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5 cool downtowns near Atlanta worth exploring

Downtown Atlanta has tons of options for food, shopping and entertainment, but a trip outside of the perimeter can be just as exciting.

Expand your horizons our circular bypass with a tour through the quaint downtowns that dot the metro area. Some boast nearby walking trails and mountainous views, others offer unique festivals and one-of-a-kind diners. And you don’t even need a full tank of gas to experience it all.

Ready to take a mini-road trip to escape from the hustle and bustle of big-city living? Here are a few destinations to get you going.

Downtown Woodstock is about to get a big mixed-use development. Woodstock City Center will offer shopping, restaurants and a boutique hotel on 3.5 acres at the corner of Arnold Mill Road and East Main Street. CITY OF WOODSTOCK (For the AJC)

Woodstock

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A 30-minute drive northwest of ATL will take you to a charming town with plenty of dining spots and attractions that will appeal to everyone. Take a free ride on the trolley to the Outlet Shoppes at Atlanta for a shopping spree at designer stores; the Elm Street Cultural Arts Village for concerts, plays, and year-round exhibits; or the Reformation Brewery for a taste of some good craft beers.

You can also partake in Friday Night Live, an event series that happens the first Friday of every month. Participating merchants offer creative activities and discounts on products, as live music plays throughout the area.

Want to enjoy nature? There are a few neighboring walking and bike trails, such as the Noonday Creek Trail, with numerous river access points perfect for the outdoor enthusiast.

Downtown Woodstock, 1 Innovation Way. downtownwoodstock.org

» RELATED: Woodstock to unveil downtown community mural 

Glover Park is in the Marietta Square in Cobb County. Credit: Courtesy of the Marietta Visitors Bureau

Marietta

The Marietta Square is at the heart of this Cobb County city. It’s just north of I-285 and boasts a variety of restaurants including Taqueria Tsunami and The Butcher The Baker. It’s speckled with a slew of specialty shops like Sugarplum Vision and Marietta Wine Market.

For a dose of culture, you can make your way to the Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre, which hosts live theatrical and musical productions and films, and the Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art, where you can take in cool exhibits.

You can always count on the weekly farmers market, open on Saturdays April through December, for locally sourced fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other goods. And don’t miss out on popular events like the Taste of Marietta in April, Scarecrows on the Square in October, and the Veterans Day parade in November.

Marietta Square, 39-75 E. Park Square. mariettasquare.com.

» RELATED: Five things to do on the Marietta Square 

Suwanee

Travel about 30 miles north of Atlanta to spend a day in Suwanee. The Town Center includes a 10-acre park, centered around the largest interactive fountain in Gwinnett County; a glass-fronted City Hall; and a terraced amphitheater for concerts and plays.

The park welcomes people from all over for special events like the Suwanee Beer Fest in March, the WoofStock pet festival in May, and the annual August Concert and Wing Festival. The grassy area is also surrounded by connecting walkways with shops and restaurants, such as Rocket Fizz, where patrons can choose from more than 1,000 different types of candy, and Ippolito’s, which serves classic and specialty Italian dishes.

There’s also no shortage of public art all around. The current version of the city’s SculpTour has 18 pieces on display, including a huge, red swinging man and a sculpture that serves as a 9/11 memorial.

Suwanee Town Center Park, 330 Town Center Ave. suwanee.com

» RELATED: Play tourist for a day -- or two -- here at home in Suwanee

Duluth’s downtown area is known as “The Block.” Credit: City of Duluth

Duluth

Duluth, about 30 miles northeast of the city, is filled with locally-owned businesses, like Eye Candy Art Studio and The Chocolaterie Luxury Chocolates. Also known as “The Block,” the downtown area is home to an outdoor amphitheater and a beautiful fountain that’s usually open seven days a week.

During the spring and summer months, locals gather for live entertainment and to nosh on good eats on Food Truck Fridays, when a slew of mobile vendors set up shop to serve up yummy dishes. It runs alongside Flicks on the Bricks, where you can catch a free movie on the first Friday of every month from June to September.

The city is popular for its springtime Muddbuggs and Music Festival, too. It’s an annual bash that combines fresh crawfish and live music. Summertime brings the Whatever Floats Your Boat event to nearby Rogers Bridge Park for family-fun water activities in the Chattahoochee River.

Downtown Duluth, 3167 Main St., Duluth. duluthga.net.

» RELATED: Duluth approves additional funds for downtown parking

Downtown Alpharetta has worked to create a destination district of restaurants, shops and services that has drawn developers ready to build homes for buyers who want to be close by. Contributed by JASON GETZ/FILE (For the AJC)

Alpharetta

There’s plenty to see in historic Alpharetta. During a Saturday visit, you’ll find the Alpharetta Farmers Market, which offers fresh fruits, vegetable and home goods. The town also organizes Alpharetta Art in the Park, which spotlights handcrafted work by local artists.

A plethora of dining and shopping selections are available as well. You can feast at Salt Factory Pub for some American eats or try South Main Kitchen if you’re in the mood for upscale comfort food. Browse through fancy and affordable fashions and home goods at boutiques like La Bella Maison or Alpharetta Outfitters.

Looking for some festive action? The annual Grilling & Gridiron Tailgate Party is a must-attend affair to kick off the football season, and the Wire & Wood Alpharetta Songwriters Festival is a showcase for talented singers performing their own songs.

Downtown Alpharetta, 35 Milton Ave. awesomealpharetta.com

» RELATED: Here are the restaurants set to open at Alpharetta City this year

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