By April Schneider
The same thing happens every year in my house: The summer heat beats down on my family, and my kids complain of having nothing to do. Even though my daughter, Skye, is on the lacrosse team at her high school, and my son, Liam, plays basketball on his middle school team, once school’s out, they both devolve into couch potatoes. This year that changes. We’re leaving the house to cool down with some aquatic excursions.
Looking to find a place where we could combine active adventures outside with lazy relaxation by the water, I stumbled onto Eatonton, Georgia. Surrounded by Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee, this looked like the place for my family to enjoy a summer together.
My husband, Matt, packed the car with all the necessities for the trip—coolers, fishing poles, sunscreen—and it wasn’t long before we arrived at our Airbnb rental in Eatonton’s cute downtown. After the drive, we were all eager to stretch our legs, so it was time for a self-guided walking tour. The historic residential district is home to more than 100 antebellum and Victorian-era homes. We had a light stroll admiring some of them before heading to a nice—and exciting—dinner at The Rabbits Hole. This upscale restaurant serves great Cajun cuisine, and they have dueling pianos that endlessly entertained us the whole night. I couldn’t get enough of my chicken gumbo, and Matt’s crawfish etouffee was incredibly delicious. The kids learned they were huge fans of Cajun spices when they feasted on their Cajun chicken pasta and Cajun fried salmon bites.
On our first morning in Eatonton, we were up and eager to start the day. Matt pointed our car toward Lake Oconee, a 15-minute drive from our Airbnb accommodations in downtown Eatonton, but our first stop was brunch at Lake Oconee Bistro. I found this restaurant ahead of time while searching for a place that would be perfect for my Bloody Mary–loving husband. There was a full Bloody Mary bar waiting for us, with options to make a more modest drink or go all out and turn the beverage into a meal of its own. Skye and I both chose breakfast sandwiches, and Liam ordered Belgian waffles. Matt, however, tricked out his Bloody Mary, making it extra spicy and topped with a shrimp skewer.
After feeling good and full, we trekked across the street to start our fun on the water. Young Harris Watersports offers a variety of amazing boats and watercraft to enjoy an active and speedy adventure on the lake. We donned our life jackets and hopped on the tritoon boat—which had plenty of room for the four of us—and made wake as we headed to open waters. The views were incredible, with the smooth blue water perfectly reflecting the clear skies above and the seemingly endless shoreline stretching all around us dotted with quaint docks interspersed among the dense trees.
Matt brought the boat to a stop, and the kids climbed aboard the two-person inflatable tube. Matt gently upped the speed. “Faster, faster,” Skye and Liam chanted in unison while the nervous mom voice in my head was yelling to stop the boat. Of course, seeing the big smiles on their faces put me (mostly) at ease, and Matt was good about keeping the boat from going too fast. The water splashed up around them, and their whooping and hollering brought me so much joy.
After a few hours on the water, we docked the boat back at Young Harris Watersports and drove about 20 minutes to the Rock Hawk Effigy Mound. It was a short walk from the car to the site itself, and the adjacent viewing tower made it easy to get a bird’s-eye view of the historical monument. We learned that no one knows exactly who built it or why, but it was clearly a deliberate design of a hawk made out of stone thousands of years ago. A distinct lack of other artifacts led archaeologists to believe the mounds were built some distance from villages and may have been religious sites. The park is also home to many trails, and we took a stroll along one of them. Breathing in the fresh air as we wound our way underneath the tree canopy made us all feel a little closer to nature and the world around us.
With the evening came rumbling tummies. For dinner, we went to a local restaurant called The Silver Moon. Writing our name on the chalkboard out front made us feel like locals! I opted for the French fried shrimp special, Matt tucked into a 44 South Burger with pimento cheese and bacon jam, Skye ordered the fish and chips, and Liam feasted on Buffalo chicken tenders. All of us loved our meals, but after taking a bite of each, I think I had the best dish. With all of us filled with good food and great memories, it was a quick night to sleep.
We started our Sunday bright and early by driving to the other lake near Eatonton, Lake Sinclair, which is reputed to host some of the best fishing in the state, Matt drove us to a secluded cove along the shore, and we put in our lines. Skye and Matt often take fishing trips back home, but that’s mainly been a father-daughter activity. Let me tell you, Liam and I were definitely out of our element here. The two pros managed to catch quite a few good-looking spotted bass, Liam landed himself a smaller shoal bass, and I managed to snag a cute little bluegill. Since we were planning on eating these for lunch, Matt offered me one of his bass to make sure I had enough of a meal.
With our lunch caught, it was time to work off the kids’ energy at Oconee Springs Park on Lake Sinclair. With the sandy beach and all the folks lounging on towels under umbrellas, it almost felt like we had escaped to a popular beach along the ocean. Of course, the tree-filled shoreline and the lack of waves set this beach apart. Matt and I secured a nice spot on the sand while the kids ran into the water to play on the huge inflatables.
As I relaxed on the shore, watching Liam and Skye trying to keep their balance on the bobbing floating obstacle course, Matt said he was going to grill up our lunch. With my husband tending to one of the community grills at the park, I waded in to grab the kids. After we ate Matt’s expertly prepared fish, we were all eager to get back on the water. We rented a couple of kayaks at the park and had a serene paddle along the calm waters of Lake Sinclair. Liam kept directing our kayak to the winding coves and inlets along the shore, whereas I noticed Skye and Matt kept their journey in the more open waters. The scenery was just as gorgeous as it was that first day on Lake Oconee, but this time we had the gorgeous light show of the sun slowly setting behind the forest.
Before it got too dark, we paddled our kayaks back to Oconee Springs Park and made the drive to The Grill at Crooked Creek Marina, a casual, non-fussy spot for a bite right on the lake. For our last meal in Eatonton, I grabbed myself a shrimp po-boy sandwich, Matt—wanting to take a break from fish—ordered a steak Mediterranean rice bowl, Skye ordered shrimp tacos, and, since chicken tenders were on the menu, Liam got that. As we ate, we shared some of our favorite parts of our getaway, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that both kids wanted to come back and spend more time on the lake.