9 Easy Daytrips from Atlanta

Summer road trip, anyone?

North, south, east or west, hidden gems abound in every direction beyond Atlanta’s city limits for those exploring further afield. From a charming college town to a quintessential peach orchard to popular state parks, consider this your Georgia summer bucket list. 

Athens, Georgia

Drive Time: 1 hour

One of my favorite ways to spend a little free time is a quick trip east—the near east—where good music, savory eats and an eclectic culture blend for what could be an entire weekend’s worth of memories. From a myriad of outdoor adventures that let my nature-loving kids soak up some fresh air, to a bevy of local boutiques that appease the need for retail therapy and plenty of write-home-about menu options to refuel for more fun, the small town of Athens, Georgia is the perfect way to spend a day. Home to the University of Georgia, this vibrant town is a destination for sports fans, history buffs and music lovers alike–whether you’re a bulldog or not. 

Athens

About an hour and a half outside the city, we always leave early enough to hit city limits by breakfast; because there’s never enough time to make the tough decision on where to place our coffee order. At Big City Bread Café, it comes with decadent French toast, or the fresh-baked breakfast bread of the day smothered in homemade jam. At the Heirloom Café and Fresh Market a seasonal menu of fresh and healthy—but certainly larger-than-life—options include Love on a Biscuit, two poached eggs on a buttermilk biscuit with buffalo fried chicken and Heirloom sauce, or the Doscuit Holes we order for the table, donut holes made with biscuit dough, topped with cinnamon sugar and bourbon salted caramel.

And that’s just the first hour. For me, I fuel up to conquer a day shopping downtown and eating even more, or for a visit to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia where I can snap pictures and my kids can run free. Just outside of town, you can rent a kiwi to float down the Broad River, or visit a myriad of local in town parks with playgrounds, hiking and nature loving options to make idle hours worth keeping open. And if I’m being honest, the stately homes, historic landmarks and winding sidewalks offer pretty good motivation to just spend the day walking around.

If you did nothing but eat, shop and play outside, you’d have no regrets, but there’s more. Be it indie, up-and-comer or mainstream, Athens has enough music venues (and industry cred) to ensure the concert options never skip a beat. It’s also got a flair for the arts. And if you get a table at The National, you can turn dessert into a paper-bag-popcorn-and-PBR flick at Ciné, the two-theatre boutique movie house showing first-run indie films. Also adding to its collection of buzzy eateries, restaurateurs Jerry and Krista Slater’s The Expat with chef Savannah Sasser debuted last month. A nightcap of cornhole or salsa dancing at one of the staple nightclubs across the street ensures you leave the city with more than a bulldog’s souvenir.

A college-town destination is time well spent, but the best part about Atlanta is the proximity to a long list of worthy day trips. Whether you have 20 minutes or a couple of hours to spend in the car, you can challenge plenty of Georgia-bred bucket lists with the city as your starting point.

Madison, GA

Madison, Georgia

Drive Time: 1 hour

This quintessential small Southern town is the gateway to a picturesque historic district packed with notable eateries, shopping, outdoor adventures like horseback riding, golfing, hiking and kayaking and a notable walking tour offering history lessons from the entire town. 

peach cobbler at lane southern orchards

Lane Southern Orchards

Drive Time: 2 hours

Spend a summer afternoon on Fort Valley farmland picking pounds of fresh blackberries before grabbing a seat (read: rocking chair) on the front porch with a heaping bowl of homemade peach ice cream or to-go bags filled with peach salsa, preserves and assorted candy-coated pecans. 

The Marietta Square

Drive Time: 20 minutes

This historic suburb is not far from the city, but you can pack out an itinerary at one of nearly 30 restaurants, breweries or the farmers market. Round out the day with a historic trolley tour, or a show at the classic Strand Theatre

Downtown Crabapple

Drive Time: 1 hour

An abundance of local businesses, this community invites you to spend the day with your neighbors shopping, eating and enjoying the outdoors. We love the Crabapple Market for anything from fresh seafood to sweet treats, interactive arts and crafts to fun and eclectic home décor, clothing and gifts. 

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

Downtown Blue Ridge

Drive Time: 2 hours

Escape to the mountains for a balance of bold flavor and beautiful views at the drive-in, atop Benton MacKaye Trail, dining downtown or sampling apple cider doughnuts from Mercier Orchards. Add in a train ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway or hit the shops for a day spent soaking up good ole North Georgia geography. 

Tallulah Gorge State Park

Drive Time: 2 Hours

Bring your camera and claim one of the 100 permits granted every day to spend time hiking trails, overlooks and crossing a suspension bridge for spectacular views of waterfalls and this park’s breathtaking granite cliffs. Plus, the kids can cool off at the popular sliding rock or on the lakeside beach. 

Providence Canyon State Park

Drive Time: 2 hours

Pack a lunch and tackle a 3-mile hike exploring this natural wonder from the bottom of the canyons (where you’ll glimpse the largest wild stand of rare Plumleaf azaleas in the world) to the overlooks along the rim. It’s a stunning night hike, too, highlighting the Milky Way, constellations and several planets. 

Providence Canyon State Park

Jennifer Colosimo
About the author

Jennifer is a freelance writer and photographer reporting on travel, fashion, food, fun and anything else she can get...