Ocmulgee National Monument
Across the Ocmulgee River, well signed from I-16 exit 4, 3 mi (4.8 km) east of Macon along the Emory Highway (US-23/80), the settlement now preserved as the Ocmulgee National Monument was a center of preconquest Native American culture. By the mid-1500s, when DeSoto and the first European colonists arrived, Ocmulgee had already been inhabited for over 800 years, with some remains dating from AD 900.
From the small WPA-era visitors center (478/752-8257, ext. 222, daily, free), where you can watch a short film and admire pieces of elaborate pottery found on the site, a short trail leads to a restored earthen lodge (complete with thinly disguised air-conditioning ducts!), where you walk through a narrow tunnel to the center of the circular kiva-like interior. The trail continues past the excavated remains of a Creek trading post, then crosses a set of railroad tracks before climbing a 50-ft-high (15-m) Great Temple Mound, where you can see downtown Macon across the rumbling I-16 freeway—2,000 years of culture in one pleasant half-mile (0.8 km) walk.
Juliette: the Whistle Stop Café
Tucked away upriver on the Ocmulgee, in the heart of the Piedmont forests of middle Georgia, sits the town of Juliette, somewhat revived after a long slumber because of its Whistle Stop Café (443 McCrackin St., 478/992-8886). The café, town, and river were the backdrop for the 1991 film Fried Green Tomatoes, based on Fannie Flagg’s novel. (The novel, it should be said, was based on the Irondale Café outside Birmingham, Alabama.) You can taste Whistle Stop barbecue, along with a plate of fried green tomatoes, every day of the week. Juliette is due north of Macon along US-23, or 10 miles east of the I-75 town of Forsyth via Juliette Road.
Off I-16: Dublin and Vidalia
Named by its Irish founders in 1812, Dublin (pop. 15,802) continues to celebrate its Irish heritage with shamrocks painted on the center dividers, and an all-out St. Patrick’s Day festival that lasts most of a month. The historic district is centered along Bellevue Avenue, where you can note the prominent Confederate Memorial, glimpse the town’s many graceful old homes, and look inside the local historical museum (702 Bellevue Ave., 478/272-9242, 10am-5pm, Tues.-Sat. free) at Bellevue and Academy Streets.
Southeast of Dublin, around 24 mi (39 km) south of I-16, Vidalia (pop. 10,403) is known to food-lovers around the world as the home of the delectable Vidalia onion, so sweet it can be eaten raw, like an apple. In late April and early May, follow the scent to the Vidalia Onion Festival (912/538-8687) for tasty treats.