear day, some of the Appalachian Mountains. Notice the sky right above as the spectrum of blue shifts according to the time of day. Observe the very surface of the mountain itself, but avoid stepping in the rainwater pools that have eroded a puddle-shaped well in the rock. They are home to clam shrimp that last as long as the water and then die when it dries up, only to return almost miraculously from the eggs they leave behind. Try reclining on your side and taking in the sky and the mountain simultaneously. You will find your own stability in the fact that the world truly looks round from this view.
There are of course many other sensations to discover within the expansive park. If you’re interested in taking a trip to the past, make a self-guided tour of the authentic Antebellum Plantation, which is made up of original Georgia structures built between 1783 and 1875, meticulously moved and restored to a beautiful condition. Memorial Hall, which rests at the top of Memorial Lawn, is also filled with facts about Stone Mountain’s long history and timely exhibits that convey the impact of the Civil War. Confederate Hall, at the base of the mountain’s walk-up trail, contains a more scientific and archeological look at the formation of the mountain, as well as a kitschy souvenir museum that looks at the history of the park’s advertising. The antique car and treasure museum is filled with antique automobiles, jukeboxes, toys and bicycles from a cherished past.
In my experience, these attractions provide a wonderful look at the history so many crave when they visit. But if you want the true story, guide yourself through the park. Take a picnic and visit the Grist Mill, a century-old mill moved from Ellijay, or travel the boards of the Covered Bridge to snack by the 363-acre lake. Fishing is also an enjoyable pastime. The marina isn’t far from these scenic points, where, during the right season, you can rent a pedal boat and spin around the lake or take a ride on the Paddlewheel Riverboat. There is also a pleasant trail that encircles part of the lake and delivers you to the Carillon, where daily concerts resound from the 732 bells that were exhibited at the 1964 World’s Fair. The tinkling sound is both cheerful and haunting and can be heard from all across the park. A quarry exhibit, a songbird habitat and nature trails dot the beautiful 3,200 acres. Nothing compares to walking the park and absorbing the entire natural splendor. If you’re feeling a bit tired after taking in all of the sun and history, have a seat on the Scenic Railroad and enjoy the 5-mile open-air ride that is sure to make you smile.
Crossroads represents a late 1800’s southern town filled with food, shopping and fun attractions for the whole family. You can grab a bite to eat here and snap up a souvenir before you spread a blanket on Memorial Lawn. Take some time to appreciate the carving of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson astride their horses on the face of the mountain. This is truly the best way to view the memorial, spread out before the magnificence as a reflecting pool bubbles softly at the base.
The park is also full of seasonal delights. In the spring and summer, the nightly lasershow spectacular pulls your attention upward as flashing animation spills across the surface of the mountain. In the fall, the Yellow Daisy Festival celebrates the blooming of this rare flower while presenting one of the most popular craft fairs in the southeast. And during the holidays, be sure to visit the festively decorated Crossroads for a true small town Christmas experience.
Maybe it is just the cloak of history surrounding the mountain. Perhaps it is the carved figures stately embedded within the granite forever, looking off into a distance that we cannot see. Or possibly it is the fact that I grew up visiting Stone Mountain. I cherish it. Some of my fondest and funniest recollections are there, buried amongst the granite and the grass of lush Memorial lawn. At the park, I can walk around the base of the mountain, enjoy a candy bar in the cool museum on a hot day, or have some peaceful reflection sitting by the lake listening to the Carillon. Every time I go it is different, some part unseen or appreciated in a new light.
Stone Mountain Park is not just a destination, but also a retreat for the senses. The slowly eroding figures will always remain, looking to the sun rising and falling every day, the breathing of Georgia.
To plan your own perfect day at the park, be sure to explore all of the possibilities.