Once the unbounded urban sprawl of Atlanta meets the rear-view mirror, a more rustic and definitively genteel Georgia emerges, with swampy Savannah holding court as the state's irresistible Southern Belle. But there's more to the region than antebellum architecture and Spanish moss: Georgia's wild and preserved barrier island-riddled coast is an often overlooked stunner.
Like a proper Southern belle with an electric-blue streak in her hair, this grand historic town revolves around formal antebellum architecture and the revelry of local students from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). It sits alongside the Savannah River, about 18 miles from the coast, amid Lowcountry swamps and mammoth live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
A beery, artsy and laid-back college town roughly 70 miles east of Atlanta, Athens has an extremely popular football team (the University of Georgia Bulldogs), a world-famous music scene (which has launched artists including the B-52s, R.E.M. and Widespread Panic) and a burgeoning restaurant culture.
Brunswick & the Golden Isles
Georgia has a coast? Oh yes, a righteously beautiful one, blessed with a string of picturesque islands ranging from rustic to kitschy to indulgent. With its large shrimp-boat fleet and downtown historic district shaded beneath lush live oaks, Brunswick dates from 1733 and has charms you might miss when sailing by on I-95 or the Golden Isle Pkwy (US Hwy 17).
St Simons Island
Famous for its golf courses, resorts and majestic live oaks, St Simons Island is the largest and most developed of the Golden Isles. It lies 75 miles south of Savannah and just five miles from Brunswick. The southern half of the island is a thickly settled residential and resort area.
An unspoiled paradise, a backpacker's fantasy, a site for day trips or extended stays – it's clear why the family of 19th-century industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie used Cumberland as a retreat long ago. Most of this southernmost barrier island is now occupied by the Cumberland Island National Seashore.