Some small towns seem right out of a movie set, with a quaint downtown lined with shops and restaurants, historic architecture, and best of all, a slower pace to take it all in. The picturesque town of Madison, Georgia — about an hour from Atlanta and close to Lake Oconee — offers all this and more. (And you may actually recognize it from film and TV shows such as Hidden Figures, The Vampire Diaries, Goosebumps, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol II.) One night in Madison could provide a nice dose of all they have to offer, but to really unwind, plan on two. Here’s a suggested itinerary.
How to Spend 48 Hours in Madison, GA
Start your day by exploring the town square, lined with dozens of charming stores and large oak trees. Wear your sneakers, because it’s a good place to park once, and walk everywhere from there. Visitors come from all over to browse Madison Markets, a 20,000-square-foot antiques and interiors market with 75 dealers. Like a lot of destinations in Madison, brick walls provide the backdrop for treasure-hunting, and there’s plenty of treasure to be had. Other recommended stops should include the recently expanded women’s clothing store Amelia’s Apparel, the hip Barking Dog Shoe Company, and men’s clothing store TJ Bishop’s. Home furnishings and accessories can be found at Madison Grace Home, Zeb Grant Design, and (a short drive on Highway 441), Stanton Home Furnishings.
Dolce Caffe on the square offers a relaxing place for lunch, particularly if the weather allows you to sit outside. Their specialty is Italian, but the curried chicken salad is a perennial favorite.
After lunch, prepare to get your steps in with a self-guided walking tour of Madison architecture. You can stop in the welcome center on the square, or find the tour at visitmadisonga.com. Houses, churches, and old hotels from the mid-1800s are on the tour, ranging from Greek Revival to “high” Victorian, an enslaved woman’s cottage built after the war, as well as the (unlikely) home of 1920s comedian (and Madison native) Oliver Hardy of Laurel & Hardy. A new website called Madison-Morgan Meander also offers biking routes, including a seven-mile ride through downtown Madison, or longer countryside treks.
For accommodations, either stay in town at the stately James Madison Inn or head to the country for an overnight among chickens and rolling farmland at The Farmhouse Inn. This tranquil bed & breakfast has five rooms in the farmhouse and a two-bedroom cottage on the property, with a hearty breakfast included.
When it’s time for supper, locals and visitors both love Town 220, an upscale restaurant located in an old cotton factory.
Madison is home to two unique experiences in Georgia. Experience one is the Forest Therapy Trail at The Farmhouse Inn, the first certified “forest bathing” walk in the United States. Here, the goal isn’t cardio; the nature-centric walk is about immersing yourself in the forest and slowing down a bit, and has its roots in healing processes developed in Japan. Guests at the farmhouse can participate in the trail gratis — either a guide-led tour or self-guided — and the fee for non-guests is minimal. At the end of the trail, hikers are rewarded with a view of Lake Oconee.
Experience two might be spending time at a working dude ranch, an activity usually associated with western destinations but also found in Madison. With 150 horses and sprawling acres to explore, Southern Cross Ranch offers daily horseback riding excursions, or guests can spend the night to be even more immersed in the day-to-day activities of a dude ranch.
After a busy day, head to dinner at Madison Chop House Grille, which serves up Southern specialties such as grilled pork chops and fried green tomatoes.
Tap into the agriculture-rich area with a stop at Farmview Market, which is much more than a typical farmers’ market. Yes, there’s local produce, but you’ll also find handmade sauces and breads, a butcher shop, meals to-go, and a café with a meat-and-three option in addition to lighter fare. With its location off of I-20, it’s a no-brainer before heading back home — and also to keep in mind for future trips along the highway.
For more information on Madison, including events and other attractions, head to visitmadisonga.com. All photography by Lisa Mowry unless otherwise noted.
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