Day Trip: Blue Ridge – With small-town charm, shopping options galore, and even a Christmas train, Blue Ridge beckons this holiday season

Written By: Michael Bradford

On the highway that skirts Blue Ridge’s historic downtown, a road sign pegs the distance to Atlanta at 100 miles. But the hustle and bustle of the capital seems a million miles away from the comfortable pace of this mountain town, where visitors find E. Main Street lined with shops offering wares ranging from local crafts to Peruvian scarves, a growing arts scene and a fine clutch of restaurants serving farm-to-table delicacies, trout caught from nearby streams and steaks topped with blue crab.Blue Ridge has managed to meld its Appalachian foothills charm with an upscale vibe—not an easy task, particularly given its growing popularity and attraction to developers—to create a destination with a reputation for shopping, eating and the outdoors that draws visitors from all over the South. The town’s proximity to large cities within a 3-hour drive makes it a popular spot for day trippers or long weekends, says George Charriez, owner of 4 Elements Fine Art & Custom Framing. “We see a lot of people from Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta,” he says. “It’s a great destination with a variety of restaurants and shops,” says Sarah Long, who moved to Blue Ridge from Sun Valley, Idaho and owns High Country Art. “I absolutely love it here.” 

Where to Wander
You won’t have to wander far to find a true mountain experience. Some of the best hiking in the country starts in Fannin County on the Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail at Springer Mountain. Spend a few minutes enjoying the stunning view at the start of the famed AT, then walk as much of its 2,198 miles as you like.
“The lakes are a big draw here,” Long says of the region. And among the jewels is Lake Blue Ridge, 3,300 acres of shimmering mountain water with a day use area off Aska Road and the Lake Blue Ridge Dam Recreation Area for picnicking and fishing. If you’re looking to explore the water in warmer months, rent a paddle boat, canoe or paddleboard at the Lake Blue Ridge Marina.
River rats will head to the Toccoa River for tubing on calm waters or rafting on the Class III and IV rapids on the Ocoee River.
The area’s rivers and creeks are a lure for those who love fly fishing. Outfitters such as On The Fly Excursions can supply all the gear you need for half-day or full-day trips.Blue Ridge was founded in 1886 along the route of the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad, and the town offers a nod to its history with the BlueRidge Scenic Railway.  Riders board the train at the downtown depot for the 26-mile trip along the Toccoa River, stopping for a two-hour layover at the sister cities of McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee. From November 25 through December 23, you can ride the Holiday Express, when the train is festooned with Christmas lights for a one-hour excursion featuring Christmas music and the story, “The Night Before Christmas.”  

Where To Eat
When it comes to ambience, there are plenty of choices. 
The Black Sheep owner Brandon Lofton hails from Louisiana and that may explain why raw oysters are a menu staple and the calamari is the tastiest this side of New Orleans. Here you can dine al fresco while listening to New Orleans jazz under a 200-year-old oak tree. The stately oak reminds diners that the site is a historic one—the restaurant was built around 120 years ago as a home for one-time Blue Ridge mayor Col. William Butt and his wife, Fanny.
You can almost hear the bygone sounds of commerce inside the old bank at the corner of W. Main and Depot St. Today, the vault door stands open inside the bustling General Ledger and the room just off the main floor now holds diners instead of cash. Start with the cast-iron cornbread, made with sweet chilis and cheddar cheese, and move along to the pecan-crusted Carolina trout or cedar plank salmon.
If you’re looking for a refined experience, visit Grace Prime Steakhouse, a fine-dining concept by Lofton that’s named after his grandmother. Tuck into one of the chef-curated steaks enhanced with bone marrow, blue crab, lobster tail or shrimp.
The nearly always-busy Harvest on Main touts its menu as “globally influenced with a southern twang.” The dishes feature seasonal items sourced locally, part of the restaurant’s mission to support the local economy. 
Fightingtown Tavern is a rock-themed watering hole and burger joint that also sources from local farms. Everything is made from scratch and beer lovers can choose from more than a dozen brands on tap, all brewed in the southeast.
On a ridge above E. Main, Danielle’s Café is the place to stop for soup, a sandwich or crepes. Danielle herself is from Paris and brings a French flair to this cozy spot. Walk down the hill for a hot brew and pastries at Das Kaffee Haus, inspired by owner Michael Fuerst’s Bavarian upbringing. 

Where to Shop
Multitudes Gallery showcases more than 100 glass artists, along with work by regional artists who specialize in jewelry, pottery, metal sculptures, modern folk art and more. “Everything is handmade,” says Tina Maslankowski, the gallery’s owner. And she’s proud to note that most Blue Ridge shopkeepers are careful not to carry duplicate merchandise, something many destinations can’t boast. “We’re so much more family here,” she says.
“The stores are all different,” agrees Jennifer Sullivan, owner of Owl’s Nest. “We do a very good job of not copying each other.” Her boutique, with the feel of an international bazaar, draws shoppers looking for unique jewelry and offers up the coolest knit hats you’ll find anywhere, along with imports from Asia and a nice selection of local T shirts.
The town’s international flair carries on at Afrika Corner, which offers African handcrafted art and décor, and at Qinti, a Peruvian shop that stocks alpaca clothing, jewelry and handbags from family-owned companies in Peru.
High Country Art features a selection of fine art, along with traditional, contemporary, impressionist and folk art. There’s one-of-a-kind jewelry, stunning original sculptures and finely crafted pottery. A blending of the elements of nature with art is the aim of 4 Elements Fine Art & Custom Framing. It features George Charriez’s work and that of other renowned artists who bend the rules of nature to create fascinating abstracts.
If that music you hear sounds like the Allman Brothers playing down the street, it’s coming from the speakers outside Big Frog Music Co. Wander inside and browse the vinyl; you just might find that old AC/DC album you’ve been looking for. Find carefully curated home accessories at Canoe, and old-fashioned gifts and goods at Huck’s General Store. 

Where to Stay
Along with Blue Ridge’s growing popularity have come new places to stay. You can’t get any closer to the action than The Perch on E. Main. Newly renovated suites have access to a private balcony with a fine view. Across the way on W. Main, Hampton Inn Blue Ridge anchors the street that has seen a boom in restaurants and shops. Have a drink on the rooftop bar at sunset. Long-time visitors to the town will recommend Comfort Inn & Suites for a quiet stay in the mountain-themed hotel on a hilltop just outside downtown. And there are several agencies such as Blue Sky Cabin Rentals offering rustic to luxury cabins to rent. 

To plan your Blue Ridge getaway, visit


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