Callaway Gardens, Georgia: A Family Day Trip ‘Half a Tank’ Away!

RR September 21, 2010 1 Comment

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You won’t believe how easily and quickly you can get away from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, until you step into Callaway Gardens, Georgia. Located just about 100 miles south of Atlanta, off highways 18 and 354, near Columbus, Georgia, Callaway Gardens is one place you can visit with your family throughout the year and still find something new to explore each time.

Call it a retreat, a park, a beach or a family getaway and you won’t be wrong. The best part of visiting Callaway Gardens, at least for us, is that you can choose your level of activity or lack of it for the day and still have plenty of options no matter which kind of day you prefer.

Callaway Gardens, GeorgiaValue Vacation
For a place that has so much to offer – from biking trails to its own beach, from a butterfly conservatory to botanical gardens – Callaway Gardens is a surprisingly affordable destination.  The last time we went was about a year ago and the prices were just $15 per person!  In fact, for the entire month of February, entrance was actually free, which, if you knew how much Callaway Gardens has to offer, you just wouldn’t believe!

Discover At Your Own Pace
We usually like to start our day at Callaway Gardens with a picnic by the lakeside deck, at the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center. The Discovery Café is conveniently located here so you can get hungry stomachs out of the way before you begin touring the place.  If you would like to bike through the trails of Callaway Gardens, this is where you start. The bike rentals are located right behind the Discovery Center.  Friendly staff helps you find the right bike, with an optional child carrier and helmet. Rates start at about $10 per hour per bike plus a deposit fee.  They have bikes to cater to amateurs, seasoned riders and children, so spend a few minutes picking out the bike that you will enjoy riding the most.  You could alternatively bring your own bike, of course.

Butterfly Center
Our daughter just turned 4, so the first place we like to head to is the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center. This is the highlight of the day for us as she loves to try to catch the butterflies inside the glass conservatory. The place also features exotic plants and birds and all that green is a welcome respite for anyone who is tired of city skyscrapers and busy roads.  There is a live display of the various stages between a caterpillar and a butterfly just outside, and this never fails to attract kids’ attention. After spending about an hour inside the conservatory, we usually head outside to the lawns and enjoy a snack and some fresh air. No matter what the season, the butterfly conservatory is bound to be warmer than it is outside, so I’ve found it better to dress in layers, so you can strip off a layer or two if needed.

Butterfly Center GeorgiaThe Butterfly Center is by no means the last stop, of course and there’s still a lot more to check out.  Depending on your interest in nature, golf, boating and other activities, you can take your pick as you proceed to enjoy the rest of the day. If you’d like to continue biking or hiking, there are plenty of trails to choose from.  All of them offer gorgeous views of the gardens and the lake. The 10-mile-long Discovery Bike Trail may be your best bet if you want to make the most of your trip, as it takes you through the best spots and viewpoints.

A Sensory Treat for Nature Lovers
Plan to spend at least a few minutes exploring the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center and Mr. Cason’s ‘demonstration’ Vegetable Garden.  The former features stunning landscapes and a sculpture garden while the latter is a home gardener’s paradise.  After a relaxing afternoon, if you’re ready for some action, more options await you.

Sculpture Garden GeorgiaHead to the amphitheater for the popular Birds of Prey show and let eagles, owls, hawks, falcons and vultures thrill you as they swoop overhead, demonstrating their speed, eyesight and power.  Though interesting, the show may be a little overwhelming and scary for very young children.

Tee Time, Me Time, Family Time
You can’t let the birds enjoy all the action, while you remain a spectator, can you? The Mountain View Course and Lake View Course should keep avid golfers busy for most of the day. Don’t worry about your family missing you because it’s likely they’ll hardly notice your absence!

The most popular attraction inside Callaway Gardens is probably Robin Lake Beach. This mile-long stretch of sandy beach offers the perfect summer getaway for families with young children who can’t make it to a real beach.  Warm, shallow waters, water slides, inflatables, fountains, paddle boats and other attractions make Robin Beach a crowd-puller.  To be honest, at first we couldn’t believe this was included as part of the entrance package and that it didn’t require a separate fee.  If you have young kids, plan to spend at least a couple of hours here.  From sun bathing and swimming to table tennis, mini-golf and circus shows, you won’t run out of things to do.

Robin Lake Beach Georgia Come Back and Visit Us…Again!
Callaway Gardens is one place worth visiting over and over because they offer different kinds of activities and attractions every season. Holiday season for example is a great time to visit the park for its Fantasy in Lights display. Drive through the park (be prepared to arrive early in the evening and drive really slowly!!) and enjoy a dazzling display of lights and holiday visuals. Though beautiful, I thought this experience was overpriced at around $25 per car (2009). Besides it’s a really long wait, as the entire South-east seems to head here during the holidays.  So, unless you have young children or are sure to enjoy a tour of holiday lights yourself, think twice before you drive a 100 miles (or more) just for this. One event I would like to experience and haven’t had a chance to yet is the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival that happens over Labor Day Weekend every year. Other popular, family-friendly events at Callaway Gardens include the 4th of July Surf and Sand Spectacular, Masters Water Ski and Skateboard Tournament and Easter Eggstravaganza.

It’s hard to imagine a place so serene, beautiful and close to nature just outside of a city notorious for its traffic. And yet, there it is – Callaway Gardens a ‘half tank of gas’ away as its commercial says.

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RR writes on intentional parenting, holistic living, travel and other topics. Visit her blog on reading to kids

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One Comments to “Callaway Gardens, Georgia: A Family Day Trip ‘Half a Tank’ Away!”
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