Camping at Little Ocmulgee State Park

By Candy Cook 

CandyCook-LittleOcmulgee2

February proves to be a perfect time to camp Little Ocmulgee State Park. Made magic by towering trees, veiled in spanish moss, this Georgia campground welcomes tent and RV campers. We parked our car-camping gear and set off to explore. What we found was a classic getaway for anglers, golf enthusiasts and families.

As my sons darted, between the two lakeside playgrounds, I took a walk to investigate the park’s connection with Little Ocmulgee River. A dam creates a 256-acre lake and marsh for fishing, swimming, and canoeing. Springtime anglers will reel in bass, bream and crappie from the scenic dock where I watch the warm sun setting over the lake. I imagine families fill the swimming area and enjoy water fun at the splash pad to escape the summer heat.

My favorite part of our winter camp, at Little Ocmulgee, is the 2.3 mile Oak Ridge Trail that leads us through four ecosystems found in South Georgia. Winter and early spring are a prime time to explore the dramatic transitions between the natural communities of river bottomland, sand hill, oak and bay forests. Highlights of this hike are stunning oaks with their shrouds of spanish moss and a boardwalk leading hikers into a mesmerizing swamp. I could have spent hours watching for wildlife on that boardwalk. Keep your eyes peeled for two protected species that call Little Ocmulgee home: the Eastern Indigo Snake and Georgia’s State reptile, the Gopher Tortoise.

Known for the Wallace Adams Golf Course, Little Ocmulgee is a state park that offers something for everyone. Tranquil camping, hiking and fishing give us the nature connection we need with rounds of golf, fun water play, and lodge restaurant to keep us comfortable.

candycookCandy is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.

 

Make a Splash at These Indoor Pools

By Lesli Peterson

atlanta hotels with indoor pool

What makes a hotel family-friendly? It could be the in-room amenities, like refrigerator or bathtub. It could be special touches, like children’s programming or a babysitting service.  For this family, the number one rule of thumb is a pool.  Our city-exploring happens during the day, but pools provide entertainment for my kiddos in early morning and late evening, when we would otherwise be stuck in the room.  It helps to start the day by getting the wiggles out, and it relaxes and calms them before bed…also ensuring they sleep through the night.  You’ll find numerous hotels around Atlanta with pools, but the number dwindles a bit for winter guests looking for an escape from the cold. Here are details about our favorite family-friendly Buckhead hotels with indoor pools, and a list of additional hotels as well.

RC Buckhead

Ritz-Carlton Buckhead

Ritz Carlton Buckhead’s pool is one of my family’s favorites.  It is a saline pool, heated to perfection.  The ceiling is glass, and while the cold outside weather created a dew on the ceiling that prevented us from star-gazing, we did enjoy the open feeling that came from a view of the sky.  You’ll find boogie boards and noodles strategically placed around the pool deck, which our boys enjoyed.  Guest services even provided the kids with rubber ducks, as swim partners.

The pool is attached to the fitness center, so we were able to leverage the locker rooms.  There were lockers, showers, plastic bags for holding our wet suits, extra towels, and fruit for the boys to munch on.  I must also admit that hubby and I tried out the sauna and hot tub, as well. Heaven!

See more photos of our pool adventures here.

MO Atlanta

Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta

Mandarin Oriental is one of Atlanta’s most beloved hotels, with inescapable opulence and grandeur. Don’t let this fool you, though; they love children.  Strollers, cribs, and even baby monitors are available on request. Be sure to inquire about the Little Fan’s Passport program, also. But the real fun is at the pool.  Through a beautiful hallway, and down an elevator, kid’s will love the secret entrance to the swimming area.  The heated pool is only steps away from an extra restroom, perfect for little one’s “emergencies.” In warmer months the doors open to a view of the sunken courtyard and garden, as well as the views of Buckhead.

Learn more about our stay at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta here.

JW Marriott Buckhead

There are many things to love about JW Marriott Buckhead and its conveniences. One of my favorite: it is adjacent to Lenox Mall.  That small detail opens a world of family-friendly options for shopping and dining.  Until September 1, 2015 Marriott is offering complimentary valet parking to ease your unloading, and a free kids’ meal at the onsite restaurant with the purchase of an adult meal. Kids will also enjoy the heated pool and whirlpool for exerting the leftover energy that kid’s pack during vacation. You’ll also enjoy the glass ceiling, allowing in ample light for your swim.

See their site for more details about this Kids Eat Free package.

Additional Atlanta hotels with indoor pools:

Atlanta Airport Marriott

Atlanta Marriott Marquis

Comfort Inn & Suites Galleria

Embassy Suites Atlanta – Buckhead

Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

Hampton Inn & Suites Galleria

Hilton Garden Inn Atlanta Airport

Hilton Garden Inn Atlanta Downtown

Renaissance Atlanta Waverly

Sheraton Atlanta Downtown

Sheraton Suites Galleria-Atlanta             

Springhill Suites by Marriott Atlanta Buckhead

Staybridge Suites Atlanta – Buckhead

The Westin Peachtree Plaza

Wingate Inn & Suites Atlanta Galleria

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.

Guide to Alpharetta Restaurant Week

Perhaps you have heard of the Southeast’s new culinary hot spot known as Alpharetta, Georgia. Yes, it is true- Alpharetta is the place to go if you are looking for the ultimate chef-driven or locally owned dining experience. It has over 175 dining options just within the city limits and there are new restaurants by well-known chefs and local restauranteurs popping up all around town.

Every year, Flavors Magazine hosts an Alpharetta Restaurant Week to highlight the city’s foodie scene. This year the event runs from February 21-28 and features over 10 trendy eateries so epicureans can try out new spots and revisit old favorites that are serving cheap eats.

Menu prices this year are set at $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner and like other restaurant weeks, the prix fixe menus offer a variety of options that chefs are excited to show off. With so many tasty choices, it will be hard to choose. We’ve highlighted five restaurants to give you an idea of what to expect.

Alpine Bakery and Trattoria- $25 dinner menu

Serving Italian favorites, but best known for its bakery filled with the award-winning Red Velvet Cake and delectable seasonal treats. I have even known Floridians who make the six hour drive to Alpharetta every year around the holidays just to pick up a Yule Log.

What’s on the Menu (choose one from each course):

  • Course 1 (Appetizer) Choices: Calamari OR Mozzarella Sticks OR Rice Balls with Italian Sausage
  • Course 2 (Entrée) Choices: Parmigiana (Chicken or Eggplant) with Angel hair Pasta OR

House-made Lasagna OR Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

  • Course 3 (Dessert) Choices: Peanut Butter Bar OR Key Lime Bar OR Rocky Road Bar
Bantam + Biddy’s Quarter Rotisserie Chicken with piri piri, pickled beets and goat cheese, broccoli and faro salad with Vidalia onion dressing

Bantam + Biddy’s Quarter Rotisserie Chicken with piri piri, pickled beets and goat cheese, broccoli and faro salad with Vidalia onion dressing

Bantam + Biddy- $15 lunch menu

Bantam + Biddy has been serving Atlantans with a casual family-friendly dining experience since 2012. The eatery, which prides itself with serving regional, all-natural and pastured poultry, has been in Alpharetta since the opening of Avalon in October 2014. Executive Chef and Co-owner, Shaun Doty, has a passion for creating simply prepared contemporary fare and his extensive culinary experience is the driving force behind this casually creative eatery.

What’s on the Menu (choose one from each course):

  • Course 1 (Appetizer) Choices: Pimento Cheese OR Chopped Pastured Chicken Liver OR Jb Farm Deviled Eggs
  • Course 2 (Entrée) Choices: Chicken with two Sides OR Meatloaf with two Sides OR Pork Schnitzel with one side
  • Course 3 (Dessert) Choices: Dessert of your choice
The MADE Kitchen and Cocktails bar

The MADE Kitchen and Cocktails bar

MADE Kitchen and Cocktails- $15 lunch menu and a $25 dinner menu

Chic and comfortable, MADE Kitchen and Cocktails has been on every Alpharetta foodie’s radar since the restaurant concept was announced by local restauranteur, Chris Sedgwick. The menu features savory Spanish-inspired tapas with a “Made” twist. The bocadillos, or Spanish sandwiches, accompany the menu along with craft cocktails, wines and beer.

What’s on the Lunch Menu (choose one from each course):

  • Course 1 (Appetizer) Choices: Made Salad (mixed greens, radish, manchego, sherry vinaigrette) OR Stewed Lentils with house- made chorizo
  • Course 2 (Entrée) Choices: Braised Short Rib Croquettes with romesco OR Pei Mussels with saffron, garlic, white wine and grilled bread
  • Course 3 (Dessert) Choices: Seasonal Tapas Tart with vanilla-mascarpone ice cream OR a Shattered Chocolate Bar with Marcona almonds and candied orange peels

What’s on the Dinner Menu (choose one from each course):

  • Course 1 (Appetizer) Choices: Coal Roasted Beets with goat cheese and mint and sherry vinaigrette OR Boquerones with anchovies, parsley, garlic and olive oil OR Pimientos Asados with blistered shishito peppers and sea salt
  • Course 2 (Entrée) Choices: Crispy Duck Leg with pear mustarda and raddichio OR Camarones a la Plancha with prawns and lemon-butter OR Grilled Skirt steak with twice fried fingerling potatoes and chimichurri
  • Course 3 (Dessert) Choices: Seasonal Tapas Tart with vanilla-mascarpone ice cream OR Manchego Cheese with apple-bourbon butter OR a Shattered Chocolate Bar with marcona almonds and candied orange peels
Ray's at Killer Creek

Ray’s at Killer Creek

Ray’s at Killer Creek- $25 Dinner Menu

Ray’s at Killer Creek features a coastal inspired casual dining experience that is complete with fresh seafood and hospitable staff.

What’s on the Menu (choose one from each course):

  • Course 1 (Appetizer) Choices: Field Green Salad with sundried cranberries, candied pecans and Maytag blue cheese OR Caesar salad with herb croutons and shaved pecorino OR Cup of crab bisque soup laced with sherry and chive crema
  • Course 2 (Entrée) Choices: Cedar Plank Salmon with grilled asparagus, whipped potatoes and Chile-blue crab butter OR Grilled Beef Brochettes with Moroccan cous cous, wild mushroom jus and warm arugula OR Pan Roasted Airline Chicken breast with lemon gnocchi, sugar snaps and baby carrots
  • Course 3 (Dessert) Choices: Chocolate Mousse Cake with a raspberry purée and fresh berries OR Crème brûlée with seasonal fruit compote and fresh whipped cream
Miss Emily’s Chicken Salad from Mittie’s Tea Room

Miss Emily’s Chicken Salad from Mittie’s Tea Room

Mittie’s Tea Room Café- $15 lunch Menu

Set in an adorable tea room atmosphere, Mittie’s serves traditional “tea time” menu options such as scones, sandwiches and salads. The chicken salad croissant is perhaps the most praised sandwich with almonds, sliced grapes, and a special blend of spices served on a buttery melt-in-your-mouth croissant.

What’s on the Menu:

Course 1 (Appetizer) Choices: Soup of the Day OR Lobster Bisque and a beverage of your choice

Course 2 (Entrée) Choices: Quiche OR Crepes OR Salmon filet and a salad OR fruit

Course 3 (Dessert) Choices: Teacakes OR Scones and Chantilly Cream

Other participating restaurants include: Firefly Kitchen & Bar, Haiku, La Casa Italian Grill, PURE taqueria., Sage Woodfire Tavern, Salt, Spice Brick Oven Kitchen and Vinny’s on Windward. For a list of all the participating restaurant menus click here. Happy dining!

CaitlynFlorida native turned Georgian, Caitlyn Blizzard is the Director of Communications at the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau and loves advocating all things fun and unique in Awesome Alpharetta. She enjoys exploring metro Atlanta attractions and restaurants and spending time outside with her miniature schnauzer, Winstyn.

Four Georgia Trails to Explore this Winter/Spring

By Candy Cook

Bear Creek Trail

Bear Creek Trail

Sometimes, the season can make a destination amazing! These four places are extra special when spring is just on the horizon.

Sope Creek CRNRA

Metro Atlanta’s Sope Creek trail system offers easy to intermediate trails for hiking and mountain biking visitors. One of the many trail networks of Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, the Sope Creek trails feature tranquil moments alongside Sibley Pond, a gravel loop for mountain bike beginners, and the historic ruins of a paper mill. The old paper mill ruins are the reason I recommend hiking in winter and spring. Visiting while winter has the vegetation in check allows for better views and exploration of these impressive ruins.

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument

Now is the perfect time to visit the site of the largest archaeological dig in US history. “All things are connected,” at this memorial to the relationship between people and nature. Macon’s mild winter keeps bugs at bay for visitors traversing fields, exploring wetlands and enjoying a sacred view from atop the Great Temple Mound. Enhance your visit by watching the short educational film before setting off on your adventure.

Bear Creek Trail to Gennett Poplar

Hike or mountain bike to one of the largest poplar trees in Georgia. The giant, old-growth Gennett Poplar is certainly a Georgia gem that shouldn’t be missed. The Bear Creek Loop follows the creek closely, for a time, making several fun crossings for mountain bikers. This trail system, in North Georgia’s mountains, includes a junction with the Pinhoti Trail and offers several options for longer outings.

Water Trails of the Okefenokee Swamp

Get a head start on summer by joining the Park Paddler Outdoor Activity Club at Stephen C Foster State Park! Explore 15 miles of mysterious Okefenokee waterways and the Trembling Earth Nature Trail before the summer heat sets in. I’ll warn you that gliding a canoe or kayak through the legendary blackwater will only make you thirsty for more.

candycookCandy is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.

10 Finger Licking Good Georgia Barbecue Festivals

By Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Station

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Station

The temperatures are rising and so is the smoke! This year festival gates will open across Georgia for annual these barbecue infused festivals in 2015:

  1. Crowds will gather at Atlantic Station in Atlanta on February 28th for a day offering unlimited tastings of 60 beers and 40 bourbons while noshing on whole hogs of barbecue. Tickets for the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival are on sale now.
  2. In Tifton on March 6th and 7th, the Rhythm & Ribs BBQ Festival will take over Fulwood Park. Organizers promise a BBQ competition, children’s games, arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, and entertainment.
  3. Upson County is home to the Smoke on the Water BBQ Festival on April 3rd and 4th in Thomaston. Set on Bickley’s Lake, the event promises a weekend full of fun for your entire family.
  4. The Bikes, Blues, & BBQ Festival at Douglas Municipal – Gene Chambers Airport in Douglas is set for April 10th and 11th in 2015. The annual event will include a BBQ competition, popular blues bands, motorcycle show and poker run, car show, aircraft displays, arts and crafts vendors, and more.
  5. May 1st and 2nd the Barnesville Battle of the Bones Festival takes over the streets of downtown Barnesville with an event is sanctioned by the Florida BBQ Association that is also an automatic qualifier for the Jack Daniels Invitational a.k.a. The Super Bowl of BBQ World Championships.
  6. Atlanta Bar-B-Que Festival is set for August 14th and 15th at the Atlantic Station special events area in Atlanta. The type of festival you better get to early before all the food runs out, the event will feature many of the city’s top barbecue restaurants as well as a “bourbon experience.”
  7. Each year, crowds gather in downtown Kennesaw each year for their Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival. The event features a barbecue competition, tastings, free children’s activities, live concerts alongside arts, crafts and general merchandise vendors.
  8. Head up to the mountains for the annual Blue Ridge Blues and BBQ Festival, scheduled for early autumn in downtown Blue Ridge. This event is the perfect excuse to get away from home and see the fall foliage.
  9. One of my favorite events, The Great Miller Lite Chili and BBQ Cook-Off happens the first weekend in October each year at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. Benefitting Camp Twin Lakes, the festival is a music and food extravaganza celebrating quirky team competitions.
  10. Professional and amateur BBQ teams will be cooking to compete for some big prize money and bragging rights at the Cornelia Apple Blossom BBQ Festival happening April 17 -18, 2015.

EileenEileen is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.