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Georgia’s Own Road Trip: St. Simons Island
The early mornings might still be a little brisk, but by noon, you know Spring has sprung in Atlanta. Sunny skies and warmer weather make us all want to get up and go!
Whether you’re looking for a week-long holiday or a weekend getaway, a short car ride can take you anywhere from the Georgia mountains to its sandy beaches. In fact, some of the best vacation spots are here in the Peach State!
One of our favorite destinations is St. Simons Island. The Golden Isles of Georgia are just five hours from Atlanta but a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With its majestic oak trees, historic landmarks, and quiet beaches, the St. Simons Island is an ideal place for a little R&R.
Places to go, things to see
Long lazy days on the beach and walks along the ocean are popular pastimes on the island, but so is fun!
Neptune Park is located in Pier Village and, throughout the year, its the most happening spot on the island. Events like Memorial Day’s Taps at Twilight, Music and Movie Nights Under the Stars, and their July 4th celebration are just a few.
Take a stroll along the oceanfront walking path, enjoy the view of the crashing waves from the benches that overlook the water, or pack a lunch and have a picnic beneath the oak trees. Neptune Park is family friendly, too. With its 18-hole mini golf course, Fun Zone pool, and children’s playground, it’s hard to beat!
If you’re looking for the sand and waves head for East Beach. It’s a great location for shelling, extreme kite surfing, and swimming. You can bike, fish, or just relax and soak up the sun.
The surf and the sand aren’t for everyone, so if the beach isn’t your thing, there are lots of other attractions, like Gasciogne Bluff. Overlooking the Frederica River, it was a Native American campground at one time. The Bluff has something for everyone with its 24 acres of green space, a fishing pier, a fitness trail, a disc golf course, and a picnic pavilion.
It’s also the home of Epworth by the Sea Christian Conference and Retreat Center, which is owned by the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. On its 100-acre campus, they offer accommodations and facilities for guests attending retreats and conferences, and for vacationers as well. Lovely Lane Chapel, the oldest standing church building on St. Simons, hosts Sunday services, too.
If you’re a history buff, you’ll want to visit the archaeological remains of Fort Frederica. It was a military outpost initially established in 1736 by James Oglethorpe to protect the southern boundary of Georgia from the Spanish in Florida. Fort Frederica’s troops defeated the Spanish, ensuring Georgia’s future as a British colony. Today, the archeological remnants of Frederica are protected by the National Park Service.
Jekyll Island is one of the smaller barrier islands and a short 20-mile drive from St. Simons Island. One of its most unique attractions is Driftwood Beach where the constant erosion has created stunning driftwood and trees that resemble a tree graveyard.
According to the Golden Isles site, it’s due to the north end of the island slowly being deposited on the south end of the island. It’s created both a beautiful and haunting scene of sun-bleached driftwood that attracts artists, photographers, and other seeking-to-be-amazed visitors. It’s a short walk east from the big fishing pier on the north end of Jekyll Island, but you can see it from the pier. If you have time to make the drive to Driftwood Beach, it’ll be well worth it.
The best places to eat
You won’t go hungry on your visit as St. Simons Island has a wide range of memorable restaurants.
One of our favorites, Southern Soul BBQ, was named “The South’s Best BBQ 2018” by Southern Living Magazine. Founded by Harrison Sapp & Griffin Bufkin in 2006, it’s grown to be one of the most famous BBQ joints in the world. They smoke slow and long on Lang smokers with wood from the local Live Oak, and always follow one rule: Respect the pork!
The oldest privately owned restaurant on Saint Simons Island, Bennie’s has been a favorite of locals and tourists since 1954. At the Red Barn, you can enjoy steaks grilled to perfection over an old-fashioned open oak flame, fresh local seafood, and more in a classic setting. Their combined food and hospitality makes for a one-of-a-kind experience.
At Tramici, you’ll find fresh, passionately prepared Italian neighborhood cuisine. In their mammoth brick oven, they create delicious chicken and veal dishes, spaghetti and lasagna, and the most perfect pizzas. Interested in a cooking class? You can join Chef Dave during his monthly hands-on instruction. Check it out here.
Wake Up Coffee Company is not only a coffee shop, it’s a place that works to build community and a company that wants to foster change in the world. They only source coffees that they believe in and then roast them to showcase their unique flavor profiles. They serve certified Fair Trade or direct relationship coffees, teas, and retail goods produced by artisans and farmers in developing countries. Grab a cup of joe and have a seat!
At Sal’s Pizza, they believe that nothing’s better than food made by family and friends. If you’re looking for that neighborhood feel and pizza and dinners that are prepared from generations-old recipes, you’ve found it. Mangia!
St. Simons has tons of great restaurants and a myriad of fun things to do, but these are some of our favorites. If you’re headed there for some hard-earned vacation time, let us know which ones you liked best. Enjoy!
Still Haven’t Booked Holiday Travel? 6 Ways to Save Now
We try to fit a lot into our holiday budgets, and travel can account for a pretty big slice of the pie. But even if you’re just beginning to think about the costs of visiting loved ones this holiday season, it’s not too late to save.
About half (49%) of American adults plan to spend money on flights and/or hotels this holiday season — that’s 123.5 million travelers, according to a new NerdWallet study.
And though 36% of these travelers say they’d skip buying gifts for friends and family if they were spending a lot to visit them this year, that level of sacrifice may not be entirely necessary.
If you’re scrambling for last-minute ways to save on holiday travel, here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Start watching rates, like, yesterday
Those who travel over the holidays book their flights 7.7 weeks before their departure date, on average, the NerdWallet survey found. You may be able to beat other travelers to the punch by buying before that peak booking time.
Also, set up alerts through popular booking sites like Kayak or Google Flights to keep an eye on rates. If they start creeping up as your travel dates near, you’re better off buying earlier than holding out for a last-minute deal and getting caught with astronomical fares.
2. Get serious about freeing up more money
More than 7 in 10 (71%) people who travel for the holidays start saving in advance, the NerdWallet study found. But even if your budget is tight and your travel dates are coming up soon, you can still look for easy ways to free up money.
Limit all optional expenses, such as meals out and entertainment, for several weeks. After all, holiday travel is one big optional expense; sacrificing drinks after work with friends for a few weeks could cover the price of your checked bag and a rideshare or two.
3. Make your credit card work for you
Three-fourths (75%) of holiday travelers will put some or all of their travel expenses on a credit card, according to the survey. Depending on their card and how long it takes to pay off those expenses, they could be earning as they spend — be it cash on a cash-back card or points toward future travel on a travel rewards card. Also, they could be using already-earned points and rewards to help pay for this year’s travel.
Use the card that stands to benefit you the most — one with decent rewards rates or other travel benefits like trip protection or no foreign transaction fees.
4. Don’t pay interest
Credit card interest can quickly negate any benefits from using a rewards card and can make your travel even more expensive. Still, 5% of people who put last year’s holiday travel on a credit card are still paying for it today, according to the survey.
If you know it’s going to take a few months to pay off your holiday travel, make a plan to minimize the impact of your credit card transactions. Opening a card with an interest-free introductory term is one option. But if time or your credit doesn’t allow for a new card, budget for higher-than-mandatory-minimum payments until you can pay it off.
5. Keep shopping after you book
After you’ve booked your flight, your deal-hunting doesn’t have to end. Most airlines will issue a full refund within 24 hours of purchase, even on nonrefundable tickets. The specifics vary by airline — so read up on your airline’s 24-hour cancellation policies — but you may be able to cancel and rebook if you find a lower rate within that first day.
A similar strategy can be used on hotels: If you make a cancellable reservation, keep checking rates. If they go down, you can cancel and rebook at the same hotel (or a different one, if the opportunity arises). Again, know the specifics of your reservation — if you try to cancel too close to arrival you could lose money.
6. Let your presence be their present
If travel is your top priority and you’ve done what you can but are still coming up short, don’t be afraid to skip traditional gift-giving. You wouldn’t be alone — 36% of travelers said they’d consider doing the same thing if they were spending a lot to visit friends and family. You’ve worked hard to get there; maybe they can come to you next holiday season.
Get Moving! Check Out Five of Our Favorite State Parks
Fall is the perfect time to head outside. Cooler temps are rolling in and a day spent with nature (without the mosquitos) is a welcome change to the heat and humidity of the sweltering summer.
If you’re looking to spend some time in the great outdoors, Georgia is well known for its list of nearly 50 State Parks. We’ve narrowed it down to 5 of our favorites where you can climb to towering mountaintops and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. You can visit the spectacular whitewater rapids and tumbling creeks, explore the natural beauty of the wondrous gorges and canyons, and ponder the bold beauty of the changing autumn colors.
Any one of them is a worthwhile trip that will leave you relaxed, rejuvenated, and healthier, too. It’s a fact, you know. So grab your hiking boots and let’s go!
With rich history and rugged beauty, Tallulah Gorge’s vast 2,689 acre stretch of land is one of the most stunning state parks in all of Georgia. The gorge is two miles long, about 1,000 feet deep, and has tons of overlooks along the rim trails that make a perfect backdrop for your Insta pics. Scenic hiking, a paved bike trail, and an excellent interpretive center are open daily, and if you head out early enough, you could land one of the 100 free gorge floor permits.
The park features a 63-acre lake, two public tennis courts, and a free archery course. You’ll also find tent, trailer, and RV campsites, a suspension bridge that sways 80 feet in the air, and three backcountry Adirondack shelters. Time it right, and you and your weekend warriors could also ride the rapids on a day that Georgia Power Company releases the dam into the gorge.
Fort Yargo State Park is located halfway between Atlanta and Athens. You’ll find a 260-acre lake with two boat ramps, and a large swimming beach. Hike any of the over 20 miles of trails, or strike up a game of disc golf along the especially challenging course through the woods. If you need overnight accommodations, the park also boasts 38 tent, trailer, and RV sites, 13 cabins, and three cozy cottages.
If you’re more of a glamper than a camper though, reserve one of the six lakeside yurts. It’ll comes equipped with most of the luxuries of home…electricity, furniture, a picnic table, an outside grill, and a fire pit where you can relax, roast marshmallows, and tell ghost stories.
Skidaway Island State Park, just 15 miles from historic downtown Savannah and 25 miles from the beaches of Tybee Island, offers a much different feel than most other state parks. Its 588 acres of salt marsh and maritime forest borders Skidaway narrows, a part of Georgia’s Intracoastal Waterway and is a favorite spot among birdwatchers.
Explore the seven miles of hiking and biking trails, grab your binoculars and head to the observation tower to watch for deer, egrets, fiddler crabs, and other wildlife, or visit the giant ground sloth exhibit at the Park’s Interpretive Nature Center.
Nestled among the live, Spanish moss-draped, oak trees are its scenic, tent, trailer, and RV-friendly campgrounds. Three camper cabins are also available, and each one comes complete with air conditioning and a screened-in porch so you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Panola Mountain State Park is a short 15-minute drive from Atlanta. Although there isn’t a ton of camping activity in the 1,635-acre park, there are a few sites where you can set up a tent. Most of the recreation is hiking or running on the rugged, forested, fitness trails or walking, rollerblading, biking along the paved trails.
You can grab your fishing pole and head to the lake, rent a paddle-boat, head out on a geocaching adventure, or enjoy some relaxing bird watching. If you’re planning your trip in advance, check out the archery and tree-climbing programs for both kids and adults!
The most unique feature of the park is the 100-acre granite outcropping. It’s been designated a National Natural Landmark and is similar to Stone Mountain, but much smaller and more pristine.
Under the guide or a park ranger, you can explore the mountain, hear about its history, and see the rare plants and animal life that inhabits the area. When you finally make it to the mountaintop, you’ll be mesmerized by the scenic view and even be able to catch a glimpse of the Atlanta skyline in the distance.
One of the most scenic state parks is Cloudland Canyon State Park. Located on the edge of Lookout Mountain in Rising Fawn, Georgia, its 3,583 acres offers exceptional hiking and biking trails, cascading waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, deep canyons, and remarkable caves.
Visitors can hike the 64-miles of trails, some of which offer an incredible view of the canyon’s geology and provide a path to the canyon floor. You can also ride many of the trails on horseback.
If you’re a more experienced hiker, you might want to choose from four other more extensive trails. You can check out one of the wild cave tours, relax with a game of disc golf, fish on the pond, or join a ranger-led interpretive program.
Whether you’re camping or glamping, you’ll have the option of choosing among cottages yurts, tent, trailer & RV campsites, or walk-in tent sites. Whichever you prefer, it’s sure to be an adventure!
Road Trip: Asheville, NC – All the best activities, restaurants and family activities
If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway that’s only a few hours’ drive from Atlanta, head north to Asheville and escape into the carefree, laid-back culture that’s come to define this unique Appalachian Mountain city. It boasts an eclectic and thriving artistic community and world-class culinary experiences that are uniquely delivered with genuine down-home southern hospitality. Whether you want to sightsee like tourists or blend in with the locals, here are some things you won’t want to miss!
1. Visit the Biltmore
Since it’s considered the crown jewel of Asheville architecture and America’s largest private home, the two-hour, self-guided tour of George W. Vanderbilt’s winter chateaux is high on the list of touristy to-dos. The four-acre, 250-room house is still filled with its original furnishings and will quickly deliver you back to 1895 when it first opened. Once you finish the complete two-floor tour, take time to stroll through the century-old gardens, horseback or bike along the beautiful trails, and enjoy the awe-inspiring views.
If you’re looking for a guided tour, opt for the rooftop tour, the behind-the-scenes tour, or a tour of the extended property.
Located right outside the entrance, Biltmore Village was formerly a neighborhood for estate workers. Now home to art galleries, boutiques, shops, stores, and fabulous restaurants, it’s the perfect complement to your Biltmore visit.
You might also consider visiting the Biltmore winery, which offers a tour of the cellars, a glimpse into the winemaking process, and a free wine tasting.
2. Shop ‘til you drop
Asheville is ideal for finding interesting and unique art, crafts, vintage-style clothing, and jewelry. Local designers fill the chic boutiques with their wares, each one more interesting than the last. Go find your style as you wander through the open-air market at Grove Arcade, Historic Lexington Park, Biltmore Park, or the West Asheville neighborhoods.
If you’re a book lover, be sure to check out Asheville’s local independent bookstores, like The Captain’s Bookshelf or Malaprop’s, where you’ll find rare editions, best sellers, and regional authors. You might even consider spending the afternoon relaxing with a fine wine and a good book at Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar.
3. Enjoy the street performers
In downtown Asheville, you’ll see some of the freshest talent performing in the streets. Buskers, or street performers, are part of Asheville’s everyday entertainment and what makes every visit more interesting.
From jug-style to jazz to rock band, you’ll see it all; just follow the sound. Performers are there most days from late morning until 9 p.m. If you’re looking for them specifically, try the Flat Iron statue on Battery Park, by the Grove Arcade, near Pack Square, or along Haywood Street. It’s always a great experience for the music-minded tourist. If you stop to listen, then leave a tip, per busking etiquette, and know that performers move locations at least every two hours in order to give others the opportunity to entertain.
4. Join the Friday night tradition
If you hear drumming, follow it to the downtown Drum Circle. It’s a long-standing Friday night tradition (April through October) that joins hundreds of people together to play the drums, dance, or just relax and listen to the show. Held in the outdoor amphitheater in Prichard Park, is a free event that promotes harmony in music — and with others. Everyone is welcome, so if you’re interested in playing, bring your own drum and arrive between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. The show will last until about 10 p.m.
5. Get ready for some history
If you’re a serious history buff, you might want to ride through Asheville on one of the hop-on-hop-off trolley tours. Guided by local storytellers, you’ll enjoy the fully narrated ride that highlights the history, churches, buildings, restaurants, and trendy hotspots of this great city.
If you prefer to take in the magic at your own pace, opt for the 2-hour, self-guided walking tour along the Urban Trail. There’s also Asheville by Foot, which features the history surrounding Asheville’s incredible Art Deco buildings, like the Basilica of St. Lawrence.
6. Explore the great outdoors
The beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains is breathtaking, and one of the simple and spectacular features of visiting Asheville. If you love the great outdoors, exploring the national forests and state parks, like Pisgah, Nantahala, Chimney Rock, and DuPont should be at the top of your list.
Blue Ridge Parkway’s 469-mile scenic drive is the road to your outdoor travels. You can hike the many well-worn trails, Bike the Blue Ridge, and, since hundreds of birds call Asheville home, stop to bird-see along the way. You might also happen upon some native wildlife in the forests—anything from foraging bears to herds of elk, so be cautious. Don’t forget your hiking shoes and binoculars because they’re a must to tackle this adventure.
Waterfall hunting is another way to enjoy the forests’ beauty. There are hundreds scattered about the region. You can also fly-fish for smallmouth bass or trout in the mountain streams, zip line across hundreds of feet of towering trees, or cruise down a 60-foot natural water slide. For a slightly less adrenaline rush, you might try floating, kayaking, canoeing, or stand-up paddle boarding.
7. Indulge in Foodtopia
Asheville’s culinary scene is full of amazing, artistically inspired restaurants and world-renowned chefs. From Mediterranean to vegetarian, you’ll find everything from four-star cuisine to good ol’ down home southern cooking.
Everyone has their favorites, but some of ours are Bouchon, the ultimate in French comfort food and Tupelo Honey for their divine sweet potato pancakes. Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack has the best Tennessee-style hot chicken and soul food outside of Tennessee, The Blackbird‘s world-class desserts are heavenly, and STORM Ruhm Bar and Bistro’s classic food is expertly and elegantly prepared with a new-world twist.
This culinary mecca attracts innovative chefs and food artisans from around the world, many of whom insist on sourcing their ingredients from local farmers. Surely your most difficult decision of the day will be where to dine.
If you’re an adventurous eater, you could sign up for a food tour and enjoy a taste of everything. What better way to find your favorite?
8. Check out the River Arts District
Once industrial warehouses, the now 200+ active artist studios make up the colorful neighborhood of the River Arts District (RAD). Along the one-mile stretch of the French Broad River and in 25 buildings, you can visit artists at work, stroll through galleries, purchase a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, take an impromptu class, or sign up for a week-long workshop. Whether you’re an artist, and art collector, or just an art lover, a day in the River Arts District can be a full day of treasure-hunting fun!
Many of the artists are open during the week, although more are open on Fridays and Saturdays. You’ll find additional events, like demos, openings, live music, and classes, on each Second Saturday of the month.
9. Feel the beat
When you think of Music City, Nashville is likely the first city that comes to mind, but Asheville’s live music scene is not far behind. Neighborhood bars, intimate music halls, and street corners host some of the most talented, innovative musicians and their sound is gaining more national attention. They keep the city alive with a beat that is undeniably unique to Asheville.
If it’s the music that speaks to you, check out one of Asheville’s music festivals, like Downtown After 5, LEAF Festival, Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, and Brewgrass. Shindig on the Green is also always a good time and a popular choice, too.
Asheville’s The Orange Peel is one of its many iconic music venues and hailed as one of the best by Rolling Stone Magazine. Grey Eagle, and ISIS Music Hallaren’t too shabby, either, and are great places to see and hear live music.
If you’re in a touring mood, head over to the Moog Music Factory. Catch a performance by the Asheville Symphony Orchestra or theAsheville Lyric Opera. During each season they perform a blend of timeless compositions and contemporary arrangements.
10. Dive into the Asheville beer scene
If you’re a craft-brew enthusiast, you’ve arrived in the Promised Land. The mountain-filtered water is what makes for some of the Southeasts’ most sought-after ales, stouts, and sour beers. Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other city so exploring the beer scene could take a while. Walking to the downtown breweries is your best choice, but for the more remote ones, there’s the Brews Cruise. Funny and knowledgeable guides explain the art and science of brewing, and the history of each brewery as they lead you on a behind-the-scenes tour. Included are generous samples of fresh, hand-crafted beers.
Asheville is an amazing city with so many things to do and places to explore. If your looking for even more ideas, be sure to visit the Asheville Visitor Center for more recommendations. Enjoy!
6 tips on how to travel cheap
Memorable vacations can come with a price tag you’d rather forget. But with proper planning, smart research and a flexible attitude, you can travel cheap and still have an experience worth remembering. Here’s how.
1. Cut transportation costs
Before planning your trip, have a rough budget in mind. A vacation calculator can help. If you know how much you’re willing to spend on airfare, this map can give you ideas for destinations that are within your budget.
Traveling cheaply isn’t just about cutting costs — it’s also about getting the most out of what you spend. You may discover, for example, that the $400 you thought could pay only for a flight within the U.S. can actually take you to Paris and back.
If your travel dates are flexible, you may find an even bigger selection of places you can afford to visit. If you’ve already picked a destination, changing the departure dates could lower your airfare.
Setting up alerts for when prices drop should also be a part of your strategy. Try apps such as Yapta or Hopper, which will send you price notifications on flights you’re tracking. (Booking fees may apply.) You can also follow Twitter handles like @theflightdeal or @FareDealAlert for limited-time deals. If you find a price you like, scrutinize the airline’s baggage policy before booking. Some offer cheaper ticket prices, but have strict carry-on requirements or tack on sizable fees for overweight and oversized luggage.
If your destination is within driving distance, consider hopping in a car instead of on a plane. Use a trip calculator, like this one, to make sure it’s worth the tradeoff. Add in the cost of renting a car, if necessary.
2. Compare lodging options
Finding a cheap hotel room can be tricky and takes a bit of effort. Start by shopping around on sites like Expedia, Priceline.com and Kayak to find hotels in the area, and then search for hotel promotion codes online. Contact hotels directly to negotiate a lower price. Also consider staying in a hotel outside the center of the city and looking for last-minute deals.
If you’re open to alternatives, skip the hotel and book a room through a site like Airbnb, Homeaway and OneFineStay. Not only could those be more affordable, but often you’ll stay with a local resident who can point you to cheap restaurants and activities that aren’t in travel guides. Hostels can also be a money-saver if you’re OK with bare-bones accommodations and potentially sharing a room. Keep in mind that they may have age restrictions.
3. Eat wisely (and not just healthy)
Many travelers underestimate the costs of meals, snacks and tips, says guidebook author James Kaiser. He advises bringing your own food or buying it at a store when you arrive at your destination to save money.
That doesn’t mean you have to skip restaurants altogether and haul groceries around. Dining out is one of the most enjoyable parts of travel. The trick is knowing when to indulge and when to save.
Start by looking at your itinerary. Break down your meals each day and identify the times you want to splurge. Then look for ways to save money on the other meals. For example, you can avoid inflated prices at the airport by bringing food and an empty water bottle that you can fill once you’re past security (passengers are prohibited from bringing more than 3.4 ounces of liquids, per container, in carry-on bags at U.S. airports). For breakfast, pack energy bars so you can save time and money in the mornings.
Your spending will likely fluctuate from day to day, so remember to adjust your budget to avoid overspending.
4. Research your currency options
If you’re traveling abroad, find out if the country you’re visiting is plastic-friendly. If so, a debit or credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees could be your best bet. Otherwise, research your currency exchange options to avoid the poor rates and numerous fees common at airport kiosks. Those will shrink your vacation fund before you’ve even had the chance to unpack.
Visiting your bank or credit union to exchange money before you leave may be the best option. Assuming it has that currency, you’ll likely get better exchange rates and lower fees. And, just in case you end up needing more cash once you’re abroad, ask if your financial institution has international branches or a partnership with a bank overseas. If so, you may be able to withdraw cash from those ATMs with low or no fees.
5. Get a prepaid phone or SIM card
A cell phone can be useful for navigating new cities, as well as staying connected to travel companions and life back home. But for international travelers, it may also come with data roaming fees. You’d save the most money by ditching the phone during your trip, but that may not be realistic. Your best option will likely be buying a prepaid phone once you arrive or having your carrier unlock your phone, if possible, so you can use a foreign SIM card when you land.
6. Keep souvenir spending in check
Like everything else, set a budget for souvenirs. Also consider doing some research on the best souvenirs and shops, so you’ll have a sense of what you might buy and the prices to expect.
If you find yourself on the verge of an impulse purchase, try an abbreviated version of the 72-hour shopping rule, in which you put off buying something for three days to see if you still want it. That amount of time is probably impractical when you’re on vacation, but if your schedule allows you to return to the store the next day or even later that same day, you may find that you can easily live without that $150 wool sweater from Iceland. You were only going to wear it once, anyway.