Albany, Georgia sits in the southwest section of the state, about 3 – 3.5 hours from Atlanta…down I-75. It’s the eight largest city in Ga, the central hub of the southwest…and a great place for exploring with kiddos!
Things to Do in Albany
If you are in town for a short time, definitely spend some time at the Wild Animal Park, started by Jim Fowler of Wild Kingdom fame. Pet a python, take the Veldt ride, feed Bogart the Bactrian (two-hump) camel who loves people. Chehaw is a special animal sanctuary that obviously takes pleasure in learning about and growing with their animals. If you can stay longer, then camp or cabin in the park for an even more enjoyable adventure. This doesn’t even cover the campsite, nature trails, disc golf, BMX track, bald eagle aviary, or the banks of Lake Chehaw. Whew!
The Flint Riverquarium was borne from the devastation of the 1994 Albany flood. It is an opportunity for children (and adults) to use all of their senses in learning about the importance of the natural resources in the area, and the uniqueness of the Flint River watershed.
An albino alligator, shark eggs, a blue hole spring, and SCUBA diving capers….my boys were in their element! We learned about Blue Holes, watched alligator feedings, peered at shark eggs, and walked with birds through the aviary. It gave our family a great appreciation for the diversity of the Flint River, on which this aquarium resides. Don’t ask the boys if it was educational, though…they only know they had a great time!
Along the Flint River, and across the street from the RiverQuarium is RiverFront Park. Still in development, the park includes three miles of trails. Eventually they will connect downtown to Chehaw. The trailhead is already completed and includes Turtle Grove Play Park, which is a great playground for the kids and Ray Charles Plaza featuring a life-sized sculpture of the singer. Visitor’s can sit on a piano key and listen to Ray play. There are also fountains for kids to run through, so bring a bathing suit or at least a towel.
Kayaking Flint River
When we visited there was not a great place to put in a kayak, but they were working on some decking right behind the Visitor’s Center. Today that is complete, and it’s a wonderful place to slip in your canoe or kayak.
The Welcome Center is downtown on RiverFront Park at The Bridge House, which is cornerstone to a historical account that touched my heart. Horace King, a former slave that bought his freedom and made a name for himself around Georgia and Alabama, constructed the building. King built a number of bridges in the area. His construction was so well done that his reputation led to a significantly popular business. One of the bridges he built was adjacent to The Bridge House….there is a gateway overlook for his now-gone bridge in the back of the house. This bridge was the gateway to the city, and King became a wealthy man buy retaining 1/3 ownership in the bridge, taking proceeds of the toll that merchants and farmers paid to bring their wares to Albany. Brilliant! I love this story of innovation, hard work, and determination! (More about Horace King in our LaGrange piece…)
Radium Springs is one of Georgia’s seven wonders. It is a natural blue hole cave that pumps 7,000 gallons of natural spring water every day. The water is crystal clear so you can see fish and turtles swimming near the cave hole. The water reflects a beautiful blue-green color, as well, making it a sight to behold!
Surrounding the spring are the ruins of a once vibrant gardens and resort. Visitors are welcome to walk the perimeter of the spring, along the courtyard and sidewalks. unfortunately, the public is not allowed to swim in the constant 68-degree water. When we visited we met a couple who was there at the same time, reminiscing over times-passed. They told us about a time when swimming was still allowed. People would come from all around to play and picnic on the grounds. They pointed out speakers in the trees that pumped music for the younger crowd. There was even a slide from the ruins into the spring!
Thronateeska Heritage Center
The science museum included several hands-on exhibits for kids, situated in stations around the museum. There was a station for current events, like the 20th memorial of the flood of Albany, for archeology, paleontology, space exploration, sounds and colors, and more.
Outside to the back of the building we found the old Union Station Depot with several train cars and a coal steam engine. We were able watch the model railway, which is housed within one of the train cars. It is an HO-scale model with multiple trains that wind through towns and forests.
The Wetherbee Planetarium, 40-foot full dome planetarium, is also housed here. There is a small fee for watching a planetarium show or live presentation, but the minimal cost is worth every penny.
Ray Charles Plaza
While the plaza may not be “historic,” Ray Charles certainly is! Did you know he was born in Albany? Be sure to head to the plaza to see one of only two Ray Charles sculptures in the world, snap a selfie with the legend, and listen to his music pour from the speakers!
Where to stay in Albany Ga
Merry Acres Inn
We gladly called Merry Acres Inn our home for the time we visited Albany. Our experience included resting in a spacious suite with hardwood floors, swimming for hours in a mineral-water pool, and dining outdoors on a true southern porch (complete with ceiling fans and sweet tea.) Merry Acres Inn dripped with hospitality and charm, and the staff was always eager to please. With a location convenient to almost all of Albany’s “can’t-miss” attractions, Merry Acres in *the* place to stay for a spectacular vacation.
I heard someone refer to Merry Acres as “Retro Done Right!” and I could not agree more. The Inn sits on land originally purchased for a hotel and subdivision in 1935. It’s gone through a series of changes, most recently in 2011, with new ownership that took the already prestigious Inn to new heights.
There are an outrageous number of amenities at Merry Acres Inn, almost too many to number here. By far, the pool was a favorite for our family. The front desk told me that the pool is a mineral water pool (how appropriate, with the blue holes of the Flint River.) I’m usually not a pool person (even though the boys love it.) HOWEVER, I didn’t want to leave the pool. The water made me feel lighter (similar to salt water,) but it was refreshing. Albany’s weather set the pool at the perfect temperature. Restrooms were clean and easy to access. Also, before 5pm each day, the Pub staff make rounds on the pool deck, offering drinks from the bar in disposable cups. For the kids, the Inn provided a series of pool toys, too. Thank you, since Mom forgot.
We enjoyed drinks on the large patio of the Manor House Pub, sitting under large ceiling fans and taking in the ambiance. After a while, my oldest tired of the adult chitchat and sat on the front stoop playing Minecraft, thanks to the Wifi. My young son became restless, and I thought we’d have to call it a night, when the waitress came out with a HUGE tub of toys. “Keep them for the weekend,” she said. “We have plenty if any other kids show up.” Huge Win!
We could have ordered from the Manor House Pub menu, but we were looking for something a little more filling than pub food….not a problem. Out came the server with the menus from Harvest Moon, The Catch Seafood Room & Oyster Bar, and Henry Campbell’s Steakhouse. We were able to order from the other restaurants and have it delivered right to our haven on the porch! So basically, we could order from four super restaurants without leaving our home base – without leaving the pool, without loading up the kids, without having to make our way back with full bellies, without leaving our perfect spot on the porch. THIS WAS A HUGE BENEFIT in my opinion. HUGE.
Hilton Garden Inn
Hilton Garden Inn, which is right across the street from RiverFront Park (and Turtle Grove Play Park) and within walking distance of the RiverQuarium and Thronateeska Heritage Center. The hotel has a full restaurant and bar and an outdoor swimming pool. It’s the perfect location to base a visit to Albany.
Food for Families
Harvest Moon – I wish that I could tell you about eating at Harvest Moon. I mean really, 50 craft and imported beers, and live music, too. It sounds incredible. However, my story is a little different. My family ate a Harvest Moon dinner in “take-out” fashion. Our food was delicious! Seriously delicious! I hope to eat AT Harvest Moon one day…to try the huge beer selection while I kick back to some live tunes. In the meantime, I cherish the special time we had at Manor House Pub…watching the kids play together while we lounged on a huge southern porch taking in the breeze. Merry Acres Inn and Stewbo’s Restaurants are a winning package for this family!
Blackbeard’s – With appetites as diverse as those in our family, it takes a special place. Thank goodness for Blackbeard’s….a menu varied on selection, and united on great taste. Blackbeard’s has a huge selection of great food for the multiple cravings in your family. The selections are delicious, the servings are huge, and the atmosphere is conducive to a comfortable, relaxing meal…even with a pair of young kiddos.
Jimmie’s Hotdogs – This iconic dog joint has been in operation at the same location (across from the bus station) since 1925. It’s off the beaten path a bit, but well worth it. The prices will make your wallet smile too!
Pearly’s Famous Country Kitchen – This is where to go for a fast, delicious breakfast with the locals! Pearlys’ is casual, easy with the kids, and super friendly. The food is affordable, delicious, and fast from the back. 50 years of service and a restaurant full of locals won’t steer you wrong. Grab breakfast or lunch (or breakfast FOR lunch.) It’s an awesome family-owned and family-friendly Albany treasure.
The Cookie Shoppe – This place is hoppin’, the pimento cheese is perfect, and the fresh-from-the-oven cookies will make a sweet-tooth out of anyone. If you want a homemade sandwich or salad in a relaxed atmosphere, where you don’t have to sweat about the kids eating with you….and you love made-from-scratch cookies and desserts….then The Cookie Shoppe is the obvious option in Albany. The prices are right, the food is great, and the family-friendly factor is high!
Mark’s Melon Patch – The first thing we noticed as we pulled in was the gentleman in front of the stand with a machete-like knife, happily slicing open huge watermelons for visitors to try! My young boys enjoyed watching him work (from a safe distance,) and then sampling his wares once he was done. Yum! So many things to try here – do not miss it!
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