4 Must See Cities to visit in Georgia

4 Must See Cities to visit in Georgia

In 2022, Georgia had a record-breaking year when it came to tourism. During the calendar year, more than 167 million domestic and international visitors made their way to the state, which translated into some impressive economic news. In fact, according to the Office of Governor Brian Kemp, that influx of travelers brought in nearly $40 billion in spending, which rendered nearly $73 billion in overall economic impact, including a demand for 442,600 jobs. Today, that impressive trend continues as travelers from all over the world flock to Georgia and, in particular, metro Atlanta. And the cities and towns that comprise the metro area undoubtedly are taking advantage of the economic development opportunities that arise from increased tourism. From outstanding hospitality offerings to can’t-miss annual and daily experiences, these locales understand how tourism and economic development go hand-in-hand and work diligently to create memorable experiences for all kinds of travelers.

Smyrna: The Experience Seeker

“We have experiences to share, and today’s travelers are seeking experiences rather than large-scale attractions,” says Jennifer Bennett, community relations director for the City of Smyrna. “We draw visitors to our community for brick-and-mortar unique and independent restaurant and retail experiences, but we also draw visitors in for remarkable event experiences, from a weekly food truck gathering and a weekly handmade market to large multicultural celebrations and national acts concerts.”

Known as the Jonquil City for the thousands of jonquils that bloom in gardens and along the streets each spring, Smyrna is located just 10 miles northwest of Atlanta and is home to more than 56,000 residents who enjoy a bounty of events and opportunities all year long. According to Bennett, much of that activity occurs right in the downtown area and surrounding spots—and it can be attributed to a number of factors. She notes, “Market Village has been the face of Smyrna since early 2000s, proceeded by our downtown redevelopment in 1997 (and our newest redevelopment of the area in 2023). Looking at visitor data from third party sources, the downtown had almost 241,000 visitors last year, and more than 20 percent of those visitors were from greater than 30 miles away. Our city events, such as the Jonquil Festival, draw up to 20,000 people over two days—a majority from outside of Smyrna. Those visitors spend money in our community. They eat at our restaurants and shop our boutiques in downtown and beyond. In addition, Smyrna is directly adjacent to one of the biggest tourism assets in all of metro Atlanta: The Battery and Truist Park. Smyrna benefits from visitors who may be watching a ball game but also want unique dining options not necessarily available at The Battery, such as Mezzaluna.”

With that in mind, Smyrna puts a great deal of effort into attracting additional independent restaurants and retailers that will be frequented by visitors and residents, as well as boosting the offerings along Cobb Parkway. Bennett explains, “The Battery has increased developer interest along the Cobb Parkway corridor. This has accelerated the city’s efforts to redevelop commercial properties near the stadium into mixed-use developments. Plans have been approved for a full-service 188-room hotel, 300 apartments and 37,000 square feet of retail space for restaurants and shops. The new hotel will contribute additional hotel taxes that are then used by the city to create more events.”

That effort also extends to the ­Chattahoochee River area. According to Bennett, Smyrna has spent the last two years highlighting the city’s proximity to and connection with the river. For instance, Riverview Landing, a sustainably minded mixed-use development along the Chattahoochee, is not only a space for green living, but also fun and adventure at locales such as Reformation Brewery, Chattahoochee Coffee and Grand Champions BBQ, which overlook the beautiful new Riverfront Park.

For Smyrna, the goal is to take on an array of redevelopment efforts that will repurpose underutilized or aging shopping centers and transform them into bustling tourism hot spots, providing a more walkable experience for those who make their way to the city. As those endeavors are completed, Bennett states, “Smyrna is able to fit the bill for what visitors are seeking.”

Braselton: The Traditional Traveler

For those who want to enjoy a traditional tourism locale in metro Atlanta, Braselton checks all of the boxes. According to Jennifer Scott, Braselton town manager, “We are a major destination for tourism in the state. In fact, tourism is our primary industry.” In large part, that can be attributed to the 3,500-acre Château Élan Winery & Resort, which features a spectacular inn, an award-winning full production winery, outstanding golf facilities and a European spa. The property also is home to five chef- and style-driven restaurants, a speakeasy and much more. Not long ago, Château Élan completed a $25 million renovation, which continues to amaze the 500,000 guests who visit the resort annually—many for the chance to experience the annual Vineyard Fest, Chateau Élan Winery and Resort’s signature celebration. This highly anticipated event, which is held each November, offers full access to 100 domestic and international wines, regional craft beers and spirits and locally sourced cuisine. The professional culinary and winemaking teams also host demonstrations and seminars, and guests have an opportunity to appreciate the native Georgia Muscadine grapes that are part of North Georgia’s heritage.

Of course, with tourism in general recognized as one of Braselton’s key income sources, there is so much more to the area. For instance, not far from Château Élan is Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, which has been celebrated as one of the world’s best road courses. The multi-purpose motor sports facility is home to ­Petit Le Mans, which has been the sporting event to experience in the Southeast for more than 20 years. Drivers, teams and manufacturers from around the world compete each October, drawing huge crowds—320,000 people annually—to the area. Once they are there, they also can enjoy the charm of downtown Braselton, which has been revitalized over the last several years. The effort included the rehabilitation of the landmark Braselton Bros. Department Store building, which was transformed to house restaurants, boutiques, a salon and the town Welcome Center. Subsequent development of the adjacent Town Green included an old cotton gin that was turned into a brewpub, the construction of a new civic center and more. And today, Braselton looks forward to the opening of its first official tourism office and manned visitor center in June.

With so many people making their way to Braselton, it’s no surprise that there are more than 8,000 jobs located in the town, with that number projected to increase by 40 percent by 2024, according to Scott. To make the most of every economic opportunity, the town works closely with its tourism partners to determine the focus of its growth efforts to ensure that the traditional traveler can access everything they could possibly want.

Peachtree Corners: The Business Traveler

With metro Atlanta’s reputation as a bustling domestic and international business hub, the business traveler has become one of the area’s most familiar individuals. And many of them often spend time in Peachtree Corners, a city that has grown from a small rural community into a burgeoning city that’s home to more than 45,000 residents and a

thriving business community, which includes some of the world’s most disruptive technology companies, as well as a host of unique small businesses.

“Technology Park attracts thousands of corporate visitors annually and remains a focal point,” says Jennifer Howard, economic development manager for Peachtree Corners. The 500-acre Technology Park Atlanta, which attracts business travelers for conferences and meetings throughout the year, is home to a host of Fortune 500 businesses, as well as Curiosity Lab, a 5G-enabled living laboratory for startups and established companies to deploy and test developing technologies in a real-world testing environment. The lab, which is a unique public-private partnership and features a complete smart city infrastructure, is the only locale in the world with a publicly funded three-mile-long autonomous vehicle testing track on an actual city street. The overall testing environment found at Curiosity Lab has attracted several partners, including T-Mobile, Cisco, Georgia Tech, Bosch, UPS and Georgia Power; the domestic and international companies can test mobility and smart city systems, as well as other technologies, free of charge. Howard adds, “The city has opened its doors to companies needing to test and demonstrate new technologies at Curiosity Lab. Whether they be autonomous vehicles or last-

mile delivery solutions, Peachtree Corners has encouraged companies to come ‘play in the sandbox.’”

While in Peachtree Corners, which is now recognized as the largest city in Gwinnett County, business travelers can partake of a wide variety of experiences, from attending events, concerts and festivals on the Town Green and shopping at locales like The Forum to enjoying athletic events that occur often, including an array of tennis and pickleball championships, golf tournaments at the nearby Atlanta Athletic Club and more. The city also has placed a spotlight on boosting its restaurant scene and nightlife for visitors and residents alike. According to Howard, “Having conferences exposes business travelers to the city. We want them to see the investments we have made and the quality of life here, the opportunities. When we give tours, people are impressed with what the city has accomplished in just 12 years.”

Powder Springs: The Outdoor Enthusiast

The exceptional climate of metro Atlanta is a boon for the people who live in the area, but it also tends to draw visitors who love the outdoors and the activities associated with them. In fact, Powder Springs, a burgeoning city located 25 miles northwest of Atlanta that is known for its excellent residential opportunities and outdoor recreation, has become a bona fide draw for outdoor adventurers from all around. According to Marsellas Williams, economic development director for the City of Powder Springs, “Tourism in our city is motivated by an active lifestyle which stems from the Silver Comet Trail, our great amenities such as our new Skate Park at Linear Park and our many events we host in our downtown.”

The 61.5-mile Silver Comet Trail, which allows local residents and visitors to get out in nature and explore everything the area has to offer, boasts a new trail connection that serves as an excellent complement to the Silver Comet Linear Park Trailhead in Powder Springs, located at mile marker 9.5 on the trail. The new skate park has added to the Silver Comet area, as Linear Park is one of the amenities along the trail. And capital improvements are being made to other park locales around the city, including Powder Springs Park, which soon will open a dog park and a space for a farmers market and food truck area. Visitors also can head to Thurman Springs Park and the Hardy Family Amphitheater, which plays host to a variety of concert series, movie nights and more annually. All of this also leads people to downtown Powder Springs, which now features a 6.6-acre Town Center—a project that was part of a comprehensive redevelopment and expansion plan for the city.

“Tourism helps tell our story in Powder Springs,” Williams notes. “It showcases the many great things in our town, such as the new skate park, our downtown stores and our parks. It not only tells our story as a community, but it also leads other people, visitors, to tell our story and what they’ve experience in our innovative city.” And that visibility translates into even more economic development opportunities. He continues, “Tourism helps bring dollars to support our local businesses and also markets our city to first-time visitors who may be thinking about moving to or opening up a new business in our city. It helps market our city as great place to live, work and play.”

To keep the momentum moving forward, Powder Springs works hard to build relationships with and support existing businesses through a variety of programs, including a booming business retention program that allows local businesses to be seen and heard by the city. With 80 to 90 percent of all job growth in the community deriving from Powder Springs’ existing businesses, Williams states, “We want to be partners and support them as they grow and expand.” And as more tourists find their way to Powder Springs, it’s certain their impact on the economy will continue to lead to new opportunities in the years to come.