Georgia is known as a place to find Southern hospitality, delicious home-style cooking, and the cosmopolitan city of Atlanta. But these descriptions just scratch the surface of what this state is all about.
A quick weekend visit or even a week-long vacation won’t give you enough time to really see the locally favorite spots and discover the hidden gems that most tourists never hear about. It took me many months of living in Georgia to get past the tourist traps and find the quirky spots that really make this place stand out. Here are 10 hidden gems in Georgia to check out if you’re looking to get off the beaten path and travel like a true local.
Sapelo Island (Hotel Prices & Photos)
There are a series of islands off the coast of Georgia, and Jekyll Island and St. Simon’s Islands are the most well-known ones. However, there’s another tiny island called Sapelo island that offers a truly remote experience that makes you feel far away from mainland Georgia. This is a state-protected barrier island with a tiny population, and it’s only accessible by ferry, boat, or aircraft. There’s a ferry for the public that you can take to get here. The small community of Hog Hammock has a general store, bar, and library. Most of the full-time residents are descendants of West African slaves that were brought to the island hundreds of years ago to work on plantations. There are no restaurants or hotels on the island. However, there are some vacation rental properties that you can stay at. Some of these homeowners will rent out bicycles, which is a great way to get around the island. Come here for ultra-secluded beaches and fascinating history lessons.
Barbie Beach – Turin, GA (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Some roadside attractions are quirkier than others, and it doesn’t get much more interesting than Barbie Beach in Turin. Drive to the intersection of Highways 16 and 54 to find the attraction, which includes Barbie and Ken dolls depicting various scenes throughout the year. These dolls have depicted the Olympic Games, basketball playoffs, the Royal Wedding, and are often nude. Steve and Lynda Quick are the homeowners of this yard art creation, and they have an amusing sense of humor. In 2016, the couple’s series of rotating displays made headlines because a nine-minute documentary about the installation made it into the Cannes Film Festival in France. The scenes change on a regular basis, so you never know what you’re going to see when you drive by.
Chamblee Antique Row - Chamblee, GA (Hotel Prices & Photos)
If you love hunting for treasures when you travel, then look no further than the northwest Atlanta suburb of Chamblee. The Chamblee Antique Row District is a large and unusual collection of antiques and collectibles near the DeKalb Peachtree Airport and the Chamblee MARTA station. Here you’ll also find consignments, thrift shops, and eateries that will keep you entertained for an afternoon. There are around 350 dealers here and over 300,000 square feet of space for retail. Come here to find furniture, jewelry, glassware, clocks, and much more. Many movies and television shows have used this district as a film location as well. Most of the stores are open between 10am and 5:30pm on weekdays and Saturdays and open up in the afternoon on Sundays.
DeKalb Farmer’s Market, Decatur (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Located in Decatur, just east of Atlanta, is a farmer’s market unlike any you’ve ever seen. This is a large grocery store-type market with a cafeteria and lots of organic produce and specialty foods for sale. It’s a destination in its own right on weekends, when the parking lot get packed and locals take over the aisles. But this massive destination came from humble beginnings. It started as a small produce stand in 1977 and has been transformed into a global marketplace. Robert Blazer is the founder and owner of the market and still runs operations today. Come here for affordable and fresh foods if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen or just to see the scene for yourself.
Cumberland Island National Seashore (Hotel Prices & Photos)
This is another island off the coast of Georgia that’s the largest and southernmost one. Here you’ll find everything from sand dunes to beaches, freshwater lakes, and marshes. Interestingly, these is a large wild horse population that calls this island home. According to history records, a few horses may have been brought here as livestock in the late 1500s and used throughout the island’s plantation days and after the Civil War. There is a lot of history to be learned about here, both that of man and of nature. Come here for 18 miles of undeveloped beach, to camp at one of five campgrounds, and to visit the historic sites. There is a ferry that will take you here from the mainland, or better yet, take yourself over in a kayak!
Georgia Guidestones - Dewy Rose, GA (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Located in Dewy Rose, the Georgia Guidestones are a mysterious monument with a history that dates back to 1979. A man using a pseudonym went to the Elberton Granite Finishing Company, Inc. to discuss building a monument in Elbert County. It features four large megaliths made of granite that are arranged around a central stone. In total, the stones reach about 19.25 feet tall, 17.3 feet wide, and 65 feet long. The stones tell us a message, “Let These Be Guidestones to Reason.” And words are carved into the stone faces in many different languages. It is believed that the guidestones were meant to reestablish society and the planet…you be the judge!
Noah's Ark Rehabilitation Center - Locust Grove, GA (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Noah’s Ark is a nonprofit organization that’s been in Locust Grove since 1991. It’s a wildlife rehabilitation center and sanctuary that has over 1,500 animals that need extra care. The sanctuary spans 250 acres and is a home for abused, neglected, and unwanted animals. This is a family-friendly destination that has a nice picnic area and playground to enjoy a day out while learning about animals. There is no admission fee to see the animals, but donations for care giving are welcome and appreciated. Self-guided tours are free and available between noon and 3pm on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Walk on the Wild Side tours are $75 and Keeper for a Day experiences are $500.
Tallulah Gorge State Park – Tallulah Falls, GA (Hotel Prices & Photos)
There are actually quite a few waterfalls and amazing hiking areas in Georgia, but one favorite spot is Tallulah Gorge. This state park is located in the far southeastern corner of Georgia and well worth the trip out to see it. Get a free permit at the Interpretive Center to hike the gorge floor because this is an incredible way to experience the area. Permits are limited to 100 per day, so get there early! The gorge is about two miles long and about 1,000 feet deep. Also, take a walk along the suspension bridge that hangs 80 feet up from the bottom, and plan to camp in one of the 50 campsites or at the Pioneer Campground.
Etowah Indian Mounds - Cartersville, GA (Hotel Prices & Photos)
The Etowah Indian Mounds stand on a 54-acre site in the Georgia County of Bartow. This is just a little south of Cartersville if you’re not from the area. Thousands of Native Americans called this region home between 1000 A.D. and 1500 A.D. There are six mounds, a defensive ditch, village site, and borrow pits that stand still today. Make sure to stop by the museum to see artifacts and learn about how the tribe lived, worked, and dressed. There’s a nice trail along the Etowah River where you can learn about how this civilization used native plants for food and medication.
Krog Street Tunnel - Atlanta, GA (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Lovers of street art simply have to check out the Krog Street Tunnel in Atlanta. While the other hidden gems focused on places outside the big city, there’s plenty of gems worth exploring here too. The tunnel showcases the art of local artists and is a constantly-evolving urban canvas. You’ll find it between the Cabbagetown and Inman Park neighborhoods, which are eclectic destinations all their own. It’s safe for pedestrians to walk through, so park your car nearby. Movie and music videos have been shot here in the past. While checking out the tunnel art, you can also pick up local newspapers in this area to learn about exciting events, shows, and festival dates.