Stop to see attractions as you drive along Interstate 75 in Georgia, and also be sure to taste the local flavor.
By Kathleen Walls
If you’re traveling to Perry, Georgia, for FMCA’s 97th International Convention & RV Expo March 15 through 18, you may be taking Interstate 75 to get there. Instead of zooming through the state, take the time to check out interesting attractions along the way and to sample some good local food. The following suggestions on where to stop for both will add to the fun of your journey. Unless noted, these all have ample parking for your RV. They are listed from north to south, starting near the Georgia/Tennessee line, and then from Perry southward toward Florida.
Cruising South To Perry
Tunnel Hill (www.civilwarrailroadtunnel.com) is a great first stop. This little town is just a few miles north of Dalton. Remember the Disney movie titled The Great Locomotive Chase? This is where the actual Civil War event it was based on started. You can tour the tunnel in a limo golf cart, and then stretch your legs walking around the Clisby Austin House, where Union Gen. William T. Sherman stayed during the Civil War Battle of Dalton. The house served as a hospital during the Battle of Chickamauga, and a grave there contains Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood’s amputated leg.
Dalton, 5 miles south, was once the chenille bedspread capital of the world. The 1950s and ’60s icons were invented and made there for decades. Perhaps their most popular design depicted a peacock; today, this bird is Dalton’s mascot and emissary. Peacocks pop up in local art and as colorful statues around town.
Dalton Distillery (www.daltondistillery.com) is moonshine headquarters. Charles Raymond Butler Sr. and his son, Chuck, produce the world’s only moonshine made with sunflower seeds. You have to taste it to believe it.
Across the street, the 1911 Dalton Freight Depot is a railroad-lover’s haven, as well as a visitors center with current train traffic info and Civil War memorabilia. A 1949 Southern Railway “Crescent City” Pullman car sits in front.
Dalton has plenty of parking, but instead of being parallel to the curb, it is perpendicular. Unless you have a vehicle that can fit in a regular parking space, park by the distillery and depot/visitors center and walk to Cyra’s Simple Goodness (www.cyrasrestaurant.com) on Hamilton Street. It’s only five blocks.
Cyra’s uses locally sourced food, so the menu changes often. It’s so environmentally friendly that you’ll see live herbs growing in pots mounted on the brick wall inside, part of a cooperative effort between Cyra’s and the local high school agricultural program. The place has a great wine list also.
Lying just a few miles south of Dalton, is a history hot spot, site of the first major battle of the Civil War’s Atlanta Campaign. Resaca Battlefield Historic Site (www.gordoncountyparks.org) is a 483-acre park with 6 miles of hiking trails, plus picnic tables, a shelter, and restrooms. It offers ample RV parking and is pet-friendly (and right off the interstate), but take note: It’s open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the day (no overnight parking).
The weekend hours coincide with those of a farm-based restaurant just 5 miles on the opposite side of I-75. Real down-to-earth food is served at Bowman’s Restaurant (www.bowmansrestaurantandcatering.com), where everything is made by hand. You can’t go wrong with the turkey, dressing, and sweet potato lunch. Save room for dessert, because they offer lots of choices. The restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday.
A significant part of Georgia’s history that is not Civil War-related can be explored just off I-75, 3 miles south of Resaca. New Echota State Park (gastateparks.org/NewEchota) is a re-creation of a local American Indian town that once thrived there. The Cherokee residents were forced from their homes beginning in 1838. Their journey toward Oklahoma, called the Trail of Tears, resulted in approximately 4,000 deaths and the dispersion of an entire nation.
The Cherokee capital town now has a museum and 12 buildings. Missionary Samuel Worcester’s home is the only one original to the site, which also has the council house, courthouse, Phoenix newspaper headquarters, and a tavern. A brief film shown at the visitors center tells the fascinating story of what happened there. The site is open Wednesday through Saturday.
To take a break from the interstate, stay on State Route 225 and drive back under I-75 and into Calhoun. In 4 miles, you’ll come to Dub’s High on the Hog BBQ & Grill (www.dubshighonthehog.com). Owners claim their barbeque is so good they don’t need a sign, because your nose will lead you there. Just to be sure you find it, please note its address is 349 S. Wall St.
The Garden (www.facebook.com/thegardencalhoun) is the place to walk off all that food. Located 3 miles down State Route 53, it’s a fun combination of mini buildings and flowers. A local couple have made a detailed copy of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the University of Paris, and other buildings, all out of stones. The village is set among flower beds. The two creators are known as Old Dog, or OD, and his wife, Lady Joyce. The Rock Garden is open daily, dawn to dusk.
Backtrack to I-75 and head to Adairsville and the beautiful Barnsley Resort (www.barnsleyresort.com). You don’t have to be staying there to enjoy the food and see the heritage garden, with roses dating back to antebellum days. A museum near the site of a ruined mansion contains a display of belongings from several generations of residents.
Dining choices at this resort abound. Rice House, a 140-year-old farmhouse, offers upscale dining. It’s open Friday and Saturday for dinner only; call for reservations and other information. The other end of the spectrum is Beer Garden, an outdoor venue where you can enjoy bratwurst and craft beer; it’s open Friday through Sunday. The Woodlands Grill, resembling an upper-crust English hunting lodge, is open for breakfast through dinner and offers a full bar. Food ranges from Southern comfort to steak.
White and Old Car City
Back on I-75, head for White and Old Car City (www.oldcarcityusa.com), a classic car junkyard that attracts art buffs and photographers. Cars rest among the vines, trees, and landscape, acquiring rust and color only nature can provide. Auto fanatics will remember many of the relics. Younger visitors will recall seeing these treasures in the car-related movies that have been filmed there. A museum contains Styrofoam cup folk art that must be seen to be appreciated.
Directly across the street is another food stop, Wes-Man’s Restaurant (www.goo.gl/MxKW7q). It is a no-frills café with indoor or patio dining.
Stay on U.S. 411 back to Cartersville and see its museums. Tellus Science Museum (www.tellusmuseum.org), an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, displays discoveries from dinosaurs to space shuttles, and its electric car exhibit proves those vehicles are not a recent invention. Rock hounds drool over the mineral gallery. Youngsters want to play in the “My Backyard” area. You can dine at the café on-site.
The Booth Western Art Museum
The Booth Western Art Museum (www.boothmuseum.org), another Smithsonian affiliate, has Western paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and various galleries. Sagebrush Ranch is an interactive gallery for children.
Duck out the side door to Bartow History Museum (www.bartowhistorymuseum.org) and explore Bartow County’s past through exhibits such as a dentist’s office and a beauty parlor.
Parking downtown is ample, but spaces are car-sized. Leave the RV in the Booth museum’s easily accessible lot and walk two blocks to Table 20 (www.table-20.com). The stroll will give you a glimpse of the town square, old depot, and restored Grand Theatre. Table 20 is a restaurant owned by executive chef Chris Lyons, who can hold his own with the best of them. His entrees run the gamut from Angus cheeseburger to Scottish salmon. Everything has his special touch of interesting fruit and vegetables, and when I visited, salads included a beet combination with arugula, apple, goat cheese, and candied walnuts dressed with apple cider vinaigrette.
From Cartersville to Perry, here’s a hint: Go straight through Atlanta on I-75. It’s faster and less congested than the bypass.
And South Of Perry
Here are a couple of sights and tastes along I-75 between Perry and the Florida state line.
Just off I-75 in Tifton, the Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village (www.abac.edu/museum) offers a look at 19th-century rural Georgia. It’s filled with farm machinery, from a peanut picker to an old hand plow, and showcases how turpentine was made and how cotton was readied for market.
Part of the fun is strolling around a town with 35 late-1880s structures relocated from around the state. If you visit on Saturday or during special events, you can ride the state’s only working Vulcan Iron Works 1917 steam locomotive.
The perfect spot for a quick lunch is the museum’s drugstore. The root beer floats recall those good old days. Short-order foods such as burgers and hot dogs are your choices. The peach ice cream is excellent.
Aside from these options, a longtime Tifton resident recommends three locally owned restaurants: 41 and Main (www.41andmain.com), which has a wood-fired oven and is located on Main Street; The Local (www.thelocaltifton.com), with its locally sourced food, also on Main Street (U.S. Route 41); and Charles Seafood (www.goo.gl/AkPrTM), on Seventh Street.
Valdosta is the home of Wild Adventures theme park, which reopens for the 2018 season the weekend of March 10 and 11 and then is open Thursdays through Sundays starting on March 15. Days of operation and hours vary, though, so be sure to check the website calendar before your visit. Besides rides, you may want to see what else is available there this time of year. Georgia can be pleasantly warm by March. Visit www.wildadventures.com.
Valdosta is becoming a foodie destination, with more than 35 independently owned restaurants, making it a good stopover if you want to take a break from the road. One suggestion is Book and Table (www.bookandtablevaldosta.com). The owners are Mike Orenduff and his wife, Lai; Mike is an author and publisher, so you will have plenty to read there. The entire restaurant is a quiet zone, so patrons are asked to keep their cell phones on the vibrate setting.
The downtown lot on McKey Street is a good parking spot for RVs. From there, it’s a two-block walk through Bennies Alley to Book and Table in the heart of historic downtown Valdosta.
The Egg and I (www.theeggandirestaurants.com) is another choice for a lunch or breakfast stop. It is a chain, but I can vouch for the spinach bacon mushroom omelet, and service is excellent.
A new food tour, Miss Kate’s Tours (www.misskatestours.com), is focusing not only on food for the body but a bit of info about Valdosta’s history, architecture, and culture as well. Day and evening three-hour tours are offered Fridays and Saturdays and include the best restaurants in downtown Valdosta. It’s an easy 1/2-mile walk and is wheelchair accessible.
Have fun on your drive on I-75 through Georgia. Be sure to see some sights (and don’t forget to enjoy the food) while you’re traveling to or from Perry this March.