VALDOSTA, Georgia, March 6, 2018 – Less than 20 minutes north of the Florida border, Valdosta holds the dubious honor of being the last stop in Georgia for sunshine-hungry travelers heading south for summer vacation. The city has long since grown used to the throngs of tourists, expanding its lineup of attractions, shopping and restaurants to meet the demand for entertainment. That means it should be much more than a stop-off on your drive. Take a day to explore some of what this southern town has to offer.
Start off at Wild Adventures, a theme park that combines roller coasters, animals and a water park into one. They even have a performance series with entertainers like Jeff Foxworthy and 3 Doors Down in their 2018 lineup.
It’s far and away Valdosta’s most popular attraction and plenty busy during summer weekends. Get there when they open to beat the crowds and enjoy shorter wait times.
You’ll also find traditional fair fun like a carousel and arcade and, new this year, MEGABUGS, an exhibit with oversized models of bees, butterflies, a cockroach and others, many animatronic.
Animal enclosures are scattered throughout the park: lions, capybara, monkeys. Be sure to visit Shirley, the world’s oldest elephant on record. She turns 74 this summer.
Depending on your group, you may want to play longer at Wild Adventures. But if you just have one day in the city, head out in the afternoon to see the rest of Valdosta.
For a late lunch, try Empanadas & More. The Latin fusion restaurant opened in 2013 and serves arepas, chorizo, yuca, plantains and a host of South American favorites at a brightly colored cafe in an otherwise unassuming strip mall. Of course, their specialty is the empanada, stuffed with chicken, cheese, beef or any combination of the above. The affordable and fresh-tasting lunch combos bring in mostly locals and the occasional out-of-towner lucky enough to find this hidden gem.
It’s all good, but their crisp empanadas are the stars. Order at least two.
“Normally, in our culture, empanadas are a snack. Here, it’s an entree,” said owner Alberto Sanchez, who hails from Colombia. Hence the Colombian flavors on much of the menu. “We are not fancy people, but we make sure that what you get at the table is the best.”
After your meal, stroll the romantic grounds of “The Crescent,” a neoclassical home built in 1898 and now on the National Register of Historic Places. The building gets its name from its curved front porch punctuated with 13 columns, one for each of the original colonies. It’s the most notable landmark in the city. Anyone can visit, free of charge, for a tour of the stately interior between 2 and 5 p.m. weekdays.
To round out your afternoon, head downtown. Valdosta’s Central Avenue strip is pleasantly walkable and filled with boutiques and emporiums perfect for casual window shopping or serious bargain hunting. While you’re there, stop into the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts. Exhibits include everything from African masks to musical instruments and totems to European antiques and fine porcelain.
Evening in Valdosta
You have your pick of restaurants for dinner downtown. But if you want classic Southern comfort food, the locals will tell you that you can’t go wrong with Steel Magnolias. Their signatures are warm service, farm-sourced ingredients and reinvented down-home cuisine, like grits swirled with blue cheese and blackberry marmalade.
The day isn’t over yet. Keep the energy going at Epic Escape Rooms. This family-run venue offers six themed adventures where you and your group can try to escape from a locked room with puzzles to guide you to freedom. Ask for clues if you need help, but look sharp; there’s more than one twist in the game. For a highly unusual room, take on The Mad Hatter. You’ll have to outsmart a trickster villain who won’t let you leave Wonderland.
Whether you make it out in an hour or come close, you’ll be surprised how much fun you have trying and you’ll marvel at how long the experience stays with you. Odds are, you’ll be talking about it, along with the rest of your Valdosta day, as you head to your next destination — wherever that may be.
If you want to extend your stay in Valdosta, here are some options for lodging:
Drury Inn & Suites
1327 N St. Augustine Rd, Valdosta, GA
Popular for its bar, breakfast buffet and free around-the-clock soda, milk and popcorn
Fairview Inn Bed & Breakfast
416 River St, Valdosta, GA
A charming B&B in a restored home walking distance to downtown
Holiday Inn Express & Suites
1330 St Augustine Rd, Valdosta, GA
Situated just off I-75 on the west side of the city near restaurants and shopping
While Empanadas & More and Epic Escape Rooms hosted my visits, all opinions expressed are my own.