Off the Beaten Path: Albany, Georgia, Inspires New Traditions When it Comes to Family Vacations

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Located about an hour off I-10 and only 30 minutes from I-75, an ideal resting place or stopping point when en route to/from Savannah and Charleston or even Florida, make Albany, Georgia, an affordable vacation add-on this summer.

Go wild
Albany’s nearly 800 acre Chehaw Park includes a 100-acre AZA-accredited zoo originally designed by Albany native and naturalist Jim Fowler of TV’s “Wild Kingdom.”

The park features natural habitat exhibits with native and exotic animals, including 219 specimens representing 84 species of wild animals. Don’t miss Bogart the Camel, the red wolves, cheetahs, Burmese python and black rhino exhibits. Mingle with the meerkats before heading to a spring-fed black gum swamp, home to more than two dozen alligators ranging in size from six to 13 feet, as well as mussels, insects, fish, turtles and small mammals which work together to create a unique ecosystem.

Young children can head for one of the state’s largest play parks, visit the petting zoo or ride the miniature train. Board the Wiregrass Express for a 20 minute ride or embark on the African Veldt Safari Adventure where zebras, wildebeest and impala antelope transport you to another continent.

Ready, set, get wet!
Albany’s southern location makes it an ideal destination for H2O adventures. Float the Flint River by kayak or canoe via the Georgia Power Dam, Riverfront Park Launch, Ray Charles Plaza Launch or the Marine Landing input areas. The float can range in time from two to four hours depending on where you put in. Call  Kayak Attack Adventures at (229) 669-1259 for all of your rental needs, including kayaks, canoes and life jackets.

There are creatures of the deep at Flint RiverQuarium and Imagination Theater. The 175,000-gallon Flint RiverQuarium has a unique blue hole tank with more than 120 mysterious creatures–some, like the mudskipper and green heron, that you can meet during weekend animal encounters. Other ways to learn more about the animals are at the weekend dive show at the blue hole and the Saturday alligator feeding at Spring Run Creek. (You might see one of the RiverQuarium’s most famous residents, a rare albino alligator named Moonshine, who lives in the aquarium’s “Alligators: Dragons in Paradise” exhibit.) You can also grab a seat at the Imagination Theater and watch a movie that brings nature to life, like “Kings of Baja.”

Get out!
Expand outdoor explorations with the area’s six-acre Riverfront Park, spread out along the Flint River, featuring a beautiful lawn for family picnics and gatherings, music- and light-animated play fountain, pavilion areas, Turtle Grove Play Park with Dino Dig and Tot Lot, a 1.5-mile Greenways Trail System, the Horace King Overlook, the Albany Welcome Center, located in the Historic Bridge House, and a three-mile Riverwalk Greenway Trail.

Souvenir shopping
Bring home the perfect souvenir with a stop at Plantation Pointe. Pick up a unique gift at the Place on the Pointe. Next door, the shops at Lancaster Village feature upscale boutiques. Grab one of kind duds at The Royal Collection boutique. Choose a statement piece at Envy or Blush. Or score something for the house at Kay Fuller Interiors or Livi and Company; VisitAlbanyGA.com/shop.

Cultural explorations
While in Albany, broaden cultural horizons with a visit to the Albany Museum of Art, a free attraction home to a growing permanent collection of African, European and American art, including one of the most impressive collections of sub-Saharan African art to be found in the southeastern United States. Tour the historic Carnegie Library, which houses the Albany Area Arts Council. Also, view artwork exhibitions by regional artists.

Can’t-miss
TIP: Don’t miss a stop at Mark’s Melon Patch. Just outside of Albany, the famous roadside farm market is well known for the freshest produce around. For the past 30 years, families from across the state and country have visited the Highway 82 roadside market for delicious fresh fruits, vegetables and a family fun atmosphere. MarksMelonPatch.com

If you go
During your visit,  satisfy hunger cravings at The Catch, a trendy nouveau southern cuisine seafood place; local treasure Austin’s BBQ and Oyster Bar; Pearly’s Famous Country Cooking; upscale Henry Campbell’s The Steakhouse; and, pub-style Harvest Moon, with evening musical entertainment served on the side. Albany offers more than two dozen hotels–many include complimentary breakfast.