BY SHELLY GABLE |PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF GAINESVILE | APR 2017
THE GEORGIAN CITY OF EXCELLENCE
Gainesville is a little off the beaten path. About an hour northeast of Atlanta and a two-hour drive from Macon Georgia, this Lake Sidney Lanier neighbor may not immediately pop into your mind when trying to choose a destination for a day out. But you would be missing out if you did not take a look at this city jam-packed with history and fun. Among others, four must-see attractions in the area are the Elachee Nature Center, Atlanta Botanical Gardens at Gainesville, Northeast Georgia History Center, and INK (Interactive Neighborhood for Kids).
Elachee Nature Center is an awesome outdoor retreat for families to explore. Kids will enjoy the live animal exhibits with plenty of reptiles and amphibians, and even a tarantula—yikes! There are beehives, a red-tailed hawk, and, most importantly, room to run! Pack a lunch for the day, and you and your brood can eat in the great outdoors. Follow it up with a family hike (Psst! It’s free to hike the trails.) on one of seven trails—Preschool Adventure and Storybook Trails are designed with the littlest ones in mind. Overall, the nature center and adjoining trails make for a fantastic spot to enjoy some fresh air while getting out of the house.
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville, is perfect for a leisurely walk with the kids tucked into strollers or roaming freely. With several open areas for kids to run and paths lined with beautiful flowers, it’s a great place to rest and relax in between touring other places. Several benches, Adirondack chairs, and even a porch swing are situated to take full advantage of the hilly terrain on which the gardens sit. A current sculpture by Patrick Dougherty is four fanciful structures—aptly named Woven Whimsy—built with twigs. Though touching is prohibited, visitors are welcome to wander around and in the structures. A pair of model trains on tracks operate with the push of a button, which caused an expression of sheer joy on my daughter’s face when she discovered this detail. And coming this spring, look for Ribbit the Exhibit—a collection of frog sculptures scattered throughout the gardens.
Northeast Georgia History Center has tons of exhibits to tour. Here again is a chance to put the younger ones in the stroller and take your time, looking at all of the historical pieces and presentations. Learn about the history of northeast Georgia—locals who have served in the armed forces or excelled in sports, Jesse Jewell, who brought the poultry industry to the area in the mid-20th century, and even go back to when Native Americans lived in this striking part of the state. Wander the gardens, step back in time and into Chief White Path’s 18th century cabin, and take a look around an old blacksmith shop. Make sure to see the Victory Garden especially—a wonderful labor of love by local gardeners for producing healthy food for those in need in the community.
INK (Interactive Neighborhood for Kids) was probably my daughter’s favorite stop of all. Set up much like a small neighborhood, this children’s museum gives kids the chance to explore so many places of interest. With a mix of real and play equipment, this giant, indoor, hands-on learning center is worth visiting over and over again. Admission is inexpensive, and it is good all day, as long as you save your receipt for re-entry. They will love playing on vehicles like a real police car, vintage fire truck, motorcycle, 1950s airplane, and more. Better yet, most areas have dress-up costumes to go with the educational play, which was a surefire win with us! Where else can a child go from being a star onstage to a veterinarian to a short-order cook in the space of a few yards? And building with foam blocks in the Imagination Playground was a big hit. We built a fort, which I think my daughter enjoyed knocking down as much as she enjoyed building.
In addition to the four places to see listed above, Gainesville is home to a plethora of public parks and playgrounds. They have a scale model of the solar system that comprises a 1.7-mile walking tour—how amazing is it to get even such a small idea of how the planets are situated by physically traversing that distance? During the warmer months, the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center has a Splash Zone Playground with two body slides that stand over 30 feet each and a splash pad play area that is fantastic for little kids, making this a great stop for cooling off. And, if you happen to be around in late April, the city hosts the Spring Chicken Festival, where you can sample all kinds of delicious chicken and have a grand time with your family.
Last, but far from least, I would be remiss if I failed to mention all of the fun activities to be had on Lake Sidney Lanier. Water sports—fishing, kayaking, canoeing, boating, water skiing—abound at this locale, which hosted canoeing and kayaking events during the 1996 Olympics. For a day of excitement, pack your bikes, canoes, kayaks, cooler, fishing rods, and your sense of adventure. The City of Excellence awaits, and I’m positive you will want to bring your family back again and again. After all, there’s really far too much to do in only a day! #