Weekend Itinerary: Albany with kids

By Lesli Peterson

Merry Acres Inn Pool Title

Albany, Georgia is filled with adventure for kids of all ages. Wild animals…an aquarium…historical exploration…art opportunities…and plenty of wonderful places to eat! Here is what to do with kids in Albany!


We gladly called Merry Acres Inn our home while visiting Albany last summer.  Our experience included resting in a spacious suite with hardwood floors, swimming for hours in a mineral-water pool, and dining outdoors on a true southern porch complete with ceiling fans and sweet tea.


We stopped at Albany Welcome Center to learn about the best places for us to visit on our three-day adventure this summer, but found so much more.  We were richly rewarded with a powerful history lesson; learning about Horace King, freed slave and bridge builder, was a highlight for me.  The boys also enjoyed Turtle Grove Play Park, the community-built playground out back.

We walked to Flint River for breathtaking views of the powerful waterway that wreaked havoc on Albany not too long ago.  The city is recovering beautifully, though, and leveraging the river by creating kayak and canoe launch sites right out the back door of the Welcome Center.

Just beside the Welcome Center is RiverFront Park, where my kids splish-splashed the heat away in the Festival Spring Fountain.

Chehaw Park

Chehaw Park

There is a ton of fun and adventure for the entire family at Chehaw Park – more than we were able to do in our short visit. We played on a huge playground, petted a snake, fed a camel, rode through the safari with wild animals, and gazed at an abundance of alligators.  We didn’t even make it to the campsite, nature trails, disc golf, BMX track, bald eagle aviary, or the banks of Lake Chehaw. Whew! This “zoo” is like no other, commissioned by Jim Fowler of Wild Kingdom fame. Don’t miss it.

Flint Riverquarium was borne from the devastation of the 1994 Albany flood.  It is an opportunity for children (and adults) to discern the importance of the natural resources in the area, and the uniqueness of the Flint River watershed. We learned about Blue Holes, watched alligator feedings, peered at shark eggs, and walked with birds through the aviary. It gave our family a great appreciation for the diversity of the Flint River, on which this aquarium resides. Don’t ask the boys if it was educational, though…they only know they had a great time!

ArtPark on Pine

ArtPark on Pine

Artpark on Pine is the only open-air art community in Georgia, and one of only a few in the US.  The building was previously an old auto parts store, but stood empty for a long while.  The city turned it into a venue for local and visiting artists. My boys had a blast watching artists paint and exploring the “graffiti” on the walls and floor. I can only imagine how much more they would have liked it if I had come prepared.  Don’t forget to BYOP – Bring Your Own Paint!

Thronateeska Heritage Center is a science museum, train car display museum, and a planetarium all in one. It teaches visitors about history and exploration in the Albany area, as well as around the south. We were lucky enough to receive a guided tour through the Center. This option is available for anyone for only a nominal fee, and I highly recommend it. Without the tour, we would have enjoyed ourselves, but certainly not as much as we did.  I’m always leery about history centers with my young boys…scared that they are not yet old enough to appreciate the exhibits.  Lisa, our guide, clued right into their ages and took us on a tour that captivated the whole family.


The following restaurants were kid-friendly, with delicious eats!

Blackbeards. Seafood and BBQ, with a cornucopia of options, and large servings.

Manor House Pub. Located at Merry Acres Inn. Outdoor dining options make this fun for the family.

Pearly’s Famous Country Cooking. Perfect for breakfast. Kids will love the French toast sticks.

Cookie Shoppe. The pimento cheese is perfect, and the fresh-from-the-oven cookies will make a sweet-tooth out of anyone.

Harvest Moon. The pizza sounded amazing, but the His and Her Salads with blackened grouper will bogle your taste-buds. Heaven.

LesliLesli is the Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.



A Nature Lovers Paradise on Little St. Simon’s Island

 By Sue Rodman

Photo courtesy of Little St. Simon’s Island

Photo courtesy of Little St. Simon’s Island

Although it was only May, the white Christmas lights sparkled as we bumped down the deserted sand road toward the beach. As we got closer, we realized those weren’t lights, but fireflies.

The Lodge at Little St. Simons Island

The Lodge at Little St. Simon’s Island is a short 10-minute boat ride from the mainland, but it feels worlds away. Since there are only 30 guests at a time at the Lodge, it’s easy to explore the 10,000-acre barrier island with seven miles of beach and 20 miles of wilderness trails without ever seeing another human. You will see lots of other inhabitants though. My boys were especially interested in the armadillos that burrowed under the boardwalk. The alligator resting next to the dock as we crabbed was a little unnerving, but well behaved.  If you prefer a guided tour, on-site naturalists lead adventures for every interest.

Meals at the Lodge at Little St. Simon’s Island

The Lodge at Little St. Simon’s Island is truly an all-inclusive experience. Three gourmet meals a day prepared with ingredients from the on-site garden are delicious and if you’d rather not stop to sit down, staff will prepare a picnic lunch large enough to share. Cocktail hour brings everyone together and a grab as you wish cooler is always full.

Now is a great time to visit Little St. Simon’s Island and Explore Georgia has several packages available. The Captain Gabby kayaking adventure sounds very intriguing.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.


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Spend a Not-So-Chilly Day Outdoors at Snow Mountain

By Candy Cook


What’s on every kid’s mind all winter long? A snow day! Snow is a great incentive to get everybody active outdoors, and at Snow Mountain we can enjoy all the benefits of snow without the snowy weather! Just outside of Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park‘s memorial lawn is transformed into a snow-covered winter wonderland every weekend until February 22.

We headed to Snow Mountain on a sunny Saturday in January for some frosty fun. Excitedly, we all piled into the family tube and zoomed down the 400-foot hill before returning to the top to race each other down on solo tubes. I’m happy to report that the boys preferred the family flying down the hill together, because they are growing up so fast. It’s nice to know there are still some things my pre-teens love to do as a family.

After tubing, we entered the Snow Zone! I can honestly say that I’ve never seen the boys so excited to play in the snow. With the help of other families and children, several igloos and some snowmen were constructed. The boys had a blast throwing snowballs at targets in the shadow of Stone Mountain.

Get outside this weekend with a fun sunny snow day at Stone Mountain Park. Oh, and if you need a quick warm up, grab a mug of hot chocolate. That really hit the spot!

Guide to Dining in Alpharetta

Pure Taqueria. Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB

Pure Taqueria. Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB

Shocking to my fellow friends – mostly the ones who are living up the singles scene in the city or maintaining their hipster vibe sans minivan, the suburbs are happening, too, when it comes to the foodie scene. Nearby, Alpharetta, easily accessible, just north of Atlanta and in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, along Georgia 400, the state’s “Hospitality Highway,” is undeniably suburban, but with 175 dining options, this locale makes for one mean menu.

Pared down, here are five picks for a palate pleasing meal, whether the suburbs scare you – or a Suburban is the only way to lug your crew around.

  1. For local flavor, South Main Kitchen, located in the heart of Alpharetta’s Historic Downtown District, offers a fresh and unique kitchen-inspired dining experience that is distinctly ingredient driven. The restaurant, housed in a historic building built in 1902, features an open kitchen, inviting dining room, communal seating and rooftop bar and, under the direction of executive chef Christy Stone, focuses on the social aspect of dining and the true artistry of food with farm-to-table flair and a frequently changing menu. An extensive beer menu complements taste bud ticklers like edamame with mint fleur de sel and unique twists on classic southern ingredients like boiled peanut hummus with blackberry jam, fig compote, brie and goat cheese. It’s even rumored the Brussels sprouts here are above all else.
  2. Smokejack BBQ. Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB.

    Smokejack BBQ. Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB.

    Another locally-owned and operated Alpharetta restaurant to add to the tasting menu: Smokejack Southern Grill and BBQ, serving smoked, hand-pulled pork, moist tender ribs, signature beef burnt ends…is your mouth watering yet?

  3. Whipping up winning eateries, the Sedgwick Restaurant Group has several players on the Alpharetta scene including the escape-from-the-normal Vinny’s on Windward where menu highlights include risotto, gnocchi and tiramisu, transporting guests straight to Italy.
  4. Another Sedgwick spawn, Pure taqueria, offers authentic Mexican cuisine – think corn, seafood and slaw – as well as killer margaritas. Chris Sedgwick, long time Alpharetta resident and successful Atlanta restaurateur, was looking for a new way to express his style and his love of food when he opened the original PURE taqueria at the site of an abandoned 1920’s era Pure Fuel Oil station. The small stone building on the corner (now used for storage) was part of the original gas station, but the main restaurant was built from scratch, with Chris designing, decorating and doing much of the construction himself. Since 2005, PURE taqueria has grown into a local institution, and a successful franchise company with five locations in the ATL.
  5. New to the culinary scene, Oak Steakhouse at Avalon is reserved for occasions as special as the food. From grilled swordfish to cornmeal crusted grouper to melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon, along with sides like bone marrow bread pudding and truffle frites, coupled with exceptional service and a sophisticated ambiance, this is the place where memories are made.

Can’t get enough? Add these foodie events to your calendar and fill up on good times:

Concerts at Matilda's. Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB

Concerts at Matilda’s. Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB

Taste of Alpharetta – May 7; Join the Southeast’s premier dining festival attracting over 50,000 festival-goers each year. Satisfy taste buds with specialties from more than 60 restaurants. Expect cooking demonstrations, chef competitions, three entertainment stages, art exhibits and a Kids Korner. A Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event for 2015.

Alpharetta Summer Brew Moon Fest – June 6; Gather your friends and celebrate summer with beer, wine and delicious food from some of Alpharetta’s best restaurants.

Craft Beer Festival & 5k Road Race – June 20; Run the 5K and then stick around for the party. Over 100 beer vendors from around the U.S. will set up in Downtown Alpharetta for an awesome street party filled with live music and awesome food.

Farmers Market – Seasonal, April through October; Shop local at the Alpharetta Farmers Market featuring food vendors including produce, grass-fed meats, cheese baked goods and more.

Food Truck Alley – Seasonal, April through October; Feast on the street every Thursday evening at Alpharetta Food Truck Alley. This weekly gathering will have a variety of 6-8 rotating food trucks and music each week. Stroll the streets, eat delicious food, listen to some great music and kick off the weekend a little early.

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.

Civil War Wednesday: Blackshear

State historic marker at site, photo courtesy of the author

State historic marker at site, photo courtesy of the author

“After leaving the cars we were marched off into the pine woods, by the side of a considerable stream, and told that this was to be our camp.”[1] This Federal prisoner wrote of his new home in Pierce County, Georgia – Camp Blackshear. Major General William T. Sherman’s force continued to advance across the interior of Georgia on their way to Savannah, and Confederate officials realized they must relocate the prisoners held at Millen’s Camp Lawton before advance elements of Sherman’s troops arrived. On November 22, 1864, prisoners at Lawton began boarding trains bound for alternate holding facilities; eventually, 5,000 men traveled westward on the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad.

Colonel Henry Forno, the commander at Lawton, received orders to ready a new prison site in Blackshear. Pierce County, located in the southeastern part of the state, not far from the Florida line, seemed a logical location. The proximity to the railroad, and the remoteness of the region, should prevent Sherman’s forces from liberating any prisoners held there. At least one prisoner concurred with Forno’s choice, noting in his diary, “Blackshear is an out of the way place, and shouldn’t think the Yankee army would ever find us here.”[2]


Prisoner medal from Ralph Orr Bates, Billy and Dick: From Andersonville Prison to the White House

Many period sources indicate the holding area at Blackshear lacked stockades like the prisoners had left behind, first at Andersonville, and later at Camp Lawton. Penciling an entry into his diary shortly after arriving in Blackshear, Sergeant John Ransom with the 9th Michigan Cavalry wrote of the grounds surrounding him and the other prisoners, “There is no wall or anything around us here, only guards. Encamped right in the open air.”[3] Offering a different perspective, another prisoner indicated the area “…was completely commanded by military earthworks, with mounted cannon, and was guarded by seven hundred Confederate soldiers.”[4] Regardless of the actual condition of the prison, soon after arriving, Forno began making preparations for another facility in Thomasville, while relocating some of the prisoners from Blackshear to Savannah.

Guards from the Second and Fourth Regiments in the Georgia Reserves continued to keep watch over the 2,500 prisoners remaining at Blackshear, looking on as the Federals constructed shanties to protect themselves from the elements. After Sherman captured Savannah on December 21, 1864, and later began his Carolinas Campaign, the prisoners at Blackshear found themselves on the move once again. Some returned to Andersonville, and others went to Thomasville, Millen, or Florence, South Carolina.[5]

Blackshear prison site, photo courtesy of the author

Blackshear prison site, photo courtesy of the author

Given the horrible environments found in many overcrowded prisons during the Civil War – both North and South – an observation from a soldier in the 4th Vermont Infantry tells of better conditions in Pierce County. “Blackshear has always seemed like an oasis in the memory of those perilous times. Here we were removed from all apparent danger and the guards were more humane.”[6] Today, the Pierce County Historical and Genealogical Society works to protect, preserve, and interpret this site. Visit www.civilwarblackshearga.com to learn more!

[1] John McElroy, Andersonville, a Story of Rebel Military Prisons (1879; repr., No. Scituate, MA: Digital Scanning, 1999), 32.

[2] John L. Ransom, Andersonville Diary; Escape, and List of Dead, with Name, Company, Regiment, Date of Death and Number of Grave in Cemetery, google books ed. (Auburn, NY: John Ransom, 1881), 131.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ralph Orr Bates, Billy and Dick: From Andersonville Prison to the White House, google books ed. (Santa Cruz, CA: Sentinel Publishing Company, 1910), 24.

[5] John W. Guss, The American Civil War in Blackshear, Georgia: The Story of a Prison Camp, brochure. (Blackshear, GA: Pierce County Historical Society, 1998).

[6] Francis J. Hosmer, A Glimpse of Andersonville and Other Writings, google books ed. (Springfield, MA: Loring & Axtell, 1896), 47.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.