10 Charming Small Towns in Georgia
Atlanta and Savannah are worth their hype, but don't overlook the tiny towns of the Peach State. With mountain adventures, coastal views, vegetable-themed festivals, fall foliage, and even a little glimpse of Europe, there's a lot to discover when you wander off the beaten path.
Here are 10 of the best small towns in Georgia, all with a population of under 12,000.
Millions have been captured by Savannah's charms, but about an hour south, the quiet coastal town of Darien has an allure all of its own. Founded in 1736, it's home to old live oaks, Gullah-Geechee culture, and picturesque views along the Altamaha River — not to mention great seafood, golfing, and pristine nature.
Looking for something totally different from Georgia's usual suspects? Head to Senoia, famous for being the filming location of the hit TV show The Walking Dead. Senoia went from ghost town to popular destination thanks to this recent claim to fame, and today, visitors can take a Walking Dead-themed tour or explore the thriving Main Street, which is dotted with shops and restaurants.
If you love wineries, hunting for antique treasures, waterfalls, quaint downtowns, and mountain scenes, Dahlonega is the place for you. Visitors can also explore hundreds of years of history here — the town was the site of the first major gold rush in the U.S. in the 1820s. You can learn more at the Dahlonega Gold Museum or opt for an outdoor adventure in the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is great for hiking, trout fishing, mountain biking, and chasing waterfalls. If you're more into liquid gold, check out the vineyards along the Dahlonega Wine Trail.
Visiting Jekyll Island is a bit like stepping into another world, a place where time moves slower and nature reigns supreme. The small beach destination is located on the southeast coast of Georgia, just north of the Florida-Georgia border, with more history packed into its 5,500 acres than you'd expect. In fact, this quiet barrier island once attracted Gilded Age nobility like the Rockefellers, Goodyears, and Vanderbilts, who loved escaping to Jekyll Island's 10 miles of shoreline in the winter.
It's no secret that people head to Georgia for a hearty dose of the great outdoors, but did you know that the small town of Madison is home to the first certified Forest Therapy Trail in the U.S.? If you want to try Japanese-inspired forest bathing, this is the place to do it. Visitors also love the boutiques, restaurants, and many spas.
While the scenic mountain town of Blue Ridge has a population of under 2,000, its abundance of restaurants, breweries, shops, and art galleries provide the perks of a much bigger destination. Nearby Chattahoochee National Forest is a major draw of the area, but don't miss the four-hour, 26-mile, round-trip adventure aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which winds through forests, Appalachian foothills, and along the Toccoa River in vintage rail cars. Blue Ridge is also a popular spot for leaf-peeping in the fall.
For a unique Georgia adventure, head to the small town of Vidalia. Go in the spring if you want to enjoy the town's biggest celebration of the year, the Vidalia Onion Festival. The four-day festival is dedicated to the sweet onion and includes eating and recipe contests, carnivals, concerts, onion runs, and more. (There's also the Vidalia Onion Museum if you're not in town for the festival, but still want to celebrate this humble vegetable.) While visiting, you can also get active on the Altamaha River or explore the tiny nearby town of Santa Claus for a dose of holiday cheer — or to mail this year's Christmas cards with the coolest stamp in the mail pile.
Fewer than 200 people reside in Tallulah Falls, the gateway to Tallulah Gorge State Park, but the breathtaking scenery makes it more than worth a visit. Here, you'll find the two-mile, 1,000-foot-deep Tallulah Gorge — and, unsurprisingly, some seriously impressive waterfalls. Tallulah Falls is a hiker's paradise, but kayakers love it, too, thanks to the Tallulah River winding through the bottom of the gorge. Cross the 80-foot-high suspension bridge if you dare, and make sure to learn more about this Victorian town at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center.
Tucked away in western Georgia near the Alabama border, Pine Mountain is famous for being a beloved retreat of former president Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as for the nearby Callaway Gardens, which has a scenic lake, a butterfly house, bird exhibits, a golf course, and 2,500 acres of beautiful natural gardens. Hike the Pine Mountain Trail in F.D. Roosevelt State Park and visit the statesman's Little White House for the full Pine Mountain experience.
For a taste of Germany in the heart of northern Georgia, head to the tiny town of Helen (it's just over two square miles). Aside from the plethora of nearby activities — think vineyards, hiking Unicoi State Park and Chattahoochee National Forest, and tubing down the Chattahoochee River — visitors can delight in the town's Bavarian-style buildings, cobblestone paths, beer gardens, polka bands, and hearty German cuisine. Go for Oktoberfest or around the holidays to see Helen at its most festive.