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25 Unique Things to do in Gainesville, Georgia

gainesville ga square

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The city of Gainesville, Georgia, is nearly an hour and a half from Atlanta, which is about the time it took me to travel from my home in Madison. My drive was scenic, and I planned my route based on local attractions — with a little room leftover to explore and find some preferred destinations of my own.

With my coffee in hand and my route planned out, I hit the road on a chilly fall day with nothing but time and curiosity ahead of me. 

What is Gainesville, Georgia, Known For?

You might be surprised to learn that Gainesville, Georgia, is considered the Poultry Capital of the World. It began this $1,000,000,000 a year agricultural legacy after World War II. This explains a lot.

I’ve driven through Gainesville a few times recently, and each time, I’ve encountered a large truck packed with live chickens.

It was an unsettling enough experience that it made me reconsider including chicken in my diet. While I know little about the farming of poultry, I do know that this form of transportation of live chickens is inhumane. But I digress. 

Still, you should be warned in advance that you’ll likely see a similar truck of chickens if you’re in the area. Sensitive souls, take note.

You might spend a few minutes at a red light fantasizing about freeing them, to their delight and causing general mayhem, but the light will likely change, forcing you to continue on with your day and accepting that you can’t save them from their fate. 

25 Unique Things to Do in Gainesville

Storybook Market Gainesville GA
Photo by author

I went into my trip with quite a few destinations in mind. While I wasn’t able to see them all, I’m including most of them here in case your interests run counter to my own and will fit in your itinerary. While I’m sure there are many more wonderful things to see and do in the city, I’ve compiled 26 unique things to do in Gainesville, Georgia. Let’s explore them now. 

1. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville

One of the best things to do in Gainesville is visiting its branch of the Atlanta Botanical Garden on the North Georgia Garden Trail. Gardeners, hikers, and nature lovers will enjoy a day spent at the garden.

Choose a walking trail, or explore the grounds to discover the beauty of the Forest Pond, Stream Garden, Overlook Garden, Glade Garden, Children’s Garden, and the Woodland Promenade. Although I didn’t have time to explore the garden myself on my day trip, it’s still a must-see destination to add to your itinerary if time and weather permit. 

Address: 1911 Sweetbay Drive

Cost: starting at $26.95 adults, $23.95 children (additional charges for flex pass)

2. Step into a Story at Elachee Nature Science Center

Elachee Nature Science Center
Photo by author

I cannot make a list of any area without pointing out some of its natural beauty. You’ll find the Elachee Nature Science Center located in the 1,440-acre Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.

You’ll find hiking trails, outdoor play spaces, ecology exhibits, and even live animals (only the kind that cannot be released into the wild) at the Science Center. And you’ll also be sure to find a friendly welcome and knowledgeable staff on your visit, as I did on mine.

My favorite part of visiting the center was hiking the paved quarter-mile Geiger Trail, which featured the Caldecott Award-winning book In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming.

While I didn’t have time to take a more extensive hike, I enjoyed this short loop and read aloud from the pages I passed on the way. While I won’t spoil it for you, I will share some photos from my hike and encourage you to take your own. Happily, there is also a play area along the route, making it a perfect hike with young children.

Elachee Nature Science Center
Photo by author

In the photo with picnic tables, please note that these are tiny child-sized tables. You’ll find full-size ones located around the preserve, but the small ones across from Healthy Hollow were too perfect to pass up for a picture. This is the only paved trail in the park, but you’ll find plenty more unpaved trails with longer distances for more adventurous hikers. 

Address: 2125 Elachee Drive

Cost: $5 parking per passenger vehicle, $10 parking per 15-passenger van or bus, $50 annual parking pass per vehicle, $10 admission fee per person for exhibits, $50 per family for exhibits, 3 and under are free to the Exhibits and Visitor’s Center

3. The Kinsey Family Farm

As much as I wanted to check out the Kinsey Family Farm, I simply ran out of hours in my day. You’ll see why as I review the many locations I did visit. However, it’s still worth mentioning so that you can plan your trip accordingly.

This plant nursery and farm offers pick-your-own pumpkins seasonally, and right now, it’s hosting Christmas on the Farm where you can pick out and cut down your own Christmas tree, choose from pre-cut trees, purchase wreaths and garland made on the farm, or pick out holiday gifts from their Harvest Shop.

Their garden center also offers landscaping supplies, water features, and a full plant nursery. As an avid if amateur gardener, I’m extremely disappointed that I didn’t make it out to the farm, but it’s good to know the farm is there when I have more time to visit. 

Address: 7140 Jot Em Down Road

Cost: FREE to visit

4. Gainesville Square

gainesville ga square
Photo by author

My first stop on the trip was to the Gainesville Square. I knew there were many shops, restaurants, and attractions right in this central location. It did not disappoint. While I’ll cover the locally recommended restaurants in a later section, I do want to talk about some of the retail shops you may want to visit on your trip.

I parked in one of the many free parking garages and walked to the square. On my way, I passed Moe’s Record Shop and immediately u-turned to go in. I can never resist a good record shop, and this one had a large selection of new and pre-loved vinyl records. Music enthusiasts will want to stop in and add to their collection.

Upsy Daisy Boutique’s beautiful store windows drew me in, but it was the friendly service that had me lingering longer. This gift shop has something for everyone. With gift items and home decor in plentiful supply, this well-appointed shop is worth a browse. 

The window of this world market drew my interest, but their posted signs about using a portion of their sales to support the fight against human trafficking encouraged me to stop window shopping and enter. Rahab’s Rope is a beautiful shop with items hand-made by artisans in India. If you’re looking for a unique gift, this is the place to stop on Gainesville Square.

Another must-see on the Square is Main Street Market where you’ll find multiple businesses in one location. Check out the wine bar, Sweet Magnolia’s Cafe and Bakery, a wine club, an art gallery, live music, the Next Chapter bookstore, Peyton’s Pie Company, and more — all in one charming location. It should be noted that Rahab’s Rope, Upsy Daisy Boutique, and even the Main Street Market have a Christian influence.

The former all displayed some religious information, and the latter had live music with religious hymns. As a non-religious person, this did give me some pause, so I’m passing it on. For many in the South, this will be welcome information. 

The Storybook Market was closed during my visit, but this children’s bookstore had major bookworm appeal. From the store windows alone, I can tell you that this whimsical and wonderful bookshoppe is the perfect place to nurture and encourage young readers. Had it been open, I would have been unable to resist. 

Address: 112 Bradford Street

Cost: FREE 

5. Hike the Trails or Rent a Kayak at Don Carter State Park

Kayaks Gainesville
Photo by author

Locals will tell you that you’ll find some of the best hiking trails at Don Carter State Park. Even though the lake level was low during my visit, it’s also a hot spot for kayaking, which you can rent in the park. Although there is a small parking fee, you’ll find plenty to see and do in the park — including playgrounds if you’re traveling with children. 

Address: 5000 North Browning Bridge Road

Cost: $5 parking

6. Ink Interactive Neighborhood

INK Gainesville GA
Photo by author

Although I haven’t been to INK in years, this charming play area is all about allowing children to use their imagination. Inside, you’ll find a tiny town complete with shops, restaurants, doctor’s offices, dental offices, a hair salon, and more.

Children can role play throughout the neighborhood. You’ll see my son pictured above playing doctor on one of the baby dolls in the play area. At the time, he was interested in medicine and got to see a model of the heart, which he informed me was the wrong shape based on what he draws in school.

This is a perfect place for parents, grandparents, and caregivers to let children run off some energy and use their imagination.

Address: 999 Chestnut Street Southeast

Cost: $9 per person 

7. Quinlan Visual Arts Center

Photo by author

I enjoyed exploring the collection of art at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center. The entire museum was impressive. It’s also completely free to visit. While I could go on, a picture is worth at least a thousand words.

Photo by author

Address: 514 Green Street

Cost: FREE

8. Northeast Georgia History Center

Fans of history will want to make time for the Northeast Georgia History Center. It was closed during my visit, but there are plenty of exhibits you may want to make time to see. One current exhibit is historic student photographs from over the years. You can also see the American Freedom Garden, a permanent exhibit there. If you don’t get a chance to visit, you can get historical information about the area from their podcast

Address: 322 Academy Street Northeast

Cost: $8 adults, $7 active and retired military/seniors, $6 students, FREE for children 5 & under

9. Public Art Walking Tour

I love to wander around a city and view the public art. For one thing, it’s free, which is nice with rising grocery costs. For another, it’s a great way to view local art and be inspired. The Public Art Walking Tour in Gainesville includes over 30 original works of art. While I didn’t have time to see them all, the ones I did see were impressive.

Street art in Gainesville, GA
Photo by author

Address: Park in the FREE Main Street Parking Deck at 301 Main Street Southwest to begin the tour. 

Cost: FREE

10. The Longstreet Society Historic Piedmont Hotel and Museum

The Longstreet Society and Historic Piedmont Hotel Museum 
Photo by Crystal Jackson

Althought The Longstreet Society and Historic Piedmont Hotel Museum was closed during my visit, I was able to stop by and take a photo of the historical marker outside. The Longstreet Society honors the life and legacy of Lieutenant General James Longstreet, a Union soldier who loved his Southern homeland and advocated for peace and brotherhood. This museum will take you on a journey through time and provide a history of Longstreet, his legacy, and his home in Gainesville. 

Address: 827 Maple Street

Cost: FREE

11. Go Fishing at Longwood Park

Longwood Park — Photo by Crystal Jackson

You’ll find walking trails, kayak rentals, picnic areas, tennis courts, playgrounds, and fishing — all at Longwood Park located across the street from Gainesville High School and just down the road from Wilshire Park.

This beautiful park space offers plenty to see and do, and those who love fishing will enjoy spending time lakeside with a line in the water. The walking trails also connect to Wilshire Park, which can be an advantage for hiking enthusiasts looking to extend their visit to cover both park spaces. 

Address: 20 Pearl Nix Parkway 

 Cost: FREE

12. Live Your Olympic Dreams at Lake Lanier Rowing Club

Lake Lanier Olympic Park
Photo by author

You might not realize that Gainesville’s Lake Lanier was the location of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta and is the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s Championship Regatta home. So, it’s no surprise that rowing is kind of a big deal in Gainesville.

If you already row, the Lake Lanier Rowing Club is a great place to visit, but even if you just want to learn how to row, you can do so here. There are Youth and Adult programs available, as well as Adult Memberships. While the rowing club itself was closed due to paving of the parking lot, I was able to see the location of the ’96 Olympics.

Address: across the street from Lake Lanier Olympic Park

Cost: variable

13. Take a Walking Tour of Our Solar System

Gainesville Hall County Scale Mode, walking tour of our Solar System

If you want to get a walk in and see much of downtown Gainesville, follow the comets around this 1.63-mile solar system tour. While I didn’t stop to see every exhibit, what I did see was educational, fascinating, and whimsical.

It’s a great way to see public art and learn more about our solar system. Plus, it’s conveniently located downtown. While there’s also a Confederate monument downtown, I maintain that those belong in a museum and not in a place of honor downtown and did not feature it here. 

Photo by author

Address: 117 Jesse Jewell Parkway

Cost: FREE

14. Educate Yourself at the Beulah Rucker Museum

You’ll find the Beulah Rucker Museum on the National Register of Historic Places. Beulah Rucker Oliver (1888–1963) studied to become a teacher and established The Rucker Industrial School to train and educate African American brick masons in the community.

She received a college degree in 1954 from Savannah State College and started a veterans’ night school in 1951 to help veterans complete their GED. Her autobiography, The Rugged Path, was written in 1953. To learn more about her life, work, and legacy, visit the museum. 

Address: 2101 Athens Highway

Cost: FREE

15. Putt Around at Chicopee Woods Golf Course

I was heading to the nature preserve when I passed by Chicopee Woods Golf Course. Confession: I have never been interested in or tempted to play golf until I drove through this area.

The landscape is beautiful, and you’ll find 27 holes on this public golf course. Golfers will want to check it out, and it can be combined with a trip to the Elachee Nature Science Center. 

Address: 2515 Atlanta Highway

Cost: rates starting at $30

16. Visit Lake Lanier — If You Dare

Lake Sidney Lanier has 690-miles of shoreline, and it’s easily one of the most popular man-made lakes in the Southeastern United States. However, you won’t find me putting a toe in this particular lake due to the spectacular number of deaths there.

While it’s rumored to be haunted and/or cursed, it certainly has taken a number of lives. If you choose to visit Lake Lanier, exercise extreme caution. It offers many recreational activities, but I’ll be heading to Lake Oconee if I’m tempted to participate in lake activities. 

Address: various access points

Cost: FREE

17. Enjoy a Coffee Tasting at Boarding Pass Coffee

Confession: I think I had 5 cups of coffee on my trip to Gainesville, which I don’t recommend for anyone’s nervous system. You’ll find three coffee shops right on Gainesville Square, and I’m going to tell you about them because your tastes may differ from mine.

But my absolute favorite was Boarding Pass Coffee. This travel-themed coffee shop is charming, and the coffee was delicious. You can even enjoy a coffee tasting experience in the shop with the owner. 

I loved lounging in the first-class airline seats with the windows that look like you’re flying through the clouds and over landscapes. Not only is it perhaps the coolest vibe in Gainesville, the coffee itself is excellent, and you can get a coffee passport with little stamps for each coffee you try.

If you love what you taste there, you can even purchase a monthly coffee subscription. The service is friendly, the environment is perfect for travelers and wannabe travelers, and the coffee is amazing. 

Boarding Pass Coffee
Boarding Pass Coffee – Photo by Crystal Jackson
Author taking a selfie while enjoying her coffee at Boarding Pass Coffee
Me at Boarding Pass Coffee

There are two other coffee shops in town that you can try if you choose. Inman Perk Coffee has the largest space and most noticeable shop. If you’re looking for a Starbucks-style local shop, this is the one you’ll want to try. They have the most extensive coffee menu of the choices available.

Another choice is Meadowlark Coffee, which was recommended by locals. While it wasn’t my personal favorite, it does have a cozy vibe. The marshmallow in my Campfire Latte might have made the whole trip there worth it. Coffee lovers will want to give this nondescript but appealing shop a try.

Meadowlark coffee outside
Photo by author
marshmallow in my Campfire Latte
Marshmallow in my Campfire Latte

At the end of the day, after countless cups of coffee that I’ll hazard a guess ended at five, I took home this one. You’ll want to draw your own conclusions. To get the best experience, try a tasting here. 

Address: 106 Spring Street SW, Unit 140

Cost: variable

18. Eat Local at These Locally Recommended Restaurants

As I went in and out of shops and museums, I asked locals about their favorite restaurants. I had neither the time nor the budget to try them all, so this is what I found from asking around to find the best of the best. These were all recommended by local residents.

Residents recommended Consuelo, Luna’s, and Collegiate Grill. You’ll find authentic brunch and dinner Mexican cuisine at Consuelo. Luna’s offers upscale dining and a piano bar. Collegiate Grill has a retro vibe and burgers, fries, and shakes. It’s also the most affordable of the three. 

Address: variable

Cost: variable

19. Explore the Architecture of Green Street Historical District

Historical district in Gainesville, GA
Photo by author

You don’t want to go to Gainesville, particularly in December, without driving down Green Street. Year-round, you’ll find beautiful architecture, but after Thanksgiving, you’ll want to check out the beautiful light displays and decorations lining this historic avenue.

Christmas on Green Street includes a holiday parade and festival The houses are truly spectacular, and you can walk or drive to see them. 

Address: Green Street

Cost: FREE

20. Pick Your Own Mushrooms at Green Box Mushrooms

I didn’t get a chance to visit Green Box Mushroom, although I did pass it along my route. This farm can teach you about mushrooms, allows you to pick your own, and even provides a cooking demonstration. This tour is definitely one of the most unique things you can do in Gainesville. 

Address: 1604 Athens Highway

Cost: $25 per adults and $10 per student for the VIP tour (includes farm tour, optional u-pick, one 5oz mushroom sampler for adults, and cooking demo and recipe sample) (minimum of 4 adults required)

21. Make a Splash at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center

The Frances Meadows Aquatic Center wasn’t able to be squeezed into my day, but I’ll tell you why you might want to add this to your Gainesville, Georgia, to-do list.

The aquatic center offers swimming, a fitness center, yoga and cardio classes, swim lessons, and an outdoor seasonal water park. It’s perfect for year-round fun.

Although I haven’t taken my kids to the water park there in a few years, I do remember it being one of the most fun aquatic centers we’ve visited with an extensive splash zone for children. Even outside of the summer season, there are indoor pools and fitness classes you can check out on your visit. 

Address: 1545 Community Way Northeast

Cost: $7 ages 2–13 years old, $9 ages 14–54, $7 ages 55 & older, group rate $6, $5 lap swim drop-in — Seasonal passes are available. 

22. Attend a Concert at the Smithgall Arts Center

Smithgall Arts Center
Photo by author

If you get a chance, see a show at the Smithgall Arts Center. You can enjoy the sculpture garden and take in one of the many performances hosted here. It was closed on my visit, but it’s a must-see destination if you’re lucky enough to attend when a performance is scheduled. 

Address: 331 Spring Street Southwest 

Cost: variable 

23. Grab a Growler at Downtown Drafts

Downtown drafts interior
Photo by author

While in Gainesville, check out the craft beer selection at Downtown Drafts. Grab a growler while you’re there. A growler is a 32 or 64-ounce glass jug that’s filled and sealed so you can take it to-go. It gives you the chance to enjoy your favorite craft beer selection at home. 

Address: 115 Bradford Street Southeast 

Cost: variable

24. U-Pick Blueberries at Cool Springs Blueberry Farm 

Cool Springs Blueberry Farm is only operational in the summer season for u-pick blueberries, so I wasn’t able to visit, but it should be mentioned in a list of things to do in Gainesville, Georgia.

In October, you’ll find fall festivals and a pumpkin patch and can even trick or treat at the “booberry” farm. Summer camps and outdoor films are offered all summer long. If you’re visiting during a season when they’re open, you’ll find plenty to see and do here. 

Address: 5975 Smith Mill Road

Cost: $4 per pint, $7 per quart, $19 per gallon

25. See Holiday Lights at Wilshire Wonderland of Lights

Wilshire park Gainesville GA
Photo by author

Even though I didn’t get to see the Wilshire Wonderland of Lights at Wilshire Park, I did enjoy a short walk. I particularly loved the covered Mistletoe Bridge — and even witnessed a small wedding ceremony there before leaving.

It’s such a beautiful park during the day that I can only imagine how magical it is lit up in the night. It’s definitely worth a stop on your trip to Gainesville!

Wilshire Park, Gainesville, GA - Butterfly paint in the woods
Photo by author

Address: 849 Wilshire Trails Road

Cost: FREE

Your Trip to Gainesville, Georgia

Gainesville, Georgia, isn’t far from Atlanta, and there’s plenty to see and do to make it worth your time. Some of my favorite features include free parking, tons of local shops and restaurants, and some of the best coffee around. All these things make it a great day trip idea from Atlanta.

Plus, with several nature parks and preserves in the area, you’ll have both indoor and outdoor options for your trip. The shopkeepers are friendly, and the area felt safe for solo exploring.

With that being said, it’s always wise to take precautions when visiting new places and to stay aware of your surroundings. For outdoor adventures, be sure to hydrate and plan accordingly.

Keep in mind that much of Gainesville has commercial districts with plenty of chain shops and restaurants, but for the true experience of the city, check out the historic downtown as well as the natural beauty in the area.

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