- Lesli Peterson for The AJC
Are you still looking itching for an end of summer trip?
Albany, Helen and Augusta are only a short ride from Atlanta, with a world of opportunity for fun. What else do they have in common? Plenty of FREE attractions.
Here are a handful of weekend escapes that are easy on the wallet.
Radium Springs Gardens. See one of Georgia's Seven Wonders, the state's largest natural blue spring. It was once a popular swimming hole, then a casino and bathhouse. Mother Nature's storms and floods eventually forced the property to close, but it opened again in 2010 as a historic site and gardens. Swimming is no longer allowed.
Albany Museum of Art. Tour six galleries with multiple exhibits throughout the year. The museum boasts a fine collection of sub-Saharan African art, as well as an interactive education gallery for kids.
Albany Welcome Center. The welcome center sits inside a restored 1858 bridge house. Horace King, a well-known and appreciated African-American bridge builder, built the home. See a short movie about Albany and King's mark on the city.
Turtle Grove Play Park. Let the kids roam free in this community-built playground featuring a dino dig, Tot Lot, big-kid area, rock climbing wall, musical instruments and more. During summer months, when kids need to cool off, they can hop over to the Festival Springs Fountains for splash-pad fun.
Art Park on Pine. Visit this open-air art park-- the only one of its kind in Georgia-- where you can see artists creating and performing. Bring your own spray paint for an opportunity to design your own creation, too.
Ray Charles Plaza. Snap a selfie with Ray Charles. A life-sized sculpture captures "The Genius" at a baby grand piano. If you're lucky, you'll catch a Ray Charles tune belting from the speakers when you visit.
BabyLand General Hospital. Find your inner kid at the home of the "hand-stitched to birth" soft-sculpture Original Cabbage Patch Kids. See a baby arrive at this Southern-style mansion in Cleveland that sits grandly on 100-acres in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains.
Sautee Nacoochee Center. John Villani wrote the book (literally) on the best small art towns in America, and he names Sautee on that list. The Center includes a theatre, a history museum, dance and art studios, an art gallery, a folk art pottery museum and an environmental educational resource center. The Heritage Museum is a 1850s slave cabin, which used to house the slaves of a once-local farmer.
Glass Mountain Gallery. From September thru December, each Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holiday Mondays, take the rare opportunity to visit the working studio of Phillip and Janine Shelby. Their glass blowing demonstrations are a treat to behold.
The Gourd Museum. See over 200 gourds from 23 countries at The Gourd Museum. You can also peruse the store for gourd art and pottery made by hand on-site.
Habersham Winery. Habersham is one of the oldest and largest wineries in Georgia. Individuals can stop into their Helen location for complimentary wine tastings and selection assistance.
Tubing down the Chattahoochee. Purchase a pass to Helen's Waterpark and you can tube all day, free. Tubes and lifejackets are supplied; shuttle buses run every 15 minutes.
Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. Meander through wetlands and woodlands for the opportunity to see great blue heron, river otter or an alligator. Early morning walks promise the best wildlife-viewing opportunities.
Savannah River Park. Hike the Heritage Trail that runs between the Savannah River and the Augusta Canal. Start at the head gates, where you can see the historic building and gorgeous Savannah River Rapids. If walking isn't your style, on-site outfitters can set you up with kayaks or bikes.
James Brown Statue. Pose for a photo with the Godfather of Soul. On Broad Street you'll find a life-size statue of James Brown, complete with cape and microphone.
Saturday Market on the River. Spend Saturday leisurely strolling along the river, perusing vendors that offer coffee, cinnamon rolls, handmade sausage, flower arrangements and much more.
Morris Museum of Art. Visit on a Sunday and admission is free to the first museum dedicated to the art and artists of the American South. With over 5,000 art pieces, it can be difficult to take in everything in one day; come Sunday afternoon for a free guided tour if you need help navigating this marvelous gem.
Augusta Greenjackets. Kids 12 and younger can join the Jr. Jackets Kids Club free and then receive free admission to all Jr. Jacket Sunday home games. These games also include special events for kids and pregame catch on the field.