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Atlanta is a vibrant city with enough good eats, entertainment, and art to keep its residents endlessly entertained. Nonetheless, it’s also a gateway to exploring the south. Living in Atlanta puts you within a short drive of Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Whether you’re relatively new to Atlanta or grew up in Georgia, there are so many small artistic hubs, mountain towns, and lakeside enclaves to explore nearby. Here, our favorite weekend trips from Atlanta:
Home to Lake Oconee and centuries of history—the town was founded in 1786—Greensboro is a perfect weekend trip from Atlanta. It’s equidistant from Augusta and Atlanta, with plenty of antique shopping (try Greensboro Antique Mall and Genuine Georgia Artisan Marketplace) and small town charm. Stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Oconee, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts partner, which just unveiled a multi-million dollar renovation that includes a revamp of guestrooms, suites, and the Lake House Cottages, as well as brand-new pool facilities. When you’re not on property, working with the concierge to rent a boat or playing on one of the five stunning golf courses, check out the historical sights of Greensboro, like the Old Gaol jailhouse. While poking around downtown, be sure to pop in to the Ripe Thing Market for some fresh fruit or an ice cream cone, and try the classically southern fare at Holcomb’s Bar-B-Que. For dinner, head back to The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Oconee, where you can arrive by boat to dine at Linger Longer Steakhouse, or the staff can orchestrate a Chiminea Dining experience for you and your travel partner, which happens lakeside with a personal bonfire.
Just over two hours from Atlanta, you can embrace a completely different cultural experience in Birmingham. Stay at Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, Autograph Collection, minutes away from downtown in the quaint suburb of Mountain Brook, which boasts a gorgeous rooftop garden you’ll be reluctant to leave. Alternately, stay in the heart of the city at Elyton Hotel, Autograph Collection, a boutique hotel inhabiting a beautiful building on the National Register of Historic Places. Use your Birmingham mini-break as an opportunity to get outside, wandering the Birmingham Botanical Gardens or taking a few hours to hike within Oak Mountain State Park. Families can check out the Birmingham Zoo, on 122 acres with 230 species of animals, or learn about Birmingham’s past at Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. And art lovers can revel in the wares of local creators at Birmingham Museum of Art. To make sure you experience all the flavors Birmingham has to offer, stop in for breakfast pastries at The Essential, try the southern specialities and Greek food at Johnny’s (be prepared to wait in line for your meat-and-three), and have dinner at OvenBird.
Drive two hours from Atlanta and you’ll be in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where you can stay at the stylish Moxy Chattanooga Downtown, in the heart of Southside. For the shoppers who can’t resist a local boutique, the Chattanooga River Market is the ultimate stop for artisan and handmade jewelry, art, photography, and woodwork. Or if you’re traveling with kids in tow, the newly reopened Creative Discovery Museum has exhibits perfect for introducing your little ones to STEM fields. While Chattanooga may not be a lakeside destination, there’s plenty of aquatic fun to be had on the Chattanooga River—book with Chattanooga Boat Charters to spend a day on the river, or walk along the water at Tennessee River Park. While downtown, amble over to the Arts District to experience the public art displays. Finally, revel in the Chattanooga food scene, which doesn’t get enough clout when compared to the culinary likes of Charleston, Atlanta, and Nashville. From Easy Bistro & Bar, currently reopening in Chattanooga’s West Village, to the plant-based menu at Southern Squeeze, to Alleia, by James Beard-nominated chef Daniel Lindley, you’ll eat very well in this city.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Venturing to Blue Ridge, Georgia, of course, puts you in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For those looking for a mountain escape just an hour and a half from the city, a room at Aska Lodge—where the rooms feature spacious balconies and they serve unbeatable French toast for breakfast—will surely satisfy that craving for fresh mountain air. Alternately, guests coming up from Atlanta can drive a bit further east to Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa, known for their luxe 7,500-square-foot spa, or work with Acorn & Mountain Escapes Cabin Rentals to book a chic, private cabin in the woods. Either way, this vacation is about getting on to the trails; Guests of Aska Lodge can start at the Long Branch Loop Trailhead, and aspiring thru-hikers can hop onto the Appalachian Trail for the hike to Long Creek Falls. You don’t have to be an avid hiker to enjoy Blue Ridge, though. Skip the trails in favor of a jaunt to Blue Ridge Lake or an afternoon spent apple picking at Mercier Orchards. Shop your way through the mountains on the two downtown main streets of Blue Ridge, both lined with shops selling the wares of local artists and craftsmen, or take a 26-mile train ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which explores the Chattahoochee National Forest and offers gorgeous views of the Toccoa River. In the evenings, sample some local wines and great food at Bin322 Wine Shoppe and Tapas or at Blue Ridge Cellars.
Newberry, South Carolina
Newberry is a three-hour drive from Atlanta, but you’ll feel completely transported when you arrive in this quaint and ever-inviting college town. With a downtown lined with local shops, Newberry is a perfect alternative to Charleston if you’re not looking to drive all the way to the coast. Stay at Newberry Manor, where you can book the President’s Suite, named for founder and first president of Newberry College John Bachman. Get your dose of non-city air at the Wells Japanese Garden, on a hike through Lynch’s Woods Park, or while playing a round of golf at the Country Club of Newberry. Head to downtown Newberry to shop for art and antiques at As Time Goes By and The Carpenter Gallery. And in the evening, have dinner at Figaro The Dining Room before taking in a show at Newberry Opera House Performing Arts Center.