My family just spent three days at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. I spent many family vacations there as a child and was eager to show my children this very special, memorable place. Seeing that I haven’t been here for many years, I wasn’t sure if our getaway would live up to my memory’s standards. It definitely did. Even though we managed to arrive on the grounds barely one week after high season ended, and many attractions and restaurants were closed during our stay, we still found so much to do on Callaway’ Garden’s 13,000 acres. Acres and acres of gardens, trails, biking paths, a beautiful lake, loads of activities for all ages including boating, swimming, bike riding, a butterfly center, a discovery center. Not only did we all enjoy ourselves, but our children learned about nature. Most of all, we really chilled out and left our daily life in New York behind us.
Callaway Gardens has been around for over half a century, but the park has had a face lift in recent times. The Lodge and Spa and Mountain Creek Inn are both well maintained and comfortable.
The cottages, which is where we chose to stay, come with a screened-in porch and a charcoal grill. They have full working kitchens, wrap-around decks, a cozy living room, TV’s in the bedrooms and are very spacious. Our kids had plenty of room to run around. Best of all, they have central air conditioning. They’re located in the woods and have a very rustic appearance on the outside. When we got there, we were the only ones residing in the cottages, or so it seemed, as our timing was during off season, but they started to fill up on the weekend. We had two bedrooms, both with two double beds, and it a pleasure was not to be stuck in a hotel room altogether. We had WIFI and a fully stocked kitchen. It was like being at home away from home, and I highly recommend staying in a cottage (or “college” as my son calls it) on your next visit to Callway.
When we first arrived in Callaway Gardens, we toured around the grounds to find our bearings. We ended up at the beach by the lake, the keeper of many of my childhood memories. We were disappointed to find out that the beach was closed mid-week, but we managed to get in a game of miniature golf, a sport we would revisit again and again during the course of our holiday.
On our first night, we had dinner at the Aspen’s Mountain Grill at 5300 GA Hwy 354 (Tel: 706-663-2001). Very reasonably priced, Aspen’s offers solid southern options like cheddar grits, buffalo wings, sweet potato fries, steak tips and fried chicken. They have a very good kid’s menu, and I was glad to see my son eating steak tips and mushrooms after a day of junk food.
The next day we got a very late start. After having breakfast in our sun room, we headed to the swimming pool offered only to cottage lodgers. We were the only ones out having a swim, and we really enjoyed our own private jacuzzi. Then we headed to lunch at the Country Kitchen right on the grounds of Callaway on Highway 27 (Tel: 706-663-2281). On the way, my husband was stopped by a policeman for not stopping at a stop sign, but he wiggled his way out of the ticket with his impressive British accent. It is virtually impossible to watch your weight on this kind of trip, and the Country Kitchen is one of those places where every southern item on the menu looks and tastes good. We shared a fried green tomato sandwich; the kids had fried chicken and biscuits with vegies. They also serve a serious breakfast full of grits, sausages, eggs, omelets, pancakes and more. When I was young, we used to go from one buffet to another during our visit, but buffets aren’t our cup of tea (although my husband was clamoring for one).
After lunch, we headed to the Butterfly Center to learn about the species and explore the center which houses nearly 3,000 in one room. The center boasts more than 50 different species of butterflies fluttering all around visitors. The children loved chasing the butterflies and tried their hardest to catch one. The lecturer explained that they originate from tropical settings which explained the over 80 degrees temperature in the room. It was really a site to see, even better than the butterfly house at the Bronx Zoo, which we visit often.
We didn’t have an inclusive package so we did have to pay for additional expenses on the grounds, including bike rentals. Since our youngest just learned to ride without training wheels, we excitedly got him his own bike. We learned within minutes that it was too adventurous and traded the bike in for a double. Additionally, our daughter also copped out after 20 minutes, and we traded her’s in for a double. We still managed to have a heavenly bike ride through the woods, and the ride was a highlight of our trip. Due to all the swaps and time spent arranging our bikes for the kids, the attendants didn’t charge us the $50 fee, which was a nice surprise.
We ended the day at the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center. The kids went on a nature bingo hunt around the grounds, spotting birds, fish, flowers and other assorted animals. Then we watched the Birds of Prey show which features trained owls, falcons and eagles. We were pretty tired so we picked up some grocery items and went home to make spaghetti bolognase which everyone gobbled up.
On our second day, we spent the morning at the Wild Animal Safari which I reviewed the other day. We bumped into an English tea room in town on the way back called the Rose Cottage at 111 East Broad Street ( Tel: 706-663-7877). They offer full English teas, gourmet sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts, scones with clotted cream and jam, cakes and more. My British hubby was not overly impressed with the menu, but he certainly enjoyed his meal as did we all. We also liked the low cost of the check: $17 for four of us.
We spent the rest of the day back in Callaway Gardens, swimming, playing miniature golf and exploring the Sibley Horticultural Center which offers a dazzling garden and maze for children. It’s an indoor/outdoor garden/greenhouse. There are so many varieties of exotic of plants on display and has a 22- foot indoor waterfall. It makes a great spot to take a picture.
Other Callaway Garden attractions include: Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden, Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl, Overlook Garden, Pioneer Log Cabin, Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel, golf, fishing and tennis. You need to stay here for a week to see and do everything.
We ended up having dinner at Chipley Family Restaurant on U.S. Highway 27 (Tel: 706-663-2640). They offer a southern style menu, complete with New Orleans cuisine. From blackened catfish, shrimp cocktail and rice and beans, to lasagna and spaghetti for the kids, we all managed to find something we wanted, and the food was really, really satisfying.
We spent our last day on the beach, which is open on weekends only until next summer. Our activities included boating ($7 per hour for a boat for four persons), swimming in the lake, water slides and rock climbing in the water (about $6.50 each for an hour), free shuffle boarding and ping pong.
A sign at the entrance summed up our experience. It read: “Remove nothing from the Gardens except: nourishment for the soul, consolation for the heart, inspiration for the mind.” When we left, we were tired from swimming, golfing, biking, hiking, and walking – but we were satisfied. Callaway Gardens has something for everyone.
There are many specials being offered for a future trip to Callaway listed here:
Disclosure: We were given a free one night stay at Callaway Gardens, with no requirement or agreement of review requested in turn.