How To Explore Gainesville, Georgia, Like A Local

Lake Lanier
Photo: Marilyn Nieves/Getty Images

Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Gainesville, Georgia, is known for lush green spaces, an expansive lake, quaint university town culture. It's only an hour north of Atlanta, but it's well worth a day trip or even an overnight visit. Once internationally recognized for being a major host to several 1996 Summer Olympics events, more than two decades later, Gainesville has channeled that popularity into becoming known as a top city for visitors in Georiga, and residents love it too. Interior designer Maggie Griffin makes her home in Gainesville and says, "Gainesville is what we call our big small town."

Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy Gainesville like a local.

Good People of Gainesville mural featuring FDR
Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Jump in the Lake

Lake Sidney Lanier spans 38,000 acres and surrounds three sides of the city. Known by locals as simply, "the lake," Lanier boasts 16 varieties of fish and often hosts professional fishing tournaments. Thanks to its long stretches of uninterrupted water, Olympic hopefuls still train along its shores. If pulling up a plot of sand is more your speed, there are 700 miles of shoreline and several beaches. Gainesville's Lake Lanier Olympic Venue also hosts the annual Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, one of a series of races across the U.S. that celebrates the colorful tradition turned international event.

Man with medal and dragon boat
Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Lost in Nature

There are miles upon miles of walking trails in Gainesville. Elachee Nature Science Center has hands-on attractions where visitors can interact with reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Get up close and personal with Chewy, the center's Great Horned Owl rescue and resident at the aviary. Other highlights include the storybook trail and the Ed Dodd Self-Guided Trail which clocks in at just over half of a mile.

kids holds snake at the science center
Elachee Nature Science Center. Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Nearby Linwood Nature Preserve has two miles of trails, a native plant garden, rain gardens, a community forest preserve, and an Audubon wildlife sanctuary where over 40 species of birds have been noted.

Trail through the woods
Linwood Trail. Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Gainesville is also home to an extension of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Grab a cocktail and meander the grounds during Cocktails in the Garden which takes place on the first Saturday of each month.

orange florals
Flame Azalea at the Botanical Garden. Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Another must-do activity is the Solar System Trail, a 1.8-mile, to-scale self-guided trail complete with interesting facts about our infinity and beyond that winds through the heart of downtown to the shores of Lake Lanier.

People gather around the sun marker
Solar System Trail. Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pick a Pumpkin, Peach, or Pie

What was once a humble roadside farmstand has blossomed into a destination of its own. Jaemor Farms in nearby Alto has an estimated one million visitors pass through its gates annually. Having been in the family for over 100 years, Jaemor has gone from being primarily a peach and apple producer to growing produce such as blackberries, strawberries, various grapes, watermelons, squash, tomatoes, zucchini, and pumpkins. While the farm's fresh produce is good, the handmade peach ice cream from the onsite market is something to behold. Grab a fried hand pie while you're at it, but save room for a full slice too. Back in Gainesville proper, you'll want to stop by Southern Baked Pie Company's flagship store. Owned and operated by Gainesville resident Amanda Wilbanks "Southern Baked," as it's often referred to, has become a local institution thanks to its crispy butter crust and decadent flavors.

Family picks pumpkins
Jaemor Farms. Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Explore the Arts and Learn from History

For a small town, Gainesville has a bustling arts and culture scene. This is thanks in large part to the Gainesville Theater Alliance, a collaboration between two area colleges, the University of North Georgia and Brenau University. The alliance produces several performances each year open to the general public. For visual art enthusiasts, there's The Quinlan Visual Art Center which has permanent and rotating exhibits including the annual Members' Exhibition. For those looking to sink their teeth into history, make an appointment to visit the Beulah Rucker Museum and Education Center. A lifelong educator, Beulah Rucker established an industrial school for African American children in the early 1900s. Later, in 1951, Rucker founded Georgia's first veterans' night school for African Americans. Today, the museum is housed in Rucker's former home and school and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Woman looks at art
Brenau University Art Gallery. Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau

Wine, Dine, and Relax

Locals flock to places like 2 Dog which has been serving seasonal specialties, sandwiches, salads, and even steaks for more than 25 years. They proudly bake their own bread each morning. Newcomer Standard Service, opened by Atlanta restauranteurs Billy Streck, Ramon Ballester, and Jon Kim offers pub-style dishes in their gas station turned full-service eatery. "Grubs is our chic specialty market, and Acuna's Cake Shoppe is pretty amazing, too," says Griffin. When it's time to call it a night, check in to one of Gainesville's lakeside rentals such as Brannon's Place, or book a room at The National, the highly anticipated Courtyard by Marriott hotel set to open soon.

Town square shops
Courtesy Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau
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