Callaway Gardens is located about twenty minutes off of I-85 in Pine Mountain, Georgia so odds are that if you have driven to Atlanta from Pensacola, you have driven past signs telling you that Callaway Gardens is nearby. It is just a short four hours north of Pensacola so it makes for a wonderful weekend getaway.
Did you know that Callaway Gardens is more than just a garden? I didn’t until our recent visit. I was expecting gardens much like Bellingrath in Theodore, Alabama or Alfred B. Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee where you wander through gardens, go for a walk, maybe ride a boat or see the home. Boy, was I wrong! When we started planning our trip, I was amazed at all of the different things that you can do at Callaway Gardens.
Stay on the grounds. Little cottages, villas, rooms at the inn or the gorgeous lodge are a few of the lodging options available on the grounds of Callaway Gardens. We stayed in a two bedroom unit in the Southern Pines Cottages. These cute little cottages are hidden around the trees. You are close to neighboring cottages but not close enough that it was too loud. They are perfect for families, both large and small. The two bedroom cottages have a small kitchen, dining area and living area as well as two bedrooms and two bathrooms. There are decks off of both the living room and bedrooms where you watch the lightning bugs and stars light up the night. Nearby is a pool, a Laundromat and a pizza parlor.
Go for a hike or ride a bike. The expansive property of Callaway Gardens is full of places to hike or go for a bike ride. A great way to get around Callaway Gardens is by bike but be prepared because it is very hilly and attractions are not as close to each other as they appear to be! There are many different trails with varying levels of difficulty and length. Our favorite walk was the walk from the Discovery Center to the Butterfly Center. We were able to wander through the woods, walk over bridges, and spy turtles sunbathing in the water.
Spend time on a lake. There are lots of ways to become one with nature at Callaway Gardens but my kids will tell you that their swimming time was their favorite activity. There is swimming, kayaking, boating, water skiing, tubing, and so much more to keep you occupied and out in the sun all day long!
Zip line through the trees. One of the newest additions at Callaway Gardens is the Treetop Adventure. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to try it out due partly to the fact that my children are too short and that the time slots filled up so quickly that they weren’t taking anymore signups for the day. We did, however, spend some time watching other visitors shimmy from tree to tree over rickety bridges and zip across the path into the woods. We were very impressed by the Treetop Adventure staff. As one little girl slowly began to panic, we watched a staff member quickly calm her down, hook her up to a rope, and slowly lower her to the ground all the while telling her what he was doing and how it worked. She was able to calm down enough to get to terra firma without completely freaking out! It was nice to know that if you had any issues with the heights of the aeriel challenges that there was a plan in place to get you down!
Find your inner peace in the Butterfly House. One of my favorite activities was visiting the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center. We loved to watch the butterflies float through the air and land gracefully on the trees and flowers throughout the center.
Get your exercise on Aqua Island. Aqua Island is an inflatable island at Robin Lake Beach. You can visit the island for an hour at a time where you can climb, slip, slide and jump around and into the water. Children under seven (if I am remembering correctly) must be accompanied by an adult and all visitors must wear a lifejacket, which are provided for you. About halfway through our hour on aqua island we were beginning to think we should have signed up for two hours…until we finally finished our hour. We were all exhausted after running around the different obstacles, jumping into the water and getting back out again.
Watch birds and students soar through the sky! When you are ready to stop moving and rest for awhile, check out the Birds of Prey show. Held inside to keep you out of the heat during the day and outside in the evening, these birds swoop and fly while you learn about the mighty raptors. You can also watch students fly through the air. Yes, students! The Florida State University Flying High Circus performs through August 12th every summer. Unfortunately, they are almost done with their summer session but they do put on occasional public shows at FSU. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was thoroughly impressed. The kids couldn’t take their eyes off of the acrobatics happening above their heads. If you visit in the summertime, be sure to catch the show.
Eat some Southern soul food. There are many restaurant choices on the grounds of Callaway Gardens and for the most part they are reasonably priced. We had dinner at the pizza parlor in the Southern Pine Cottage area the first night. The pizza was tasty but I do recommend calling ahead. We waited almost exactly an hour for our pizza due to the crowds. The group next to us had called their order in earlier so they got their pizza only just a few minutes after they grabbed a table. But nothing topped our delicious meal at the Country Kitchen. Located just a few minutes outside of the entrance, the Country Kitchen serves up yummy southern dishes. We ate perfectly fried chicken, baked apples and seasoned French fries until we couldn’t stomach it anymore.
Practice your swing. If you prefer to pick up a tennis racket or a golf club, there is ample opportunity at the tennis courts or the golf course. The golf course offers different packages and offers an academy as well.
Visit the vegetable garden. When we arrived at the gardens on a Friday evening, the sun was still out but some of the activities had closed up already. We weren’t ready to check out the lake so we took a drive around. I saw the sign for the vegetable garden so we decided to take a look. This is no backyard veggie garden! This vegetable garden is huge! Rows and rows of corn, watermelon, grapes, and so much more are spread throughout the garden. We saw how okra looks before it is fried up (really…I had no idea what it looked like because I am not a huge fan!) and we saw beautiful sunflowers blooming. On Friday nights, you can visit the Farmer’s Market and purchase veggies that have just been picked right out of the garden! As we were walking around, I almost expected to see Peter Rabbit come bounding through the rows!
Things to Know Before You Go:
- When you arrive and get settled in your accommodations, read up on the height, age and weight limits. There were a couple of things that we were unable to do (like laser tag and the treetop adventure) due to the limits.
- If you really want to do something, head to Square One located at Robin Lake Beach to sign up early. If you don’t, you might miss out. We went to sign up for the Blaster Boats at 11 in the morning and they were already booked until 7pm that night.
- Although biking is a wonderful way to get around the gardens, if you have smaller children this might not be an option. We almost threw the bikes into our car but at the last minute we didn’t bring them. I was glad because when I saw the hills and how far apart some of the stuff was, I knew my kids wouldn’t have made it very far without complaining. We used our car to travel around the gardens.
- If available, consider purchasing the Ultimate Summer Fun Pass which includes admission into the Treetop Adventure, Light Striker Laser Tag, Aqua Island, Blaster Boats, Golf on Lake View Golf Course, Bicycling, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, and Tennis. If you are planning on participating in several of these activities, you will pay off the pass quickly.
- If you are looking to get away before school starts, Callaway Gardens has a great special going on. Rates at the Mountain Creek Inn begin at $99 a night and you can purchase the Ultimate Summer Fun Pass for only $48 a person per night.
Have you been to Callaway Gardens? What was your favorite activity?
*Disclosure: Callaway Gardens hosted our stay and provided us with Ultimate Summer Fun Passes. We paid for our gas, all meals, and additional activities while we were there. As always, my opinions are my own and are not influenced by others (except for maybe my kids!).