Georgia road trip: Five pit stops from the mountains to the coast

The following is a guest post by Sue Rodman, managing editor of 365 Atlanta Family.

Why rush to get to your destination when there is so much to see and do along the way? For those who like to enjoy the journey, we’ve put together a Georgia road trip that will take you on winding mountain roads, zipping along the highways, and cruising toward the sunshine coast. Yes, Georgia does have a coast, and we promise you’re going to love it.

Georgia road trip

North Georgia Route 76

Our journey begins in the North Georgia Mountains along the east-west Route 76, which is easy to get to from the north-south I-75 or I-85. This winding trail takes you through the friendly mountain towns of Ellijay, Blue Ridge, Blairsville, Hiawassee and Clayton. Here are some places you’ll want to get out and stretch your legs along this mountain highway.

Ellijay, Ga. This is the apple capital of the state. In fall, pull over at Red Barn Apple House for a peck and some apple cider. Note, Georgia’s apple season begins in late August and runs through the beginning of October.

Blue Ridge, Ga. About 15 minutes off Route 76 down Rock Creek Road is the Fall Branch Falls. This is a great family-friendly hike, and even young kids can make it to the lower falls section. The seclusion here is a nice break from the road.

Blairsville, Ga. Along Route 76 (also called Young Harris Hwy or Route 515) is a quick stop at Sleepy Hollow Enterprises. Explore the whimsical “fairy houses” made by this former Disney Imagineer, and then tour the store. The colorful creations will delight your soul.

Hiawassee, Ga. Along Route 76 in Hiawassee is the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. The Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds is open for year round camping along Lake Chatuge, but what it’s best known for are the big events it hosts every year, including the Georgia Mountain Fair, the Superstar Concert Series in the Anderson Music Hall, the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival and Georgia’s State Fiddler’s Convention. If you aren’t visiting during any of these events, check the website, they offer lots of smaller events too.

Clayton, Ga. As you make the turn to get on Route 23 toward I-85, take a break at the Clayton Pharmacy. Tucked inside this pharmacy is an old-fashioned soda shop with milkshakes, hot dogs, and more. I also read their egg salad sandwiches are awesome for packing on a hike.

georgia road trip

Atlanta Georgia I-75/I-85

Whether you take I-75 or I-85 south, they’ll merge together for a bit between Midtown and Downtown Atlanta. If you hit things during rush hour (could be anytime, depending on what’s going on in the city that day), grab a bite from the car hops at the Varsity. You’ll see the sign from the highway on the North Avenue exit. And if you want to spend more time in the city, choose from these 140+ Things to do in Atlanta.

In Atlanta you have two choices, stay on the highway or continue to follow the road less traveled and head east on I-20 toward Augusta where you’ll take Route 25 to Savannah. Along this route you’ll pass the antebellum towns of Social Circle, Madison and Rutledge. Stretch your legs with some shopping at Rutledge Hardware. My favorite things, like a 1940’s ledger, peanut warmer and letter from the 1800’s aren’t for sale, but you can get any number of other essentials. Do yourself a favor and go next door for a piece of buttermilk pie from Yesterdays before hitting the road again.

Middle Georgia I-16

If you’d rather take the shortest route possible to the beach, stay on I-75, but plan to make a pit stop in Macon to learn a bit about the city’s musical roots on a Rock Candy Walking Tour. Macon was once home to Little Richard, James Brown, and Otis Redding — and let’s not forget the Allman Brothers Band! — so there is plenty to see and learn from these local tour guides.

In Macon, you’ll veer off I-75 onto I-16 toward Savannah where you’ll pick up I-95 South. It’s worth a slight detour to Savannah to walk among the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss in the city’s many squares. If you only have a little time, combine a ghost tour with a history lesson and a meal at the Pirates House. Some say it’s a bit touristy, but we love the stories of drunken locals carried off to sea, and they have delicious fried chicken, plus pirate hats for the kids.

Georgia Coast Route 17

From Savannah you can take Route 17 for a back road path through the towns of Richmond Hill, Milton and Darien, or go straight down I-95 to the coast. Follow the signs to St. Simons or Jekyll Islands. On St. Simons look for tree spirits on a very unusual scavenger hunt. These spirits are carved into the live oaks around the island. Be sure to look for the lovely full-sized mermaid!

For a more structured outing, we love the Tidelands Nature Center on Jekyll Island. It’s a bit less flashy than it’s better known cousin the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (which is also excellent). Be sure to check out the special programs like guided kayak tours and dock studies.

Photo credit: Sue Rodman