This past Spring Break, Dustin and I decided to change up the cliche of a tropical vacation and headed towards the Smoky Mountains. To make it more exciting we chose to complete a road trip. Leaving from Gainesville, FL, our final destination was Gatlinburg, but we’d be stopping in Atlanta on the way up and again on our way down. The trip was an incredible success and we completed everything we wanted to do. It was filled with non-stop fun and adventures. I am so excited to list and review everywhere we went, stayed, ate, experienced, and more. Put your seat belts on because this is going to be a steep ride up to the mountains.
Monday, March 6: Day 1 – Atlanta, GA
It was 6 AM on Monday morning. Dustin was packing up the car while I was making sure the GoPro was charged, our snack bag was filled, and that we weren’t leaving anything behind. This was my first long road trip. The longest road trip I’ve done before this was six hours. I’ve also never been to either Atlanta nor Gatlinburg. I was filled with excitement as I locked the door to my apartment and walked towards the car. The expected weather in Atlanta was to be in the 50s and drop to the 40s later at night.
I definitely over packed, but the benefit of a road trip is that you don’t need to worry about the weight of the suitcase.
Dustin and I agreed we would turns driving. I’ll just tell you right now that gas in total was around $110. Cheaper than a flight.
Dustin was the driver from Gainesville to Atlanta. It was about a five hour drive, but for some reason it seemed longer. The drive wasn’t scenic until we hit Georgia. That’s when we saw a number of bare trees and hills. The further into Georgia we went, the more “hilly” the turnpike became. We left around 9 AM (a littler later than we wanted) and arrived in Atlanta at around 2:30 PM. Arriving in Atlanta, there was a surprising amount of traffic and the drivers were as bad as the ones in Miami. Traffic combined with the sporadic drivers, it felt like home.
We drove straight to the hotel to check-in, drop off our bags, and freshen up. The hotel we stayed at was Hotel Indigo Alanta – Vinings. It was about 25 minutes from downtown and was located in a quaint area. Luckily for us we were able to use our hotel points for both hotel stays in Atlanta. The hotel itself was beautiful and had friendly service. The outside resembled a house that “belonged on the seashore of South Carolina,” as quoted by Dustin. The lobby was large with a number of chairs and couches. There was also a hotel bar if you wanted to enjoy a drink or two. Our room was nice with a balcony. The bathroom was beautiful and the room itself seemed recently renovated. Even though we only stayed here for one night, it’s a good option for longer stays. It wasn’t a bad location and was overall a great place to stay.
After driving for five hours and merrily eating snacks, we were obviously starving. I need to point out that Dustin planned out our food schedule. He made sure to mark down everywhere we were eating and on what days before we had left on the trip. So choosing where we were eating was not something we struggled with. The food we ate was one of my favorite parts of this trip so get ready.
Our late lunch that day was at Antico Pizza. Located inside of a cute neighborhood was this unique pizzeria. You don’t realize the authenticity of this place until you step inside. The menu doesn’t just state USD, it also contains EURO. Along with this, Italian music played throughout the restaurant transporting you to a small town in Italy. Dustin and I decided to share the Margherita D.O.P. ($21) which contained san marzano tomato, bufala, basil, and garlic. You may be thinking “You paid $21 for one pizza?!” Yes, we did and it was very much worth it. After ordering, head to the back of the restaurant and make a left. Here you’ll find more seating and you get to see where the magic happens. They make the dough fresh everyday and take so much pride in making their pizzas. Once they run out of dough they close up so be sure to not go too late! The pizza came out in about 15 minutes and was delivered to our table.
The pizza exceeded my expectations. We could tell the dough was fresh with it’s delicate taste. The dough was what made the pizza. The toppings on the pizza were also fresh and enhanced the taste of the dough. I tried to savor every bite because I had never had a pizza like this one before. Nothing about this pizza tasted artificial or frozen. Dustin, who’s originally from New Jersey, also stated that this was one of the best pizzas he has ever tasted. It’s a lot coming from someone who grew up surrounded by some of the tastiest pizza in the U.S. This is, hands down, a must if you’re in Atlanta. Share a pie if you’re not too hungry, but you have to stop here. You’re truly missing out if you don’t. We had leftovers and even ate the pizza cold later that day. It was still good!
To walk off the calories we had just eaten, we headed to Piedmont Park. It’s a well known park in Atlanta located in Midtown. The park was pretty big and had multiple trails you could walk through. Some aspects of the park kind of remind me of Central Park in New York. Parking for the park was $3 for the day. You just park and begin your walk. We stumbled upon some beautiful spots during our exploration. We spent about two hours here just walking around appreciating the scenery we don’t get to see down in Florida. If you’re looking for something relaxing to do, head over to Piedmont Park. There’s also the Ponce City Market that’s close by, just more to explore.
For dinner, we went to Mary Mac’s Tea Room. This restaurant is pretty well-known, many celebrities have stopped in. The service was wonderful here and everyone had a smile on their face. Here is where you will find plenty of comfort food. Their menu selection was fairly large and the way you order was pretty unique. Each table had small papers for each customers and several pencils. The paper had several small headers for you to fill out your dinner feast.
Every entree comes with two sides, along with the bread basket. The bread basket brought to the table doesn’t just contain bread though. Oh no. There are bread rolls, corn bread, and…wait for it…cinnamon rolls! Yes, you read correctly. Cinnamon rolls! All three of these are fresh and warm when they get to your table. Each item was delicious, especially the cinnamon rolls. As for our dinner, Dustin ordered the Fried Chicken ($13.50) with the Grits and Sweet Potato Casserole. You have the choice of getting three legs or one breast, he chose the legs. He, of course, loved it and devoured every bit. The breading is what made the chicken as tasty as it was. Their sweet potato casserole was the winner of the sides. I even had a bite and regretted not ordering that as my side. It was sweet and warm, melting in your mouth. The grits were also tasty, cooked their own style. I ordered their Chicken Pot Pie ($12.50) with the Broccoli Casserole and Fried Green Tomatoes. The chicken pot pie was pretty good. The pastry on the outside was delicious and reminded me of Cuban pastries with the similar flakiness. The inside was creamier than some that I’ve had before. There were also more vegetables in this one. My favorite part of the dish though was the shredded chicken. I liked that a lot more than cubed pieces of chicken. It’s easier to eat and tastes better with the cream. Moving on to the sides, the fried green tomatoes were delicious. The breading around them brought out a sweeter taste and I really enjoyed them. Although the dipping sauce that came with them was not so great. I really didn’t like the taste of the tomatoes with it so I put it aside. The broccoli casserole was not my favorite. It felt too bland to me. I didn’t eat much of it and had really wished I ordered the sweet potato casserole instead.
Overall, great place for true Southern food…and cinnamon rolls. It’s an Atlanta staple and I think it’s definitely worth it to at least stop by once.
Tuesday, March 7: Day 2 – Gatlinburg, TN
The next morning we packed up the car and began our drive to Gatlinburg at around 9:30 AM. The drive up to Tennessee was a lot more scenic compared to long drives in Florida. We were surrounded by masses of trees on both sides of the turnpike, along with encountering a number of hills. The whole way up is a is beautiful to admire, especially if you’ve never driven up North.
We arrived to Gatlinburg at around 1:30 PM and headed directly to downtown. Prior to leaving Atlanta, we had decided on waiting to eat breakfast. We were still full from the day before and wanted the chance to eat breakfast at the Pancake Pantry.
TIP: The strip of Downtown Gatlinburg is long and has numerous parking lots. We parked at a lot that was down the street from the Pancake Pantry that charged $10 for the day. If you drive all the way down the strip to the parking lot for Ober Gatlinburg, they charge $5 for the day. Yes, it’s a further walk, but it’s the cheapest lot to park at.
The Pancake Pantry is a Gatlinburg gem and was established in 1960 making it the first pancake house in the city of Gatlinburg. Fast forward decades later and the restaurant is nothing short of famous.
We had made it just in time for brunch. They’re open from 7AM-3PM so no worries if you like to sleep in. I had fallen in love with the famous pancake place at just the site of it. The architecture takes you back in time and the style of brick is impressive. Looking at it just makes you want to run inside for some breakfast food. Arriving later ended up benefiting us because there was no line “wrapped around the block” and it was fairly empty inside. We were able to get seated right away, getting placed at a table with a view of the strip. The menu had a number of delicious items to choose from, but Dustin and I were both eyeing the pancake section. The paper menu specifically listed their famous pancakes, along with their other sweet dishes. While looking over the menu, I ordered a coffee and added their homemade creamer to it. The coffee tasted delicious and the creamer was sweet enough that I didn’t need to add sugar.
Dustin ordered the Cornmeal Pancakes (6.50) and I went with the Apricot Lemon Crepe ($8.70). If you’re looking for a more savory breakfast, the Cornmeal Pancakes are for you. The plate brings five of these cakes, paired with their house-made whipped, butter. These cakes were delicious and did not just taste like ordinary corn bread. They had a distinct taste to it and you could really tell the corn used was fresh, along with the other ingredients. The flavor was so unique that I feel like anyone who stops by here should try there. Now, if you have a sweet tooth, the Apricot Lemon Crepe is your dream come true. Every bite of this dish sent me over the edge with fruity bliss. This was topped with their homemade butter, that went too perfectly with the crepes. The taste of lemon is not the main flavor of the dish, but you get a hint of it with every bite. The apricots not only top the crepe, but also fill it. To top off the delicious food, the service was incredible and gave you that warm fuzzy feeling. If you don’t stop here on your visit, you’re doing it wrong. If I was a local, I’d be there every morning.
Once our tummies were full, we headed to our first activity, mini golf. This wasn’t just any mini golf though, this was Hillbilly Golf. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are jam packed with mini golf courses. It’s ridiculous at how many mini golf courses there are so close in proximity. In spite of this though, Hillbilly Golf had to be the best one.
Tickets per adults were about $15. Once we had our clubs picked, we then waited for the trolley to come back down from its previous trip. That’s right, a trolley. This course has a small trolley that takes you up a small hill to the top of the course. There’s actually two courses you can choose from, one on each side of the hill. The entire course is located at the top of the hill, giving guests the opportunity to see some stunning views. The course itself is themed to an “old mill” style and is adorable. There are plenty of opportunities for fun photo ops, including some with a gorgeous mountain background. Dustin and I had more fun than we thought we would. The course is pretty difficult which makes it a fun challenge. The trolley brings you right back down once your done with your mini golfing. There are no other mini golf courses like this one. The price is steep, but it’s a unique mini golfing experience you may not find anywhere else. You also can’t beat the incredibly friendly staff that was a part of our exciting experience.
Leaving mini golf with big smiles, we decided to check into our hotel. I’ll be covering a review on our overall experience at the hotel when talking about our last day in Gatlinburg. This is mostly because this post is already pretty long.
After settling in and napping for almost two hours, we realized it was around 8:30 PM and decided it was time to grab dinner. We headed towards Pigeon Forge for our anticipated dinner at the Local Goat.
The restaurant was located on the Pigeon Forge strip, about 20 minutes from our hotel. It was a large sit-down restaurant that is pretty well-known in the area. It was surprisingly packed for it being a Tuesday, we ended up waiting for about 30 minutes. If it was packed on a Tuesday, be advised if you go on a weekend. We were seated at a booth, close to the bar. There was a fun, positive vibe in the atmosphere that enhanced our experience here. Everyone around us was just having a great time.
According to Yelp, this place was known for their burgers so I knew that’s what I had to get. I had decided on their signature TN Whiskey Glazed Burger ($13.00) while Dustin ordered the Mediterranean Salad with Grilled Chicken ($15.00). Dustin enjoyed his salad, emphasizing on how good the chicken was. He also liked the taste of the roasted tomato vinaigrette, something he was hesitant about. It was also a large dish that filled him up, concluding that it was very much worth it. My burger was either one of or the best burger I have ever had. I could not believe how delicious that burger was. Ever bite had me drooling and wanting more. The burger contained a TN whiskey glaze, smoked bacon, crispy onions, and garlic aioli. Juicy? Mouth-watering? Flavorful? I can’t find the perfect words to describe this burger. The flavors just paired so perfectly together, every bite was an explosion of flavors in my mouth. From sweet to savory, from soft to crunchy, this burger had it all. The fries were also fantastic. I have to note that I usually don’t finish my plate, especially with a big burger like that. That burger was completely cleared that night, Dustin only taking a couple of bites from it. Do yourself a favor and get this burger from the Local Goat. Don’t even look at the menu when you go, just have this burger in mind. You won’t regret this decision, I guarantee it.