- Rose Kennedy For the AJC
While the lights are much brighter in big city Atlanta, there is nothing like a visit to a small Georgia town to brighten your outlook when you tire of the city.
It's amazing that some of these simple pleasures of Georgia's heartland are so close to the urban center, and all are within a couple hours of Atlanta.
If you're weary from the big city pace and noise, rejuvenate by taking a day or a weekend exploring one of these six Georgia small towns:
About 45 miles from Atlanta
If you want the classic small town look, Senoia is a safe bet. Incorporated in 1866 as a railroad town, its picture perfection has been filmed for the movies "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Footloose" and is much admired by "Southern Living". More recently, it's been featured as Woodbury, a haven for escapees from zombie-infested Atlanta in “The Walking Dead”. Besides some calming walks through the scenery, plan to chow down at the nearby Redneck Gourmet (11 North Court Square, Newnan), which serves up a mean chicken salad and a "nearly famous" Brunswick Stew. There are also numerous walking trails, seasonal fishing and a Stone Lodge that's available to rent by contacting Senoia's City Hall.
109 miles from Atlanta
Named for Nancy Hart, a heroine of the Revolutionary War who served as a spy and captured a group of Tories who threatened her home, Hartwell is known as the "Best city by a Dam Site." It's got lots of small town charm, including the Hart County Community Theatre (83 Depot Street P.O. Box 55, Hartwell. 706-376-5599) and all the amenities of Hart State Park.
About an hour north of Atlanta
With lots of awards to its name, like No. 4 on "USA Today's " Best Southern Small Towns for 2015, Dahlonega lives up to the hype. It celebrates its gold prospecting heritage, flatwater and whitewater connections and beautiful architecture with equal enthusiasm. The Dahlonega Gold Museum (1 Public Square, 706-864-2257), Ghost Tours and wineries all add to the fun of a small town tour. If you want to stay over, the area is replete with cabins and cottages for rent. Or try an RV park or campground.
About 50 miles north of Atlanta
Ball Ground is officially a Georgia Main Street Community, focusing on revitalizing its central business district, and it shows. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and most of the homes date from the 1880s to the 1950s, so just strolling the city is a fine way to enjoy an afternoon. It's also home to the Gibbs Gardens (1987 Gibbs Drive), Jim Gibbs world-class garden of 292 acres, making it one of the nation's largest residential estate gardens. Along with tours, Gibbs Gardens holds 50-plus music and special events each year.
Two and a half miles east of Ball Ground and near the confluence of Long-Swamp Creek and the Etowah River is the site of 'Taliwa,' the crucial battle of the war between Cherokee and Creek Indians in the 1700s. If you plan to stay all day and are a meat-eater, be sure to stop at the German-style Frankfurt Doner & Meats (250 Gilmer Ferry Road. 678-454-0784) for old-school deli and sausages to go, even store-made hot dogs and red cabbage slaw.
105 miles from Atlanta in northeast Georgia
This small mountain community has everything for the avid outdoors adventurer who can also appreciate a small town pace. It sits at the base of 2,856-foot Tiger Mountain, a prominent Blue Ridge Mountain peak, and you can drive Old U.S. 441 right through town and into the countryside any season of the year. The tiny town itself boasts the Tiger Drive-In (2956 Old U.S. Highway S), which offers first-run motion pictures featuring an FM broadcast and is also employed for Saturday drive-in flea markets, vegetable markets and Sunday afternoon antique car shows.
Another lure is the Tiger Mountain Winery (2592 Old U.S. Highway 441 S. 706-782-4777), operated from the site of a five-generations old family farm and winner of three 2017 silver medals in the Los Angeles Wine Competition. Its tasting room is open daily and its chef-driven Red Barn Cafe has a luxurious menu and occasionally hosts sophisticated wine dinners.
There are plenty of B&Bs in surrounding Rabun County if you want to spend the night near Tiger. Or, the Tiger Drive-In invites patrons to bring an RV or tent and crash at the theater after the movies!
About 96 miles northeast of Atlanta
Near the Tallulah River and named for the five falls that cascade through the gorge, Tallulah Falls had a population of just 168 at the 2010 census. It's a fine spot for fishing and picnicking on the town's three lakes, swimming at the Georgia Power Company's Terrora Beach. Come Saturday night in spring, summer and fall, stay for live bluegrass bands on Bluegrass Square in downtown Tallulah Falls. You can even bring your own instrument and join in.