Four Romantic Dates that Won’t Break the Bank

Planning the perfect date or getaway for Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to include expensive champagne, diamond jewelry or five course meals. This Valentine’s Day, why not spend less money on things, and spend more time together? Here are four romantic dates in Georgia that won’t break the bank, but will give you some quality time with your honey or the entire family.


Hike to the Heart: Hike the 1.6-mile Fort Mountain loop trail at Fort Mountain State Park in North Georgia and see if you can find the heart-shaped stone located in the Water Tower. During the 1930s, a Civilian Conservation Corps mason carved the stone for his sweetheart, setting it into the fire tower. The lad’s romantic gesture must have won her heart, because they were married 59 years. If you’d like to take the whole family, on Feb. 13 at 1 p.m., there is a family-friendly group hike to see the stone and hear the love story.

C. Japonica "Purple Passion"

C. Japonica “Purple Passion”

Gather some “Winter Roses:” Why buy just a dozen roses when you can have an entire garden? Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley is hosting the Festival of Camellias throughout the month of February when the flowers are at their peak. Camellias are known as “winter roses,” and the gardens showcase thousands of varieties. For the truly frugal, celebrate a little early; the gardens offer free admission on Saturday, Feb. 6.

glass floats created by local artists on Jekyll Island

Hunt for glass floats created by local artists on Jekyll Island.

Go on a Treasure Hunt: In the early 1900s, fisherman used hollow glass balls on their nets as markers. Occasionally these balls would wash up on Jekyll Island’s beach for lucky beachcombers to find. In the spirit of those early “finds” Jekyll Island has commissioned artists from across the country to create one-of-a-kind glass balls. Throughout January and February, treasure seekers can hunt for the glass balls around the island. Each float is marked with a special tag and instructions for treasure finders to register their find at the Jekyll Island Guest Information Center.

Stargaze: What’s more romantic that looking at stars? The Fernbank Science Center planetarium has three different programs running in February: Solar Quest; Earth, Moon & Sun; and Amazing Astronomers of Antiquity. In addition, Fernbank’s observatory is open on Thursdays and Fridays for viewing the real night sky.

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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Alpharetta is a Symphony for the Senses

songwriter festival2 lr

ALPHARETTA, just north of Atlanta and easily accessible via the state’s “Hospitality Highway,” entertains, offering a variety of opportunities to savor the sounds of live music. From an intimate setting at The Velvet Note to outdoor ambiance at Matilda’s, to noteworthy performances at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Alpharetta brings new sounds to the suburbs!

Catch a concert at Alpharetta’s impressive 12,000-seat Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, which hosts famous names throughout the year.

Photo: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

Photo: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

Get in touch with Southern roots at Matilda’s Music Under the Pines. This outdoor Alpharetta concert venue offers a relaxed alfresco evening of entertainment. Owner M.J. Potter created the music series in 2005, and it has grown over the years to attract some of the best musicians and bands in Atlanta and around the country.

Bring favorite eats, drinks and even Fido along, and kick back while bands pick out bluegrass, country and folk rock tunes. Matilda’s Music Under the Pines offers a downhome experience that will have patrons feeling sweet harmony — only in Alpharetta.

Photo: ABH Photography

Photo: ABH Photography

April through November, head to Chukkar Farm on select Friday and Saturday evenings for live music set against the backdrop of more than 100 acres of rolling landscapes and breathtaking views of the polo field.

Go indoors at The Velvet Note and hear a world-class musical artists in a setting as intimate and comfortable as your own living room.

Photo: The Velvet Note

Photo: The Velvet Note

Seek out this Southern city during the annual Wire and Wood Songwriters Festival each October. Nationally recognized singer-songwriters gather for three days of concerts. Music lovers will get a behind-the-scenes look at the stories that inspired country, rock, blues, Americana and bluegrass songs. Attendees will be able to meet touring veteran songsmiths and local up-and-coming talent as music fills the streets of Alpharetta. More details will be announced at as soon as they are available.

Photo: Occupy My Family

A perfect duet: Pair good eats with sweet beats

Cure cravings at any of Alpharetta’s menu of eateries featuring cuisines that satisfy from homegrown to globally-inspired.
Smokejack lr

Photo: Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau

At Avalon, Oak Steakhouse‘s contemporary dishes like bone-in pork chops over Carolina grits and wild Alaskan salmon will make you say farewell to grandfather’s stuffy steakhouse. This modern take on fine dining also features prime cuts of beef and a handmade cocktail menu to really please your palate. (678) 722-8333

Calamari, crostini and clams, oh my! Colletta offers a modern take on Italian favorites. With unexpected flavors like a peach and gorgonzola pizza or a veal chop over polenta, your taste buds will not be left wanting. Don’t forget to end the night with a cannoli.  (678) 722- 8335

Every other Wednesday these jointly-owned restaurants pair up for an outdoor party in Palmer Plaza. Let artists from near and far serenade you while you kick back with $5 drinks and specialty apps.

Downtown is also where you will find more restaurants with a beat! Your lips will be smackin’ at locally owned Smokejack’s Southern Grill and BBQ. Start off with a tasty basket of fried pickles, move to a pulled pork sandwich or chomp down on smoked, fall-off-the-bone ribs. Relish the finger-lickin’ comfort food while local bands pick out bluegrass and country favorites every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. (770) 410-7611

Music and food culminate in Alpharetta for a symphonic experience for the senses.

South Main Kitchen is known for its farm-to-table fare and unique communal dining experience. Fill your appetite with their fresh ingredient-focused dishes from an ever-changing, American-inspired menu.Top off a cocktail and toast a night out by heading to the rooftop lounge and bar area. Local musicians fill the fall air with sweet sounds most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. (678) 691-4622



Indulgent dishes paired with fresh melodies — Alpharetta feeds both body and soul.

TIP: Call ahead to ensure the restaurant of your choice is featuring live music that night. 

Find everything you need to know about Alpharetta here, including the city’s Don’t Miss Events.

Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau,, 678-297-2811.

© Lauren Boyd Photography 2013

Mom-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.

The Most Unspoiled Beaches on the Georgia Coast

Stafford Beach on Cumberland Island

Stafford Beach on Cumberland Island

Travelers weary of overdeveloped beaches will find the perfect remedy on Georgia’s Atlantic coast. Whether your destination is one of Georgia’s famous Golden Isles, a windswept national seashore or the diverse experience that is Tybee Island, there’s a place where the shore is calm and uncrowded. Come along as we discover the charms of Georgia’s quiet beaches.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

The most southern of Georgia’s barrier islands, Cumberland Island is a wonderful place to discover our country’s eastern shore as the early inhabitants knew it. Accessible only by a twice-daily ferry from St. Marys, Georgia, Cumberland Island National Seashore’s unspoiled beaches are known for excellent shell collecting, as well as wild horses, manatees, dolphins and nesting sea turtles. You’ll also want to spend time hiking the trails through the forests, marshes and historic ruins that make this quietly beautiful place so attractive to nature lovers.

biking on Little St. Simons Island

Photo courtesy the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island

Little St. Simons Island

Does being one of less than three dozen people on a private island appeal to your need for solitude? Little St. Simons Island, another barrier island just off Georgia’s coast, is a privately owned sanctuary with seven miles of undeveloped beach. An ecological gem, this island also offers unspoiled maritime forests and marshland easily accessible to its vintage vacation cottages. River and surf fishing, kayaking, nature hikes through the forests and, of course, swimming and shelling at the beach are favorite activities for visitors to Little St. Simons Island.

Tip: Consider sharing the island’s unmarred beauty with your extended family for the ultimate in private family reunions at the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island.

Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island

Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. Photo by John Bilous.

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island

Just north of Cumberland Island and directly across St. Simons Sound from St. Simons Lighthouse, the lonely spot known as Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island will give you a whole new perspective on beach vistas. The erosion of the island’s northern point has resulted in dozens of downed trees left to bleach and dry along the sand. It’s a stunning sight and a favorite of photographers. Enjoy the whole Jekyll Island experience by visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and touring the historic district, where fabulous island “cottages” were once part of the Jekyll Island Club, a private retreat for the wealthy.

Tip: Bring the kids along to Driftwood Beach and allow them to experience the power of nature on a constantly changing landscape.

Tybee Island Lighthouse

Tybee Island Lighthouse. Photo by Darryl Brooks.

Mid Beach, Tybee Island

The most northern of Georgia’s barrier islands, Tybee Island is the quintessential Georgia coastal vacation experience. With its legendary fort, lighthouse, beach resorts and almost endless outdoor recreation, this island is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. Amid all that island activity, however, it’s still possible to enjoy uncrowded beach time, thanks to family-friendly Mid Beach. Walk the wide stretch of shoreline in search of shells and sharks’ teeth, and keep an eye out for dolphins in the waves.

Tip: Bring the shovels and buckets, as the sand here is perfect for castle building!

The unblemished beauty of these four beaches will make you wonder why you ever settled for the crowds. Make your way to Georgia’s Atlantic Coast for a taste of wide open, come-and-explore beaches at their best.

laing-webJoe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV, a nationwide RV rental company. He has been on the road working within the travel industry for over 20 years, and greatly enjoys the outdoors. Joe has been camping across the United States, exploring its vast countryside, and finding the best travel deals along the way.

8 Selfie-Worthy Jekyll Island Vacation Spots

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island. Photo by Lisa Westberry via Facebook

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island. Photo by Lisa Westberry via Facebook

Photograph and be photographed at Jekyll’s favorite sites. No trip to Jekyll is complete without a visit to Driftwood Beach. Check with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and make plans to capture a sea turtle release on video (complete with your reactions). Relax and learn while enjoying a horse-drawn carriage tour of the island or take adventure into your own hands and explore on a Segway (extra points for posted selfies while you’re wearing a helmet).

Visit the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Escape to the historic heart of Jekyll Island and stay in one of five historic buildings on the property. While you’re there, make plans to explore the grounds by bicycle and try your hand at croquet on the historic green outside The Clubhouse.

Take the “can you believe I’m eating this” photo at the Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Festival. Each year, guests from across the world pack the island ready to chow down on the cuisine made popular on Georgia’s coast. Start making your plans for next autumn’s festival now to ensure you get a ticket and your choice of accommodations.

Toes in the sand, drink in my hand. Visit the island’s St. Andrews Beach for your perfect Jekyll suntanning moment selfie. The setting is made perfect by pristine sand, dunes, picnic space and the often-spotted leaping dolphin. Climb to the top of the two-story wildlife viewing platform to give your followers a different type of beach view.

Dolphins seen on a Sunset Dolphin Tour, Jekyll Island

Photo courtesy of Sunset Dolphin Tours, Jekyll Island

Take a ride. Whether you’re wind blown from a ride on Captain Larry’s air boats, gazing at the sunset from a dolphin tour, or riding a horse on the beach, your friends will be instantly jealous of your Southeast Georgia adventure when they see your selfie. A visit to the island is also the perfect excuse to rent a convertible and go for a cruise to explore Jekyll like a local.

Get out on the water. This one’s selfie taking is probably best left on-shore, but that’s no reason why you should miss out on the opportunity to explore Jekyll Island, the Atlantic Ocean and Jekyll River by paddleboard, kayak or canoe. Grab your “wetsuit time” selfie at the beach and then head out to enjoy an uninterrupted adventure.

Dine outdoors. As if all your other adventures aren’t going to drive your followers into a fit of jealously, be sure to grab as many meals at restaurants that have a view of the water as possible. At sunset, be sure to snag your spot early to get the best seat in the house for capturing the setting sun (and your beautiful face).

Go shopping! It’s time to get yourself a new pair of sunglasses. Snap your selfie to determine which is best. Heck, even let your followers decide. The island does not have a shortage of sunglasses retailers, so be sure to shop around to find your favorite.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen 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.

Fall Deals You Don’t Want to Miss in Atlanta

If you’re celebrating fall break or simply exploring the city, Atlanta’s main attractions are offering a discount this season that you don’t want to miss!

Center for Civil and Human RightsThe Center for Civil and Human Rights is a powerful new addition to Atlanta. It marries the civil rights crusades with today’s global human rights movement. While these can be difficult topics to discuss with children, the Center offers an excellent contribution toward that conversation. Through Nov. 14, 2015, children 7-10 years old can enjoy a 50 percent discount on admission. Kids will also enjoy story time at 11 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. Don’t forget to read the Family Guide before you go; it was a treasured resource during my own visit with the boys.

World of Coca-Cola

World of Coca-Cola

World of Coca-Cola – Residents of Coke’s home state have cause to celebrate. Through the end of October 2015, Georgia residents receive discount admission to World of Coca-Cola. Georgia residents can receive two general admission tickets for $25, a total savings of $7. That’s more than 20 percent off regular adult admission! It’s only available at the walk-up window (not online,) and you’ll have to show proof of residency. See the WOCC website for more details.

Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium – Now through Oct. 23 save 20 percent on walk-up pricing at the Georgia Aquarium when you purchase your ticket in advance online. But wait, there’s more! Kids get a FREE meal with one side and a drink. Make sure to get your tickets in advance because this offer is not available at the ticketing window.

Looking for more affordable options in Atlanta? Be sure to visit our HUGE list of FREE things to do in Atlanta with kids.

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.