Jingle All the Way with Georgia’s Christmas Parades

Milledgeville Christmas Parade

The Milledgeville Christmas Parade will be held Dec. 5, 2015. This year, the parade will be held at night!

Pull out your jingle bells and your striped tights; it’s time to get into the holiday spirit with the annual Christmas parades throughout Georgia. I’m a huge fan of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Christmas Parade. In fact, we attend every year, even though my little ones are now teens. In addition to the floats, helium balloons, and marching bands, I like to see the stormtroopers of the 501st Legion with their Santa hats and snowman noses. The Christmas parade signals the start of the holiday season for me, and it’s a great inexpensive family tradition. It seems no matter where you travel in Georgia, you’re bound to find a Christmas parade to welcome in the holiday season. Here are several from around the state.

Boat Parade of Lights (Nov. 28 in the evening): Savannah sure knows how to do a parade. The Westin sponsors this event, which is located on the waterfront in front of the hotel. It includes 35 lighted boats, accompanied by live music performances, tree lighting ceremony, and fireworks extravaganza. Of course, the best seat in the house is at the Westin, where you’ll also find a Gingerbread Village competition.

Rome Christmas Parade (Dec. 1 in the evening): This is one of Northwest Georgia’s oldest and largest Christmas parades. It’s organized by a volunteer committee and has more than 100 entries each year.

Cedartown Christmas Parade (Dec. 3 at 6 p.m.): The theme for this year’s event is “Christmas Lights on Parade.” Floats are awarded cash prizes in three categories, so you know they’ll be good.

Dublin Christmas Parade (Dec. 5 at 2 p.m.): In addition to floats and bands, young spectators get excited about the handfuls of candy and Christmas cheer tossed their way during this event.

Jefferson Christmas Parade (Dec. 5 at 3 p.m.): Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive in a horse-drawn carriage during this parade.

City of Rockmart Christmas Parade (Dec. 4 at 6 p.m.): This parade is held on a Friday night and has more than 5,000 spectators. The theme for 2015 is “Memories of Christmas.”

Downtown Holiday Open House in Valdosta (Dec. 5 at 5 p.m.): Come early in the day for the Holiday Open House and stay for the parade at 5 p.m. Floats are judged on appearance, special effects, creativity, workmanship and use of the theme, which is “A Christmas Story.” First prize gets a leg lamp. (just kidding)

Savannah Lighted Christmas Parade (Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m.): Although Savannah is best known for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Lighted Christmas Parade looks pretty awesome, too. This parade travels from River Street through town to City Market.

Stormtrooper at the North Georgia Mountain Christmas Parade

Stormtrooper at the North Georgia Mountain Christmas Parade

North Georgia Mountain Christmas Parade (Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.):  It’s the 26th year for this mountain parade. Expect lots of traditional floats and maybe a stormtrooper or two.

City of McDonough Christmas Parade (Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.): The City of McDonough celebrates Christmas with a parade, as well as a tree lighting ceremony and a 5K Jingle Jog. Of course, there is also a visit from St. Nick, too.

Golden Isles Christmas Boat Parade of Lights (Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.): Sponsored by the Golden Isles sailing club, the Christmas Boat Parade of Lights features boats of all sizes decked out with brilliant holiday lights and decorations.

Festival of Lights Christmas Parade in Douglas (Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m.): Expect to see lots of Santa’s home in this parade. The theme for 2015 is “Santa’s Workshop.”

City of Royston Christmas Parade (Dec. 13 at 3 p.m.): Kick off the season with floats, music and Santa.

City of Hartwell Christmas Parade (Dec. 14 at 3:30 p.m.): Celebrate the “Magic” of the season during Hartwell’s annual parade.

Find more parades on exploregeorgia.org/events.

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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5 Native American Sites Not to Miss in Georgia

Fort Mountain View

Fort Mountain View. Photo by Candy Cook

Fort Mountain

Visit the mysterious wall believed to have been built by Woodlands-era Indians between 500 BC and 500 AD. Fort Mountain, in Chatsworth, is named for the ancient rock wall that stretches 855 feet across the highest point of the mountain. The wall seems to indicate fortification against hostile groups or possible ceremonial rituals. Fort Mountain is one of several stops along Georgia’s Cheiftains Trail, a driving tour of several sites related to North Georgia’s Native American heritage.

Track Rock Gap

Track Rock Gap, in Chattahoochee National Forest, preserves a significant site of rock art created by Creek and Cherokee people. Visitors can view a small sampling of boulders featuring petroglyphs at the Track Rock Gap Archeological Site. It’s worth a visit, but make plans to extend your visit with other activities as the site is small. A trailhead for the 11-mile Arkaquah Trail is located just across the street. You can reach the Track Rock Gap site by taking US 129 to Blairsville, the US 76 east about 5 miles. Turn right on Trackrock Gap Road until you reach the small parking lot.

Ocmulgee National Monument. Photo by Candy Cook.

Ocmulgee National Monument. Photo by Candy Cook.

Ocmulgee National Monument

Located in Macon, this National Park Service monument exhibits artifacts from several Native American cultures, including the Paleo-Indians, who arrived during the ice age period; the Woodland culture, which began horticulture in Middle Georgia; and the Mississippians, who built mounds for their elite. The site includes an educational video, temple mound, and hiking trails that tour the grounds.

Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site 

These sites, managed by Georgia State Parks, both offer a look at the cultures and lives of the mound-building Native Americans. Etowah, located in Cartersville, exhibits artifacts in the visitor center and protects six earthen mounds complete with a village site. A nature trail that follows the Etowah River features a fish trap and highlights medicinal uses for native plants.

Kolomoki Mounds State Park

Located in Blakely, Kolomoki Mounds State Park protects the largest Woodland Indian site in the Southeast. The park features the oldest great temple mound, burial mounds, and ceremonial mounds. A unique museum is built around an excavated mound where visitors learn about the culture surrounding this historic site. The park also features scenic trails and camping, among other recreational activities.

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 Must-Try Dishes This Local Loves

As I travel the state from the Georgia mountains to the coast, I’m always looking for great flavors. There are so many delicious places to eat in Georgia, narrowing my favorite dishes down to 10 was hard work! I changed my mind a time or two (and maybe will again), but below you’ll find 10 plates this local loves.

Nominate your favorite Georgia dishes on ExploreGeorgia.org

Nominate your favorite Georgia dishes on ExploreGeorgia.org!

What are your favorite dishes in Georgia? Nominate your favorite plates throughout November, and they might be included in the next list of 100 Plates Locals Love. As you’re out exploring, tell everyone where to find great tastes with #GeorgiaEats!

  1. Poutine at The General Muir, Atlanta. Thick chicken gravy poured over hand-cut french fries, topped with chunks of housemade pastrami, cheese curds, and fresh parsley makes Poutine at The General Muir, Emory Point, a treat any day of the week – but especially good for Sunday brunch.
  2. Red Snapper at The Grey, Savannah. Woodfire-grilled Red Snapper at The Grey is a fish lover’s dream come true! The entire fish is grilled, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and served with grilled orange wedges.
  3. Buttermilk Pie at The Yesterday Café, Greensboro. Buttermilk Pie is worth the drive to Greensboro.  A light flaky crust surrounds a rich custard filling that reminds me of my grandmother’s best holiday pies.
  4. Chili Dogs at Nu-Way Wieners, Macon. Nu-Way Wieners is my all-time favorite place for chili dogs. Steamed buns, flat-top grilled hot dogs covered in beef chili, chopped onions, and mustard … or cheese sauce … or coleslaw. There is no wrong way to eat a Nu-Way Wiener.
  5. The Whole Nine at Thompson Brother’s BBQ, Smyrna. Slow, hickory wood-smoked meats are what makes Thompson Brother’s BBQ a cut above other barbecue restaurants. The Whole Nine is a sampling of chopped brisket, spare ribs, beef sausage and bologna (yes, bologna).
  6. Chorizo and Lengua Tacos at Sr. Sol Mexican Restaurant, Athens. Sr. Sol Mexican Restaurant makes a mean Skinny Margarita and possibly the best Chorizo and Lengua Tacos. Fresh and authentic, these tacos are served garnished simply with onion, minced cilantro and wedges of fresh lime.
  7. The Dirty South at One Flew South, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Chances are you’ll have a flight that goes through Atlanta’s airport at some point in your life. If that’s the case, I suggest you add a couple of hours to your layover and enjoy some international cuisine right here in Georgia. Try this open face meatloaf sandwich. It’s served on Texas toast with pimento cheese, Benton’s bacon, balsamic barbecue sauce and finished off with an over-easy egg.
  8. 20 oz Cowboy Ribeye at Rathbun’s, Atlanta. The 20-ounce bone-in Ribeye is a steak lover’s dream, and Rathbun’s makes this dream come true. It’s cooked any way you want it (I recommend medium-rare) and served with blue cheese butter and onion rings. In a word, outstanding.
  9. Fried Shrimp & Fries Basket at Tubby’s Tank House, Savannah. This is not fancy, pretentious or overpriced. It is, however, a paper-lined basket full of Georgia shrimp, dredged in seasoned flour, and cooked to golden brown perfection.
  10. Bratwurst Gravy & Biscuits at Hofer’s Bakery & Café, Helen. Bratwurst Gravy & Biscuits are a breakfast must at Hofer’s Bakery & Café. Nuremberg-style bratwursts are cooked into a creamy gravy and poured over hot buttermilk biscuits. Add a cup of strong German coffee, and your day will be off to a great start.

jennifer-hill-booker-1436890751-thumb-230-230-438-151-820-444-90Jennifer is Georgia’s official Culinary Explorer and the author of “Your Resident Gourmet,” full of innovative recipes, cooking trends and fun kitchen gadgets. Click here for more content from Jennifer.

Hike these Mountains for Spectacular Fall Color Views

Sawnee Mountain in Cumming, Ga.

Sawnee Mountain in Cumming, Ga. Photo by Candy Cook

Sawnee Mountain, Cumming, Ga.

The relatively easy 3.5-mile Indian Seats Trail rises in elevation to offer a fantastic view from the historically sacred Cherokee Indian Seats. Sawnee Mountain Preserve also includes a playground-picnic area and issues rock climbing permits for adventure-seekers.

Springer Mountain, Ellijay, Ga.

A bronze plaque marks the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at the summit of Springer Mountain. A network of trails makes Springer a popular choice for fall hiking. Backpackers include the view in seasonal section hikes of the Appalachian Trail, day hikers explore the area along an 8-mile approach trail beginning at Amicalola Falls State Park, and time-restricted visitors use a convenient one-mile path to reach the summit.

Pine Mountain in Cartersville

Pine Mountain in Cartersville. Photo by Candy Cook

Pine Mountain, Cartersville, Ga.

The Pine Mountain West Loop is conveniently located right off of I-75 at exit 288. The rugged 2-mile hike includes interesting rock formations along the way and a spectacular view overlooking Lake Allatoona. The East Loop is nearly twice the distance and allows mountain biking on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Brasstown Bald in Blairsville

Brasstown Bald in Blairsville. Photo by Candy Cook

Brasstown Bald, Hiawassee, Ga.

An observation tower at the highest point in Georgia offers a gorgeous view of the North Georgia Mountains. Visitors have the option of taking a shuttle from the parking lot or clambering up a steep half-mile trail to reach the tower. Either way, it’s a view that can’t be missed!

Little Kennesaw Mountain, Kennesaw, Ga.

The lesser elevation of the two Kennesaw Mountains, Little Kennesaw offers a more rugged experience along the network of trails winding around Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Combine the Little Kennesaw Mountain Trail with the Pigeon Hill Trail for a fun, out-and-back hike totaling about 2.25 miles.

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.

The Best Places to Visit Animals in Georgia

Photo courtesy of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island

Photo courtesy of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island

Camels. Sea turtles. Alligators. Oh my. Getting up close with animals can teach us a lot about our world and ourselves. There are so many places to visit with both native and non-native animals in Georgia. Some, like Zoo Atlanta are well-known and have a wide variety of animals. Others, like the three listed below, aren’t always top-of-mind but are terrific places to get up close with wildlife.

Sue and a friendly camel at North Georgia Zoo and Petting Farm, Cleveland, Ga.

Sue and a friendly camel at North Georgia Zoo and Petting Farm, Cleveland, Ga.

North Georgia Zoo and Petting Farm, Cleveland: The petting zoo and working farm are fun places to walk around, but to get the most from your visit, take the guided wildlife walk, where you’ll get up close with kangaroos, lemurs, fennec fox and more exotic animals. And make sure to visit with the camels, too. The best part about this zoo is the passionate staff and the up-close nature of the encounters. On our trip, we howled with wolves, fed camels, stroked a snake and took home huge quills from a porcupine.

Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island: Next time you’re visiting the beaches of Jekyll Island, take an afternoon to visit with the sea turtles, too. The small museum does a good job of educating guests on the plight of the sea turtle and what you can do to help. My favorite part of this center is visiting with the sea turtles in the sea turtle hospital. Injured turtles come from all over, and the staff nurses them back to health before releasing them back into the wild. Adopt a turtle while you are there, and they’ll let you know when it’s being released into the ocean.

Photo courtesy of Chehaw Wild Animal Park, Albany, Ga.

Photo courtesy of Chehaw Wild Animal Park, Albany, Ga.

Chehaw Wild Animal Park, Albany: The Wild Animal Park is just part of the Chehaw Park, which boasts a huge playground, as well as mountain biking and hiking trails, BMX track and disc golf. Naturalist Jim Fowler, from the 1970’s TV show “Wild Kingdom,” designed the Wild Animal Park. What struck me about this zoo wasn’t just the 238 specimens representing 87 different species, but the beautiful grounds. The cypress swamp is fascinating, and I could have spent hours watching the alligators here.

For more places to see animals in Georgia, click through to the post on Five Free Things to Do in Henry County on Field Trips with Sue.

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.

Click here to order Sue’s book, 100+ Things to Do in Atlanta.

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