The largest state east of the Mississippi River is a labyrinth of geographic and cultural extremes: right-leaning Republican politics in the countryside rubs against liberal idealism in Atlanta and Savannah; small, conservative towns merge with sprawling, progressive, financially flush cities; northern mountains rise to the clouds and produce roaring rivers; and coastal marshlands teem with fiddler crabs and swaying cordgrass. Georgia's southern beaches and islands are a treat, and so are its kitchens, bars and yes, its contradictions.
Atlanta, Georgia's culturally rich and multifaceted capital, best illustrates the paradox: on one side it's a bastion of African American enlightenment, a hip-hop hotbed, a film and tech industry upstart and LGBTQ epicenter, on the other, Old South wealth and Fortune 500 investment marry in a city that is an international financial workhorse steeped in conservative Southern values. Together, a sexy metropolis emerges – it's way past Gone with the Wind.
Plan a day trip full of local flavor and get back in time with these same-day options.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Georgia.
Less than a 10-minute drive east of Savannah’s Historic District you’ll find one of the most peaceful, quiet, green escapes tucked away next to the Wilmington River. A massive graveyard might not seem like the kind of place you want to spend your day, but one visit to Bonaventure Cemetery is bound to change your mind. No visit to Savannah is complete without a stroll through this serene and beautiful outdoor setting. Take a picnic (plus some sunscreen and insect repellant in the summer months) and find a shady spot to enjoy it amongst larger-than-life oak trees decked out in Spanish moss. The soundtrack here is straight out of a meditation playlist, but even better because the birds chirping and the bugs buzzing are the real deal. History What started as a colonial plantation owned by English Colonel John Mullryne and his family is now a public cemetery, where locals can purchase their own plots. In 1846, Bonaventure was opened as Evergreen Cemetery on 70 acres of the original Bonaventure Plantation, at a time when the city’s other cemeteries were quickly filling up. Designed as a traditional Victorian cemetery, Evergreen was bought by the City of Savannah in the early 1900s, expanded on, and then later renamed. Southern folklore says the only way to be buried at Bonaventure Cemetery is if you die there, but we were able to confirm that that creepy tidbit of information isn’t true. At Bonaventure, you can even get married for a fee if an outdoor wedding amongst the dead is your thing (all weddings must be registered within the Department of Cemeteries). Famous residents When it comes to celebrity tombs, there are a few scattered throughout Bonaventure. Namely, Johnny Mercer — a lyricist known for the song “Moon River” and a co-founder of Capitol Records. Although he died in Hollywood, Mercer was born in Savannah and so he was buried at Bonaventure in 1976. The cemetery was also featured in John Berendt’s famed 1994 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and then again in the namesake film directed by Clint Eastwood. The Bonaventure Historical Society started in 1992, the idea conceived by a retired Savannah teacher and his friends. The Society’s mission is to maintain the preservation and conservation of the cemetery with volunteers working at the Visitors’ Center and giving free guided tours on the weekends. Best time to visit Bonaventure Cemetery Admission to Bonaventure is free as are the guided tours of the 100-acre property. The rainy season in Savannah lasts from the end of May to mid-September, peaking in early August, so if you’re visiting in the summer plan accordingly; an umbrella, rain boots, and maybe a light jacket will do the trick. And let’s not forget that coastal Southern heat – the hottest day of the year in Savannah is July 22 with an average high of 91F. Make sure you drink lots of water (and maybe even bring a cooler!) if you plan to spend extended periods of time outdoors in the warmer months. Ready to learn? You can download the site’s mobile app on your phone for a self-guided tour and visit the graves of Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken at your leisure. You can also buy an illustrated map for just $8. It might be surprising that one of the most visited gravesites at Bonaventure is that of Little Gracie Watson, the daughter of Wales J. and Frances Watson. The family, originally from Massachusetts, managed the Pulaski Hotel downtown in Johnson Square and Little Gracie was often seen playing at the property. She died a couple of days before Easter at just six years old. People flock to visit her grave and it’s said that sometimes, late at night, her ghost is spotted skipping through the plants at Johnson Square near where the Pulaski Hotel once stood. Private tours of Bonaventure are available for non-profits as well as school groups with a minimum of 10 people. Local tour companies offer tours for smaller groups, as well. Getting there From Savannah’s Historic District, you can get to Bonaventure by car, ride service, bus (take Line 10 at Oglethorpe & Abercorn EB and get off at Georgia & Bonaventure SB; it’s a 15-minute walk from the dropoff point so the journey would be about 36 minutes total) or on foot. The walk is long, though, and will take approximately an hour and 20 minutes. Nearby hotels/restaurants If you’re visiting Savannah for the first time, your best bet is to stay in a hotel in the Historic District, which is roughly three miles away. The Kimpton Brice Hotel is a great dog-friendly option. Mansion on Forsyth Park and Perry Lane Hotel are both a bit more luxurious. After a long day of exploring, settle in for a magical sunset at The Wyld Dock Bar. Just 10 minutes from Bonaventure Cemetery, the Wyld is outdoors and on the water. Toast with a local beer to the living (or the dead) as you watch the sun disappear into the marsh.
Forsyth Park The 33-acre Forsyth Park, Savannah’s largest, was named after Georgia’s 33rd governor John Forsyth and is home to the most famous fountain in the city. Inspired by the Parisian Place de la Concorde, the Forsyth Fountain was installed in 1858 and today, it’s the focal point of every picture-perfect image from weddings to the classic Instagram selfie. On St. Patrick’s Day, the water is dyed green. Besides this prominent landmark, the park also hosts live music events and a weekly Farmers Market. The Forsyth Park Fragrant Garden, created in 1959, is a sensory experience for the visually impaired. Surrounded by three wells to contain the fragrance. The garden is open Monday-Friday, 9am-2pm Cafe Collins Quarter on the east side of the park offers everything from edamame hummus to a Nashville hot chicken sandwich. There are basketball and tennis courts to the south of the park. It’s the perfect place to spend a warm, sunny (or even a gloomy, overcast) day in Savannah. The park is free to visit, too. History The land for the park was donated in the 1840s by William Brown Hodgson and was later named for John Forsyth, who represented Georgia in both the House and the Senate. At Forsyth Park, you’ll find quite a few monuments for fallen soldiers, the most well known of which is called The Hiker. Dedicated in 1931, The Hiker (also known as the Spanish War Soldier) was dedicated to Georgia volunteers who fought in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Another well-known monument in the park, the Marine Monument, honors Chatham County Marines who died in the Second World War. It was erected in 1947 and has been renovated to honor fallen Marines. Planning your visit Almost any time of year is the right time to visit Forsyth Park; it just depends on what you’re looking to experience and in what weather conditions. Peak travel season in Savannah is March through August, but we prefer park days spent in cooler weather which is more likely October through April. If you’re a fan of lively crowds and holidays, plan ahead. Tourists tend to book their St. Patrick’s Day visit up to a year in advance so they can experience the “Greening of the Fountain”. A full list of parades and festivals — including the Doggie Carnival in May and the Savannah Jazz Festival in September — can be found here. Getting there Savannah’s Historic District is super walkable and no matter where you’re staying in the area, Forsyth Park is accessible on foot. There’s also parking available on the south side of the park, across from Brighter Day Natural Foods (a healthy market with to-go sandwich options as well as juices, natural cosmetics and self-care products, fresh produce and more) and the Sentient Bean, a fair trade coffee shop with vegetarian pastries and dishes on the menu. Walking from Bay Street (a block from the famous River Street) takes about 20 minutes via Bull Street headed south. There's also a bus at Drayton & Broughton that runs every 15 minutes and will leave you at the Drayton & Gwinnett corner of the park for just $2. Nearby hotels and restaurants Thanks to its central location, there are plenty of dining and hotel options close by. The Mansion on Forsyth Park is a luxurious, European-style hotel right across the street from the east side of Forsyth Park. It features a heated outdoor pool, an art gallery and wellness center. Bike rentals are available for easy exploring and pets are welcome so there’s no need to leave your furry friend at home. Dine at the hotel’s 700 Drayton Restaurant, where people in the city go to see or be seen. The cuisine is Coastal Georgia, meaning chicken and waffles for brunch or local clams and cast iron cornbread for dinner. For something a little more low-key, reserve a room at the Forsyth Park Inn on the west side of Forsyth Park. This bed and breakfast is a quaint yellow and white Queen Anne Victorian-style home built in the late 1800s with just 11 guest rooms and a private garden courtyard cottage. For dinner, make reservations at Local 11ten, where the dishes like heirloom tomato salad and roasted Baker’s Farm carrots are made with local ingredients. If you’re just in the mood for a cocktail and some live music, make your way to the restaurant’s rooftop bar, The Perch, for an evening breeze and a nightcap.
CemeteryLaurel Grove Cemetery
In a city filled with cemeteries, Laurel Grove is among the most picturesque. The Victorian-era gravesites hint at the city’s history and the lovely gazebos surrounded by moss trees invite visitors to enjoy a long afternoon of reflection and meditation. Laurel Grove is also said to be one of Savannah’s most haunted places, so be on the lookout for paranormal fans walking the grounds or, if you’re lucky, a spooky experience of your own. History of Laurel Grove Cemetery Located on the former Springfield Plantation, Laurel Grove Cemetery is a 67-acre green space that includes the original cemetery (which was for whites only) called Laurel Grove North and Laurel Grove South (which was reserved for enslaved and formerly-enslaved people from the Georgia Coast). In fact, there were more free Black people buried here than in any other cemetery in the Southeastern US during the 1800s and 1900s. Named after the picturesque oak trees native to Savannah, Laurel Grove was dedicated in 1852 with an address given by lawyer, poet and former Confederate Major General of the Confederate Army – Henry Rootes Jackson. In 1978, Laurel Grove South was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Laurel Grove North was added to the NRHP five years later. 13 best things to do in Savannah Getting to Laurel Grove Cemetery Located on the westside of Savannah, in what’s technically known as the Midtown neighborhood, Laurel Grove Cemetery is just a two-minute car ride or a 20-minute walk from Forsyth Park. There are no bus routes to Laurel Grove from the Historic District, but taxis are an option if you don’t have your own car. If you’re heading to Laurel Grove from Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, the Line 3 bus will get you there in an hour for just $2. A taxi from the airport will get you to Laurel Grove in about 15 minutes for a little over $20. The 7 best beaches near Savannah Planning your visit Open daily to visitors from 8am to 5pm, the best time to visit Laurel Grove is in the milder months or earlier/later in the day. Peak visitation occurs during the warmer months when rainfall is pretty common. Less popular than Bonaventure Cemetery, Laurel Grove is just as pretty with its towering moss-covered trees, multitudes of flora and old tombstones. Popular gravesites at Laurel Grove Cemetery The most popular residents of Laurel Grove Cemetery include Juliette Gordon Low (Girl Scouts of the USA founder), James Pierpoint (composer of Jingle Bells) and Savannah’s “ Waving Girl ” – Florence Margaret Martus. Admission is free and you can even bring your leashed (and well-behaved) furry friends for a little outdoor exercise and fresh air. Nearby restaurants and hotels The Victorian District is a great neighborhood to explore when visiting Laurel Grove Cemetery. You can get your coffee fix just a two-minute taxi ride from the Cemetery at Foxy Loxy Cafe. The local coffee shop features a Tex-Mex menu that includes tacos and Mexican pastries. Planning to visit later in the day? The shop also serves beer and wine along with espresso beverages and one of the best brownies in town. Make sure to poke around the first and second floors at Foxy (there’s also a backyard where the cafe hosts live music events and s’mores parties) – the shop features work by local artists, including some SCAD grads and current students. Charleston vs. Savannah: how to choose between the two Southern cities Another great restaurant in the area is Elizabeth’s on 37th. Make a reservation and dress in your Savannah best for a meal here. Whether you have something to celebrate or not, dinner at this Southern staple (which has been around since 1981) will always feel special. Opt for a la carte (try the Half Moon River Clams) or the seven-course Chef’s Tasting Menu. Whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. As far as hotels go, we recommend a laid-back and beautiful inn in the Historic District, like the award-winning and historic Gastonian near Forsyth Park or a Victorian-era bed and breakfast like Roussell’s Garden Bed & Breakfast in the Victorian District. There are, of course, classic Savannah hotels like the Mansion on Forsyth Park and (the more modern) Perry Lane Hotel in downtown.
Historic SiteMartin Luther King Jr National Historic Site
The Civil Rights movement owes a great debt to the actions of various martyrs, communities and political actions throughout the American South, but almost no aspect of the movement can be mentioned without including Atlanta and the city's most famous son, Martin Luther King Jr. Who was Martin Luther King Jr? Martin Luther King Jr, the quintessential figure of the Civil Rights movement and arguably America's greatest leader, was born and raised in Atlanta, the son of a preacher and choir leader. His lineage was significant not only because he followed his father to the pulpit of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, but also because his political speeches rang out with a preacher's inflections. King remains one of the most respected figures of the 20th century and is Atlanta's quintessential African American hero, his legacy emblazoned across the city's historic Sweet Auburn district, home to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site. What to see at the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site The historic site commemorates the life, work and legacy of the Civil Rights leader, taking up several blocks. Stop by the excellent visitor center to get oriented with a map and brochure of area sites. Here you'll find a video theater showing short films, and the D.R.E.A.M Gallery, which hosts changing exhibits that elucidate the context – the segregation, systemic oppression and racial violence that inspired and fueled King's work. The majority of the site is self-guided, with ranger-led tours for Dr King's Birth Home only (ask about availability at the visitor center upon arrival, and beware, they book up fast). The new Ebenezer Baptist Church is the home of the congregation once led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Stop by the World Peace Rose Garden, which borders the Peace Plaza. The King Center is Dr King's final resting place. A 1.5-mile landscaped trail leads from the site to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum. Tickets and other practicalities It's free to visit the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, however, all buildings are temporarily closed. Visitors may take a a self-guided tour of the campus.
MuseumHigh Museum of Art
Atlanta's modern High Museum was the first to exhibit art from Paris' Louvre and is a destination as much for its architecture as its world-class exhibits. The multilevel building houses a permanent collection of eye-catching late-19th-century furniture, early American modern canvases from the likes of George Morris and Albert Gallatin, and postwar work from Mark Rothko. You can easily lose yourself (and a day) in this excellent art museum. The permanent collection The permanent collection at the High holds over 18,000 different pieces. They fall into seven different categories: photography; decorative arts and design; African art; European art; American art; modern and contemporary art; and folk and self-taught art. Exhibitions The gallery hosts touring exhibitions (including the Obama Portraits in 2022), multi-sensory installations, displays of works by solo artists as well as themed shows and rotating pieces from the permanent collection. You could see works by big 20th-century names such as Picasso, through to contemporary photographers such as Zanele Muholi. Architecture The striking, bright-white art repository, with its curved ramps and monumental swooping three-story glass atrium that shelters natural light like a precious resource, is a Midtown icon, its reflective white enamel facade standing in stark contrast to the surrounding skyscrapers and greenery. It earned its designer, Richard Meier, the 1984 Pritzker Prize. The most recent expansion was designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2005. Tickets and other practicalities Timed-entry tickets should be bought online in advance of your visit and give access to the galleries and exhibitions. Events are ticketed separately. The museum's galleries are all wheelchair-accessible.
MuseumCenter for Civil and Human Rights
The striking Center for Civil and Human Rights was a 2014 addition to Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. It is a sobering $68-million memorial to the American Civil Rights and global human-rights movements, designed to inspire and empower people to face the challenges for freedom and dignity that still exist in the world today. Exhibitions are beautifully designed and thoughtfully executed, featuring stories from the past and present day where people have been fighting for their rights. Learn about non-violent protests before moving on to the indisputable highlight, an absolutely harrowing interactive mock Woolworth's lunch-counter sit-in simulation, where visitors put themselves in the place of the non-violent protestors who asked to be served at white-only lunch counters in 1960. The experience will leave you speechless and move some to tears. Tickets and accessibility Timed-entry tickets must be bought online in advance of your visit. The center is fully accessible to people with disabilities, and wheelchairs and other assistive devices are available at no cost on a first-come, first-served basis.
LandmarkMartin Luther King Jr Birthplace
The home where Martin Luther King was born and spent the first twelve years of his life is now part of the National Historic Site. Free first-come, first-served guided tours take about 30 minutes to complete and require same-day registration. Arrive early and stop at the visitor center at the site to check availability – there are only 15 spaces on each tour and slots fill fast. The tours can depart anytime between 10am and 4pm, but you are free to visit the rest of the park at your leisure before your designated tour time.
Nature ReserveCumberland Island National Seashore
Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island is an unspoiled paradise. A campers' fantasy, place for family day trips and secluded retreat for couples – it's no wonder the wealthy Carnegie family used Cumberland as a retreat ( Dungeness Ruins) in the 1800s. The 36,415 acres consist of marsh, mudflats and tidal creeks. Plus, 17 miles of wide, sandy beach that you'll likely have to yourself. The interior has maritime forest, and mysterious jagged tree-lined pathways that would be at home in a Game of Thrones episode.
National ParkOkefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Nearly a half-million acres in size, Okefenokee Swamp is a magnificent environment to explore, with something for travelers of all abilities. Choose from hiking trails and wildlife drives to boardwalks and canoe or motorboat trips through some 120 miles of prehistoric canals. Look for movement between the carpet of green lily pads and you might clap eyes on Georgia’s living dinosaurs: alligators. Otters, water moccasins, anhingas, osprey and black bears also share this wilderness.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Georgia.