HAZELHURST, Ga. - If you're like most people, you love the holidays but shout "Hallelujah!" when the last strains of "Auld Lang Syne" fade away.
That's when it's time for a post-holidays getaway, so take a look at these destinations in Georgia that are ideal for a weekend away from home.
-Big city: Dunwoody
If you prefer big-city excitement, then Dunwoody, a bedroom community just north of Atlanta, is one of those places. Not only does Dunwoody have plenty to do for the entire family, but it's perfect if you want to visit Atlanta's attractions in that hotels are less expensive, parking is free, and trains from three MARTA stations whisk you wherever you want to go in the city - all without the hassle of Atlanta's nightmarish traffic and notorious parking fees.
Play: Within Dunwoody, it's all about the shopping and dining out. Ladies, check out the Girlfriends Getaway Club packages that combine the best of it all, even shoe shopping. Take an art class at Canvas by U, sip the vino at d'Vine Wine Bar, hailed by critics as one of the best wine bars in Atlanta, or enjoy a calming massage at Sydell Spa. Just a train ride away are Turner Field, Georgia Aquarium, High Museum of Art, the World of Coca-Cola, Zoo Atlanta, Stone Mountain and Six Flags Over Georgia.
Fun fact: Dunwoody is hailed as being "one stop from Tokyo." MARTA takes you directly to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport for Delta's nonstop flight to Japan.
Eat: Café Intermezzo's cozy atmosphere is the ideal place to sample savory feasts like lobster ravioli or dozens of pastries, not to mention their Beverage Book is a quarter-inch thick with all sorts of specialty coffees and cocktails. Another favorite is what I call "fin fare," the seafood at Goldfish at Perimeter Mall. Whether you want white tablecloth or lunch counter specials, Dunwoody has more than 60 restaurants simmering with Italian, Greek, Indian, French, Vietnamese and American dishes. You practically need a passport to dine here.
Sleep: Only five hotels are within Dunwoody proper, but they're good ones, including Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia, Embassy Suites Perimeter Center, Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center, Staybridge Suites Perimeter Center East and Atlanta Perimeter Hotel and Suites. They're all within walking distance of Perimeter Mall, and the hotels all have shuttles - no need to worry about drinking and driving.
Contact: Visit http://www.CVBDunwoody.com or call (877) 630-2270.
-Little city: Columbus
There was a time not long ago when the mid-sized Columbus - its population is just under 200,000 - wasn't considered a vacation destination. All that changed when the Olympics came to Georgia in 1996 and cities across the Peach State began sprucing up. Since then, Columbus has transformed itself from a sleepy military town to a vibrant little city with plenty to do.
Play: You don't hear much about guys' getaways, but Columbus would fit that bill easily. Don't get me wrong. It's great for girlfriends' getaways and families, too. But with the National Infantry Museum, the Civil War Naval Museum, Fort Benning and plenty of water to maneuver for kayaking, swimming, and fishing on the Chattahoochee River - the Chattahoochee divides Georgia from Alabama - it's husband- and boyfriend-friendly.
Don't miss taking in a live performance at the Springer Opera House or biking or walking the 15-mile Riverwalk down to Oxbow Meadows, a nature center close to the museums. And the longest urban whitewater course in the world, coming in at 2 1 / 2miles, will be complete on the Chattahoochee in 2013.
Fun fact: Dr. John Pemberton, the pharmacist who formulated Coca-Cola - here in Georgia just call it Co-Cola - lived in Columbus before moving to Atlanta and fully developing the product into a global enterprise.
Eat: Southern food reigns in Columbus. For breakfast, try Ruth Ann's, where the plates are piled high with grits and pancakes. Whether it's fried chicken or ribs or banana pudding in a jar, Country's Barbecue is a local favorite. For lunch or dinner, Meritage tempts with excellent food, wine and menus of specialty cocktails. Complete your evening at The Loft for dinner and live jazz.
Sleep: While our small group of girlfriends stayed at the Columbus Marriott, which is within walking distance of plenty of attractions, just about every chain hotel is found here.
Contact: Visit http://www.VisitColumbusGa.com or call toll-free (800) 999-1613. Ask for "51 Reasons to Visit Columbus" information-packed brochure.
-Small town: Blue Ridge
And finally, for a small-town getaway, the North Georgia mountain community of Blue Ridge beckons. Blue Ridge sits among a tapestry of beauty where sky, water, and mountain silhouettes collide into jigsaw puzzle of natural elements. A trip here can be as relaxing or as active as you want it to be.
Play: Visit the fourth generation-owned Mercier Orchards, at 300 acres Georgia's largest orchard, for more than 50 varieties of apples, strawberries, cherries, plums, blackberries and peaches. The you-pick days are the fun part and the gift shop and restaurant are complete sensory overload.
Take a scenic drive through the Cohutta Wilderness through mountains, forests, waterfalls and valleys or the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which glides along the Toccoa River on a day journey to McCaysville on the Tennessee line. Blue Ridge is also crammed with boutiques for locally-made mountain crafts, antiques, arts, sweets, and jewelry. Then there's the outdoor for fishing, rafting, tubing, horseback riding, or hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Fun fact: All of the produce at Mercier Orchards is handpicked.
Eat: Breakfast at Mercier Orchards is a must, as the apple French toast simply explodes with fruity flavor. For lunch, try the homemade chicken salad or tomato basil soup at L&L Beanery Bakery Café, where you'll likely be sitting next to the police chief or mayor. Then for dinner, head to Harvest on Main for freshly-caught fish, as Fannin County is the trout capital of Georgia. Later, mosey over to The Vine Wine Bar & Bistro, which carries practically all wines made in Georgia.
Sleep: It's all about mountain cabins and bed-and-breakfast inns like Aska Lodge, in a certified wildlife habitat two miles from town, or the Blue Ridge Inn Bed and Breakfast nestled in the heart of downtown. If you prefer the comfort of a chain restaurant, Days Inn and Comfort Inn and Suites are nearby.
Contact: Visit the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce at http://www.BlueRidgeMountains.com or call (800) 899-6867.
An earlier version of the story referred to Atlanta Perimeter Hotel and Suites by its former name, W Hotel Atlanta Perimeter.
2012 McClatchy-Tribune News Service