History doesn’t have to be boring. Studying numbers and dates and names of important people is boring. But walking across the campus of the first state-chartered university, touring the oldest house in a town, and standing on a 1,000-year-old foundation is anything but boring.
Before Sherman marched across Georgia, before railroads connected the cities, before Atlanta was the capital – and even before it was founded – Georgia’s frontier stretched between Athens and Macon. The population shifted west after the state was founded following the Revolutionary War. So much of the population shifted that in 1807 a new capital city was built on the frontier.
This 135-mile history-themed road trip highlights the historical aspects of those frontier cities, house museums, and guided tours but also includes where to eat and sleep along the way.
Road Trip Map
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It will only take three hours to drive the 135-mile route between Athens and Perry. But what is the fun in that? There are several ways to approach this road trip, ranging from a weekend getaway to a full-blown history, shopping, and dining excursion.
Here are three recommended itineraries for your road trip adventure:
Option No. 1 – The Weekend Getaway
Day #1 – Athens, Madison, and Eatonton (Stay in Milledgeville)
Day #2 – Milledgeville, Macon, Warner Robins, and Perry
Option No. 2 – The Holiday Weekend Getaway
Day #1 – Athens and Madison (Stay in Madison)
Day #2 – Eatonton, Milledgeville, and Macon (Stay in Macon)
Day #3 – Macon, Warner Robins, and Perry
Option No. 3 – The Ultimate Getaway
Day #1 – Athens (Stay in Athens)
Day #2 – Athens (Stay in Athens)
Day #3 – Madison (Stay in Madison)
Day #4 – Eatonton and Milledgeville (Stay in Milledgeville)
Day #5 – Milledgeville (Stay in Macon)
Day #6 – Macon (Stay in Macon)
Day #7 – Warner Robins and Perry
Which of these itineraries is most appealing to you? Leave me a comment below and let me know!
Stop No. 1
Athens is a city of firsts. In 1785, the University of Georgia was the first state-chartered school in the country – although the school did not begin admitting students until 1801, two years after the state-chartered University of North Carolina. In 1801, the first gardening club in America was founded in the home of Mrs. E.K. Lumpkin. In 1907, Ben Epps became the first southern aviator when he flew a plane for the first time in Georgia. And in 1910, Ida Mae Hiram was the first African-American in Georgia to pass the Georgia Dental Board exams.
Begin exploring Athens with a visit to the Historic Athens Welcome Center. Take the guided tour of the Church-Waddel-Brumby House Museum, pick up brochures and visitor guides, and book the Historic Athens Heritage Tour, a 90-minute guided tour on a shuttle bus. Dig deeper into Athens’ history with a tour at the Taylor Grady House and T.R.R. Cobb House, visit the Georgia Museum of Natural History, and explore the Georgia Museum of Art.
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The University of Georgia is a big draw for visitors to Athens. Thousands flood the streets and fill the seats at Sanford Stadium to cheer on the Bulldogs. Old College, built in 1806, is the oldest remaining building on campus, located just a ten-minute walk from Broad Street. About a fifteen-minute drive from downtown, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is operated by the university – with free admission, visitors can explore dozens of flower gardens along easy paths.
Spend an evening exploring the half dozen breweries throughout Athens – Athentic Brewing Company and Southern Brewing Company feature outdoor seating, while Akademia Brewing Company offers a full menu for lunch or dinner. Trappeze Pub and Dawg Gone Good BBQ are great places for downtown dining, and Creature Comforts Brewing Company is just around the corner. Just a few minutes from downtown, Cali N Tito’s, serving made-to-order Latin food, is one of the quirkiest places to eat in town.
Where to Stay
Hotels are spread throughout Athens but primarily located along US Highway 78 – Broadway Street. It’s easy to access to get back and forth if spending a night or two in the city.
The only budget option in Athens is the Wingate by Wyndham. It’s a nice hotel with an indoor swimming pool, a large breakfast area, and a cavernous lobby. Rooms feature two queen beds or a king bed.
The Holiday Inn Express sits at the edge of downtown, about two blocks away – walking distance, but a long walk. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and free on-site parking. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
Hampton Inn is always a favorite hotel because of their stellar complimentary, hot breakfast included with every room. The hotel is about a five-minute drive from downtown and features an outdoor swimming pool and free on-site parking. Rooms include two full beds, one queen bed, two queen beds, and a king bed with a sleeper sofa.
Hotel Indigo is a modern, gorgeous hotel within walking distance of downtown Athens. The hotel features a spacious lobby, an enormous dining area, and an on-site bar. The rooms are spacious and filled with residential furniture for a homey experience. Rooms feature two queen beds or a king bed.
Graduate Athens was built inside a historic property, a former foundry, within walking distance of downtown and campus. The décor and furniture more closely resemble a rental house than a hotel. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and free on-site parking. Rooms include two queen beds, a king bed, and suites with a bed and sleeper sofa.
Hyatt Place is the most convenient hotel to spend a few nights in Athens. The hotel is within walking distance to downtown, the University of Georgia campus, and 1000 Faces Coffee is next door. The hotel features an on-site bar and complimentary breakfast included with rooms. The rooms include two queen beds or a king bed, and most rooms have a sleeper sofa.
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Find the best gifts for travelers, road trippers, coffee lovers, and stocking stuffers with the annual guide – including my top gift recommendations.
Stop No. 2
Leaving Athens behind on US Highway 441, it doesn’t take long to reach the countryside of Georgia’s Historic Heartland. Shortly after passing Watkinsville, the four-lane divided highway narrows to two lanes as it winds through farmlands. The 30-minute drive into Madison is easy enough, a relaxing effort preparing you for another adventure.
In 1809, forty-eight lots were drawn for a new town on the frontier in Georgia. Named in honor of President James Madison, the town was the hub of agriculture in the region and teemed with life. After a fire in 1869 destroyed most of the wood frame structures, downtown businesses were rebuilt with brick – and many of those buildings are still in use today.
Begin at the Madison Welcome Center, where you can find brochures, visitor guides, and self-guided walking tours. Surrounding Town Square at the city’s center, local shops offer baked goods, clothing, artwork, and antiques. Go for a walk along Washington Street to visit Madison Town Park, a public park with a water fountain and amphitheater frequently showcasing performances during the summer months.
Learn more about the town’s history at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, a former school turned into a two-story museum stuffed with exhibits and artifacts. At Heritage Hall, a guided tour of the two-story antebellum home includes fascinating stories of the owners and why the town was spared from burning during Sherman’s March to the Sea. The Morgan County African-American Museum is located inside the historic Moore House and includes exhibits on local history. The Rogers House, built in 1810, is the only remaining home on its original lot in town. Beside it, Rose Cottage was built in 1891 for former slave Adeline Rose.
Ready to eat? Amici Madison offers savory Italian food, Town 220 Restaurant is fine dining with steak, seafood, and pasta, and at Hart & Crown Tavern you’ll find British food with a flare at comfortable booths surrounded by hardwood floors. Take a short drive out of town to visit Farmview Market – a grocery store, gift shop, and restaurant. The cafeteria uses local ingredients for savory items like pan-fried catfish and cheesy hash brown casserole.
Get your morning started with a visit to Oconee Coffee Roasters. The giant roasting machine occupies a corner of the small shop. Get a fresh coffee and head upstairs for a cozy corner to enjoy your drink before hitting the road.
Where to Stay
The Interstate 20 exit features a lot of hotels, but only two I would recommend for spending a night or two.
The Days Inn is a budget-friendly choice with moderately comfortable rooms. The property is threadbare with no extra amenities. The motel’s rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
Hampton Inn is an excellent choice for a comfortable place to spend a night or two in Madison. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and savory hot breakfast included with every room. The rooms include two queen beds or a king bed, and they have a suite with a bed and sleeper sofa.
Stop No. 3
The 30-minute drive from Madison to Eatonton is a pleasant journey along a two-lane road through the countryside. The highway widens into a four-lane bypass before entering the town, but you’ll want to drive into this small town for an hour or two.
Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton in 1848. As a teenager, he apprenticed at a local plantation where he learned stories from African Americans. Later in life, while working as the associate editor of The Atlanta Constitution, Harris began writing a series of fictional stories centered around Uncle Remus. Alice Walker was born in the small town in 1944. In 1982, she became the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for writing The Color Purple.
Visitors to the Georgia Writer’s Museum can explore the history of Harris and Walker, among many other notable Georgia writers, with dozens of exhibits, artifacts, and samples of their written work. At the Uncle Remus Museum, visitors can explore the early history of Joel Chandler Harris, his contributions to literature, and view dioramas depicting some of his Uncle Remus characters.
In 1998, a group of Eatonton residents took on the arduous task of restoring and renovating the 1916 Eatonton School. Once completed, The Plaza Arts Center opened to the public – a venue for performances ranging from concerts to plays. Restoring four classrooms, the Old School History Museum offers guided tours of the school and exhibits.
Stop No. 4
US Highway 441 is a four-lane, divided highway between Eatonton and Milledgeville. Travel is swift and foreshadows the transition from countryside to small city. In 1804, the Georgia state legislature passed an act to build a new capital city. The state purchased 3,240 acres, drew a town plan with lots, and the proceeds from the land sales funded the new capitol building. In 1807, fifteen wagons left Louisville for Milledgeville, named in honor of then-governor John Milledge.
With almost 7,000 full-time students, Georgia College straddles the western edge of downtown. Downtown restaurants, bars, and shops cater to the younger crowd frequently spotted walking the wide sidewalks. It’s a hip town, a place where it’s cool to love history as much as antiquing and dining.
Begin at the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Visitor Center on West Hancock Street. Fresh lemonade is frequently available, and the brochure racks are always stuffed full. Book a seat on the Historic Trolley Tour to learn about the town’s history or the Central State Hospital Campus Tour. Founded in 1842, Central State Hospital was the largest mental health hospital in the country during the 1960s, with 12,000 patients, 6,000 staff, and nearly 8,000 acres of campus.
In 1805, construction began on the new capitol building. Departing from the traditional domed design of a capitol building, Georgia’s new legislative home was a Gothic Revival-style building more closely resembling a castle. In 1879, eleven years after the capital moved to Atlanta, the newly created Georgia Military College purchased the Old Capitol Building.
In 1839, a grand mansion was completed for future governors. In 1889, the state sold the abandoned mansion to the Georgia Normal & Industrial College, today called Georgia College. Guided tours of the renovated and restored four-story Old Governor’s Mansion are offered.
Another cherished historical site owned by Georgia College, Andalusia Farm, was the home of author Flannery O’Conner. Built in 1814 as a cotton plantation, O’Conner’s uncle bought the property in 1931. After being diagnosed with Lupus, she lived in the house from 1951 until she died in 1964. During that time, she wrote most of her body of literature. Guided tours are offered of the house.
Located at Lockerly Arboretum, Rose Hill is a three-story Greek Revival style house built for Daniel Reece Tucker in 1852. After passing through several owners, the arboretum purchased the home in 1998 and opened it to the public for guided tours.
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College towns are known for their local restaurants, and Milledgeville is no exception. After exploring all the historical sites, you are likely to be famished. Velvet Elvis Grill and Tap offers baskets of fries with various toppings, quesadillas and tacos, sandwiches, and burgers. At Georgia Bob’s BBQ, you can order tender barbecue any way you like it and enjoy it with homemade sauces. The Reel Grill offers a menu of steak and seafood, while Amici Italian Café, founded in Madison, is the go-to place for pizza and wings.
Before leaving town in the morning, head over to The Local Yokal Café for a savory made-to-order breakfast and grab a coffee to go at Blackbird Coffee. Enjoy a short walk through downtown – it’s a small area – while browsing the various shops.
Where to Stay
In Milledgeville, all the hotels are located along US Highway 441 – North Columbia Street. It’s a busy highway, but traffic lights make it easy to navigate to and from a hotel while spending a night or two.
Comfort Suites is the most budget-friendly option, and it’s a good option. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool and spacious lobby. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
La Quinta has become one of my favorite moderately-priced hotel chains to spend a comfortable night. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool, an awesome community area in the lobby, and excellent dining area for breakfast. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites is a great hotel if you’re only looking for a safe and comfortable place to spend the night. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
Hampton Inn is always a favorite property to recommend with their excellent complimentary, hot breakfast. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and spacious lobby. Rooms include two queen beds, a king bed, and a suite with a king bed and sleeper sofa.
Fairfield Inn & Suites is the pinnacle of overnight accommodations in Milledgeville. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool with a hot tub, a spacious lobby, and a comfortable dining area for breakfast. Rooms include two queen beds, a king bed, or a suite with a king bed and sleeper sofa.
Stop No. 5
The forty-five-minute drive from Milledgeville to Macon is largely uneventful. The route begins on the two-lane County Highway 22 into Gray, where the four-lane divided US Highway 441 continues into Macon.
The city “where soul lives,” Macon was the home of famous musical artists like Otis Redding, Little Richard, and the Allman Brothers. The Museum at Capricorn interprets the history of Capricorn Records, where many of those famous artists recorded their hit albums. Dig deep into the history and influence of the Allman Brothers at The Big House Museum. Catch a live performance at The Grand Opera House, the premier entertainment venue in Macon since 1904.
The docents at The Cannonball House Museum want to tell the infamous story of the time the antebellum house was struck by a cannonball during the Civil War. Nearby, the Hay House is one of the most gorgeous mansions in Macon, and fortunately, it is open for guided tours.
Take a walk through the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame to see exhibits, sports equipment, and replays of famous athletes born in the Peach State. Across the street, explore African American art, history, and culture at the Tubman Museum.
Across the river, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park preserves several Native American mounds. Trails connect the mounds and ascend the gentle slopes to the flat tops. At the Earth Lodge, just a five-minute walk from the visitor center, step inside the low entrance to see a 1,000-year-old foundation of the original mound.
Downtown Macon is big, spanning over a dozen city blocks. But it’s easy to explore beneath the shade of trees planted along the curb, angled parking easy to use, and wide sidewalks in front of the businesses. Along 3rd Street and Poplar Street, parks between the lanes of traffic offer a respite for weary explorers.
When you’re ready for dinner, Bearfoot Tavern features European and American pub-style food and over 50 craft beers on tap. The history of The Rookery dates to the days of The Allman Brothers recording at Capricorn Studios – the menu features delicious sandwiches and burgers named in honor of Georgia musicians and celebrities.
Where to Stay
Macon is a big city at the intersection of Interstates 16 and 75, which means there are plenty of hotel options. Only a few are located downtown, but any hotel I recommend is no more than a 15-minute drive from the city’s center. The best place to find a hotel is the cluster at Exit 169 on I-75.
Microtel Inn & Suites offers bare necessities, but the rooms are still comfortable. Located at Exit 172 on I-75, the hotel is only a ten-minute drive to downtown Macon. Rooms feature two queen beds or a king bed.
The Best Western on Riverside Drive is a budget-friendly option with spacious rooms. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, a spacious lobby, and free on-site parking. Rooms include two queen beds, a king bed, or a king bed with a sleeper sofa.
The Red Roof Inn on Riverside Drive doesn’t feature the iconic red roof – its an entirely different type of building. The towering six-story hotel features an outdoor swimming pool and spacious lobby. The rooms include two queen beds, a king bed, and the suites include a king bed and a sleeper sofa.
Avid Hotels is located in a cluster of other hotels at Exit 169 on I-75 about a ten-minute drive from downtown Macon. The hotel is a bare bones property, but safe and comfortable. Rooms feature two queen beds or a king bed.
Holiday Inn at Exit 169 is one of the best places to spend a few nights in Macon. The hotel features free on-site parking, an on-site restaurant, and a gorgeous indoor swimming pool. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed, and the King Suite includes a king bed and a sleeper sofa.
Hampton Inn is always a favorite choice with comfortable rooms and an excellent complimentary hot breakfast. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool and plenty of free on-site parking. Rooms include two queen beds or one king bed, or a suite with a king bed and a sleeper sofa.
The Marriott is attached to the Macon Coliseum across the Ocmulgee River from downtown. Not quite walking distance, but only a few minutes to drive. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool, on-site restaurant and bar, and plenty of free on-site parking. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
Hotel Forty Five is the pinnacle of overnight accommodations in Macon. Located at Cotton Avenue and Cherry Street, the hotel is within walking distance of downtown house museums, retail shops, and restaurants. The hotel features an on-site restaurant and private parking at an additional cost. Rooms include two queen beds or a king bed.
Stop No. 6
The 30-minute drive from Macon into Warner Robins is easy enough along the four-lane divided US Highway 129. As soon as you see giant hangars and dull gray military aircraft to the left, you’ll know you have arrived at Robins Air Force Base.
Warner Robins is one of the youngest cities in Georgia. The 1940 census revealed the community of Wellston to be populated mostly by farmers and their families. After the United States entered World War II, the War Department needed an air depot in the southeast. US Representative Carl Vinson successfully pushed for Wellston.
In 1942, Wellston Army Air Depot opened. The first commander, Colonel Charles Thomas, wanted to name the air depot after his mentor. But the War Department replied that air depots were named after the nearest town. Wellston was renamed after Augustine Warner Robins, and in 1956 the growing community was incorporated as a city.
Make your first stop at the E.L. Greenway Welcome Center located inside an old train depot. Built in 1944, the depot was the second for the city along the Georgia Southern & Florida Railroad. Inside, you’ll find racks of brochures and visitor guides and a small gift shop featuring the work of local artisans.
In 1984, the Museum of Aviation opened to the public with 20 military aircraft on display in an open field. Since then, the museum’s collection has grown to include hundreds of aircraft, vehicles, and exhibits, becoming the second largest United States Air Force museum in the country. The Rockwell B-1 Lancer supersonic heavy bomber guards the entrance to the museum, leaving an impressive first impression. Explore two additional hangars and nearly two dozen aircraft in fields around the museum complex.
Stop No. 7
The final leg of this road trip is a leisurely 25-minute drive along county roads into Perry. In 1824, Perry was incorporated as a town and named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a hero of the War of 1812. Like many southern towns, the early economy was driven by cotton. But the town experienced a taste of tourism when US Highway 41 was paved in the 1940s, connecting the Michigan Peninsula to Miami, Florida.
The 10-day Georgia National Fair brings thousands of visitors into the small country town each October. Throughout the rest of the year, the town is frequented by interstate tourists from Atlanta looking for a place to stretch their legs, do some local shopping, and get something to eat.
In the 1880s, Mayor Cox built a house on Carroll Street, the main street through downtown Perry. In 2002, Mike and Kim Sheridan purchased the house – it was expanded with additional bedrooms and a wraparound porch in the 1900s – and they established The Swanson restaurant. Gourmet southern food is served on white tableclothed tables across the covered porch.
In 2019, Evan Acres bought a baking business from his mother, Tonya Sadler. Evan and his wife, Erika, expanded the retail shop in North Macon and, in 2020, opened the doors to a new location in Perry. After operating under the name Casserole Shop for 22 years, the business was renamed Acres & Oak Kitchen – it means “family table.” The restaurant is open six days each week for a late breakfast, lunch, and dinner – most of it baked from scratch.
At Schultze’s Old Fashioned Soda Shop, visitors can enjoy burgers and fries served in plastic baskets and floats made with soda, wine, or beer. The décor exudes the 60s diner era with brightly-colored benches and chairs, chrome details, and a jukebox in the corner.
Start your day at Morning by Morning Coffee Company. When Beth Cleveland discovered “she had a knack for roasting” coffee, she began selling it by the bag. Moving into an old gas station, Cleveland transformed it into a space for the community to gather around their favorite caffeinated brew.