By Tara Gary
Considering that Mother Nature forgot to bestow a proper season of autumn, and NOAA predicts our area will have the greatest odds for above-average precipitation this winter, you may be as excited about the prospect of spring as I am. Believe it or not, it’s time to schedule and book your spring break vacation. If you have children in the Fulton County school system middle school age and up, you are likely familiar with the mass exodus of many such families in that category leaving Atlanta and congregating in the panhandle of Florida. Spring break is scheduled Mar. 30 – Apr. 7.
30A stickers are abundant on the family roadsters in our area. Rosemary Beach, Watercolor, and Seaside being some of the most popular destinations on 30A. Sandestin also stands out as a top contender for families of tweens and teens. Pensacola Beach is my personal favorite because it is the home of the Navy’s Blue Angels. I am an aviation, and beer, enthusiast and The National Naval Aviation Museum sits at the end of the Blue Angels practice runway. You can watch them practice and on certain days they sign autographs in the museum. Afterward, you can hit the beach or sit at the bar of Red Fish Blue Fish and have nice cold beer and fresh oysters. National Naval Aviation Museum.
All of these destinations are more than lovely for a spring getaway. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the beaches of the Panhandle in Florida I highly recommend it. Endless biking and hiking trails. Unique restaurants and shops. Crystal clear waters and snow white sand. Rental properties are abundant but they do sell out quickly, so research now and book one.
If you’re not headed to one of the beaches I just mentioned and you decide to keep the family in town, Atlanta offers countless experiences and activities. Many who live in our area have never visited the famous attractions nearby. Be a tourist in your own home town and go to: The Georgia Aquarium, which is the largest aquarium in the United States and hosts over 100,000 animals, is one of my favorite sites to visit in Atlanta. If you go, plan to spend the entire day there. The 6.3 million gallon tank located in the Ocean Voyager section is by far my favorite experience. I can gaze for hours at the four whale sharks, manta rays, and various sea creatures that gracefully glide in that enormous tank.
A few years ago I received a call that I had won the “Grand Prize” from a local television station. I’d never won anything before and I was hoping it was an exotic vacation or a giant jackpot. No. The voice on the other end of the line exclaimed with excitement that I had won the opportunity to swim with sharks in the largest shark tank in the world. I thought I was being punked. What?! What kind of “prize” is that? I thanked the individual, put on my big girl pants and decided to go for it. I invited my mother as my guest considering she was the only person willing to actually do it with me. What an unforgettable experience. The professional, educated, and hospitable staff from the aquarium had our scuba gear sized and ready in our personalized lockers and then we submerged ourselves into a magical and beautiful ecosystem. It’s one thing to view the sharks from the carpeted theater steps outside the tank but to actually have these gentle giants swim beneath and graze your body out of curiosity is exhilarating. We swam a figure eight configuration over the football field-sized water. The experience was unforgettable. You too can swim the sharks as it is one of the many inter-active experiences the aquarium offers. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, make your reservations now and know that they do have age requirements that vary.
If you have a high-schooler between the ages of 15 – 17, the Beginner Environmental Leadership Program is a great opportunity offered by the aquarium. The program empowers those interested in aquatic ecosystems to become leaders in future environmental conservation. Volunteer hours can be accumulated during school breaks, including spring break. It’s an amazing opportunity for young adults. Details can be found at www.georgiaaquarium.org.
Some other attractions in the downtown area include the SkyView Ferris Wheel that overlooks Centennial Olympic Park. The World of Coca-Cola, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and the College Football Hall of Fame are all in walking distance of one another.
Another one of my favorite attractions in Atlanta is the Fernbank Museum of Natural History located at 767 Clifton Road NE. Fernbank is host to the world’s largest dinosaurs, Atlanta’s largest movie screen, 75 acres of outdoor nature adventures, interactive exhibits and much more. You walk through time on a journey of Georgia’s natural history as well as the development of the planet. Growing up, my kids loved that section of the museum the most. They loved seeing the dinosaurs looming above them, seeing the various creatures that used to, and those that still inhabit our state. These are the ecological variants that sum up Georgia. It is a great educational experience masked in fun.
If you like amusement parks, like my 20-year- old daughter and I do, plan on visiting Six Flags Over Georgia. With 11 rollercoasters, a wide variety of shows, a section dedicated to little riders, and Hurricane Harbor, a large in-park water park, this 290-acre park has something for everyone. Our favorite ride by far is Goliath. This hypercoaster drops you from 12 stories high at 70 MPH and you experience 4Gs! We always choose the front seat for the best viewing experience and we typically ride this mammoth at least four times per visit. This ride is not for the faint of heart. Six Flags has special spring break hours so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance and plan accordingly. Six Flags.
Our local area is filled with fantastic outlets for the outdoor enthusiast. There is certainly no lack of light to vigorous hiking trails, water sports, biking, and camping available. I love to drive a few hours north to climb Amicalola Falls or Blood Mountain. The views from both are fantastic and the hikes are well marked. Amicalola Falls also has zip lining, archery, and rock climbing walls. Visit Atlanta Trails for guidance and to find the perfect trail to suit tour needs.
For a spectacular view of Atlanta, take the family for a hike up Stone Mountain. Picnic on the massive quartz stone while taking in the view. Make it an overnight visit and rent a yurt, RV, or safari tent overlooking the lake. Play a round of golf or take a ride on the duck boats. There are plenty of options to choose from. I have a year parking pass to Stone Mountain and I often like to make the hike to the top of the mountain and then cool off with a good German brew from The Village Corner, a great little German restaurant, bakery, and brewery located in the town of Stone Mountain.
For the dare devil thrill seeker drive two hours east of Atlanta to Durhamtown Off Road Resort. The largest in the southeast, this resort sits on 6,000 acres and offers over 150 miles of one way tracks for dirt bikes, ATV, and SXS trail riding. They have 15 unique racing tracks, shooting ranges, and hunting memberships for day hunts. I’ve been meaning to take a trip there with my 18-year-old son to show him up on a dirt bike. Well, it’s been about 25 years so we will see how that goes. Durhamtown Off Road Resort.
Atlanta is centrally located in the midst of day-drive destinations that are definitely must see. A two-hour drive lands you in Chattanooga. While there, make a reservation to go tandem hang gliding at Lookout Mountain. This is one of the most invigorating experiences I’ve shared with my kids. A certified instructor by your side talks you through your choice of an altitude of 1,500 or 3,000 feet. We chose 3,000 feet and I truly felt like an eagle soaring freely over the beautiful surrounds of Lookout Mountain. I was apprehensive to watch my children dangle above me at the hands of a an instructor we had just met but after flying myself I felt I could not deny them the experience. I also had every confidence with the well experienced instructors. Afterward, visit downtown Chattanooga and stay overnight in one of the cars of the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo. There are so many unique shops and activities to take advantage of there.
So whether you decide to drive to beautiful Savannah and explore Tybee Island, visit the beaches of the Panhandle, or any of the destinations I suggested, you’re sure to find something to delight everyone in your family. There is no excuse for you to sit idle over spring break and listen to complaints of, “I’m bored!” ❍
When not writing, Roswell resident Tara Gary is busy making industrial furniture, charcuterie boards, and local art. Most nights she can be found with her friends at local breweries and pubs drinking craft beer.