Macon and its surrounding counties have the geographically enviable position of being halfway to nearly everything interesting in Georgia. In some cases, the “interesting” is only a short drive away. Below are 10 great suggestions for some can’t-miss summer day trips, from Helen to Savannah and back, we’ve got you covered. So shut off the TV and explore the history, beauty and adventure of Georgia -- and be home by bedtime.
Day trips to Stone Mountain are a summer tradition for Georgia families. With so much to do at this 3,200-acre park located just east of Atlanta, it is easy to see why families come back year after year. Recent updates have made the park even more attractive to visitors. New additions include the Sky Hike, a family adventure obstacle course where visitors navigate 12- to 14-feet-high net bridges and wooden walls. Compulsory safety harnesses made the activity more approachable for children and the inexperienced.
More relaxing activities include a scenic railroad, an open-air train that takes visitors around the base of the mountain and the high-speed cable car, the Summit Skyride. The Skyride travels 825 feet to the top of the mountain, where visitors can experience views of up to 60 miles. Make sure to stay for the updated Lasershow currently in its 30th year at the park. The show is performed on the 90-by-190-feet relief sculpture named the Confederate Memorial Carving. The carving of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson took three different sculptures and 60 years to come to fruition.
If you go: 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; $10 parking fee, individual attractions $9-$14, passes available; www.stonemountainpark.com; 770-498-5690.
City of Savannah
Located a quick 2.5 hour drive from Macon and boasting a multitude of events and historic structures, Savannah is a day tripper’s paradise. Founded in 1733 by Gen. James Oglethorpe, Savannah was Georgia’s first city and the first planned city in America. Currently, Savannah has 22 public squares of the city’s original 24. Thanks to an intrepid group of women in the 1950s, Savannah’s historic structures were saved from the wrecking ball. Their efforts were rewarded in 1966, when the Savannah Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark District.
For a good overview of the city, check out Old Time Trolley Tours (9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Sunday; adults $27.99, children 4-12 $10; www.trolleytours.com/savannah; 888-910-8687). The 1.5 hour hop on/hop off tour hits all the highlights of Savannah’s Historic and Victorian districts. After that, take a stroll down Savannah’s famous River Street and stop in at one of the former cotton warehouses that now house more than 70 art galleries, pubs or restaurants. If you worked up an appetite after your stroll, walk over to Leopold’s Ice Cream, 212 E. Broughton St. (11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday; www.leopoldsicecream.com; 812-234-4442). Leopold’s has been a Savannah staple since 1919. Their ice cream is considered one of the city’s best. Check out the SCAD Museum of Art for a glimpse into the world of contemporary art, 601 Turner Blvd. (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; adults $10, families $20, students $5, 14 and under free; www.scadmoa.org; 912-525-7191).
Considered one of the best aquariums in the country, the Georgia Aquarium has had more than 11 million visitors since it opened in 2005. The massive space has more than 60 exhibits. Children and adults will enjoy seeing whale sharks, beluga whales, penguins and numerous other marine life in tanks that can be as large as several stories. Regular ticket price also includes entrance to the “AT&T Dolphin Tales” show. The show, two years in the making, is a musical theater production with an original score. The show highlights the bond between humans and dolphins and features high-end effects, costuming, human actors and agile dolphins.
If you go: 225 Baker St. NW, Atlanta; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; adults $35.95, children 3-12 $29.95, seniors $31.95; www.georgiaaquarium.org; 404-581-4000.
City of Helen
Take Interstate 75 North for 160 miles and you will see an erstwhile dying lumber town that changed its fate. Helen wasn’t always an adorable Alpine town. That change happened in 1969 when three businessmen decided the town needed to do something to attract tourists on their way to the North Georgia mountains. They contacted a local artist named John Kollack. The landscape of Helen reminded Kollack of the small Bavarian towns he visited while in the service. He drew up plans to change Helen’s main street into a replica Alpine village and Helen as we know it was born.
Travelers who want to escape from the dense summer heat of Middle Georgia should visit the Cool River Tubing Company, 590 Edelweiss Strasse, (9 a.m.-6 p.m. May 23-Sept. 2; $5; www.coolrivertubing.com; 706-878-2665). Choose between a tubing trip that lasts either one or two hours down the beautiful Chattahoochee River. If you’re a nature lover, check out Anna Ruby Falls, 3455 Anna Ruby Falls Road (9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Sunday; $3; www.helenga.org/business/anna-ruby-falls-visitor-center; 706-878-1448). The twin falls mark the juncture of the Curtis and York creeks. An easy walk leads from the parking lot to the base of the falls where visitors can enjoy the view. In June the Helen Arts and Heritage Center presents The History of Moonshine Makin’ in Helen and Thereabouts in White County. This presentation by local “shiners” on moonshine and local stills will interest the history buff (5:30 p.m. June 10, the Helen Arts and Heritage Center, 25 Chattahoochee Strasse; free; www.helenarts.org; 706-878-3933).
Andersonville Civil War Site
Built during the waning years of the Civil War, Andersonville Prison Camp became known as one of the worst atrocities of the Civil War. Built in 1864 and originally constructed to hold only 10,000 Union captives, the prison quickly saw its prisoner population swell to more than 30,000. Unsanitary conditions, exposure and malnutrition caused Andersonville to have the highest mortality rate of any Civil War prison. The commander of the camp, Capt. Henry Wirz, was the only person executed for war crimes committed during the Civil War.
Now a National Historic Site, visitors can get a greater understanding of the plight of prisoners of war. The site has a reconstruction of the original Andersonville prison and is the location of the National Prisoner of War Museum. The museum offers films and exhibits about Andersonville and the experience of prisoners of war throughout American history.
The site is also home to The Andersonville National Cemetery, where 13,000 Andersonville prisoners are buried as well as U.S. service members since the Civil War.
If you go: 496 Cemetery Road, Andersonville; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily; free admission; www.nps.gov/ande/index.htm; 229-924-0343.
The Little White House and Callaway Gardens
Little White House: The home President Franklin Delano Roosevelt built in 1932 in Warm Springs, while he was still governor of New York, stands nearly exactly as he left it at his death in 1945. Brought to Warm Springs by the idea that the area’s natural warm spring water could help ease his pain brought on by polio, many of the ideas of his administration’s New Deal reforms were brought about by his interaction with locals in this small town.
This historic site contains not just the home itself, but the servant’s quarters, the FDR Memorial Museum and Historic Pools Museum.
If you go: 401 Little White House Road, Warm Springs; 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. daily; adults $12, youth ages 6-17 $7, children $2, seniors $10; www.gastateparks.org/LittleWhiteHouse; 706-655-5870.
Callaway Gardens: This 2,500-acre woodland garden is just 90 miles west of Macon. Make sure you visit the Sibley Horticultural Center that’s in the garden. This five-acre greenhouse contains native and exotic plants, a sculpture garden and a grotto. The gardens are famous for the Day Butterfly Center, a LEED-certified glass and steel building that is home to more than 50 varieties of butterflies. Hiking, fishing and golf are offered as well.
If you go: 17800 U.S. 27, Pine Mountain; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; adults $18, children $9, seniors $15, children under 5 free; www.callawaygardens.com; 800-225-5292.
High Falls State Park
Only a half hour from Macon, this park takes its name from the cascades of the Towaliga River. The park’s lake is well loved by anglers who catch hybrid and white bass. The area used to be a prosperous industrial town but was abandoned after the railroad bypassed it. Today, hikers can go to the remains of an old hydroelectric plant within the park. Boat, kayak and canoe rentals are also available. In addition, the park offers special hikes, birding sessions, guided kayaking and other activities on the weekends. For a listing of these special events, visit the website.
If you go: 76 High Falls Park Drive, Jackson. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; $5 parking fee; www.gastateparks.org/HighFalls; 478-993-3053.
Museum of Aviation
This museum is a must-do for any aviation or military history buff. The exhibits about the Tuskegee Airmen and the Air Invasion of Normandy are just a few of the not-to-be-missed exhibits. Guided 1½ hour tours are available for groups larger than 15 at a cost of $3 per person. Free self-guided tours also are available. Make sure to stop by the Victory Cafe for lunch. Visitors get a great view of the aircraft and the food gets high marks as well.
If you go: Ga. 247 at Russell Parkway, Warner Robins; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; free; www.museumofaviation.org; 478-926-6870.
High Museum of Art
One of the leading art museums in the Southeast, the High has come far from its original home, a house on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street. The High of today is an architecturally distinctive contemporary building in the Atlanta streetscape. Its permanent collection boasts works by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keefe, just to name a few. Its special exhibit “Dream Cars” is on display from May 21-Sept. 7. This exhibit looks at the high-art concept car from the 1930s to the 21st century. Original concept drawings, scale models and the cars themselves will be displayed, demonstrating how the car was born as just another piece of machinery but through time has become art.
If you go: 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; adults $19.50, students $16.50, children ages 6-17 $12, seniors $16.50; www.high.org; 404-733-4444.
Wild Adventures Theme Park
If your family is looking for some good old-fashioned fun, then Wild Adventures in Valdosta has you covered. Thrill seekers can ride The Boomerang, which packs in six inversions and two hills in a ride that’s less than two minutes. For visitors who aren’t quite so thrill seeking, the park offers rides such as bumper cars and a Ferris wheel.
Stick around to hear Daughtry perform live May 31; and check the website for other performances throughout the summer. Entrance to the concert is free with general park admission.
If you go: 3766 Old Clyattville Road, Valdosta; hours vary by month, check website for details; adult two-day pass $46, children ages 3-9 two-day pass $41, senior two-day pass $41; www.wildadventures.com; 229-219-7080.