There are two types of small towns. The first is a self-sufficient little city, close to nothing but with a sense of community and usually a lovely quirkiness that keeps people from ever wanting to leave. (And, if they do, they find a way to come back.) It’s hard not to love these places — one minute you’re checking out a painting in a gallery, the next you’re sipping wine with the artist at a café and learning all the local gossip. These are the kinds of towns where you’ll uncover wonderful surprises, like an eatery helmed by a chef who had a restaurant in Manhattan but moved away to raise children in a small community.

The second is a town that’s far enough from a major city — in Georgia that means Atlanta — that it has its own identity, but close enough that it carries a bit of sophistication from its urban neighbor. I adore these places too: I have the comforts of a city, but in a small, stress-free package that makes wandering a breeze. Either way, small towns make for a wonderful, low-key getaway that leaves you wishing you had more time to explore. Five we love in Georgia: 

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lakeview fireside patio at the ritz-carlton reynolds, lake oconee
Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee

On its own, Greensboro, Georgia, would be worthy of the visit. The easygoing downtown is loaded with fun diversions like a craft brewery and an artisan marketplace where you can browse the work of more than 100 local painters, potters, and other artists. It’s also easy to find, which is often not the case with small towns. But what really sets it apart is access to Lake Oconee, a 19,000-acre reservoir with enough rambling shoreline to please even the most serious of solitude seekers, but without the hours-long drive from town. For me, it’s a perfect pairing.

Best Stay: The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee: Mixing a bit of rustic cabin-in-the-woods appeal — think stacked-stone columns and soaring timbered ceilings — with pool cabanas, a spa, and other luxurious extras, the lakefront The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds sits on what was once a 10,000-acre private estate. Though surrounded by luxury homes, five golf courses, and tennis courts, the resort manages to maintain an outdoorsy vibe with walking trails, fishing, boat charters, and a sand beach fronting Lake Oconee. Stay in one of the 257 rooms or book one of the 6 private cottages which come with full resort access and extras like a barbecue butler.


Image by Koushalya Karthikeyan via Unsplash

I’m going to blame my previous lack of knowledge about Clayton on the fact that it’s so close to some of my favorite mountain communities in North and South Carolina that I never bothered to cross the border. My mistake. Clayton is the kind of funky mountain town where you can indulge in everything from a sound bath to a flight of Napa Cabernets on Main Street, or head out a bit to visit Foxfire, a unique museum of Appalachian history that has its roots in a literary magazine. But save time to explore the landscape. Beyond miles and miles of hiking trails, there are 120 waterfalls in Rabun County. Some, like the 100-foot Hurricane Falls, can be viewed from a heart-stopping aerial bridge; others, notably Becky Branch Falls, require just a five-minute stroll from the center of town.

Best Stay: Bridge Creek Inn: Open since September of 2023, this kitsch-free hotel has 45 rooms, a coffee bar, and a terrific location in the center of town; let the hiking concierge lead you to a few favorite trails. Dogs are welcome ($125 fee).


a nature park in roswell, georgia
Image by Adaobi B via Unsplash

Talk about a surprise. I expected Roswell to feel like a suburb of Atlanta. It is, after all, an easily commutable 30 minutes north of the city, depending on the time of day. And while I’m sure plenty of people make the daily slog, there are plenty more who have decided to work where they live, opening — and running — passion-project businesses inside the restored warehouses and Craftsman bungalows that line Canton Street. An old barn turned out to be a Cajun restaurant called Wegman’s; around the corner, a fountain burbled outside of a tiny rambler that housed Monkey 68, a sushi restaurant that served the best hotteok — a Korean pancake dessert — I’d ever eaten. Luckily, it’s easy to burn off all those carbs: Roswell offers access to the hilly trails within the Chattahoochee River Natural Recreation Area, a series of parks strung along a nearly 50-mile-long section of the Chattahoochee River.

Best Stay: Cottage on Canton This renovated 1940s clapboard cottage is home to a pair of one-bedroom apartments that can be rented separately or together, and are less than a five-minute walk from restaurants and shopping. Both have full kitchens, washers and dryers; the upstairs unit has an outdoor patio.

Saint Simons Island

Courtesy of Sea Island

Though the term Lowcountry usually refers to South Carolina’s coastline from Charleston south toward Beaufort, you can find those same sweeping marshes and golden beaches in Georgia, too. One of the best places to take in that uncanny natural beauty is Saint Simons Island, where beaches are rimmed by marine forests, dunes and sea oats, and pale green streamers of Spanish moss hang from the twisty boughs of live oak trees. Beyond outdoorsy fun, the island has several historic sites including a 19th-century lighthouse with a 129-step staircase to climb, a fort, and a church with remarkable stained-glass windows. The shop-filled town is worth exploring, too, particularly the dozen or so whimsical “Tree Spirits” that were carved into heavy tree trunks more than 40 years ago.

Best Stay: The Lodge and the Cloister at Sea Island: Beach lovers will want to book their room at the graceful Cloister, an iconic beachfront gem that occupies a private island separated from Saint Simons Island by a tiny bridge. But if town is more your style, consider The Lodge, which is located on the marsh on Saint Simons and offers easy access to golf and other activities like falconry and skeet shooting. But, really, you can’t go wrong with either. Guests can access amenities at either resort and there’s a free shuttle between the two.


an aerial view of downtown macon, georgia
Courtesy of Canva

Small towns sometimes attract visitors with a specific draw, like a fabulous art scene or access to a natural wonder. Not Macon Georgia. Somehow, this central Georgia locale, which inspired the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding, and Little Richard is filled with a remarkable array of attractions that span not just music but sports, history, architecture, and even ancient civilizations: If all goes as planned, Macon’s Ocmulgee National Historic Park, where members of the Muscogee tribe lived as long ago as 1015 CE, will become a national park in 2024. Spring is the best time to visit: thanks to more than 100,000 flowering cherry trees, warm weather brings clouds of pink blossoms that rival Washington, DC.

Best Stay: Hotel Forty-Five: Named for the 45 rpm records that put Macon on the music map — as well as its location on a street that cuts through the city at a precise 45-degree angle – Hotel Forty-Five opened in 2022 in an office building that was the city’s first skyscraper; a lively rooftop bar takes full advantage of the view. Mid-century-styled rooms have fun details like Smeg refrigerators and sculptural full-length mirrors.

Featured image courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee