Just four hours south of Atlanta, off of Interstate 75 is the city of Valdosta,GA.
The small town, north of Florida, makes for quick meal for those passing through. However, if you can fit in an extra day or two in your travel plans, Valdosta is a city well worth a short layover. Here’s your guide to 48 hours in Valdosta.
Lunch – Big Nick’s
Pegged as southern and soul food, this is a no frills spot, so don’t expect fancy decor. The fried gator was very bready and salty, but the Bang Bang wings with a sweet and spicy taste were quite decent. Their signature item is the Georgia Boy sandwich. A twist on a Po Boy, it comes with grilled shrimp on top fried green tomatoes with a creamy Sriracha sauce.
After a very filling and satisfying lunch at Big Nick’s, head over to your hotel to check in. Though there aren’t really any B&Bs, there are several middle of the range hotels like Drury Inn (very modern and new), Holiday Inn and Hampton Inn and Suites. We stayed at a Hampton Inn and enjoyed our stay, which includes a hot breakfast daily.
Head over to Grand Bay Swamp and Boardwalk to work off that filling lunch. You may or may not see any gators while walking the lengthy boardwalk to the fire tower, but the walk is pleasant. Allow about 1 to 1.5 hours for a scenic walk to the fire tower and enjoy the scenery from the top.
Dinner @ Steel Magnolias
Chef Keira Moritz first impressed me in Atlanta at the helm of the short-lived Pacci restaurant. After leaving Atlanta she moved on to San Francisco for a short stint there. But her hometown, Valdosta, beckoned her to return. After renovating a beautiful downtown Valdosta building, it became home to Steel Magnolias. The three-story restaurant is as charming as Chef Keira herself. But she’s also very involved in seeing that every aspect of her restaurant runs smoothly.
The layout of the restaurant is quite unique, with the kitchen being front and center. It is truly an open kitchen, which a chef’s counter of the view to the all the action. To get to the bar you’ll have to go to the end of the main dining room and climb the stairs. Every server and even Keira herself have one time or another had a spill on the steps. Now, it’s a matter of inauguration for new servers at this Valdosta favorite.
Yet another set of stairs bring you to the private event space. But that’s not the end. There’s a rooftop patio with incredible views of downtown Valdosta. Yes, the servers climb four flights of stairs to serve food to patrons on the rooftop. What kind of food? Fancy southern. Think pulled pork deviled eggs and pimento cheese wontons. Quinoa and kale are represented in some amazing salads. And don’t miss out on the Scallops and Pork Belly either. Served on top of a creamed Brussels sprouts, it is a wonderful mix. Desserts of apple-pie cheesecake, peanut butter cake and a lemon blueberry pie were a sweet ending. Don’t leave without heading to the rooftop to hear some fantastic live music! You might even enjoy a sweet after dinner drink like I did.
Brunch at Friends
What’s a weekend trip without brunch? Tucked away in the back of a business center, Friends is not a spot the average traveler would stumble upon. But it is worth seeking out. The modern décor and service with a smile is welcoming and makes you want to linger over your coffee and Bloody Mary at brunch. Even though the menu isn’t large, it’s still difficult to make a choice, with tempting specials. A Vanilla French Toast was a huge portion and perfect with the starter of hash browns. Friends tops theirs with bacon, scallions, tomatoes and a jalapeno cheddar sauce. Speaking of the bacon at Friends, it is probably some of the best you’ll ever have, crispy and delicious. The owners have just opened up a new barbecue spot called Woodstacks we can’t wait to check out next time we visit Valdosta.
A post brunch stop at Crescent Gardens is a must. This lovely historic mansion is quite popular with locals for family photography. You packed your selfie stick, right? Get your pictures in front with the beautiful moss hanging from the many old trees that surround the mansion.
Dinner at Salty Snapper
South GA enjoys mild temperatures year round. While I wouldn’t describe mid-November as balmy, it was reasonably warm for patio dining when we visited The Salty Snapper. Like Friends (and owned by the same group) the restaurant is tucked away from the street. You’d definitely have to be in the know as a visitor, but it’s no secret for the locals.
Sunday evenings on the patios have live music. Local favorite, Joe Smothers, was entertaining the night we went. His velvety voice is a nice addition to the seafood dishes. Chef Eric worked in Atlanta for a bit, most notably at the Brick Store Pub and Leon’s Full Service in Decatur. A butter bean hummus and catfish are especially fantastic at The Salty Snapper, but do save room for the unique Banana pudding cheesecake. Cocktails are creative and inexpensive at just around $6. My gin and ruby red drink was refreshing and outstanding.
Empanadas and More – Before you continue on your journey, fuel up at this under the radar spot. Alberto Sanchez and his wife (Colombian nationals) left Florida, looking for a small town to raise their family, but also one where their Latin food would be appreciated. They found their restaurant’s home in a small strip mall in Valdosta. They pride themselves on organic food such as the frijoles. The ground beef is (90 /10) which results in less greasy empanadas. I hope they grow to include Cuban sandwiches daily in addition to their tasty empanadas.
Your schedule may not allow for a two day stop in Valdosta. Maybe it’s just a quick lunch or maybe you pass through and spend the night and want an upscale dinner. Wherever your travels through south GA are taking you, stop in Valdosta for some southern hospitality along the way.