By Nick Fortuna
Georgia may be known as “the peach state,” but every March, nature gives it another claim to fame: beautiful cherry blossoms that draw thousands of visitors. The Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival is set for March 21-22, followed by the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon from March 27 to April 5. Both annual events are being held for the 39th time.
Georgia also has another tourist draw this month: the 13th annual Shamrock City event, a celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, at the Rock City attraction in Lookout Mountain. That event runs March 14-15 and 21-22.
Here’s a quick look at all three events:
International Cherry Blossom Festival
This festival has grown from three days to 10 and now features hundreds of events, geared toward attendees of all ages, with more than 80% of them free. There will be amusement-park rides, including a Ferris wheel, and a carnival atmosphere each day and night at Central City Park. Admission is free for kids 10 and younger and $5 for everyone else. Rides cost extra.
The festival kicks off March 27 with Pasta on Poplar, a harvest-table Italian dinner under the stars in downtown Macon’s Poplar Park. Reservations are required and can be made at cherryblossom.com.
Wiener dogs will race down Cherry Street on Saturday morning, March 28, followed that afternoon by the Bed Race, in which teams push a hospital bed, carrying a “patient,” down the street. The black-tie Cherry Blossom Ball, which honors the food and culture of a different country each year, will be held that night and will celebrate Mexico. Later that evening, the popular Atlanta party band Bobby and the Aristocats will perform. Reservations are required.
The Cherry Blossom Parade is Sunday, March 29, featuring colorful floats, marching bands, an F-15 jet flyover and this year’s grand marshal, Spider-Man. Later, it’s family movie night on the lawn of Wesleyan College, featuring “Frozen 2.” Pack a picnic for this free event, or enjoy food options from vendors. There will be free activities for kids before the movie.
There’s also free soda, ice cream, doughnuts and carriage rides at Third Street Park each weekday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and on Founders Day, Monday, March 30, Mrs. Griffin’s BBQ Sauce will be serving free barbecue sandwiches while they last.
New this year is ice skating, a hypnotist show and a daily high-dive show, all free.
Kids will want to attend the Tunes and Balloons Festival Finale on Sunday, April 5, at Middle Georgia State University. There will be live music by the Macon Pops, inflatable bounce houses, tethered hot air balloon rides for $10 each and a fireworks finale. Kids 10 and younger get in free, and everyone else pays $5. Bring a lawn chair and a packed cooler.
Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival
The theme of the festival, held at Georgia International Horse Park, is “Pinkalicious,” and attendees are encouraged to wear the cherry-blossom colors of pink and green. There will be live entertainment, cultural performances, arts and crafts exhibits, food courts and a children’s area. The food courts offer international treats and the typical festival fare, while the large, interactive children’s area will include rock walls, obstacle courses and the return of puppet master Peter Hart.
Main attractions this year include percussionist Steve Gryb, the Ultimate Air Dog Show and country artists Aaron Hudgins and Kaitlyn Baker. New to the festival is the Blurscape Virtual Reality Trailer, a self-contained unit providing free virtual-reality play. The entertainment schedule is available at www.conyerscherryblossomfest.com.
Attendees with the best outfits, decorated strollers, wagons and other creative displays featuring cherry-blossom colors may win prizes if spotted by judges roaming the festival plaza. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free with $5 daily parking or an $8 weekend parking pass.
During Shamrock City, everything is green, including the waterfall, at Rock City, a 14-acre natural attraction with unique rock formations and gardens atop Lookout Mountain. The event will celebrate Irish culture with food, drinks, live entertainment and themed activities for all ages each day from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Swing by the Pot of Gold Pavilion for traditional and contemporary Irish, Scottish, Celtic and Highlands music by artists such as Stringer’s Ridge, Butch Ross on the dulcimer, The Molly Maguires, Olta, The Wolfhounds and harpists Ellen Shiraef and Rachel Payne. Members of the Chattanooga Pipe Band will roam the gardens playing Irish tunes, and guests can learn the Irish jig or watch Irish dancing.
New Irish food this year includes Dublin coddle, filled with potatoes, onions and sausage, at the pavilion, and the roasted broccoli Reuben at Café 7, where visitors also can try loaded Irish nachos or a corned beef grilled cheese sandwich. Other favorites include corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, mint milkshakes, Irish-themed ice cream flavors and green kettle corn.
Kids will enjoy activities like panning for gold, geode digs and caricature art.