Spring Travel: Weekend getaways just a short drive or flight away

Take your pick from these mountaintop and seaside destinations.
This spring, the oceanfront Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa completes a major updating of its accommodations.
(Courtesy of Westin Hilton Head Island)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

This spring, the oceanfront Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa completes a major updating of its accommodations. (Courtesy of Westin Hilton Head Island)

No matter what the groundhog saw, spring is upon us. It’s time to hit the road for a quick getaway to where wildflowers are beginning to boom, the sea-salt air is ripe, and there’s plenty to do outdoors. Here are some destinations to check out this season, all within easy driving or short flying distance from Atlanta.

The views are unparalleled at Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 
Courtesy of Pisgah Inn

Credit: Pisgah Inn

icon to expand image

Credit: Pisgah Inn

Mount Pisgah, North Carolina

Take a 3.5-hour drive north of Atlanta and feel the sensation of being on top of the world at the “Peak of the Parkway” — Pisgah Inn ($190 and up, 408 Blue Ridge Parkway, Canton, N.C., 828-235-8228, www.pisgahinn.com). Opening for the season April 23, it’s located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the edge of a 5,000-foot ridgeline beneath the 5,721-foot summit of Mount Pisgah, and there’s nothing around but mountain vistas and easy access to miles of gorgeous out-and-back hiking trails.

Generations of travelers have visited the inn during the warm weather months for a high-altitude getaway. The original Pisgah Inn opened in the newly formed Pisgah National Forest in 1919; the modern incarnation of the inn was built in the early 1960s catering to motorists on the parkway and still retains that midcentury motor court vibe with 21st-century upgrades to the accommodations.

Every room has a balcony with long-range mountain views. Three meals a day are served in the dining room ($13.95 and up), which has panoramic windows for enjoying the view while you eat. It’s the only place to have a sit-down meal, but grab-and-go meals (and local craft beer) are available from the inn’s market cafe to take back to your room or on a day hike.

Mount Pisgah’s summit is accessible from the trailhead next to the parking lot. The 2.4-mile out-and-back hike is moderately challenging and takes about 1.5 hours to complete. Other must-hike trails are the Frying Pan Lookout Tower Trail and the section of the Art Loeb Trail that leads to Black Balsam Knob, offering 360-degree views. North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Outer Banks, passes through the property.

To catch the best sunset views in the Daytona Beach area, head to spots along the Halifax River such as Our Deck Down Under beneath the Dunlawton Bridge." 
(Courtesy of Blake Guthrie)

Credit: Blake Guthrie

icon to expand image

Credit: Blake Guthrie

Daytona Beach, Florida

If you want to get to a beach fast from Atlanta, you’re just a one-hour flight and a 15-minute drive away from putting your toes in the sand in Daytona Beach.

Stay the night at oceanfront Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach ($170 and up. 918 N Atlantic Ave. www.hardrockhotels.com) where the interior common areas feel like a music museum featuring artifacts like outfits worn onstage by Elvis Presley and Madonna, guitars owned by Gregg Allman and Tom Petty, and the Beach Boys’ autographed surfboard, among dozens of other items. Multiple accommodation styles are available, from standard hotel rooms to suites on the pool deck and the Wave Terrace where there’s a concert stage with live music.

The best place to catch the sunset in eastward-facing Daytona Beach is away from the beach at spots along the Halifax River such as the seafood pub Our Deck Down Under ($12 and up, 78 Dunlawton Ave. www.ourdeckdownunder.com) underneath the Dunlawton Bridge. If you can, get a seat on the deck with a view of the river where dolphin sightings are common, but expect a wait before sunset.

Whether you’re a racing fan or not, you’ll find something of interest at One Daytona (1 Daytona Blvd., www.onedaytona.com), a large open-air shopping, dining and entertainment complex across from the Daytona Beach International Speedway.

The rooftop bar of the circa-1940s, Art Deco Streamline Hotel (140 S. Atlantic Ave., streamlinehotel.com) is worth a stop for race fans since it’s where NASCAR was formed 75 years ago. Racing artifacts, vintage photographs and newspaper clippings line the walls of the hotel’s public spaces including the elevator leading to the rooftop.

All the cottages at Creekside Cottages in Blairsville have private firepits along Butternut Creek that runs through town.
(Courtesy of Blake Guthrie)

Credit: Blake Guthrie

icon to expand image

Credit: Blake Guthrie

Blairsville

Less than two hours from Atlanta in the shadow of Georgia’s highest peaks (including the highest, Brasstown Bald at 4,784 feet), Blairsville has historic mountain town charm and deep agricultural roots worth exploring at sites along the North Georgia Farm Trail.

The Reece Heritage Farm (Free, 8552 Gainesville Hwy., www.unioncountyga.gov/reecefarm) at the foot of Blood Mountain opens for the season on April 12. It offers an enlightening glimpse into what Appalachian farm life was like in the early 20th century, as well as the life of the farm’s namesake, poet and novelist Byron Herbert Reece.

One mile away is Vogel State Park ($5, 405 Vogel State Park Road, gastateparks.org/Vogel), one of Georgia’s oldest state parks, with lakeside and waterfall hiking trails worth exploring on a day visit. Stay in a historic cabin at the park or in town at the newly renovated Creekside Cottages ($150 and up, 20 Cottage Creek Way, www.mycreeksidecottages.com) on Butternut Creek. Creekside’s four cottages have private fire pits on the creek bank and are within walking distance to the courthouse square downtown.

The cottages are also within walking distance to the Union County Farmers Market (Free. 290 Farmers Market Way, www.unioncountyga.gov/farmers-market), which opens for the season the first week of June, but you can visit the Hunter-England Cabin and Historic Homestead onsite anytime. The cabin, built in 1832, is believed to be the oldest structure in Union County.

Enjoy a farm-to-table Southern-style breakfast or lunch at The Sawmill Place (1150 Pat Haralson Drive, www.thesawmillplace.com), choosing from a seasonal menu sourced from local growers.

The beaches of Hilton Head Island are wide and welcoming. Contributed by Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau

icon to expand image

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Hop a one-hour flight to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport and take a 45-minute drive to beautiful Hilton Head Island, home of acres of pristine natural beauty, luxury resort hotels and more than 23 golf courses.

Currently undergoing a $10 million renovation, but still open for business this spring, Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa ($274 and up, 2 Grasslawn Ave., www.westinresorthhi.com), a 419-room oceanfront property on the north end of the island. Sporting updated rooms and suites with a brighter Lowcountry vibe, the property, which has been a mainstay on the island since 1988, has five dining options ranging from a casual poolside eatery to an upscale seafood restaurant, plus three oceanside pools with cabanas and private beach access.

Take a tour of Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park (free self-guided tours, $8 per person guided group tours, 40 Harriet Tubman Way, exploremitchelville.org), a 33-acre site of the first town self-governed by former slaves in the U.S. established in 1861. The town is lost to time now but the site contains exhibits, interpretive signage, walking trails, observation points and public beach access.

For authentic Lowcountry cuisine head to the middle part of the island to dine at A Lowcountry Backyard ($12.95 and up, 32 Palmetto Bay Road, alowcountrybackyard.com) known for its shrimp and grits and Gullah-inspired dishes.

Museums, restaurants, and shops make downtown Macon a popular destination.
Courtesy of Matt Odom/Visit Macon

Credit: Matt Odom/Visit Macon

icon to expand image

Credit: Matt Odom/Visit Macon

Macon

An hour and 15 minutes away by car, downtown Macon has been experiencing a renaissance of late, its old red brick buildings and other architectural gems reborn as modern performing arts venues, brewpubs, restaurants, shops and boutique hotels.

Discover the burgeoning arts and culinary scene with a stay at downtown’s newest boutique, the Woodward Hotel ($189 and up, 350 2nd St., www.thewoodwardhotel.com). This comfy nine-room inn opened last September and has a Southern literary theme throughout. There’s no front desk — check-in and check-out are done through a keypad on the door. Standing in for a lobby is Quill, an intimate speakeasy-style craft cocktail bar (enter through the alley) with classic and inventive drink choices inspired by famous authors.

The alley is also home to two Japanese restaurants, an English-style steakhouse and a pizza joint. Two blocks away, one of downtown’s newest dining options is Pearl ($12 and up, 470 1st St., www.facebook.com/PearlMaconGA), a European-style bistro open for dinner and Sunday brunch.

Across the street from the hotel, the Otis Redding Museum ($5, 339 Cotton Ave., otisreddingfoundation.org) — part of the Otis Redding Foundation — contains a treasure trove of the late iconic soul singer’s artifacts.

The nearby Tubman African American Museum ($10, 310 Cherry St., www.tubmanmuseum.com) — founded in 1981 with a mission to educate people about African American art, history, and culture — premiered its newest installation, “Higher Awaits: The Tyler Perry Exhibition” in February to tell the inspirational story of the Atlanta-based entertainment mogul’s life and career. It runs through 2023.

A don't-miss spot in Sewanee is All Saints' Chapel, a late Gothic Revival-style masterpiece of architecture in the center of campus atop the Cumberland Plateau.
(Courtesy of Blake Guthrie)

Credit: Blake Guthrie

icon to expand image

Credit: Blake Guthrie

Sewanee, Tennessee

A 2.5-hour drive from Atlanta will take you atop the Cumberland Plateau in middle Tennessee, home of South Cumberland State Park (free, Visitors Center: 11745 U.S. 41, Monteagle, tnstateparks.com/parks/south-cumberland). Composed of 10 separate units spread over four counties, the park contains 90 miles of hiking trails and natural treasures, including Foster Falls, a 60-foot plunge fall; the view of Savage Gulf from the Stone Door rock outcroppings; and the Sewanee Natural Bridge, a sandstone archway.

The park has multiple campgrounds but only one primitive cabin. For non-campers, one of the nicer non-chain hotels in the area is the Sewanee Inn ($199 and up, 1235 University Ave., 931-598-3568, sewanee-inn.com) on the grounds of the University of the South, conveniently located near many units of the state park.

The university’s 13,000-acre grounds offer plenty of activities for the public including hiking and biking 65 miles of scenic trails. Stroll the campus to see beautiful old structures such as All Saints’ Chapel (735 University Ave.), a magnificent example of late Gothic Revival architecture built over a period of five decades in the first half of the 20th century.

For breakfast or lunch, head to nearby Tracy City and check out Tennessee’s oldest bakery, Dutch Maid Bakery and Cafe ($8 and up, 109 Main St., www.dutchmaid.net), established in 1902. Dine on egg dishes, sandwiches and salads, and afterwards get a loaf of the bakery’s delectable salt-rising bread (or any other number of treats) for road munchies on the way home.