Day Tripper: Paradise Found in Summerville, GA

World's Folk Arts Church by Howard Finster at Paradise Garden in Summerville Georgia

This mini-adventure originally appeared on RAD AND HUNGRY.

I’m not exactly a country girl, so I was as surprised as anyone that a pilgrimage to paradise meant trekking to rural Georgia. The chance to visit a Baptist preacher-turned-outsider artist’s kitschy studio? Too unique to pass up, so we set off for Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia.

I didn’t anticipate feeling so connected to Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden or so welcomed by some of the locals. That feeling of being shaken out of your comfort zone? It’s one of the best parts of travel, especially in your own country.

Whether you’re looking for art, grub, or inspiration, our guide to Summerville and the surrounding area has you covered. This trip is deep-fried, small town Americana with a side of funky fixings.

After arriving in town, we let the locals be our guide – even when they threw in a detour to Alabama! You’ll start at the roadside diner where locals line up at 5:30 a.m. and end on top of a waterfall. A set of wheels is a must for this classic Southern road trip.Art from Howard Finster's Paradise Garden

Sleep in an Artist Cottage at Paradise Garden

Get the full Paradise Garden experience by spending the night in the Artist in Residence Cottage. It’s bursting with artwork and vintage touches, just steps away from the entrance to Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden! Reservations include unlimited access with after-hours entry. Explore the surreal space by moonlight and let the magic wash over you. Availability is limited so book ahead.Artist in Residence Cottage at Paradise Garden

Eat Barbecue at Henry’s BBQ

A pork plate for breakfast? Trust. The locals are up before dawn to start their day grubbin’ with Henry’s BBQ. Load up on Southern favorites like biscuits kissed with sunny dots of butter, grits, and the house-smoked sausage or bacon. The staff is the epitome of Southern hospitality. Tell Caitlan we sent you!Henry's BBQ in Summerville, GA

Treasure Hunt at Trade Day

On your way back to Paradise Gardens, look out for Ye Olde Trade Grounds (US-27 and Smith Rd.). People flock from all over Chattooga County every Tuesday and Saturday for the Trade Day flea market at this parking lot. Browse everything from vintage jewelry to hunting knives, but the best deal is just gabbin’ with locals.Trade Day flea market in Summerville, GA

Get Inspired at Paradise Garden

Paradise Garden was built by retired preacher Howard Finster when a vision told him to paint sacred art in 1976. He spent the rest of his life spreading his message by creating folk art and expanding his garden. The grounds are a wonderland of weird, featuring everyday bric-a-brac turned spectacular. Watch your reflection multiply in the glittering Mirror House, try to count hub caps amassed into a 20-foot-tall tower, and enjoy the gentle stream running through this outsider playground. If Finster’s work seems familiar you may have seen the album covers he created for R.E.M. and the Talking Heads. Pro tip – watch the short video shown in the visitor center for a glimpse of Finster serenading Johnny Carson by banjo.The Mirror House at Howard Finster's Paradise GardenA car is art at Paradise Garden in Summerville, GeorgiaSculpture at Paradise Garden

Get Crafty at Log Cabin Craft Village

Alabama? Hey, we go where the locals tell us. Mentone is a tiny mountain town about 30 minutes from Summerville. Perched on Lookout Mountain, it’s home to a surprisingly eclectic collection of artisans, craftspeople, and souvenir stores housed in a group of log cabins. The biggest surprise? A Dutch woman who moved from Seattle to Alabama and spends half the year sourcing goods for her shop in Ecuador and Peru!

Log Cabin Village in Mentone, Alabama

Take a Hike at Desoto Falls

Just down the road at the DeSoto Falls Recreation Area, you’ll be admiring Alabama’s highest waterfall! An easy two-mile hike will take you through the lush Chattahoochee National Forest and back. Or just take in the powerful 104-foot falls as they dive into the gorge below. Soak up the natural wonder before hitting the road back to Atlanta.

DeSoto Falls in Mentone, Alabama

DeSoto Falls in 1931 National Geographic
At an antique shop in Galena, IL, I flipped open a random 1931 issue of National Geographic to find a feature on DeSoto Falls.

The best part of a road trip is embracing the unexpected. Between the magic of Paradise Garden, the down-home flavors of Henry’s, and the natural beauty of Lookout Mountain, this day trip is full of small town charm. You might even find yourself at a barn dance!Barn Dance advertised outside Mentone, Alabama

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