Since this is Atlanta—odds are that you didn’t grow up here—and you might be freaking out a little that your kids will. You don’t relish the amount of time they will spend stuck in traffic or that they might grow more accustomed to the sight of rushing planes overhead rather than birds in the sky. Don’t despair! Small town sanity awaits just a stone’s throw from Atlanta’s I-285 fence, and you’ve got plenty of time to impress upon them that there are many charms that exist outside the city. Check out these three towns, all only about an hour’s drive away, whenever your family needs to ease up on the gas and slow it down a bit.

Athens: Regardless of your football allegiances, Athens is a cool town with plenty to do for kids of all ages (not just for the dads out there who suddenly morph into Freddy Frat-tastic the minute they hit Clarke County on game day). Just over an hour from Atlanta, don’t let a trip to the vicinity pass you by without hitting Memorial Park and the Bear Hollow Zoo, which houses rescued and rehabilitated native animals (think turkeys and hawks, not panthers and silverbacks). Start at the zoo, then head over to the castle-shaped and community-built World of Wonder playground. If you’re there on a Wednesday, round out your day at the Athens Farmers Market at City Hall in the afternoon, followed by a quick caffeine rescue at Jittery Joe’s before you head back to Atlanta.

Details: Memorial Park and Bear Hollow Zoo, 293 Gran Ellen Drive, Athens, Ga 30605, Memorial Park, 8:00 a.m.-Sunset Monday-Thursday, 9:00 a.m.-Sunset Friday- Sunday, Bear Hollow Zoo, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily, Free, Athens Farmers Market, 705 Sunset Drive, Athens, Ga 30606, Saturdays 8:00 a.m.-Noon at Bishop Park, and 301 College Avenue, Athens, Ga 30601, Wednesdays 4:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. at City Hall, World of Wonder, 4440 Lexington Road, Athens, Ga 30601, Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-Sunset, Saturdays 9:00 a.m.-Sunset, Sunday 12:00 p.m.-Sunset

Eatonton: Where else can your kids experience life on the farm, get their fill of Uncle Remus’ Brer Rabbit stories, and see a thousand-year-old rock eagle effigy all in one town? Just over an hour from Atlanta, Eatonton is an excellent option for little kids with short attention spans but big appetites for adventure. Start your day with a mid-morning snack in the historic square, then head three blocks south to the Uncle Remus Museum in Turner Park. Soar over to Rock Eagle with your picnic lunch, and round out your day at the nearby Crooked Pines Farm with a hay ride, petting farm, crafts, and an agricultural lesson (appointment required, no minimum number of participants). You’ll head back to Atlanta with some happily tuckered-out troops!

Details: Eatonton Historic Square, 114 West Marion Street, Eatonton, Ga 31024, Uncle Remus Museum, The Uncle Remus Museum, 214 Oak Street, Eatonton, Ga 31024, Open daily 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (closed one hour for lunch), Rock Eagle Effigy Mound, Open daily, Free, Crooked Pines Farm, 355 Harmony Road, Eatonton, Ga 31024, Call 706-347-0274 for appointments, $4.00 per person

Madison: Once a year, Madison morphs into the hotspot for small town kid’s nightlife. They like to party? They like to get down? Head to Madison for the Firefly Festival the last Friday in July. Go after lunch to enjoy the town that Sherman “refused” to burn, and stay for the stilt walkers, bubbles, face painters, inflatables, crafts, and family entertainment. Festivities begin at 7:00 p.m. so you’ll be driving the hour back to Atlanta with some sleepy passengers but you can count on a quiet ride! Outside of the Firefly Festival, count on beautiful Madison for an easygoing visit that might best get to the heart of small town living, with nothing much to do other than soak up its sweet, southern charm.

Details: Madison Firefly Festival, 132 North Main Street, Madison, Ga 30650, Friday, July 26, 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., $5.00 per child, adults free

Where is your favorite small southern town? Tell us below!

– Shelley Massey

Photos courtesy of the author and Creative Commons via Flickr 

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