Wondering what to do with kids in Sandy Springs? My family spent a weekend there and discovered fabulous food, scenic parks, unique shopping, and one very awesome playground, all just minutes away from Atlanta. Read all about our experience and you’ll see why Sandy Springs is a great place for your family to spend a few days.
For decades, Sandy Springs wasn’t much more than a name for a neighborhood on the outskirts of Atlanta. Located just inside the Atlanta Perimeter, it had plenty of strip malls. And office buildings. And traffic. And that was pretty much it.
But for the last ten years, Sandy Springs has been blossoming into something far more exciting. It started when residents voted in 2005 to incorporate– That vote turned Sandy Springs into the third most populated city in Georgia. (The population now stands at just under 100,000.) Since then, city planners have been working hard to create a new identity for Sandy Springs as a standalone city that’s not only a great place to live, work and play, but also a worthwhile destination for visitors. And after spending a weekend there with my family, I have to say their efforts are paying off.
With restaurants serving up sophisticated fare comparable to anything I’ve eaten here in Nashville (and I don’t say that lightly), outstanding hiking trails and recreational opportunities, an exquisite city park, gorgeous nature preserves and unique shops, you could feasibly enjoy an action-packed weekend filled with fun without leaving Sandy Springs’ city limits. The fact that Sandy Springs happens to be an easy MARTA ride away from all of Atlanta’s attractions as well as the airport makes it even more enticing.
What’s more, new sidewalks, greenways and bike paths are making the city far more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, and a new city center, scheduled for completion in late 2017, will include city offices, a performing arts center, studio theater, retail and residential spaces, underground parking, a city green and a number of fountains, including an interactive play fountain for kids.
We spent our weekend in Sandy Springs on the way back to Nashville from a trip to Walt Disney World. My husband, Dennis, and I had had a blast with the kids in Orlando, but we desperately needed some alone time– so we decided to drop off our children with their grandparents in north Atlanta and spend our first night in Sandy Springs alone. Blessedly. Alone.
When we arrived, we were hungry, but didn’t want to spoil our 8:00 dinner reservations. After checking Google Maps for a quick look at the restaurants surrounding us, we settled on La Madeleine Country French Cafe (1165 Perimeter Center West). It’s a chain restaurant with locations across the country and from the outside, it looked to me like any other strip mall eatery. Once I stepped inside, though, everything changed.
With its inviting interior, La Madeleine is the kind of place where you can feel comfortable grabbing a coffee & croissant to go or bringing your laptop and settling in for a while. Maybe it’s the leftover Disney effect, but the rustic stone fireplace, dark wood and warm golden lighting brought to mind a scene straight out of Beauty and the Beast.
The biggest problem with getting a snack at La Madeleine is the incredible range of both sweet and savory choices. Filled with a colorful array of tarts and parfaits and cookies and cakes, the pastry case was sorely tempting.
In the end, though, savory won the day. My husband had a Chicken Friand puff pastry smothered in mushroom sauce (a dish so good that people are trying to copy La Madeleine’s recipe at home!), while I chose a Spinach Pochette — sort of like a hot pocket, French style. Both were delicious.
After a few hours of work and rest at the hotel, we were ready for our late night dinner at La Petite Maison (6510 Roswell Road NE). What can I say? It was a French-themed kind of day.
While you won’t find trendy fusion cuisine or a social media star chef at this 25-year-old neighborhood favorite, I believe that’s exactly what gives La Petite Maison its charm. It’s the kind of classic French restaurant your parents used to take you to for a special occasion when you were a teenager — the kind where you practiced your best manners, ordered escargot as an appetizer so that you could pretend to be sophisticated, and took a sip of your father’s Beaujolais when no one was looking. Sometimes, tradition is a very good thing.
Seated in a cozy banquette as French music played softly in the background, we enjoyed attentive service from our waiter, who walked us through the menu and knowledgeably answered all of our questions. My husband couldn’t resist the Coquilles St. Jacques ‘Monaco’ — large sea scallops in a caramelized onion sauce served with rice, black truffles and sauteed spinach. Meanwhile, I opted for one of the most popular items on the menu: the Escallope de Veau a la Normande. This was veal scallopini in a mushroom cream sauce, served with green beans and gratin dauphinois. Everything was marvelous and while my veal was tender and flavorful, the gratin dauphinois, thinly sliced potatoes layered in cream fraiche, baked and browned to perfection, were a surprise favorite.
For dessert, we chose the Tarte Tatin, a caramelized apple tart served upside down with homemade caramel calvados and vanilla ice cream. It was superb. I would dine here again in a heartbeat.
The next morning, we picked up the kids from their grandparents house and went straight to a spot we knew would be a favorite with them:
Abernathy Greenway (70 Abernathy Road). This linear park has made a name for itself in Atlanta because of its ‘playable ‘art’ — The six playground sculptures dotting the greenway’s paved trail are the winning designs from a 2011 contest that drew more than 100 entries from around the world.
The kids loved the park’s playground sculptures. But come on. Who wouldn’t?
I’m thinking it’s about time they start making playable art for adults. Museums would be way more fun, am I right?
CalyRoad Creamery (227 Hildebrand Drive NE) is more than a cheese shop– Its gourmet cheeses are made on site and include feta, the camembert-style Way Point, chevre, and aged goat cheese. Right now, the location is expanding, but even in the midst of renovations, head cheesemaker Powell stopped what he was doing when we arrived and brought out everything they had in stock for us to sample.
Samples? Yes, please! Every cheese we tasted was delicious, but our favorites were the Little Stone Mountain cheese (back row on the right), an aged goat cheese with a rind dusted with ash, and the Way Point (front row on the right), an award-winning Camembert-style cheese. That said, there was no cheese we tasted that we didn’t like, and there was quite a heated discussion when it came time to decide which ones we were going to buy. Although CalyRoad Creamery is in a bit of disarray right now as they undergo expansion, they generally offer shipping, so check the website if you’d like to try some of their cheeses for yourself. (And trust me. You do.)
The cheese tasting reminded us of something very, very important — WE WERE STARVING.
Luckily, Rumi’s Kitchen (6112 Roswell Road) was right around the corner.
This Persian restaurant is a major Sandy Springs hotspot — It’s ranked number one on Trip Advisor. The place was bustling when we arrived, but Rumi’s Kitchen is roomy enough (sorry, couldn’t resist) to accommodate a whole lot of people, which is a very good thing when you’re traveling with kids and don’t want to wait for a table.
The most important thing to know about Rumi’s Kitchen is that you really shouldn’t leave Sandy Springs without eating here at least once. Everything about the place is top notch, from the attentive servers who are happy to explain the menu items and ingredients without making you feel like a boorish American who knows nothing about Persian cuisine to the airy and luxurious interior to the food. THE FOOD, y’all. It is magnificent.
Everyone loves the flatbread here, but what impressed me most was this small plate of olives, walnuts, fresh tarragon and mint, feta and radishes that came with it. Our server suggested we try different combinations of flavors with the bread, and that was fun for all of us.
My husband ordered the Lamb Kabob (Rumi’s is famous for their kabobs), mint and yogurt-marinated lamb sirloin served with lentil and raisin basmati rice, and it was very good, but I thought the kids’ lamb sliders were even better. The ultimate winner, though, was my Chilean Sea Bass.
Crisp and seared on the outside, tender and cooked just to the point of perfection inside, this was easily one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever tasted, and while the rice appears to dwarf the fillet in this photo, rest assured there was a LOT of rice and the sea bass was a sizable portion.
One suggestion for the budget conscious: Have lunch at Rumi’s Kitchen as opposed to dinner- The lunch menu is less expensive but still features all the dinner items in addition to some really delicious sandwiches.
After our feast, we needed to find a place to walk off some of the calories. Wouldn’t you know it, Sandy Springs has just the place for that.
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a series of federally protected sites along the Chattahoochee River — Three of them are in Sandy Springs, allowing opportunities for hiking, kayaking, fishing, inner tubing and even river rafting, all just a few minutes away from Atlanta’s city center.
We decided to hike the Island Ford Trail (1978 Island Ford Parkway), stopping first at the historic Hewlett Lodge to talk to the park rangers about our plans. I was so glad we ducked in before we got started — Not only did they give us a map and point out the path we wanted (you’ll see many trails as you drive to the Visitor Center), they also had Junior Ranger workbooks for the kids, and badges to give them when they completed the activities. This gave the kids a major incentive to complete the hike without complaint. Not that my kids ever complain. OH NO.
The workbook activities encouraged the kids to notice the plants and wildlife around them and taught them about the history of the river and surrounding land. They were learning without realizing they were learning! Mwah ha ha ha… I love tricking them.
The Island Ford Trail is just under a mile each way and borders an idyllic section of the Chattahoochee River, making it an ideal family hike. The trail starts right beside the Visitor Center — You can’t miss it. Get a map from one of the rangers so that you don’t lose your way.
As if the river isn’t enough, you’ll also come across several rocky overhangs that are perfect play caves for kids. They don’t go back very far, but it’s believed that Native Americans used them for shelter hundreds of years ago, and it’s easy to see why they would.
We finished our hike tired but happy and ready to rest for a few hours at our hotel. But first, we needed to make one more stop…
diAmano Chocolate (1100 Hammond Drive NE) is another can’t-miss stop on any visit to Sandy Springs. There’s something for everyone here, from truffles, barks, and caramels to novelty chocolates molded into just about every shape you can imagine — including, Pikachu, Star Wars characters, and even a lady-sized stiletto pump!
Once again, there was much agonizing among my family over what to buy– So. Many. Choices. My husband, daughter and I each chose two chocolates, which disappeared within minutes of their purchase.
At last, we were ready to return to the hotel for a nice long rest — something we’ve learned as a traveling family to always, always make time for — and then on to a late dinner at a new restaurant in Sandy Springs that’s been getting lots of buzz:
Il Giallo Osteria (5920 Roswell Road).
We’d made reservations in advance and were glad we did- The place was packed with people. Il Giallo is the newest restaurant from the masterminds behind the recently closed Veni Vidi Vici in Atlanta. Helmed by celebrity chef Jamie Adams, the new Sandy Springs restaurant has been earning raves from food critics across the city. But don’t let the sophisticated crowd and TV-friendly executive chef put you off — We found the service to be warm and friendly, and while there was no dedicated kids’ menu, there were plenty of dishes on the menu my children could easily share, my kids were treated with kindness and respect, and I was happy to note there were plenty of other children in the restaurant.
As for the food, the owners wisely decided to let the freshness of the pasta speak for itself by putting the pasta makers front row center outside the kitchen. These women worked throughout the evening to create pasta for all of the many dishes coming out of the kitchen. I loved getting the opportunity to show my kids how pasta is made- It’s not every day that we get to see this process!
My daughter and I are duck fans and were sad to learn that the kitchen had run out of Il Giallo’s most popular dish, ravioli filled with roasted duck, fontina, brown butter and sage. Instead, we ordered the popular lasagna matta with braised beef short rib, papardelle with Georgia shrimp, and pan fried veal parmigiana with tomato and mozzarella. Long story short: Everything was decidedly AMAZING. In fact, I’m just going to say right here and now that Il Giallo is my favorite Italian restaurant of all time. The shrimp were incredibly fresh and allowed to shine in the papardelle’s light, flavorful sauce. The veal was crisp on the outside, moist and tender within, and packed with flavor. The lasagna matta was our favorite, with a rich sauce that didn’t overpower but instead enhanced the noodles and melt-in-your-mouth beef short rib.
After splitting ricotta donuts and croissant bread pudding with salted caramel sauce and arguing over which was the most delicious, we were ready to roll each other out of the restaurant — and that’s when the maître d’ appeared, introduced himself to us and the kids, snapped his fingers, and like magic, chocolate gelato appeared from the kitchen before each child. My children were in awe. And as if that weren’t enough, he brought out Chef Jamie Adams to meet us.
These children were STARSTRUCK.
And I have to say, I was very impressed as well. Jamie Adams is not the temperamental, image-conscious type you imagine when you think of a chef who’s been repeatedly featured on national television. He’s incredibly kind and down to earth, and he seems to be in the kitchen supervising all that’s going on most of the time, judging by the reviews I’ve read from patrons. What impressed me most was that when Jamie came out, he immediately knew from where we were sitting exactly what we had ordered and he also knew we’d shared everything. How can a restaurant with this kind of hands-on executive chef not succeed?
Altogether, the service and the food and the attention made for a magical night, and as you know, any restaurant that can create this kind of family memory is solid gold. I am absolutely sure we’ll be back… mostly because I’m determined to try that duck ravioli!
Special thanks to Visit Sandy Springs for hosting our trip!