With warmer temps here to stay, it’s a good time to consider small-town sojourns to study up on history (Madison), sip vino in cool mountain breezes (Dahlonega and Blue Ridge), or discover nearby villages with much to offer (Porterdale). Here’s a list of 10 noteworthy small towns to get your adventures started, but feel free to drop recommendations for any little treasures we may have missed.
1 Blue Ridge
Billed as the “Trout Fishing Capital of Georgia” at the southern tip of the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge is an outdoorsman’s dream, but don’t discount the vibrant mix of quaint shops and restaurants (and one killer fudge emporium) in the city’s picturesque downtown. The pristine Lake Blue Ridge, numerous festivals, the city’s scenic railway (operating from a century-old depot), and one of the few remaining drive-ins in North Georgia (the Swan Drive-In Theatre) are other key attractions in this mountain outpost about 90 miles from Midtown.
Blue Ridge, GA 30513
Maybe anything Gwinnett County doesn’t seem like an idyllic Atlanta getaway, but the historic City of Buford has plenty to offer beyond the nearby Mall of Georgia and relative proximity to Lake Lanier. The roots of this railroad-adjacent community reach back to early Reconstruction, and its revived downtown offers everything from galleries to fine dining (Aqua Terra Bistro) to chilled-out cafes (Ricos World Kitchen). Tannery Row is adaptive-reuse at its finest, offering an artist colony and ale house in cavernous environs that harken to the city’s history as a powerhouse in the leather industry.
Buford, GA 30518
Want an inkling of what the completed Atlanta Beltline might feel like one day? Head about 45 minutes west of downtown to Carrollton, where this city of roughly 25,000 recently cut the ribbon on the finished GreenBelt project. These 18 total miles of shared-use paths loop the historic downtown (with its lively amphitheater, thriving restaurant scene, and lax open-container laws) while snaking through terrain that includes old neighborhoods, a college campus, lakeside parks, pine forests, and swampy creek bottoms.
Carrollton, GA 30117
For a soothing city escape, rent pontoon boats on scenic Lake Chatuge or sip wine from local vineyards in the alluringly flyspeck town of Hiwasee—the only incorporated human establishment in Towns County. The hiking, especially to view-rific Bell Mountain, is pretty grand, too. The local population swelled from 880 in 2010 to 906 five years later, which means this extreme North Georgia town is rich in solitude.
50 River St, Hiawassee, GA 30546
Milledgeville is a town of many monikers, including “the First Lady of Georgia,” Georgia’s antebellum capital (factually true), and simply “Milly.” The home of Flannery O’Connor is also steeped in history and considered to be the only surviving example of a complete Federal-period city. Take a trolley tour and behold magnificently preserved Victorians.
Milledgeville, GA 31061
6 Pine Mountain
An hour southwest of Atlanta, the charming town of Pine Mountain (famous for its Franklin D. Roosevelt connections) is home to a bounty of attractions beyond its downtown shopping and eats. These include sprawling Callaway Gardens, Wild Animal Safari, and scenic FDR State Park.
Pine Mountain, GA 31822
Atlantans with Irish ancestry—or anyone seeking an interesting (or intoxicating) pitstop en route to Savannah on Interstate 16—should give The Emerald City a try. Home to 400 stores, Dublin boasts a busy downtown with shops, restaurants, and the renovated Theatre Dublin. The whole place goes green, literally, throughout March for the 30-year tradition that is the Dublin-Laurens St. Patrick’s Festival, which includes a leprechaun contest. Fun fact: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his first speech in Dublin—at age 14.
Dublin, GA 31021
Like Mayberry in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dahlonega is home to a public square that rivals Marietta in terms of quaintness, and it serves as the gateway to limitless hiking trails, cycling routes, river adventures, and Georgia’s burgeoning wine country. Last year, USA Today named Dahlonega (“duh-lon-ee-guh,” that is) among the top 10 best historic small towns in the country. It’s still very proud of being the site of America’s first major gold rush.
Dahlonega, GA 30533
Blink and you’ll miss tiny Porterdale, and that’d be a shame. This neighbor to Covington off Interstate 20 has risen from post-industrial decay and is becoming known as a kayaking hub and destination for—of all things—loft living, thanks to the lovingly rejuvenated Porterdale Mill Lofts, which overlook the cleaned-up Yellow River. Next door, find a surprising array of Main Street dining and drinking options that include the rollicking Social House.
Porterdale, GA 30014
Unlike Atlanta, Gen. Sherman’s pyro-happy ways did not obliterate Madison, a Morgan County town of just 4,000 the Union leader famously deemed too pretty burn, according to Georgia lore. Madison’s picturesque, antebellum charms persist today, with one of the Peach State’s largest National Historic Districts chockfull of celebrated restaurants and well-kept Greek Revivals and cottages. Budget Travel Magazine recently notched Madison among the 16 most beautiful small towns in the world.
Madison, GA 30650