Destinations

Georgia All Over

Touring the sensory experiences of a state that refuses to be neatly categorized.

Wormsloe State Historic Site in Savannah is likely the city’s most iconic spot. It’s home to a dusty path lined by two rows of doleful oak trees.
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WHAT MOST EMBODIES the soul of Georgia? The peach state, America’s eighth most populous, is a slippery and ever-changing marvel, like a seashell that shifts and shimmers in your hand as the light hits it from different angles. One moment it sparkles with lightness and shine, the next it reveals something more soulful and complex. Even lifelong residents will tell you that they’ll never fully comprehend all of Georgia’s secrets, but they’ll still try.

As I spent a week driving across the state this summer, I was struck by the sensory experience: the green-yellow smudge of trees atop Georgia’s famous red soil, the way the muggy air clung to my skin, the earthy aroma, and the shrill cry of katydids providing June’s soundtrack.

The crossroads of American culture all seem to intersect in Georgia — both a microcosm of the country and a reflection of it. Trilith Studios, which produces the wildly popular Marvel franchises, is based there (right outside the city, in Fayetteville), as is Tyler Perry’s cinematic empire, which creates joyful, raucous entertainment centered on the Black American experience. A forthcoming book, “Rap Capital: An Atlanta Story,” by New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli, charts the way the state’s largest city has defined the modern sound of the U.S., from Gucci Mane and André 3000, through to Lil Yachty and Young Thug. Additionally, Georgia’s political identity is increasingly fluid, helping lead important policy conversations at a time when we, as Americans, are deeply reconsidering who exactly we are and what we stand for.

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In Atlanta, every person I spoke to had a different highlight to recommend. Over and over they mentioned the BeltLine, a 22-mile path that winds its way around and throughout the city, welcoming cyclists, joggers, skateboarders, and those looking for respite from the city within its own limits. There is the childhood home of the foremost son of Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr., and a short walk away, Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was co-pastor for a time. At the somber King Center, roses lay mournfully at the tombs of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, which rest within a lovely murmuring fountain.

In a city of contrasts, the old and new coexist with ease. Downtown there’s the Brutalist Central Library, the final design from famed architect Marcel Breuer, a formidable concrete block with a few windows piercing its stark facade. Not far is the Ritz-Carlton, with its terrace dining and ornate, throwback lobby that hosts a rollicking after-work scene. The avant-garde shop ANT/DOTE, in Berkley Park, specializes in outré designs from brands like Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, and Y/Project. “There was a time when I thought Atlanta was maybe behind,” says owner Lauren Amos. “But now I’ve realized we’re on our own journey. We just want to be ourselves, whatever that looks like.” In contrast, Sid Mashburn, a stone’s throw away, features more traditional attire — trim sports coats, lightweight shirting, loafers — in a space outfitted with lovingly worn furniture, Moroccan rugs, taxidermy heads, and beat-up old books. On a recent afternoon, the namesake owner knew every customer passing through.

While Georgia is steeped in history, it also welcomes fresh points of view. At Le Bon Nosh, a recently opened all-day cafe, wine bar, and restaurant in Atlanta’s Buckhead district, founder Forough Vakili, an Iranian immigrant, offers simple, seasonal meals in chic, Euro-inspired environs. The cheery lunch buffet at vegetable-forward Chai Pani, in the vibrant Decatur neighborhood, offers up a contemporary twist on traditional Indian street food. My plate was stacked with a bounty of colors, textures, and tastes: creamy saag paneer, crispy kale fritters, dense fried potato patties topped with sweet, tangy chutneys, and doughy fried milk dumplings glistening in a honeyed saffron-rose syrup. “There’s not the pressure of bigger cities, and you can take risks,” says Sahar Siddiqi, the chef de cuisine. “You see a lot more women and women of color opening businesses here because of that.” In that regard, Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market are both home to varied food hall concepts with a range of vendors from different backgrounds.

Savannah, meanwhile, revels in its quirky, outsider status — nostalgia mixed with eccentricity. Founded in 1733 and now home to Savannah College of Art and Design, it’s bursting with history and plays host to a vibrant arts scene, exemplified by galleries like Roots Up and Grand Bohemian. Meanwhile, its cluttered antique shops are a dream for scavengers of vintage ephemera, from home decor to clothing. Picker Joe’s Antique Mall & Vintage Market is the ultimate go-to, a sprawling, well-known bazaar of ever-changing furniture and doodads spread across a whopping 10,000 square feet.

The Grey Market, styled after an old-timey greasy spoon, is complete with a diner counter that looks onto the kitchen. Run by 2022 James Beard Award winner Mashama Bailey, it leans heavily on Southern-inspired dishes and menu highlights include a fried chicken sandwich, hash and eggs, grits and braised greens, and a catfish loaf. Across town is a rare gem — the mushroom-forward vegan restaurant The Haunt. On a recent afternoon, the owner also played server, excitedly telling customers about his recent foraging journeys nearby, and showing his fungi-filled jars as proof.


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In town, there are ghost tours that clog the streets at dusk. (I took a walking one with Ghost City Tours, but Hearse Ghost Tours and Grave Encounters Trolley Tours are also recommended.) They are a wonderful excuse to meander around Savannah’s numerous tree-and-grass-filled plazas, and stroll by iconic spots like Leopold’s Ice Cream or the faded tombstones at Colonial Park Cemetery, best seen as the crepuscular light casts them in eerie shadows. And while there are many hotels, from the sleek to the old-fashioned, the Perry Lane Hotel offers just the right mix of quirky kitsch and contemporary panache.

Only 20 minutes away from downtown Savannah, Tybee Island feels a world apart. It offers all the allure of a small, beachside town, including dolphin tours, private sailing charters, nostalgic ice-cream stands like The Sugar Shack, and kooky painted crab shacks. There are no chain hotels here, just originals like the Royal Palms Motel.

For a more remote Georgia treasure, Cumberland Island is so removed that you actually have to dip into Florida to get there. After an hour-long ride on a small ferry, you disembark on a magical islet edged in by sandy dunes and lush, maritime forests. It’s known as the Carnegie family’s former winter home and the place where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in a ramshackle church. The ruins of the former Carnegie estate, Dungeness, are a crumbling relic of the past. Today it’s a dilapidated pile of bricks crawling with local fauna that is, at turns, evocative and atmospheric, a half-glimpse of a steel baron’s glory and subsequent decay. It’s especially beguiling when, as I saw on a recent summer day, bands of wild horses graze on its unkempt lawn.

Unless roughing it on campgrounds is your thing, there’s only one place for visitors to stay here — the stately, winsome Greyfield Inn. Built in 1900 as a wedding gift from Thomas and Lucy Carnegie to their daughter, the 15-room mansion offers a glimpse into the forgotten past. Sitting rooms outfitted with regal family paintings, a bar run on an “honest John” policy, a swoony porch with rocking chairs and swings, and a perfectly threadbare and dusty library all add to its jewel-box charms. They are extended to all aspects of your trip: the elegantly traditional wallpaper, the red-and-white-checkered picnic baskets that house your lunch, the bell that calls you in for supper, and the dress-up cocktail hour before dinner, much of which comes from the garden within spitting distance. To say it’s enchanting is a serious understatement.

But that could be said for much of Georgia, in all its folksy, funky contradictions. Is there any place better than Georgia to encompass all of what America stands for right now — its promises and its frustrations, its glories and regrets? You’d be hard-pressed to find one.

Where to Eat, Stay, and Explore in Georgia

Excursions

  • Tybee Island

    Offers all the allure of a small, beachside town, including dolphin tours, private sailing charters, and kooky painted crab shacks.

  • Ghost City Tours

    A wonderful excuse to meander around Savannah’s numerous tree-and-grass-filled plazas.

  • Cumberland Island

    Known as the Carnegie family’s former winter home and the place where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in a ramshackle church.

  • BeltLine

    A 22-mile path that winds its way around and throughout the city, welcoming cyclists, joggers, skateboarders, and those looking for respite from the city within its own limits.

  • Colonial Park Cemetery

    Best seen as the crepuscular light casts the faded tombstones in eerie shadows.

  • Dungeness

    The ruins of the former Carnegie estate on Cumberland Island.

  • Tybee Island

    Offers all the allure of a small, beachside town, including dolphin tours, private sailing charters, and kooky painted crab shacks.

  • BeltLine

    A 22-mile path that winds its way around and throughout the city, welcoming cyclists, joggers, skateboarders, and those looking for respite from the city within its own limits.

  • Ghost City Tours

    A wonderful excuse to meander around Savannah’s numerous tree-and-grass-filled plazas.

  • Colonial Park Cemetery

    Best seen as the crepuscular light casts the faded tombstones in eerie shadows.

  • Cumberland Island

    Known as the Carnegie family’s former winter home and the place where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in a ramshackle church.

  • Dungeness

    The ruins of the former Carnegie estate on Cumberland Island.

Food and Drinks

  • Le Bon Nosh

    A recently opened all-day cafe, wine bar, and restaurant in Atlanta’s Buckhead district, where founder Forough Vakili, an Iranian immigrant, offers simple, seasonal meals in chic, Euro-inspired environs.

  • The Grey Market

    Styled after an old-timey greasy spoon, complete with a diner counter that looks onto the kitchen.

  • Leopold’s Ice Cream

    An iconic ice cream spot.

  • Le Bon Nosh

    A recently opened all-day cafe, wine bar, and restaurant in Atlanta’s Buckhead district, where founder Forough Vakili, an Iranian immigrant, offers simple, seasonal meals in chic, Euro-inspired environs.

  • Chai Pani

    Offers up a contemporary twist on traditional Indian street food.

  • The Grey Market

    Styled after an old-timey greasy spoon, complete with a diner counter that looks onto the kitchen.

  • The Haunt

    A mushroom-forward vegan restaurant.

  • Leopold’s Ice Cream

    An iconic ice cream spot.

  • The Sugar Shack

    Nostalgic ice-cream stand.

Shopping and Style

  • ANT/DOTE

    Specializes in outré designs from brands like Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, and Y/Project.

  • Picker Joe’s Antique Mall

    A sprawling, well-known bazaar of ever-changing furniture and doodads spread across a whopping 10,000 square feet.

  • Sid Mashburn

    Features more traditional attire — trim sports coats, lightweight shirting, loafers — in a space outfitted with lovingly worn furniture, Moroccan rugs, taxidermy heads, and beat-up old books.

  • ANT/DOTE

    Specializes in outré designs from brands like Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, and Y/Project.

  • Sid Mashburn

    Features more traditional attire — trim sports coats, lightweight shirting, loafers — in a space outfitted with lovingly worn furniture, Moroccan rugs, taxidermy heads, and beat-up old books.

  • Picker Joe’s Antique Mall

    A sprawling, well-known bazaar of ever-changing furniture and doodads spread across a whopping 10,000 square feet.

Places to Stay

  • Ritz-Carlton

    Features terrace dining and an ornate, throwback lobby that hosts a rollicking after-work scene.

  • Royal Palms Motel

    On Tybee Island, where there are no chain hotels — just originals.

  • Perry Lane

    Offers just the right mix of quirky kitsch and contemporary panache.

  • Greyfield Inn

    The 15-room mansion on Cumberland Island, the only hotel there, offers a glimpse into the forgotten past.

  • Ritz-Carlton

    Features terrace dining and an ornate, throwback lobby that hosts a rollicking after-work scene.

  • Perry Lane

    Offers just the right mix of quirky kitsch and contemporary panache.

  • Royal Palms Motel

    On Tybee Island, where there are no chain hotels — just originals.

  • Greyfield Inn

    The 15-room mansion on Cumberland Island, the only hotel there, offers a glimpse into the forgotten past.

Arts and Culture

  • Trilith Studios

    Where the wildly popular Marvel franchises are produced.

  • Atlanta Central Library

    The final design from famed architect Marcel Breuer, a formidable concrete block with a few windows piercing its stark facade.

  • The King Center

    Here, roses lay mournfully at the tombs of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, which rest within a lovely murmuring fountain.

  • Roots Up

    A gallery in Savannah’s vibrant arts scene.

  • Trilith Studios

    Where the wildly popular Marvel franchises are produced.

  • The King Center

    Here, roses lay mournfully at the tombs of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, which rest within a lovely murmuring fountain.

  • Atlanta Central Library

    The final design from famed architect Marcel Breuer, a formidable concrete block with a few windows piercing its stark facade.

  • Roots Up

    A gallery in Savannah’s vibrant arts scene.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Max Berlinger Writer

Max Berlinger is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for GQ, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Pursuits, Men’s Health, and many other publications. He covers the intersection of fashion, lifestyle, culture, and technology.

Bryan Derballa Photographer

Bryan Derballa is a New York–based photographer with experience shooting a wide variety of work, from documentary to portraiture to fashion, for numerous newspapers, magazines, and commercial clients.

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