Photograph by John E. McDonald
Whether you’re looking for something to do later this year or something to do right now, here’s 50 ways to have fun in the great outdoors
I want to do something…
Go on an urban hike
For a diversity of terrain surprisingly close to Atlanta’s urban core, lace up the Timberlands or comfy sneakers and check out PATH’s South Peachtree Creek Trail. This 3.6-mile greenway links Emory University to two public parks (Mason Mill and Medlock) with a full mile of boardwalks snaking over swampy wetlands and rising high into hardwood canopies. On the west side, the forested Lionel Hampton–Beecher Hills Park offers an easy, 1.2-mile trail of paved and rugged natural surfaces where deer sightings are common, all adjacent to Westview Cemetery. Or, for tucked-away serenity in between residential North Druid Hills and a huge Target, the Elwyn John Wildlife Sanctuary at Kittredge Park features a 1.2-mile loop through the woods.
Stroll through a cemetery
Cemeteries have long been destinations: In the 1850s, New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery drew nearly as many visitors as Niagara Falls. “People brought picnics and saw them as places to enjoy nature,” says Liz Clappin, host of the podcast Tomb with a View and an urban planner with the City of Atlanta who, as part of the Cemetery Network, helps document and advocate for the 82 known burial grounds within city limits. “Anybody who sees cemeteries differently today has kind of lost the spirit of the institution.” If you’re interested in architecture and design, visit Atlanta’s Greenwood, which has dedicated Greek and Chinese sections and is home to the oldest public Holocaust memorial in the country. Nature? Utoy and Decatur, which is next door to a small park with a wooded path and a stream. Clappin’s favorite haunt for culture and history is South-View, in the Historic Lakewood Heights neighborhood. “It’s a veritable who’s who of Black Atlanta,” she says. The final resting place for Hank Aaron, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s parents, South-View was one of the first Black businesses in the country, founded in 1886 by a group of formerly enslaved people in response to the way segregated burial grounds treated Black Atlantans. Its older, nonperpetual care section is a beautiful place to roam—especially with a lavender cold brew in hand from nearby Black Coffee Company.
Photograph by John E. McDonald
Play outdoor pickup basketball
For all the ballers out there, Atlanta is blessed with a multitude of public courts. Since 2015, the Atlanta Hawks Foundation has upgraded seven of them with cutting-edge Sport Court playing surfaces that dry quickly and maximize ball-bounce; they’re also generally easier on players’ bodies. One neighborhood, Kirkwood, is lucky enough to have two courts (actually two full courts and a half-court) that received the Hawks makeover, which makes them magnets for pickup games throughout most of the year. For a fenced option that controls errant balls better, try the courts at Bessie Branham Park. If those are full, Coan Park’s courts are only about a mile away.
Photograph by Martha Williams
Dine and drink with a bird’s-eye city view
What do you want to see from a rooftop bar? If it’s verdant Buckhead with a backdrop of rolling Georgia hills, check out St. Julep, the hip space on the ninth floor of the Kimpton Sylvan, a midcentury apartment building converted in 2021 into a stylish boutique hotel; in addition to excellent cocktails, the bar serves a playful menu of food like Sichuan tater tots, corn dogs, and tequila-mango soft-serve. For Atlanta skyline views, the classic option remains the rooftop of the Hotel Clermont, with street food and frosé on an Astroturf lawn. If you’re near the ocean and wanting to contemplate an entirely different skyline, Savannah’s Bar Julian looks out on the historic city and Savannah River from atop the Thompson hotel; craft cocktails here complement a menu of Mediterranean-Southern mashups like Sea Island red pea hummus and pizza topped with arugula and country ham.
. . . or have just as delicious a time at ground level
Closer to the earth, chef Deborah VanTrece serves comfort-food favorites from around the world at Oreatha’s at the Point—whose charming little sliver of a patio overlooks Cascade Road. On the coast? Hop Atomica is just a few minutes from Savannah’s historic district in the Baldwin Park neighborhood, slinging sloppy-good sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas as well as house-brewed beers and house-distilled spirits.
Take your dog on an outing
Want an alternative to taking your dog on the same old walk? All three breweries on Avondale Estates’ recently christened Dale Ale Trail—Wild Heaven, Little Cottage, and Lost Druid—are pet friendly and within a few blocks of each other. Ditto for a newer entrant to metro Atlanta’s suds scene, Schoolhouse Brewing in Marietta, which has a large outdoor firepit and picnic area (dogs are still required to be leashed). The 33-acre Morningside Nature Preserve provides a respite from the heat—colloquially called “Dog Beach”—along the banks of Peachtree Creek’s South Fork. The ultimate dip for dogs, however, can be found where the gorgeous East Palisades Trail meets the Chattahoochee River in Buckhead. Here, the river’s broad shallow section is a magnet for pet owners (though parking can be tricky on weekends and holidays) and so pretty you’ll forget Interstate 75 is just beyond the trees.
Photograph by Katie Bricker
Dive into a pool on a rooftop
Local hotels offer some luxurious rooftop pools, from the W Atlanta Downtown to Epicurean Atlanta, but nonguests will have to buy a $40 day pass (resortpass.com) to jump in. Not so at L.O.A. (Leave of Absence), which opened in June atop Westside’s Interlock complex. The 38,000-square-foot facility includes a restaurant and two outdoor spaces open daily to the public—a four-foot-deep pool with lounge chairs and cabanas (both available for rent) and the Grove, a gravel garden with chairs and firepits for socializing. All the rooftop facilities offer food-and-beverage service, but there’s no charge to hang out—or dive in.
Watch planes come and go at PDK
Between the flight lessons and chartered jets, plane-watchers have plenty of takeoffs and landings to watch at the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, Georgia’s second-busiest airport. Right behind the PDK control tower, at the nexus of two runways, a park with a grandstand viewing deck is perfect for watching aircraft taxiing to and fro. For your long-range planning, the airport hosts a Good Neighbor Day Air Show each spring, complete with stunt pilots and aviation activities on the runway. When all that skygazing works up an appetite, Downwind, PDK Eats, and the 57th Fighter Group Restaurant are steps away with fare fit for top guns.
Pack a picnic
Picnics these days! They require less effort than ever, as more restaurateurs sell food optimized for travel. That’s the main thrust at the Buttery ATL, the cute little shop off Cheshire Bridge Road where Linton Hopkins serves premade crowd-pleasers like muffalettas, chicken salad, and mac and cheese, plus pastry chef Jen Yee’s immaculate pies, cakes, and cookies. Down on the southeast side, you can preorder a charcuterie board from Chop Shop that’ll feed up to six people, or grab a few top-shelf breakfast burritos (and various rotating accoutrements, including queso, salsa, and housemade tortillas) from Nick Melvin’s counter-service spot, Poco Loco. Does even that sound like too much work? Then just hire someone to do the whole thing for you: Elevated Picnics, for instance, is a service that sets up (and beautifully decorates) a tent, prepares the food, provides the tunes—and then takes care of the cleanup.
Explore new parts of the BeltLine
Think of the Atlanta BeltLine, and the raucous weekend crowds along the Eastside Trail or bucolic, quieter stretches like the Northside Trail in Buckhead probably leap to mind. Fewer folks realize the BeltLine—technically, a spoke of the BeltLine’s 22-mile loop—now stretches right into downtown Atlanta. Opened last year, the Westside BeltLine Connector begins across the street from the Georgia World Congress Center (intersection of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard) and shoots northwest. It provides an uncrowded, surprisingly flat 1.7-mile route that’s perfect for walking, jogging, roller-skating, or any other activity. Highlights along the way include passing through an old train tunnel, over new and refurbished bridges, and beside T.I.’s Trap Museum. Added bonuses: taking in skyline perspectives you may have never seen before—and continuing for another newly paved mile on the BeltLine’s Westside Trail, which now seamlessly links to the Connector.
Photograph by Growl
Take advantage of Atlanta’s relaxed food truck regulations
Until recently, Atlanta’s tangle of regulations made it difficult for food trucks to park in all but a few narrowly defined public spaces, but a 2021 overhaul of the system has created new zones where trucks can do business in the public right-of-way. For instance, at Peachtree Street and 16th Street, where you might grab a bite from Twist of Culture Cuisines (serving Nigerian-Caribbean fusion: think curry goat, jollof rice, jerk chicken) or Gyro Chef Mediterranean before hitting the High Museum or wandering through shady Winn Park nearby. Streetfoodfinder.com is a helpful tool for figuring out what vendors will be out and about on a given day.
Watch for flying discs at Perkerson Park
Explore a hardwood forest minutes from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but watch out for flying discs. Perkerson Park in the Capitol View neighborhood has 18 holes of disc golf with short tee pads for beginners and long tee pads for those with experience. Built in 2011 by volunteers, the disc golf course travels along a rock-lined stream and features grass fairways between mature oak trees. Throughout the year, the Atlanta Disc Golf Organization holds various events at the park, such as organized league events on Sundays and tournaments for all ages and levels.
Photograph by the Sintoses
Sip locally brewed beer on a breezy patio
Oakhurst offers plenty of options for open-air eating and drinking, but the best beer is found at Sceptre Brewing Arts, an easygoing, family-friendly hang with a capacious patio space and various events throughout the week, including team trivia, open-mic comedy, and cornhole. Sceptre is also looped into the local pop-up food scene, so you might get to enjoy snacks from vendors like Ganji (Korean fusion), Krupana (Bosnian), and Thicc Burger (take a guess). Other best bets for Atlanta breweries with convivial outdoor spaces: the original location of Monday Night Brewing, tucked away down a shady dead-end street in Berkeley Park; the miniature drinking district that is the Lee + White complex in West End, comprising Monday Night Garage, Wild Heaven (and its accompanying coffee bar, Finca to Filter), Best End, and Golda Kombucha; and Orpheus Brewing, where you can sip in the sun after (or, heck, before) a jog or a bike ride around Piedmont Park.
Get a workout in—for free
As many Atlantans learned during pandemic lockdowns, you don’t have to be a parkour pro to make public spaces your (free) outdoor gym in the city. Fitness areas for calisthenics and bodyweight workouts—aka, “freeletics”—abound, but skipping the busier ones (Piedmont Park) could be wise. The most extensive amount of outdoor equipment we’ve found is toward the south end of Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Vine City, an impressive 16-acre greenspace opened last year. Find a dozen gravity-controlled pieces there for flexing everything from lats to quads. Another larger outdoor gym that’s covered for protection from the elements (nothing annoys like soggy bench presses) is in Washington Park, a few steps from the northernmost entrance to the BeltLine’s Westside Trail.
Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden
Get lost in the woods
Sprawling new Westside Park gets all the attention, and there’s good reason for that—but the Atlanta area is dotted with smaller forested spaces where you can enjoy a walk that’s just as lovely (with less chance of being run over by a scooter). South as the crow flies, the headquarters of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance sits on a rolling, shady 26-acre nature preserve with two miles of trails (plus a ropes course and a playground); over in Druid Hills, the privately owned but open-to-the-public Frazer Forest boasts towering old-growth trees and proximity to both the Olmsted Linear Park system and, across Ponce, the two miles of trails in the 65-acre Fernbank Forest. A more elevated experience, literally: Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Storza Woods, where a canopy walk 40 feet above ground winds you among massive tulip poplars.
Birders talk about their “spark bird”—the species that originally caught their attention. Wildlife biologist and Austell outdoorsman Alex Troutman’s first love was the red-tailed hawk, which he would spot while fishing with his father, brothers, and uncle. Troutman is one of the original organizers of Black Birders Week, a national program highlighting Black nature enthusiasts launched in 2020 and now held every spring in late May and early June. Here is his advice for novice birders:
Finally, don’t take local birds for granted. “Cardinals may seem boring to you, but someone from out West might kill to see them,” he notes.
Photograph by John E. McDonald
Amble around with a drink in hand
One pandemic policy we heartily approve of: As a way to support struggling businesses, several Atlanta-area cities created zones where it’s legal to order a drink from a restaurant and bar and wander with it under the sun or stars. Many such provisions were introduced as temporary measures—but proved persuasive enough that they were made permanent. Thursday through Sunday in Decatur, for instance, you could snag one of the scores of brews from Brick Store Pub’s legendary beer menu and stroll around the square (one of Decatur’s six designated districts, which also include the Old Depot District—around Kimball House and Kelly’s Market—and the Oakhurst Business District). Find other recently approved open-container areas in downtown Marietta and Tucker and along Avondale Estates’ Dale Ale Trail. (In Savannah, of course, this kind of situation is old news—to-go drinks have long been the norm in the famously freewheeling Hostess City.)
Shoot the ’Hooch
There are several outfitters who rent tubes and provide shuttles along the metro’s section of the Chattahoochee River, but you can avoid waiting for the bus if you drop off your own car wherever you plan to get out. Bring tubes, sunscreen, snacks, and beverages (alcohol is allowed but no glass or Styrofoam), life jackets (required to be on hand for all; children 13 and under must wear theirs), and $5 per car if you park in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Two popular routes are from Johnson Ferry to Powers Island (3.5 miles and four to five hours) or from Powers Island to Paces Mill (2.5 miles and three to four hours), which is a bit more challenging. Check the CRNRA’s website for bacteria levels and river flow rates before you go. Currents can get surprisingly strong—two men have died this summer trying to swim across. If you crave more whitewater, head north to the Toccoa, Chattooga, or Ocoee Rivers.
Feed the animals
The Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center in Johns Creek has added Feeding Friday events to its programming. Guests get a hands-on opportunity to learn husbandry techniques for Autrey Mill’s turtles, frogs, bunnies, ducks, goats, chickens—even snakes. When the visitor center is closed, you can still feed the goats, ducks, and chickens from the feed machines with just a quarter. Each animal (of more than 30 different kinds housed there) has a special diet, and the feed machines contain food that is formulated for particular species. So, keep your own snacks at home.
Pick up your produce from a farmers market
There are the big ones: Freedom Park (Saturday), Peachtree Road (Saturday), Grant Park (Sunday). But Atlanta is also awash in smaller neighborhood farmers markets brimming with (depending on the season) asparagus, mustard greens, kale, peaches, apples, pecans, squash, okra, and other fruits and veggies, plus vendors selling a wide variety of adjacent items. Mondays from 4 to 7 p.m. in Castleberry Hill, you can pick up artisan cheese, raw honey, and cocktail mixers; Wednesday evenings along the BeltLine outside Ponce City Market, find nut butters, kombucha, and vegan baked goods. The latter is part of the Community Farmers Markets network; check out cfmatl.org for more markets around town, including ones popping up at MARTA stations.
Forage for food at the Browns Mill Urban Food Forest
A true food forest has seven layers of edibility, often starting at the top with large nut trees, and a lower layer of fruit trees like apple and plum. Next are edible bushes and vines (think: blueberries and raspberries), followed by groundcover—where strawberries and mushrooms flourish in low light. Herbs, both medicinal and edible, and ground provisions round out the mix. At Browns Mill Urban Food Forest, 2,200 fruit and nut trees, shrubs, and seedlings that were planted on the 7.1-acre former pecan farm in 2019 are just now starting to mature and ripen for the picking. Three beehives and compost bins keep everything organic. Each tree is slated to produce 200 to 400 pounds of fresh food in its lifetime—helping put within reach the City’s stated goal to “bring healthy food within a half mile of 85 percent of Atlanta residents by 2022.” Residents and volunteers who live in the South Atlanta corridor get first dibs from the forest’s bounty, and the public can partake of ripened food regularly set out at the Community Harvest Table near the forest entrance.
Photograph by Karen Bond Photography
Make a splash at Clayton County’s beach
The Beach at Clayton County’s International Park—a 1996 Olympic beach volleyball venue—has undergone a major overhaul. The new Spivey Splash Water Park, which opened in May, offers a lazy river, kiddie pool, splash pad, pool with water basketball and volleyball, 40-foot slide tower, FlowRider for surfing, and more. Daily entry is $13 for visitors under four feet tall (kids age two and under are free), and $15 for everyone else. (File this one away for next year: This year’s season ended September 5.)
Visit a waterfall without leaving Atlanta
Vickery Creek Trail winds through almost five miles of lush woods in Roswell and reaches a towering waterfall at Roswell Mill. It’s all part of the ruins of the historic Roswell Manufacturing Company cotton mills, which were destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War, rebuilt, and wrecked for a final time in a 1926 fire. In addition to the waterfall, the trail has a covered bridge and views of a burbling creek that feeds into the Chattahoochee River.
Practice Yoga on a paddleboard at Morgan Falls Overlook Park
Salute the sun perched atop a standup paddleboard at classes organized by High Country Paddle Shack. The sessions are suitable for SUP newbies, though it helps to know your vinyasa. All equipment is provided, and 90-minute classes are $50 (ages 13 and up).
Stroll along the Chattahoochee Nature Center’s Riverwalk
This spring, the Chattahoochee Nature Center opened its renovated 2,000-foot boardwalk along the Chattahoochee River. The most exciting part is the new, ADA-accessible pedestrian bridge over Willeo Road, which at long last connects the center to its river campus across the street. Check out wildlife encounters with birds of prey, reptiles, and amphibians; attend special events like outdoor concerts and Halloween hikes; go for guided or family canoe rides; or just explore wetland habitats from the newly restored walkway.
Photograph by Ralph Daniel, Explore Georgia
Hit the target at Panola Mountain State Park
Take aim at an archery range with lessons and equipment provided by Panola Mountain State Park ($15 per person). Just 30 minutes southeast of downtown Atlanta, the park offers basic classes to anyone age eight and up every second and fourth weekend of the month. No experience is necessary. The class features a range with 12 targets. Bring your own equipment to shoot along a wooded trail with 3-D, animal-shaped targets.
Go retro with a movie at the Starlight Drive-In
Take a trip back in time by seeing a movie at the Starlight Drive-In Theatre, one of only four remaining drive-in theaters in Georgia. The theater is located in South Atlanta near Thomasville Heights—just off Moreland Avenue—and retains its old-fashioned feel with a neon sign out front and four projection screens. The theater has offered laid-back nights under the stars for moviegoers of all ages since opening in 1949.
Learn to play pickleball at the HOP
In 2021, the city of Newnan opened its 15-court House of Pickleball. Complete with shaded seating, restrooms, and concession stands, the facility is free to the public, as are its beginner clinics. There are plenty of slots for open play, but the Newnan Pickleball Association also organizes ladder leagues and tournaments.
Go mountain biking in the city
The first mountain bike trails constructed on City of Atlanta parkland—and the only purpose-built trails ITP, for that matter—are so close to the airport that you can read the sides of landing planes. Yet Southside Park, with its 200-plus acres of unspoiled forests, is serene enough to pass for backwoods Blue Ridge. Park near the ball fields and follow the signs to a nondescript, red-clay path into the woods. There, the seven-mile trail system is clearly marked as three color-coded loops: beginner, intermediate, and expert. (Each trail is open to hikers and runners, too; just note the signs telling bikers which direction to travel according to the day of the week, while pedestrians go the opposite way, per park rules.) The 1.25-mile beginner loop (marked with a green circle) is terrific for kids—especially when the air pressure is let down in their tires to soften bumps. The midlevel loop (blue square) is the longest, at 3.2 miles—and pure joy for anyone with decent skills—in a tranquil environment where deer are apt to leap off into the leaves. Be wary of unintentionally veering onto the pro-grade Hickory Trail (black diamond), where you’ll encounter extremely technical stretches—aka “rock gardens”—that ride like a minefield of jagged stones. Or what expert riders call fun.
Photograph courtesy of Jekyll Island Hospitality
Hang a hammock
If you’ve wandered a city park lately, you probably know hammocks aren’t just for camping or relaxing after you mow the lawn. One familiar intown place that’s emerged as a hammocking magnet is Freedom Park, the 210-acre east-side greenspace where rolling hills and mature trees make for pleasant afternoons swinging in the breeze. Another easy destination to hammock (yes, it’s a verb) is Stone Mountain Park, according to the outdoor whizzes at Atlanta Trails, where the relatively easy, 1.7-mile Venable Lake Loop offers plenty of opportunities for chilling beside lake waters that reflect the famous granite formation. If you’re game for a truly iconic hammocking destination, it’s tough to beat the gorgeous seaside graveyard of toppled trees that is Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach. Going at low tide allows for access to more branches in the shallows.
Zipline to Alabama
You may know that the Chattahoochee River passes right by downtown Columbus, which is home to the world’s longest urban whitewater course. But did you know that local outfitter Whitewater Express also offers zip lines across the river from Georgia to Alabama, which reach speeds of up to 40 miles an hour? Take the 1,200-foot line over to Phenix City, where you can take a shorter canopy zipline tour before riding back to Columbus ($44.95 per person).
Photograph by John E. McDonald
To cast a line without leaving the big city (okay, technically, Brookhaven), head to 135-acre Murphey Candler Park. Its manmade lake is a hotspot for hooking channel catfish, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, and bluegill. It’s also a swell fishing hole for kids. Ditto the Cochran Shoals section of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, where trout can be caught all year long, according to Georgia Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff. (Valid Georgia fishing licenses are required for anglers over age 16; study up on the risks of eating ’Hooch fish before filling your cooler.) For help with casting a line, DNR has authorized four outfitters to operate in the sprawling recreation area. If the ocean is calling, Jekyll Island Pier (one of only three in Georgia waters) offers an easy entree into saltwater fishing, with a bait shack next door for supplies (use dead shrimp) and everything from mullets to sharks typically biting.
Photograph courtesy of Jekyll Island Authority
Learn how to climb a tree
While a far cry from the tree climbing you may remember from childhood, the art of scaling trees with ropes and harnesses isn’t as difficult as it seems, especially with the various local organizations offering lessons to beginners. Tree for All’s Fun in Trees offers public and private climbs, guided climbs, and courses at parks in Alpharetta, Roswell, and Brookhaven (from $32 per climber, equipment provided).
Paddle Atlanta’s South River
The South River carves a tranquil, tree-lined path through Atlanta’s southeastern quadrant—a zen-seeking paddler’s dream, which has battled water-quality woes. (American Rivers named it among the country’s most endangered waterways in 2021.) More use means higher Georgia EPD standards and improved water quality. The South River Watershed Alliance and the City of Stonecrest are building two kayak launch sites at Panola Shoals Trailhead and Everett Park—part of a longer planned water trail—and are leading periodic group paddles from May through October. Count on ample shade, a gentle current, and relentless birdsong.
Find the Flint
The headwaters for the Flint, Georgia’s second largest river, can be hidden in plain sight. It starts near the railroad junction in downtown East Point, and flows through 1.5 miles of pipeage under the airport and into flora- and fauna-filled tributaries nearby. From there, the river creeps deeper into Clayton County and then runs into Florida. Finding the endangered Flint headwaters has become a thing—a string of creek restoration projects led by urban explorers and conservationists who’ve formed an organization called Finding the Flint, which connects neighborhoods to nature “in an area that has been fragmented by parking lots and transportation infrastructure,” says Hannah Palmer, a coordinator for the group and author of Flight Path: A Search for Roots Beneath the World’s Busiest Airport. Though there are regular tours of the headwaters, anyone can log Flint sightings from bridges, sidewalks, backyards, and storm drains in Tri-Cities and unincorporated Clayton County. The first official public access site to the river is the boat ramp at Joe Kurz Wildlife Management Area near Gay, Georgia, 46 miles south of the airport.
Volunteer to plant trees
Fresh air, free drinks, varying degrees of commitment: Trees Atlanta offers easy options for folks who want to volunteer but don’t know where or how. Entry-level opportunities take place several times a week along the BeltLine Arboretum, 85 acres of linear greenspace which Trees Atlanta is helping to develop and maintain. “We have native grass and wildflower meadows, we have a bog, we have longleaf pine stands,” says Susan Pierce Cunningham, associate director of volunteer services. “Our volunteers go out and help care for all of the plants and planting areas, weeding, watering, mulching.” They also learn new skills, like proper tree care, plant identification, and invasive plant removal techniques. Tree-planting season starts in October, and Plantlanta takes place the first weekend in November, when nearly 500 volunteers will plant as many trees across all 12 City of Atlanta council districts in just two days. In the meantime, sign up for Weeds and Wine, which happens most Thursdays on the Arboretum and ends with free appetizers and drinks at a nearby restaurant. It’s an easy way to get to know Atlanta a little better: “There’s a lot of the city that people don’t see if they don’t have friends who live in that neighborhood,” Cunningham says. “Volunteers see parts of Atlanta that they wouldn’t go to otherwise.”
Photograph courtesy of Atlanta Motorsports Park
Stay on course at the Atlanta Motorsports Park
Race car driving runs deep in Dawsonville—home to NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, his son Chase Elliott, and Atlanta Motorsports Park. “The Ultimate Motorsports Playground” offers a go-kart track built to Formula One standards with a 43-foot elevation change and karts that can go up to 55 miles per hour. Anyone age 12 and over can get behind the wheel with no experience needed (from $35). If you’re looking to up the stakes, the Lotus Driving Experience offers guests the opportunity to drive an exotic sports car on a two-mile road course.
Take a walking tour of Sweet Auburn
Spend time in Sweet Auburn, named for Auburn Avenue, once dubbed the richest Black street in the world by a 1956 Fortune magazine article. Learn about the neighborhood’s importance to the civil rights movement and about lesser-known leaders like Septima Clark—aka the Mother of the Movement—from guide Marshaunda, who is jovial and energetic as she leads groups past Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home and into a museum that once housed two historical firsts: WERD, the country’s first Black-owned and -operated radio station, and, later, a beauty salon owned by Madam C.J. Walker, the country’s first self-made millionairess. Register for the YourAtlTours “Steps of Giants” experience on airbnb.com for $35.
Photograph by John E. McDonald
Join a rec league
Whether you’re serious about burning calories or just looking to find new friends—and drinking buddies—in the post-social-distancing era, Metro ATL probably sports an adult rec league that’s right for you. A good place to start is Atlanta Sport & Social Club, which hosts everything from ultimate frisbee, bowling, and indoor volleyball competitions to popular kickball leagues all over town. (Most leagues cost under $100 per season, or even less when you’ve assembled a full team.) Feeling more adventurous? In the mood for being silly? The co-ed Atlanta Wiffleball Club operates three seasons throughout the year in Sandy Springs and Brookhaven. ATL Bocce League stages competitions at pubs all over the city. And metro-wide CornholeATL claims to be Georgia’s largest and fastest-growing cornhole league, flaunting the slogan “Why wait to tailgate?”
Stay on a farm in Southwest Georgia
Civil rights activists Shirley Sherrod and her husband, Charles, founded the New Communities Land Trust in 1969 as a means of helping Black farmers hold on to land they were in danger of losing. Innovative at the time, the land-trust model has been hugely influential and widely copied. Sherrod, meanwhile, hasn’t stopped thinking creatively about how to support rural Black communities: Earlier this year, she partnered with Airbnb to create the Southwest Georgia Agri-Tourism Trail, a collection of places to stay and things to do in the Albany area. Cabins are available by the night at Resora, the 1,600-acre former plantation that functions as land-trust HQ (from $175 per night); on a tour of the grounds, you can learn about the history and importance of the land from Sherrod herself. Another option: a three-hour “Taste of the South” barbecue demonstration and dinner (from $40 per person) hosted by farmer Clinton Vicks at his nearby Vicks Estate, Farm, and Fishery.
Grab your telescopes and lawn chairs for a night under the stars at the Jon Wood Astronomy Field in Jasper County, just south of Atlanta. The field is part of the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center and is operated by the Charlie Elliott Chapter of the Atlanta Astronomy Club. There are free public observation nights each month, with the next one occurring on September 24. The club’s official website also offers updates on the field’s observing conditions and resources for hopeful stargazers.
Sleep in a treehouse
From Dahlonega to Stonecrest, Airbnb lists three dozen awe-inspiring options for short-term stays in treehouses near Atlanta. One of the most universally loved, according to nearly 400 reviewers, is also among the closest to downtown (just 15 minutes away) in East Point. Designed by its owner and “superhost” Darrel Maxam—a College Park resident who holds a master’s degree in construction management—the ATL Treehouse floats 25 feet high and is partially supported by an oak tree that’s estimated to be 400 years old. Popular for anniversaries and staycations, the heated and cooled one-bedroom space offers access to a hot tub and multiple levels of decks, with an overall aesthetic that could be called rustic-antique chic. It rents for around $370 per night for a maximum of two guests. Note: no kids allowed.
Stroll fields of sunflowers
Fausett Farms, located in Dawsonville near Burt’s Pumpkin Farm (a nice combo day trip), has been a family operation since 1858. A poultry farm until 2011, the property now offers around 30 acres of sunflowers for visitors to explore. This isn’t a pick-your-own operation, but the owners sell blossoms by the stem. Blooms generally start mid-September and run through late October. Entrance fees are $5 per person ($35 for professional photographers). Follow them on Facebook to keep up with blooms and special events.
Pick your own (berries, pumpkins, apples)
A popular year-round destination for picking all sorts of bounty is found about 35 miles southeast of Atlanta in McDonough. There, Southern Belle Farm operates a picturesque, 330-acre working farm with an educational/agritourism bent that’s ripe for strawberry picking (and shortcakes) in the spring, peaches (allegedly the South’s best) in summer, and even Fraser fir trees around Christmas. On the flipside of the metro, North Georgia is loaded with options for apple and pumpkin picking come fall. For the latter, we suggest Warbington Farms in Forsyth County, just northeast of Cumming. It’s a multigenerational family operation that counts thousands of pumpkins across its vast fields come autumn—and a full-blown fun park with a corn maze, petting zoo, huge slides, corn crib, jumping pillow, and hayrides through cow pastures. For apples, scenic B.J. Reece Orchards in Ellijay delivers a u-pick bonanza beginning in early September, with varieties like Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious, and Honeycrisp.
Go to an outdoor concert (off the beaten path)
Temperate Southern autumns bring ideal evenings for experiencing music outside, but not everyone’s game for hefty entry fees and parking hassles at big-ticket sheds like Ameris Bank Amphitheatre and Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood. Don’t fret—the metro is dotted with more accessible, smaller venues under the stars. A prime example is Mable House Barnes Amphitheatre in Mableton, which seats 2,500 and will host concerts by artists like Regina Belle and Kem this month.
Photograph by Ben Rollins
Learn to keep bees
“If you’re a cook, you’re gonna get burned. It comes with the job. The question is, Can you take the sting?” says apiarist Edward Morgan. He has, 150 times in four years. Thankfully, only four of his Beekeeping 101 students have had to answer that question themselves—minor consolation for entomophobic attendees at the two-hour class hosted by Morgan, a food-service director who stumbled into the hobby four years ago after he bought some bees off Craigslist to pollinate his garden. Terrified of his new hive, he spent hours watching YouTube videos and poring over library books to learn how to coexist with and care for his bees; three months later, he was guiding Airbnb Experiences so others could conquer their own fears. In his 101 class, you’ll learn about things like drone congregation areas (“kind of like a bar in the air,” he explains, where bees go to mate) and the little maneuver honeybees do when they want to give fellow workers directions to a particularly good source of nectar: the waggle dance. (The longer the waggle, the farther the flower.) You and up to nine classmates can then suit up and peer into the dozen or so hives on Morgan’s farm to learn how to differentiate a queen bee from her subjects. Afterward, Morgan will bring out different kinds of honey for a taste test to see if your palate is refined enough to differentiate between Manuka honey from New Zealand (one of the most expensive in the world), Costco brand, and his own, which he sells for $15. He also offers bee starter kits ($175) and more advanced classes, in case you’re inspired to start your own apiary. But Morgan says his goal is just for students to leave with more appreciation for the insects and a little less fear. Register for the Bean’s Bees & Honey class on airbnb.com for $50.
Glamp in a state park
Timberline Glamping Co. rents luxury tents at four locations in Georgia: Amicalola Falls, Clarks Hill Lake, Lake Lanier, and Unicoi State Park (from $144 per night). The pet-friendly canvas tents are furnished with real beds with linens, rugs, air conditioning, electricity, a minifridge, and coffee makers—hammocks and picnic tables included. (Public bathhouses are nearby.) Pay extra for amenities like a screened dining gazebo, cornhole, or giant Jenga.
Ride horses at FDR State Park
Not all of Georgia’s mountains are north of Atlanta. In fact, the state’s largest state park, F.D. Roosevelt State Park, is located along a ridge in West Central Georgia. FDR famously came to the area to find relief from his polio in the nearby mineral springs. One of the best ways to explore the park’s 23-mile Pine Mountain Trail is by horseback. The nearby Roosevelt Stables offers trail rides ranging from hourlong, creekside ambles designed for families and novice riders ($45) to a two-hour overlook ($110) and three- to four-hour “cowboy” rides ($185). Serious riders can bring their own horses, but, for the rest of us, there are always the wine-and-cheese outings ($135).
Photograph courtesy of Georgia State Parks
Cross the suspension bridge at Tallulah Gorge
Tallulah Gorge State Park is easy to reach from Georgia Highway 441. The gorge, two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep, features five waterfalls, which are most dramatic during the frequently scheduled scenic and whitewater dam releases. Hurricane Falls Trail, the most popular hike, is only just over two miles long but is steep. The highlight is a suspension bridge that sways 80 feet above the canyon floor. Famously, in 1970, daredevil Karl Wallenda strung a 1,000-foot tightrope across the gorge and walked across, performing two handstands along the way. Visitors can see his suit on display at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center.
Photograph by Gabi Robins/Georgia National Fair
Visit Georgia’s largest fair
The Georgia National Fair in Perry (October 6 to 16) is the state’s largest annual fair. Plan your visit to catch a livestock competition, horse show, or free live concert (last year’s lineup ranged from the Commodores to Rumba Latina). Visitors can see baby animals, pet rabbits, drink milk fresh from a cow’s udder, sample honey made from different flowers, check out antique tractors, and learn about Georgia agriculture. And, of course, there are classic carnival rides and concessions—turkey legs, corn dogs, and lots of funnel cakes. ($15 daily admission for ages 11 to 60; midway rides priced separately, but there are five “armband ride” days)
This article appears in our September 2022 issue.
Photograph by John E. McDonald