Gotta Get Away: Day Trips

"Christkindlmarkt takes place on the Marktplatz in downtown Helen, fashioned after a centuries-old Bavarian tradition." 
Courtesy of Alpine Helen White County Convention and Visitors Bureau

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"Christkindlmarkt takes place on the Marktplatz in downtown Helen, fashioned after a centuries-old Bavarian tradition." Courtesy of Alpine Helen White County Convention and Visitors Bureau

Western art, a drive-thru museum and a train ride with Santa are just a short drive away

It’s still with us. And, according to experts, it will be with us throughout the holiday season and winter 2021. The specter of COVID-19 remains, but we still want to travel. The solution: day trips. Here are eight places within 150 miles of downtown Atlanta worth checking out. You won’t even have to get out of the car at some spots. At others, you’ll mostly be outside. Some of these “day trips” are better taken in the evening so you can see the lights, be they manmade or natural. So fill up the tank with gas and the thermos with your favorite hot beverage and head out in the safest way possible.

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The vibrantly restored entrance to Pasaquan, with painted totems that appear throughout the site. Pasaquan is an art installation created by the late visionary artist Eddie Owens Martin in Buena Vista. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

The vibrantly restored entrance to Pasaquan, with painted totems that appear throughout the site. Pasaquan is an art installation created by the late visionary artist Eddie Owens Martin in Buena Vista. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

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The vibrantly restored entrance to Pasaquan, with painted totems that appear throughout the site. Pasaquan is an art installation created by the late visionary artist Eddie Owens Martin in Buena Vista. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Buena Vista

Pasaquan is a place of eccentric, manmade beauty 111 miles south of Atlanta. The seven-acre site, now owned and operated by Columbus State University, was the home of visionary folk artist Eddie Owens Martin, aka St. EOM (pronounced Ohm), from 1957 until his death in 1986. Over three decades, the artist / fortune teller turned his homestead into a work of art by creating six major structures, erecting painted concrete sculptures and 900 feet of masonry walls, all elaborately adorned with colorful artwork and religious symbols fusing styles and motifs from African, pre-Columbian and Native American cultures. Pasaquan was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. COVID-19 protocols require visitors wear masks, and no more than 10 people are allowed inside the main house at one time. (Pasaquan, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday, $10 suggested contribution, 238 Eddie Martin Road, Buena Vista. 706-507-8306, pasaquan.columbusstate.edu)

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"Experience the American West in Georgia at Cartersville's Booth Western Art Museum." Courtesy of Booth Western Art Museum

Credit: Handout

"Experience the American West in Georgia at Cartersville's Booth Western Art Museum." 
Courtesy of Booth Western Art Museum

Credit: Handout

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"Experience the American West in Georgia at Cartersville's Booth Western Art Museum." Courtesy of Booth Western Art Museum

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Cartersville

Visit the American West without leaving Georgia at the Booth Western Art Museum 44 miles north of Atlanta. One of the state’s largest art museums, Booth claims to be the largest permanent exhibition space for Western art in the world. Why Cartersville? The museum was founded by a local, anonymous family of avid Western art collectors in 2003. It’s now home to 120,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor exhibits. The collection ranges in period and style from legendary artists like Frederic Remington to modern pop art icons such as Andy Warhol. Booth is an affiliate museum to the Smithsonian Institution and hosts 10-12 temporary exhibits annually in its continuing effort to tell the wide-ranging and complicated story of the American West. Two current temporary exhibits — “Indians & Cowboys: Redefined by Duke & Woodard,” and “Southwest Rising: Contemporary Art and the Legacy of Elaine Horwitch” — run through Feb. 21 and April 25, respectively. COVID-19 protocols include limited entrance on a timed ticket system. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Masks are strongly encouraged and mandatory during docent-led tours, which are limited to six people, first-come, first-serve. (Booth Western Art Museum, $12, 501 Museum Drive, Cartersville. 770-387-1300, boothmuseum.org)

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While in Cashiers, North Carolina, witness the 411-foot drop of the Upper Whitewater Falls File photo

Credit: HANDOUT

While in Cashiers, North Carolina, witness the 411-foot drop of the Upper Whitewater Falls
File photo

Credit: HANDOUT

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While in Cashiers, North Carolina, witness the 411-foot drop of the Upper Whitewater Falls File photo

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Cashiers, North Carolina

Come see the natural phenomenon known as the Shadow of the Bear outside the mountain town of Cashiers. Fall is the most popular time for seeing the shadow in Cashiers Valley slowly morph into the form of a crouching bear as the sun goes down behind Whiteside Mountain. The Rhodes Big View Scenic Overlook, 135 miles northeast of Atlanta, is usually lined with people this time of year observing and filming the spectacle, which occurs over a half-hour period in the late afternoon on clear days (check the forecast before heading out). But the “secret season” for seeing the shadow is mid-February to early March when the overlook is usually less crowded. Rhodes Overlook is an unmarked pull-off on U.S. 64 outside of town. The nearby Cashiers Visitors Center can provide directions, as well as maps and info for other explorations in and around town. Arrive early in the afternoon for a moderate hike up Whiteside Mountain to see some of the best views in the area. After the bear emerges, the sky turns dark, so be careful driving down the winding mountain roads back to Atlanta. (Cashiers Visitors Center. 202 U.S. 64 W., Cashiers, North Carolina. 828-743-5191, www.discoverjacksonnc.com)

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"The Walnut Street Bridge is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world and it lights up at night during the holidays." Courtesy of Chattanooga Tourism Co.

Credit: Handout

"The Walnut Street Bridge is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world and it lights up at night during the holidays." 
Courtesy of Chattanooga Tourism Co.

Credit: Handout

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"The Walnut Street Bridge is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world and it lights up at night during the holidays." Courtesy of Chattanooga Tourism Co.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Combine holiday shopping and sightseeing at the Walnut Street Bridge, one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world, 120 miles north of Atlanta. It offers great views of the Tennessee River, downtown and Lookout Mountain in the distance. During the holidays the bridge lights up at dusk. Arrive a few hours earlier to stroll the bridge that connects the Bluff View Art District to the North Shore District and Coolidge Park. Bluff View Art District, a small enclave on a bluff overlooking the river, has the ambiance of a hilltop European village. Grab a hot beverage from Rembrandt’s Roasting Company, fresh-baked goods at Bluff View Bakery and tour the River View Sculpture Garden. North Shore is more bustling with its shops, restaurants and famous dance steps engraved in the sidewalk to help you warm up as you stroll. Get away from the bustle at the expansive riverbank Coolidge Park at the foot of the pedestrian bridge. (Walnut Street Bridge, 1 Walnut St., Chattanooga, Tennessee. 800-322-3344, www.visitchattanooga.com/plan-your-trip/visitors-center)

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"The SAM Shortline Excursion Train crosses Lake Blackshear at Georgia Veterans State Park." Courtesy of SAM Shortline Excursion Train

Credit: Handout

"The SAM Shortline Excursion Train crosses Lake Blackshear at Georgia Veterans State Park."
Courtesy of SAM Shortline Excursion Train

Credit: Handout

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"The SAM Shortline Excursion Train crosses Lake Blackshear at Georgia Veterans State Park." Courtesy of SAM Shortline Excursion Train

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Cordele

The SAM Shortline Railroad, 141 miles south of Atlanta, offers holiday excursions in November and December with COVID-19 protocols in place. Vintage passenger cars are operating at limited capacity and seats are now assigned with social distancing between parties, among other safety and cleanliness measures. On Nov. 28, the Plains Christmas Lighting excursion will depart from the Georgia Veterans State Park Depot at 4 p.m., arriving in Plains at 5:45 p.m. for a two-hour layover to browse the charming downtown and witness the annual Christmas tree lighting. Shop for gifts at the boutiques and souvenir shops on Main Street, sample peanut butter ice cream and see the Plains Train Depot. Now part of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, the depot is the oldest building in Plains and served as the 1976 presidential campaign headquarters for Carter. On Dec. 4, 5, 12, the Candy Cane Express departs at 10 a.m. for a daytime excursion to Plains. The Cordele Holiday Train will make one-hour evening runs starting at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 that include hot chocolate, cookies and an appearance by Santa. This excursion departs from the depot in downtown Cordele. (Cordele depot, 105 East 9th Ave., Cordele. Georgia Veterans State Park depot, 2459 U.S. 280 W., Cordele. $25 and up. 877-427-2457, www.samshortline.com)

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A thick layer of dark clouds roll in over the Alpine Village of Helen in the mountains of Northeast Georgia.

Credit: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

A thick layer of dark clouds roll in over the Alpine Village of Helen in the mountains of Northeast Georgia.

Credit: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

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A thick layer of dark clouds roll in over the Alpine Village of Helen in the mountains of Northeast Georgia.

Credit: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Helen

Bavarian-inspired Helen brings a German-style Christmas to North Georgia each year, especially at its Christkindlmarkt. Fashioned after the traditional, centuries-old Christkindlmarkts of Bavaria, this open-air bazaar features vendors selling an assortment of holiday food, drink specialties and gift items. There’s live Christmas music, too. It all takes place at the Marketplatz, Helen’s version of a town square in the center of downtown. The dates for this year’s Christkindlmarkt are November 28-29 and December 5-6 between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you can’t make it to town on those dates, Helen is fully lit-up for the holidays beginning with the Lighting of the Village on the evening of Nov. 27, making the town a spectacle of lights and holiday cheer ripe for a scenic stroll or a gift-shopping extravaganza throughout the season. (Christkindlmarkt, free. Alpine Helen/WhiteCounty Convention and Visitors Bureau, 726 Bruckenstrasse, Helen. 800-858-8027, www.helenga.org)

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"Butch Anthony stands next to his decked-out white Cadillac at his one-of-kind drive-thru museum in rural Seale, Alabama." Courtesy of Steve Plattner

Credit: Steve Plattner

"Butch Anthony stands next to his decked-out white Cadillac at his one-of-kind drive-thru museum in rural Seale, Alabama." 
Courtesy of Steve Plattner

Credit: Steve Plattner

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"Butch Anthony stands next to his decked-out white Cadillac at his one-of-kind drive-thru museum in rural Seale, Alabama." Courtesy of Steve Plattner

Credit: Steve Plattner

Credit: Steve Plattner

Seale, Alabama

You don’t even have to get out of the car at the Museum of Wonder Drive-Thru, 122 miles southwest of Atlanta at the intersection of U.S. 431 and AL 169. It’s the creation of acclaimed artist Butch Anthony, whose work hangs in galleries, restaurants, hotels and museums around the world. He still lives in rural Alabama and maintains what he claims is the world’s first drive-thru museum. It’s made out of shipping containers with display windows cut out of the sides. Behind the windows is a rotating collection of Anthony’s artwork, found objects, odd taxidermy, lots of bones and other curiosities the artist has collected in his lifetime. The museum is open 24/7 on the honor system. Nighttime is the best time to take in the displays because the lighting allows visitors to see the exhibits in greater detail. But anytime is a good time to go. Leave the one-dollar admission fee in the pay slot of one of the containers, a note of thanks, or both. If you’ve ever driven to the beaches of the Florida Panhandle from Atlanta and your route was through Columbus, you’ve probably driven past this strange museum on U.S. 431 without knowing it. (Museum of Wonder Drive-Thru, $1, 970 AL 169, Seale, Alabama. museumofwonder.com/visit)

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Leo Gray was one of the Tuskegee Airmen who trained at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama. Courtesy Bryton Entertainment

Leo Gray was one of the Tuskegee Airmen who trained at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama.
Courtesy Bryton Entertainment

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Leo Gray was one of the Tuskegee Airmen who trained at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama. Courtesy Bryton Entertainment

Tuskegee, Alabama

Learn about the history of the first African-American U.S. military pilots at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, 124 miles southwest of Atlanta off I-85. The site contains a large grassy area with exhibits along a walking trail and an overlook of the airfield where the men trained during World War II. It has remained open throughout the pandemic. Two historic hangers contain a museum that displays a collection of period aircraft, including a restored red-tailed P-51 Mustang, the fighter plane that gave the airmen their nickname the Red Tails. The museum closed in March due to the pandemic but is on a phased reopening plan. Hanger 1 reopened Nov. 11, and the entire site is slated to fully reopen on Dec. 14. Call ahead to confirm. (Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, free, 616 Chappie James Ave., Tuskegee, Alabama. 334-724-0922, www.nps.gov/tuai/)

COVID-19 travel tips

  • When gassing up the car, pay at the pump. Use disposable gloves or wipe down handles and buttons with disinfecting cloths before touching.
  • After fueling, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • The safest option for dining is to bring your own food. If you have to stop, use drive-through, delivery, take-out or curbside pick-up options.