Let’s be honest: When the typical Atlanta suburbanite thinks of beat-the-heat summertime destinations, Callaway Gardens down in Pine Mountain isn’t likely to spring to mind, and that’s alright.
They’ve obviously not met Robin Lake Beach.
Perhaps they’re like me, and they’ve tried to squeeze too much into the one daytrip to Callaway Gardens and so, if they have been to Robin Lake Beach, it was just a quick dip and then back to the minivan to go check out the butterfly house or the birds of prey demonstration or one of the many other amazing attractions down there.
So here’s my admonition: Slow down and discover that Robin Lake Beach may be the perfect destination in itself, especially if you have little kids.
And now you may be thinking: “Isn’t Callaway Gardens hours away?”
From Downtown Fayetteville, it is less than a one-hour drive if you take Hwy. 85 South through Warm Springs and (good luck) make no stops along the way. But stopping can be fun, too, especially if you plan ahead and learn what’s cool about the little towns in between Fayette and Callaway Gardens.
For example, did you know Georgia’s longest wooden, covered bridge is located just one mile off Hwy. 85 near Woodbury? Oh, and did you know there’s a real town called Woodbury? (For non-The Walking Dead fans like myself, you may be unaware that Downtown Senoia was the setting for a fictional town called Woodbury.)
Also, Warm Springs has its own attractions, including the Little White House, which was a residence for United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The town is named Warm Springs after the actual warm-water, mineral springs located there. Roosevelt, who suffered from polio, took treatment there in those waters.
And then there’s Pine Mountain, which is the town just outside the gates of Callaway Gardens. Lots to do there, too.
But my point on our most recent visit was to skip through these towns as quickly as possible so we could spend more time camped out on Robin Lake Beach.
When my family and I did this, it easily ranked as one of our top-ten favorite day trips ever. And literally, all we did was hang out at Robin Lake Beach for about four hours and then go feed the fish and turtles at the Discovery Center pond. Our kids asked us for days and days afterward when we can go back and do it again.
From the outset, let me say you need to take an open-sided tent or a pop-up canopy with you. We took a 10×10 version of the latter, which we purchased for less than $100, and it made all the difference in the world. We also took a plastic tarp to lay down. A large quilt or blanket would also work.
And we took our own food and drinks in a big cooler. If you park your canopy on the back edge of the beach, you’re not in anyone’s way, and you can really relax, stay relatively cool, and enjoy the visit. Conversely, if you park your canopy by water’s edge (which someone did while we were there), you’re likely to have someone ask you to move.
Robin Lake Beach is superb in several ways. First, the sand is the best you’ll find anywhere. They’ve obviously trucked it in, and they didn’t just pour it on the beach. They have a large, roped-off swimming area on the edge of Robin Lake, and this same sand is used on the floor of that area. It’s rare to step on even the smallest twig, which is crazy cool considering this is a real lake with ski boats zooming around in the background and real fish swimming around.
The difference is you can actually see straight down to your feet as you wade into the lake. Our kids love standing still and letting the tiny fish swim up and lose their nerve before they get to their legs. Every now and again, a little fish will come up and bump their legs, which sets off a giggle frenzy.
We never see any larger fish, and we never see any creatures other than fish.
Another fantastic feature is the shallow grade of Robin Lake Beach. Even children can walk a long way and be only waist-deep in the water. I enjoyed sitting in the lake and having my kids walk up, climb on my legs, and jump off. Go a little deeper, and you have perfect depths to throw your kid in a backflip.
When we needed bathrooms, there are two sets very close by, and one even has well-designed, very private shower facilities for when you’re ready to leave the sand behind and put on dry clothes.
But if you’re like us, you’ll want to get as much water time as possible, because the water and setting are so pleasant.
If you do get bored, and especially if you have older kids, you might take in some table tennis, miniature golf, or, dare I say, shuffleboard. They’re all included in your beachside visit, and when you get hot you can jump back into the lake.
If you pay a bit extra, you can also swim out to a sort of inflatable string of islands that offer climbing walls, slides, and diving platforms among other features.
Back to the food.
We packed our own lunch and snacks, but there is a beachside grill at the very retro-looking Robin Lake Beach Pavilion. Purchase items ala carte or get a kids meal for $5. Compared to Atlanta-based attractions, the food at Callaway Gardens is generally better and less expensive. Elsewhere on the campus there are several other restaurants, all of which serve excellent cuisine.
When we reached the four-hour mark at the beach, we packed up, showered off, and drove over to the Discovery Center pond. We brought our own gallon-size Ziplock bag full of proper floating fish food, and we were quickly joined by well over 100 fish and turtles. Again, because the water is crystal clear you’re seeing everything down below. The kids were enrapt with the experience.
Incidentally, you can buy a gigantic bag of the floating fish food at Tractor Supply Company in Fayetteville or at other farm and feed stores. If you forget, you can put quarters into fish food machines on the bicycle bridge there at the Discovery Center.
When we were done feeding the fish, it was around 5 p.m. and we headed home. While we could have taken in the birds of prey show, which started at that time, we looked forward to getting the kids home, cleaning them up, and putting them to bed at a decent hour so as to truly enjoy the day and not wish we had left sooner. Even worse, we dread other guests wishing our family had left sooner.
If you have older children, you might try to pack in a few extra attractions and stay back for supper either inside the gardens or just outside the gates in Downtown Pine Mountain.
You may also want to consider buying an annual pass to Callaway Gardens, which is only $129 for the kind that gets one vehicle with up to six people into the gates, not counting children five and under, who are always free. Otherwise, general admission most days is $20 for adults (13-64), $15 for seniors (65+), and $10 for children (6-12). Annual pass holders get 1/2-prince admission on special event days.
Visit www.CallawayGardens.com for more information, or call 800-852-3810.