Atlanta is home to Southern hospitality, a growing gourmet food scene and locally produced fermented libations. In the height of summer, it's also home to humid, sweltering heat and mosquitoes that could carry off small children. Here is a list of places to cool your spirit without sacrificing your enjoyment. Near, far, peaceful and adventurous — Atlanta and the rest of the state of Georgia offer myriad options to quench the summer heat.
Amicalola Falls State Park
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Experience the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast and one of Georgia’s “7 natural wonders” at Amicalola Falls State Park. Hike or drive to the top of the falls, where a platform affords postcard views of the Appalachian topography. Descending the stairs takes you to a middle bridge air-conditioned by the cool water, with a bonus misty treat on windier days. While swimming is not allowed in the pool at the base of the falls, anglers are a popular sight. The web of creeks below invites exploration and wading. Go on your own, or call ahead for ranger-led programs. Creek-side picnic tables provide a perfect home base for rock-hopping and discovering residents of the stream, such as crawfish and salamanders.
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Tybee Island is the laid-back sidekick to Savannah’s cosmopolitan scene and the closest ocean beach to Atlanta. Where the ocean kisses the river, Tybee’s Back River Beach offers a serene alternative to the bustling area of the business district and adjacent South Beach. Sheltered from the pounding surf, it is the calm to the around-the-bend noise of the main swimming beach areas. Little Tybee Island can be seen as you gaze across the river, a popular destination for those exploring by kayak or paddleboard. Low tide provides a playground for shell aficionados and other coastal treasure hunters as sandbars and other silica-lined mazes are revealed. Swimming here should be done with caution, as tides bring swift currents.
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Once the private winter playground of tycoons and socialites, Jekyll Island is now a Georgia state park. The island is home to beaches that fit any personality. For families, the wide sandy expansiveness of Central Dunes Beach is a favorite. Kayakers and a few adventurous hikers are usually the only ones found at Sharks Tooth Beach. At extreme low tide, the oyster-shell floor exposes a shallow swath of the muddy bottom. Lucky hunters are rumored to have found great white shark teeth, as well as some from the prehistoric megalodon.
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
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Originating in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Chattahoochee River snakes its way to the state line, where it merges with other waters, changes names and marches to the ocean. From the northern metro suburbs, the Chattahoochee River flows as a cold-water habitat, rarely reaching temperatures higher than the mid-50s. Tubing, kayaking and trout fishing are popular activities for residents and visitors alike. Bring your own recreational equipment, or rent it from outfitters. A shift in disposition happens at Morgan Falls. Bull Sluice Lake begins the warming of the river before it plunges over the falls. The flat waters of the lake are perfect for novice kayakers, while the wildlife and natural beauty make it an enjoyable excursion for all skill levels.
Luckie Marietta District in the heart of downtown Atlanta is densely populated with visitor favorites, such as the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. A quick walk from these tourist powerhouses is Centennial Olympic Park, home of the Fountain of Rings. Onlookers of all ages can’t help the urge to weave through the sprays of synchronized water, which reach 15 to 30 feet high during the fountain show. The park also houses other favorites such as Googie Burger and the All Children’s Playground.
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Accessible only by boat, Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest barrier island. It is home to feral horses and is a favorite nesting area for loggerhead turtles. Stay for the day or overnight at one of the various camping locations. The only commercial establishment on the island is the Greyfield Inn, a mansion retreat that was built by the Carnegie family in 1900 and now houses a romantic luxury hotel. Aside from the National Park Service ferry, kayaking is a great option for day-trip explorations to the various ecosystems, including salt marshes, maritime forests and 18 miles of pristine beaches.
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Originally created as a source of flood control and power, Lake Lanier is a recreational retreat where boating and lakeside resorts are king. Rising from the water, once-rolling foothills now form Lake Lanier Islands, the site of a huge resort. Zip-line canopy tours, a water park, fishing, spa treatments and wakeboarding top the list of refreshing activities on a hot summer day.
Billy Abernathy of the Cave Spring Historical Society
The town of Cave Spring embodies the simplicity of bygone eras, with just 1 cave, 1 spring and 1 stoplight. From the picturesque downtown, which is full of restaurants and antique shops, it’s a short walk to the cave and spring of the town’s namesake. The 29-acre Rolater Park is the site of a cave that’s a constant 57 degrees, the natural spring emanating from it, and even a spring-fed swimming pool in the shape of the state of Georgia. For $1, you can explore the small cave and its famous rock formation, the Devil’s Stool. Outside, you can join others as they fill jugs and cups with the natural spring water that serves as the town’s only water supply. The resident ducks love to be fed, and the shallow creek is a popular area for splashing about.