Travel

Escape Atlanta Without Leaving Town by Visiting These 12 Places

Take a break from it all.

Atlanta History Center
Atlanta History Center
Atlanta History Center

We get it. You’ve been stuck in Atlanta for over a year and you can’t wait to get on a plane. Totally understandable (if you’re vaccinated), but there are plenty of things to be explored in and around the city. The days are long, so what better time to get reacquainted with your city (or take a quick day trip out of it)? Feeling antsy for an escape? Grab your mask and visit one of these 12 places.

Courtesy of The Interlock
Courtesy of The Interlock
Courtesy of The Interlock

The Interlock

West Midtown
West Midtown has always been a go-to destination (just look at that traffic!) but now there’s an even cooler reason to go: The Interlock. The mixed-use development sits at the corner of 14th Street and Howell Mill and offers plenty to do within. First, there’s the Bellyard Hotel which offers a lovely terrace for cocktail sipping at its restaurant Drawbar. Then there’s Puttshack, an indoor mini golf situation, and St. Germain Bakery where you can find outrageously good French pastries. Did we mention that the property has an open container policy? That’ll come in handy when Holiday Bar opens on the rooftop soon.

Courtesy of Gibbs Gardens
Courtesy of Gibbs Gardens
Courtesy of Gibbs Gardens

Gibbs Gardens

Ball Ground
You’ll find Gibbs Gardens just a little over an hour outside of the city. The gardens are situated on the private estate of Jim Gibbs, the founder of Gibbs Landscaping Company, and at 300-acres they’re one of the largest residential gardens in the country. The property contains trails that take you through the pictorial setting. Depending on when you go, you might see hydrangeas, roses, and daffodils.

Barnsley Resort
Barnsley Resort
Barnsley Resort

Barnsley Resort

Adairsville
Adairsville is about a one hour drive outside of the city, but it’s a heck of a lot closer than England which is this vibe this property channels. The 3,000 acre property features a resort, golf course, and spa but it’s the gardens that make it worth the day trip. The property was originally owned by Godfrey Barnsley, a wealthy British immigrant, who built a mansion for his family in the 1800s. Fast forward, and the mansion is now in ruins, but the boxwood parterre garden remains. A stroll through the garden and former mansion is a tranquil experience (and makes for some great photo opportunities). If you get hungry you can grab a bite on the veranda of the Woodlands Grill overlooking the golf course (but make a reservation first as guests are given priority).

The SOS Tiki Bar
The SOS Tiki Bar
The SOS Tiki Bar

S.O.S. Tiki Bar

Decatur
Tiki bars are far from anything actually Polynesian, but if you’re looking to sip a strong rum drink amongst greenery and palm tree murals then you can’t beat S.O.S. Tiki Bar. The patio is small, but grab a table and order one of their potent drinks, like a Mai Tai or daily punch, and let the tropical vibes wash over you.

Atlanta Botanical Garden
Atlanta Botanical Garden
Atlanta Botanical Garden

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Midtown
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is a worthy destination. The 30-acre garden is located at Piedmont Park and allows visitors to get lost in their imaginations for an afternoon. The SUPERnatural exhibit runs now through October 31 featuring glass art and floral sculptures among other visual delights. Don’t forget the usual standbys like the orchid room and edible garden.

Helen, GA Oktoberfest
Helen, GA Oktoberfest
Helen, GA Oktoberfest

Helen

Oktoberfest is back this year in Helen but you don’t have to wait until then to visit. Head north to Helen for Bavarian-style buildings and plenty of mountain views. Come hungry and ready to feast on German treats at restaurants like Mullers Cafe, known for their fried cheese, and Hofer’s of Helen for pastries and treats. If you’re feeling motivated, hit the trail to Anna Ruby Falls or go tubing.

Courtesy of Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery
Courtesy of Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery
Courtesy of Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery

Wolf Mountain Vineyards

Dahlonega
Take 400 north and don’t stop until you get to Wolf Mountain Vineyards. There are beautiful mountain views, steep vineyards, and plenty of wine. The vineyard grows red grapes on the property including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah. You can dine in their restaurant, or you can buy a pizza to-go and take it for a picnic. If one vineyard isn’t enough for you, follow the Dahlonega wine trail to visit other wineries like Frogtown Cellars and Cavender Creek.

Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock
Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock
Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock

Piedmont Park

Midtown
There’s no place like Piedmont Park, our own oasis in the heart of Midtown. A trip to Piedmont Park will give you a serotonin boost (once you find parking which, we admit, can be a bit of a struggle at peak times). Go for a run, sprawl on a blanket and have a picnic, or just admire the skyline from a bench. There’s no wrong way to do it.

Lee's Bakery
Lee’s Bakery
Lee’s Bakery

Buford Highway

Food from all over the world. Need we say more? How about a great way to support Atlanta’s small businesses? Head to Buford Highway to do both of these things. Whether you’re craving eats from Malaysia to Korea to Cuba you’ll find it along that stretch. Enjoy a banh mi from Lee’s Bakery or swing by Atlanta Chinatown for hand pulled noodles and dumplings available from the vendors within. Many of Buford Highway’s restaurants have reopened for dining in, or you can grab takeout if you’re more comfortable traveling the world from your home.

Ponce City Roof
Ponce City Roof
Ponce City Roof

Skyline Park

Old Fourth Ward
The outdoor amusement park on top of Ponce City Market hearkens back to days on the boardwalk. Only here you trade the beach for sweeping views of the city and beyond. Here you can play games like Skee Ball and break-a-plate and go on rides and follow it up with an al fresco meal at Nine Mile Station. Masks are required.

Sandy Springs, Georgia: City News
Sandy Springs, Georgia: City News
Sandy Springs, Georgia: City News

East Palisades Trail

Sandy Springs
You barely need to leave the city to lose yourself in nature. The East Palisades Trail in Sandy Springs takes you through a bamboo forest, historic ruins, and offers stunning views of the Chattahoochee River.

Atlanta History Center
Atlanta History Center
Atlanta History Center

Swan House

Buckhead
Owned by the Atlanta History Center, the Swan House historic mansion once belonged to Atlanta businessman Edward Inman. The first level of the home has reopened, with limited capacity, as have the gardens and trails. Really, though, it’s all about those swoon-worthy steps.Sign up here for our daily Atlanta email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun the ATL has to offer.

Lia Picard is a contributor for Thrillist. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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