‘Georgia, Georgia, The whole day through, Just an old sweet song, Keeps Georgia on my mind’. What will also keep Georgia on your mind is spending a week in this southern US state with its bustling cities, imposing mountains, beautiful coast line and captivating history.
The now liberal, forward thinking capital city of the state, Atlanta is a major player in the film industry, a centre point of the Civil Rights movement (being the birth and burial place of Martin Luther King JR) and home to the longest running free jazz festival in the US and American juggernaut, Coca Cola.
Where To Stay:
Now run by British man, Alan Rae, Hotel Clermont is a boutique motor hotel in Poncey-Highland neighborhood with a whole lot of personality and Southern charm. It’s location on Ponce de Leon Avenue makes it ideal for exploring Downtown, Midtown and this historic Old Forth Ward Districts, but if you were to go and spend most of your time in the hotel we wouldn’t blame you. Staying firmly away from overt kitsch vibes, the hotel has a sleek yet playfully chintz feel. The 94 guest rooms have Art Deco inspired furniture, huge flat screen tvs, plenty of velvet and brass touches with pink herringbone blankets and botanical wallpaper in the bathroom. Head up onto the roof for cocktails and an enviable view of the city or go downstairs where you’ll find the pretty pink cafe with a monochrome tiled floor and Tiny Lou’s the hotel’s French-American brasserie serving up southern comfort food. Of course you could visit Clermont Lounge…the strip club. A destination in it’s own right, Clermont Lounge has been around since 1965 and is famed for its granny aged strippers crushing beer cans between their knockers.
Where To Eat
If it’s fried chicken you’re after in a setting that has a little more finesse, then JCT Kitchen (by the award-winning chef and restaurateur, Ford Fry) is a must. The restaurant based on the Westside serves up Southern dishes with a French twist. Start with devilled eggs and don’t skip on the bread it’s a beautiful sweet brioche bun with a sprinkle of salt and served with light whipped butter. Don’t even try and resist it and definitely forget calorie counting. Next you’ll want the angry mussels and crispy fried chicken served with biscuits and green collards and a side of mac and cheese. You won’t be disappointed.
Just five minutes from Hotel Clermont, you’ll find Ponce City Market occupying the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building. At the heart of the market is the Central Food Hall which is stuffed to the brim with restaurants. You can find everything from pancakes and artisan coffee to yakitori, Latin and Szechuan-inspired dishes. It would take even the most seasoned eater a while to make a dent, so add this to your daily repertoire during your stay.
Unlike other southern states, Georgia doesn’t typically have its own distinct style of barbecue, but still they have plenty of barbecue restaurants and for a taste of anything but standard, ‘standard’ brisket, fried gator tails and smoked ahi tuna melts then head to Smoke Ring in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill.
What To Do:
One of the best ways to see the city is on an electric car tour of Atlanta with ATL-Cruzers. The 90 minute tour journey covers 15 miles through the heart of Atlanta, showcasing many of the city’s neighbourhoods including Atlanta’s first planned suburb the impressive Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward which was home to Martin Luther King Jr. and Midtown Atlanta where you’ll find crowds of new restaurants, bars and hotels. The tour guides are there to answer any questions and their enthusiasm for the city means you can’t help but leave with a new love for Atlanta.
With over 1,200 films and TV shows filmed in Atlanta, it’s not surprising that there are tours taking in the best sights. Atlanta Movie Tours offer four different tours and for a general introduction, we’d say go for the Best of Atlanta Tour, a three hour bus trip that takes you to the sets of films such as The Hunger Games, Walking Dead, Baby Driver, Black Panther – basically if you’re a film buff, this is your city.
Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park is handily the central hub of many of the cities major attractions (they’re also included in the CityPASS so if you’re interested in visiting more than one it’s worth buying) so head here to start exploring the CNN Studios, the World of Coca Cola and the aquarium. Home to Beluga whales, giant Pacific octopus, horned puffins, jellyfish rays, sea lions and sea otters, the Georgia Aquarium has more than 100,000 animals (more than any other aquarium) and 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water. The Centennial Olympic Park is also where you’ll find the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The centre and museum boldly and engagingly explores the history of segregation in America and creates a space for an ongoing conversation about human rights in the 21st century. At times an uncomfortable, but much needed, experience, the museum highlights the struggles of different communities and minorities in a powerful way.
If Atlanta is Georgia’s boisterous, vibrant city, then Savannah is its demure counterpart. Set around 22 leafy parks, it’s a city of historic buildings, grand mansions and boutique hotels. That said, scratch a little deeper and you’ll find an unsettling past tied up in the slave trade and chilling tales that have led to Savannah being declared as the most haunted city in the US – they’ve even had tests done, so it’s pretty legit.
Where To Stay:
If you don’t mind potentially having your sleep disturbed by the sounds of ghostly children up to high jinx or you don’t mind having your possessions moved around then there are plenty of haunted and historic hotels that you can stay in. Or if you’d rather not chance having you suitcase upturned then head to the DoubleTree by Hilton Savannah Historic District where you’ll be met with cookies on arrival and a chance to head straight to the rooftop pool and hot tub. As the (not so succinct) name suggests, it’s location makes it ideal for visiting the city’s attractions including the iconic River Street and City Market, without having any spirits lurking in the corners.
Where To Eat:
There’s a reason that you’ll always find queues outside Mrs Wilkes Dining Room on 107 West Jones Street and it’s not because it’s only open 3 hours a day Monday to Friday, no it’s because this is southern comfort food at it’s finest. Opened in 1943 by Selma Wilkes and still run by her family now, the restaurant is basically the holy grail of southern cooking. Pull up a pew at one of the large communal tables and get ready to feast on fried chicken, creamed corn, okra, beef stew, mashed sweet potato, mac n’cheese, collard greens, pickled beets, meat loaf, apple salad and peach cobbler. The dishes kept coming and coming, at one point we had close to 30 on the table so make sure you wear your eating slacks.
Sticking with the iconic, you have Leopold’s Ice Cream. Opened by three brothers from Greece, for the last century they have been serving up “Good Things to Eat, Good Things to Drink”. Whilst they do offer sandwiches, soups and pastries, the real pull is the ice cream which they have been making the same way since they opened. Alongside traditional flavours you’ll find seasonal offerings such as Japanese cherry in May, pumpkin spice in October and eggnog in December. Leopold’s is currently run by Stratton Leopold, a son and nephew of the brothers, who left is job as a producer, actor and casting director in Hollywood to run the family business. Just take a look at the film posters adorning the walls and you’ll realise what a major Hollywood player he is.
Georgia rather jumped the gun when it came to the prohibition with the state going dry in 1908 luckily Savannah has gone the other way now in that you can drink in the streets of the historic district – not that you’ll find anywhere like New Orleans’ Bourbon Street or Memphis’ Beale Street. If you’re after the speakeasy vibes though get yourself down to Prohibition. The restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has a those Fat Sam vibes with vintage decor, hidden booths and 1920’s inspired style. Cocktails are the order of the day here, there’s a particularly good Oaxacan old fashioned and there’s even a nod to the dill pickle with the Tommy Pickles. To eat go for the southern favourite, shrimp and grits or the less Georgian but still good, seared scallops.
What To Do:
Get your bearings by starting off with a trolley tour of Savannah. Ideal because not only are they informative and witty, but also because you’ll be in the shade of the trolley (don’t underestimate the power of the Savannah sun) and you’ll be higher up than pedestrians so you’ll be able to take photos more easily – nifty. The hop-on, hop-off tour will take you around the historic district, you’ll also meet some characters of from Savannah’s past. They like to call it ‘transportainment’ I suppose we can’t really argue with that.
You can’t go to Savannah and not go on a ghost tour really. After all you are staying in the most haunted city in the US. Unlike the dark magic of New Orleans, this is good old fashioned stories of haunted graveyards, footsteps on creaking floorboards and children returning to play jokes on unsuspecting tourists. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the stories are well worth hearing.
Just twenty minutes from the ghost ridden houses and leafy squares of Savannah is Tybee Island, home to the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia, the Baywatch beach and events such as the Beach Bum Parade and Pirate Fest. With over fives miles to explore, beaches around every corner and dolphins showing off just off the coast, Tybee Island makes for the ideal weekend getaway.
Where To Eat:
Formerly a fish camp overlooking picturesque Chimney Camp, The Original Crab Shack has been serving up blue crab and award-winning seafood since 1987. Championing the slogan ‘Where the elite eat in their bare feet’ this restaurant is the sort of place to kick off your shoes, grab an ice cold beer, share a seafood platter and soak up the sun. Given the enormity of the platters and the relaxed vibe, this is the sort of place that you could easily spend the whole afternoon at, watching the restaurant transform in evening with hundreds of hanging light bulbs. You’re also guaranteed an alligator sighting, as the restaurant is home to a number of young alligators at their Gator Lagoon.
What To Do:
There is nothing sadder than seeing the performing dolphins in Sea World but there is nothing more thrilling than seeing dolphins jump in the wake of a boat just metres from where you are. Like all animals seeing them in the wild can’t compare to captivity, so get aboard a boat and head out on a tour and Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventure Tour is one of the best in the business. The tours put the dolphins first, they’re going to set up the conditions for you to see them, but if they’re not there…well they’re not there, you are in their house after all. If that does happen though you’ll get invited back for another tour so you get a chance to see the dolphins at play.
If the amount of fried chicken you’ve eaten has left you feeling not dissimilar to a slightly burnt, less hairy sea lion then do as our blubbery pals would do and snooze it off, not on a rock out to sea but on one of Tybee Island’s many beaches. The busiest beach is South Beach, with it’s iconic pier and pavilion which is a popular spot for fishing. Fans of the 2017 Baywatch film might also recognise it as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s beach, go now and the tanned, chiseled lifeguards on duty might as well have been trying out as extras for the film – they’re a far cry from the hobbledehoys that sit on our English beaches.
Those looking for a quieter beach should head to Mid Beach which is popular with locals, or if you want to remove yourself even further then head to the uninhabited island of Little Tybee, which is only reachable by boat.
Famed for its sea turtles, Driftwood Beach and private members’ club, Jekyll Island is a state park lying just off the coast of mainland Georgia and makes the ideal spot for a weekend getaway.
Where To Stay:
The Westin Jekyll Island is so close to the beach that with enough effort you could probably roll straight out of bed and onto the sand. The luxury hotel, has all the modern amenities and technologies but still has plenty of southern charm and respect for the natural world – their outdoor lights turn amber at night so as not to confuse the sea turtles. Each room features the signature Heavenly® Bed, rain showers, flat screen TVs, some are lucky enough to have sea views too. There’s a state of the art fitness centre although sweating it out indoors sounds less appealing than ever when you could be lounging by their pool or hiring one of their bikes to explore the 20 miles of bike paths. The hotel’s signature restaurant is steakhouse The Reserve but you’ll also find Salty’s Poolside Bar & Grill, a grab and go cafe, The Westin and bar, Harry’s Lounge.
Where To Eat:
Just a short cycle from The Westin Jekyll Island is The Beach House, a chilled out restaurant with sea views. Seafood is, of course, big but BBQ, pizzas and salads are in too. Check out the seafood capellini made with Georgia shrimp, bay scallops and crawfish or if your shrimped out by now then you can’t go wrong with the bbq pulled pork. When it comes to drinks The Beach House has one of the largest draft beer selections in southeast Georgia – nice one.
What To Do:
It’s a big one at the moment, how plastic is affecting our sea life and at the Georgia Sea Turtle Centre you can learn about these threats (in short, we really do need to get our plastic usage under control), but also what’s happening to protect Georgia’s sea turtles and how they are helped to thrive. In the centre you can meet some of the turtle residents who are receiving treatment and sign up for evening and sunrise turtle walks and find out how you can ride with the turtle patrol along the beaches.
Founded in 1886, The Jekyll Island Club’s members would have read like a list of who’s who of the day with the wealthiest families joining – we’re talking the likes of the Morgans, Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts. The club is now a luxury hotel and the original club stables (which later became a garage for members) have undergone a $3.1 million transformation to become the Mosaic museum. The small, but interactive centre includes exhibitions about not only the club, but also about the history of the slave trade in the area and how Native Americans lived on the island. Check out the restored four-door 1947 Studebeaker, and the redbug, the little electric cars that were the only way to travel around the island.
The largest of the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island is known for its wide stretches of beaches, salt marshes, history, boutique shops and outdoor living. Taking under two hours to drive to from Savannah, it’s a charming spot to visit for a weekend.
What To Do:
Imagine having to climb 129 steps several times a day, now imagine having to do that as you carried several gallons of kerosene, that was what life was like for a light house keeper. You can find out more about life as a lighthouse keeper at St. Simons Lighthouse Museum including going to the second floor which has been restored to that of a lighthouse keeper’s between 1872 and 1900. It’s one of the last five remaining light towers in the state, but despite being still operational you can still climb to the top, you won’t find a lighthouse keeper but you will find panoramic views out across the Golden isle.
Where To Eat
Once you’ve had the award-winning Wild Georgia Shrimp at Iguanas Seafood Restaurant you’ll be left in a bit of predicament, because you know that any other shrimp you have isn’t going to be quite as sweet or delicious. Once you’ve scoffed yourself silly on shrimp you’ll find crab cakes, clams, scallops, mahi mahi and for those not into surf, plenty of turf too.
If you’re not already packing your bags and working out just how much fried chicken you can feasibly eat then this might sweeten the deal:
Bon Voyage offer a six-night holiday from £1495 per person including direct return flights with Virgin Atlantic into Atlanta from London Heathrow, 7 days’ car hire inc all taxes, all insurances, breakdown coverage and unlimited mileage, and six-nights’ accommodation (2 nights’ at Hotel Clermont in Atlanta, 2 night’s at the DoubleTree Savannah Historic District Hotel, 2 nights’ at The Westin Jekyll Island, all on a room-only board basis).