Helen, Georgia on a Budget

Photo Credit: Sussman Imaging

Photo Credit: Sussman Imaging

Travel to Germany without leaving Georgia with a visit to Helen, White County and the Sautee and Nacoochee areas. Located about 90 minutes north of Atlanta – these areas are rich with history, culture, entertainment, food and blessed by Mother Nature. Here are the top budget-friendly must-do’s when visiting this North Georgia gem:

  1. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Helen’s downtown; then, seek out the perfect souvenirs and gifts in the hustle and bustle of Helen’s shopping street while German music adds oom pah pah from outdoor speakers.
  2. Pick up sweet treats at an authentic German bakery or candy shop.
  3. Tour the world’s largest Alpine model railroad museum at Charlemagne’s Kingdom.
  4. Come face to face with giant bears at Black Forest Bear Park; watch glass blowing at The Glassblowing Shop.
  5. Paint your own “green theme” child-safe toy at Elfmade Toys.
  6. Gain perspective as you soar to new heights with seasonal hot air balloon or helicopter rides that give a new vantage point of the surrounding beauty.
  7. Hop in the saddle with horseback riding, or take it to two wheels as you zoom up and down tree-lined paths while mountain biking.
  8. Outdoor enthusiasts can find adventures like zip lining at Nacoochee Outdoor Adventures or Sunburst Stables, just nine miles from the city center.
  9. Follow a round of adventure golf with a scoop or two of ice cream at an old-fashioned parlor.
  10. Continue family time during your mountain getaway in the foothills of the Appalachians by teaching kids about the great outdoors with seasonal programs at Unicoi State Park.

    unicoi

    Unicoi Lake. Photo Credit: Sussman Imaging

  11. Grab a snack at Fred’s Famous Peanuts, which began nearly 30 years ago as a roadside stand.
  12. Stop by the Old Sautee Store, in existence since 1872 and famous for the combination of old store museum, gourmet foods and fine jewelry.
  13. Don’t miss Loganberry Heritage Farm, an Appalachian Heritage Farm growing healthy, farm-to-table foods naturally, biologically, ecologically and sustainably on land that once provided home to the Cherokee Indians. Watch cooking demonstrations during Market Days, and sample the harvest in quick and easy recipes.
  14. At Smithgall Woods Conservation Area, where there are more than 5,500 acres of land, learning is fun for the whole family with special events like Kids Day at the Park and Junior Ranger Camp. Another can’t-miss bonding opportunity: children and their “big person” can fish in a stocked lake during Youth Fishing Days at Buck Shoals.
  15. Make your way to BabyLand General Hospital, home of the “hand-stitched to birth” soft-sculpture Original Cabbage Patch Kids, and be there when a baby arrives at this Southern-style mansion in Cleveland that sits majestically on a 100-acre spread in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains.
  16. Make mountain vacation memories while rafting, tubing and fishing the Chattahoochee River.
  17. Kayak and canoe Unicoi Lake.
  18. Bring a fly rod to reel in good times at Smithgall Woods Conservation Area, where you can fly fish on the legendary Dukes Creek trophy trout stream, or let Unicoi Outfitters guide you to prized trophy trout streams on private land.
  19. See who can slip and slide the fastest while sloshing down the slides at Helen Water Park.
  20. Recharge batteries with restorative treatments at nearby spas.
  21. Sip vino at local wineries and tasting rooms.
  22. Check out the Sautee Nacoochee Center: Visual and Performing Arts where you can take in a gallery show or live theatre performance, or the Helen Arts and Heritage Center and Unicoi State Park, with gallery showings, theatre, art and history exhibits, and Saturday evening concerts.
  23. Nearby, the only known slave cabin still existing in the Northeast Georgia mountains has recently been renovated and now joins the heritage landscape in Sautee.
  24. Explore age-old folk pottery traditions at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia, housed in a post-and-beam building. This is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to folk pottery and showcasing a 200-year tradition of men and women who shaped the earth and water of the Georgia mountains into once-essential household items now valued and collected as distinctive folk art.

    Photo Credit: Sussman Imaging

    Photo Credit: Sussman Imaging

  25. Drive Georgia’s Folk Pottery Trail for an added dose of cultural and mountain heritage.
  26. Following a day of kid-friendly fun, share a meal and memories at multi-generation-pleasing Nacoochee Grill, Nacoochee Village Tavern & Pizzeria, Old Bavarian Inn Restaurant or Unicoi Restaurant.

When you are ready to hit the hay, Helen has cabins galore, hotels with swimming pools and lodge rooms at Unicoi State Park.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Travel the World in Augusta, Georgia

An array of fall festivals brings culture to life with art, music and food

Arts in the Heart Festival (Credit to RedWolf)

Only 150 miles east of Atlanta off Interstate 20, Georgia’s second oldest and largest city, Augusta, welcomes visitors to seize the season with a frenzy of fall festivals.

A late summer “must” on the September to-do list is the Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music Southern Soul & Song bluegrass concert series Fridays beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the historic Imperial Theatre. Purchase tickets at the Imperial Theatre box office or through imperialtheatre.com. Featuring popular bluegrass artists — including Mountain Heart, The Grascals and Rodney Crowell — the series continues through February 2014. “Like” Southern Soul and Song on Facebook for updates.

Arts in the HeartFor the 33rd year in a row, the Greater Augusta Arts Council presents the Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival Sept. 20-22. Augusta’s diverse cultural heritage comes to life as the Global Food Village and Global Stage are filled with ethnic foods and artistic demonstrations from more than 30 different countries.

Connect with the unexpected through premier artistic programming in and around downtown Augusta and North Augusta, S.C., during Westobou Festival, Oct. 2-6. Embracing every artistic endeavor, Westobou showcases the best in film, music, words, dance and visual arts. Attend events like Cathead Vodka Cocktails with Filmmaker Matthew Buzzell, spend an evening with Roy Blount, Jr. at the Imperial Theater, embark on a gallery crawl or watch a screening of the “Passion of Joan of Arc” with a live score by Body/ Head at the Sacred Heart Cultural Center.

JohnnySwim2Something else to fill your Fridays: On the First Friday of each month, a family-friendly celebration is held in downtown Augusta on Artists’ Row. Galleries and studios remain open to debut new works, arts and craft vendors set up to sell their wares, and music is performed in various outdoor locations.

Through the festivities, satiate hunger pangs at more than 300 restaurants serving cuisines ranging from classic Southern treats to cutting-edge, trendy fusion dishes – all with a side of hospitality, which Augusta has been extending to visitors for decades with a grace only experienced in the South. Post-indulgence, work off calories with a stroll in the pedestrian-friendly city along the Riverwalk, a six-block brick esplanade of walking paths, gardens and the Jessye Norman Amphitheater, set against the backdrop of the Savannah River. For weekend or weeklong getaways, Augusta’s affordable lodging options range from historic inns to full-service hotels, many within walking distance of downtown and with views of the Savannah River.

Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.AugustaGA.org, 706-823-6600.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

 

Lake Lanier

Lake Lanier: Atlanta’s Hamptons with a Southern accent

sunrise cove marina background imageAs summer comes to a close, my sweet family of four found one last hurrah in Hall County, a 40-minute car ride north of Atlanta. At Lake Lanier Islands Resort, we were greeted with the expected activities – golf, swimming, tennis and spa – alongside the unexpected: zip line canopy tours, wake boarding at Wake the Lake Wakeboard Cable Park, horseback trail rides and a beach/waterpark. Recuperating from a day on the water was easy with options for accommodations that included hotel rooms, suites at Legacy Lodge & Conference Center, luxury lakeside villas, private lake houses, houseboats and rustic campsites for RVs and tents at water’s edge.

Bringing the grandparents along for our getaway made it easy to sneak off to a date night at Antebellum restaurant, which locally sources most of its menu items and serves Southern treats like a fried green tomato tower and homemade chocolate sorbet (that will haunt your dreams, by the way).

We didn’t feel guilty about indulging at mealtime because burning off calories at Energy Watersports was a blast with groovy classes like yoga boarding – a yoga class conducted on paddleboards – totally cool, right?

autographs 2All of my boys – young and old – scrambled for a chance to attend the nearby training camp for the Atlanta Falcons, located in Flowery Branch along with the team’s headquarters. Spring and summer training camps, free and open to the public, offer a chance to meet and greet the players, get autographs and watch NFL scrimmages with other teams.

While the boys played, it was time for mom to shop – and bring home a souvenir that serves a purpose from Rahab’s Rope, a local store and charity that helps girls newly rescued from the sex trade in India by giving them a home, teaching new skills and providing an education.

glamping 2On a future visit, we’re tempted to try a “glamping” vacation in an authentic Native American teepee at North Georgia Canopy Tours. Teepees include heating and air conditioning, lighting and electrical outlets. Each is custom painted with authentic Cherokee symbols, themes and patterns relating to the specific clan camping area in which it is located. For those who actually enjoy “roughing it,” North Georgia Canopy Tours also offers 15 rustic camping sites.

There is no shortage of entertainment in this must-visit destination. With an astonishing 10 marinas, the Hall County/Lake Lanier Area is also home of the Road Atlanta Motor Sports Center and point of entry to Georgia’s famed Pottery Trail. It encompasses the cities of Flowery Branch, Oakwood, Gainesville, Lula, Clermont and Buford and, in its midst, Lake Lanier Islands Resort. We can’t wait for a return visit to the area, which retains a small-town/Main Street USA feel with a lively vibe and offers world-class attractions, including the lake, North Georgia Canopy Tours and Jaemor Farms, where fresh Georgia-grown produce is available along with homemade peach and strawberry ice cream, fried fruit pies and smoked barbecue, not to mention an awesome corn maze in the fall.

For more information, contact the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.DiscoverLakeLanier.com.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Reconnect in LaGrange, Georgia

Unplug and actually have fun with your family

Find summer fun in LaGrange, Georgia – just about an hour south of Atlanta. A cool spot for entertainment on a hot summer day, the LaGrange Art Museum showcases the talents of world-renowned artists and now offers a new gallery for children which includes art hung at the eye-level of little ones as well as posted questions designed to engage kids and parents in dialogue about the masterpieces. Dedicated to the history of West Georgia, admission is also free to Legacy Museum on Main.

Pine Mountain lr

Jump right in! Families love the pool at Pine Mountain RV Resort. Credit: LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce

In search of true R&R, enroll little ones in the Bible Land Adventure summer camp at Explorations in Antiquity Center and relax while the children are in a boredom-busting and educational setting. Call 706-885-0363 to make a reservation; numbers are limited.

26,000-acre West Point Lake, Highland Marina is the go-to place for renting watercraft. Toodle along in a pontoon boat or create a splash with a wave runner. For rental pricing and details: www.HighlandMarina.com.

Tour Hills and Dales Estate, the 1916 Italian-inspired home of the Callaway family, opened to the public in 2004. Pick up the Earle the Squirrel Tour guidebook for the young ‘uns – a free activity booklet. Call 706-882-3242 for more information or check the website: www.HillsandDales.org.

4th of July

Bikes and wagons make for an adorable celebration of all things Americana at the can’t-miss July 4th LaGrange Sweet Land of Liberty Parade for Youth. Credit: LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce

When you get hangry (that’s when you’re so hungry you start to get angry), plenty of places abound to turn your mood around. Try Mighty Joe’s, where pizza by the slice or whole calzones are to die for and, for the healthier set, fresh salads are offered, too. Trammell’s Smokehouse Grille at Highland Marina offers outdoor waterside dining as well as an indoor option.

LaGrange’s downtown area is full of hidden gems like Stephens Exclusives, popular with teenage girls and the old-school army and sports supply store, Edelson’s Army and Sporting Goods – for the boys. The whole family will find a souvenir worth taking home at Solomon’s Department Store where traditional style mingles with the latest in clothing and shoes.

When you go:

Camp in the comfort of air-conditioned yurts at Pine Mountain RV Resort.  The tent-like structures are affordable and several sleep a crowd of up to 12 people; pool and playground onsite.

The Baymont Inn and Suites offers comfortable, family-friendly lodging and an indoor pool.

Sleep at the Best Western PLUS LaFayette Garden Inn and Conference Center and spend days perfecting your tan, lounging by the best outdoor pool in the area.

LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, www.LagrangeChamber.com, 706-884-8671.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Blue Ridge: The Perfect Family Get-Away

Attention families everywhere: it’s time to trek to Blue Ridge, Georgia

View from cabin.

View from cabin.

Just under two hours north of Atlanta, my family of four savored a recent getaway at Mountain Top Cabin Rental’s Five Star View cabin, overlooking Blue Ridge Lake, in Blue Ridge, Georgia. With all the modern luxuries a family could yearn for, one look around had us wanting to extend our stay.

We fueled up at nearby Iron Bridge Cafe, a roadside restaurant along Aska Road offering views of the Toccoa River and serving lunch staples like BBQ and grilled cheese sandwiches with no-frill sides.

 

 

Gem mining at Lilly Pad.

Gem mining at Lilly Pad.

Next, it was off to The Lilly Pad, where mining for gems set us back only $15 while creating priceless memories. Onsite mini golf and fishing are unlimited.

Blue Ridge boasts miles of trails through the Aska and Benton MacKaye Trail system. Take U.S. Forestry Road 816 three miles off Highway 60 to a 260-foot suspension bridge, a “tickle-your-ears bumpy drive” (in the words of a two-year-old) that is worth the bumps, if just for the view and peaceful ripple of the Toccoa River.

Joe's BBQ

Joe’s BBQ

Evening hunger pangs were satiated at Joe’s BBQ, where a sign on the door sets the tone with instruction to ring the bell if the door is locked but Joe’s truck is out front. Fall-off-the-bone pork and chicken, coupled with sides like macaroni and cheese, mean stick to your ribs eats that can’t be beat. Joe took our order, asked about our stay, and left us feeling stuffed and like less of a tourist with his thorough welcome.

A must-experience attraction for kids and kids at heart is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which sent us choo-chooing over 26 miles of scenic countryside, most alongside the Toccoa River before laying over in McCaysville, Georgia, and then returning us to Downtown Blue Ridge. After chugga-chugging down the rails, we perused Downtown Blue Ridge boutiques.

Apple cider donuts from Mercier Orchards.

Apple cider donuts from Mercier Orchards.

Just before beginning plans for a return visit, we ended the weekend with a visit to Mercier Orchards – a chance to show the young ones where food really comes from. Check their Facebook page to find seasonal U-pick options for apples, strawberries and more.

 

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.