Photo: Hudson Hintze

While Sandy Springs sits about 20 miles north of the heart of Atlanta, it is quickly gaining its own reputation as a leading art and cultural center in the region. To understand why this community is making such an impact, just head to the center of town.

Near the middle of Sandy Springs, locals and visitors gather at City Springs, a 14-acre hub where a performing arts center and outdoor sculpture exhibit surround a programmable greenspace. Placed intentionally at the geographic center of town, City Springs sends a strong message that art and culture are core elements of life here.

More than a bedroom community to Atlanta, Sandy Springs has become a destination to experience the arts in every form. From live theater and live music, to exhibits with paintings and sculptures, creativity flows throughout the city.

If you’re passionate about the arts and you’re in the Atlanta area, make some time to visit Sandy Springs in the northern region of Metro Atlanta. You might be surprised at what you can experience beyond the center of the great metropolis. To help you make the most of your visit, we’ve highlighted several things you should be sure to experience on your next trip.

See a Show

They say that the heart of a city is its downtown area. If you visit the brand new downtown of Sandy Springs, be sure to catch a performance at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. It’s home to the impressive 50,000-square-foot Byers Theatre, which hosts a diverse range of plays and musical performances. In the more intimate Studio Theatre, which seats about 350 people, you can see smaller productions, family-oriented shows, concerts and even stand-up comedy.

Before or after the performance, stroll around City Springs, and enjoy a variety of dining options, bench swings overlooking City Green and a playable fountain for the kids.

Long before Sandy Springs entered its modern era of growth, hometown playhouse Act3 Productions offered the community thought-provoking performances as well as instruction for local artists. Act 3, a nonprofit organization, has built a strong following over the years with its rich mix of comedies, tragedies, and holiday-oriented shows. If you want to see top-notch performers in a small setting, definitely include Act 3 in your plans.

If your passion is music—particularly jazz—put Cafe 290 on your nighttime itinerary. For 25 years, Cafe 290 has welcomed to its stage the best local jazz performers as well as top jazz musicians from around the country. Locals would argue that no cultural tour of Sandy Springs is complete without a little juke and jive.

To sample more of the local music scene, make your way to Darwin’s Burgers and Blues. At this hole-in-the-wall joint, you can sink your teeth into a tasty burger and enjoy blues music just about every night of the week.

Spend Time Outdoors

While the theaters, restaurants, and clubs in Sandy Spring offer a taste of local culture, to experience the place to its fullest you really need to head outdoors. One thing locals prize is the opportunity to spend time outdoors and enjoy the fresh air. In town, you can explore some 900 acres of green space that includes not only City Springs, but also Heritage Green outside the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum. It has 14,000 square feet of green space where people gather to enjoy music, plays, and even outdoor movies.

If you visit Sandy Springs between May and September, bring a blanket or lawn chair to Heritage Green and take in the Concerts by the Springs. During these family-friendly gatherings, you can relax on the lawn and enjoy some great live music.

Another entertaining open space—especially for kids—is the Playable Art Park at the Abernathy Greenway. This six-acre linear park has a half-dozen art installations that kids can climb and swing on. Even if you don’t have kids in tow, it’s a nice escape, as you can stroll on the walking paths, find shade beneath pavilions, and stop at picnic tables for a snack or lunch.

To understand why the outdoors is so important to people in Sandy Springs, you have to look to the Chattahoochee River, which flows along the town’s western edge. Its rushing waters have always provided a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life, and people go there to fish, kayak, and just take a peaceful hike along the river bank. One of the best ways to explore the river is to spend a day at Morgan Falls Overlook Park. While you’re there, hike the trails, have a picnic, or launch a kayak or canoe. If you’re into stand-up paddleboarding, this is also an excellent opportunity to enjoy some still water.

In Sandy Springs, the appreciation for nature and the outdoors even extends to the fine arts. To celebrate the role nature plays in people’s lives, Sandy Springs is launching a sculpture display with the theme “Inspired. By nature.” The city’s ArtSS in the Open event invites artists to submit proposals for sculptures to be displayed around City Green throughout the year. Each year the city will purchase one of the sculptures on display to add to its growing public art collection.

Experience the Cultural History

While the outdoors is a significant theme in Sandy Springs, another social focus is history, including life in the 1800s. At the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum, you can glimpse what life was like in Sandy Springs in the 1860s. The museum sits in the historic Williams-Payne house, which was constructed more than 150 years ago and features five galleries with permanent and changing exhibits that highlight the town’s history, its people, and historical events.

If you’re interested in World War II history, be sure to visit the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, which is headquartered in Sandy Springs. The organization hosts regular exhibits aimed at preserving the memory of the Holocaust, including “Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945,” which features more than 500 photographs chronicling the young Jewish girl’s time hiding from Nazis in Amsterdam. The exhibit is recommended for kids in 5th grade or older.

Attend the Festivals and Special Events

During February, the city participates in one of the largest Jewish film festivals in the world. Drawing nearly 40,000 people, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival showcases Jewish films and productions that are presented in venues around Atlanta, including City Springs. Before and after some of the screenings, you can engage with filmmakers, authors, and critics during Q&A sessions.

When spring arrives, the Sandy Springs “Take It to the River!” Lantern Parade really brings the town to life as people parade through the streets with fanciful puppet lanterns depicting all sorts of creatures, from swans to alligators. When the procession reaches the Chattahoochee River, paddlers take some of the lanterns onto the water to create a floating parade of lights. If you’re planning a visit now, aim for late April to get in on the fun.

April is also a time when the streets of Sandy Springs are filled with arts and crafts vendors during Artsapalooza. More than 150 artisans from the city and surrounding region set up shop for two days to sell their creations and entertain the public with live performances and interactive art stations.

With the approach of summer, food festivals take center stage in Sandy Springs. During the Food That Rocks festival in June, some of the city’s best restaurateurs serve their tastiest creations at City Green. It’s a great chance to sample local flavors and enjoy beer and cocktails as you listen to music from DJs and area bands.

While Food That Rocks is only for adults 21 and older, the Strawberry Festival in June is perfect for the whole family, especially kids. A $20 ticket gets kids an “all-day, all-you-can-play” wristband with access to a rock climbing wall, pony rides, bounce houses, and several stations for crafts and games. For adults, there’s a Beer and Wine Garden, and the whole family can enjoy performances by local musicians and theater groups.

In the fall, the fun continues with the Sandy Springs Festival, a two-day event that draws some 20,000 people. Created to strengthen ties among members of the community, it includes a Battle of the Bands and other live music and cultural performances, a chalk art competition, a pet parade, and 5K and 10K races.

Try a Few Local Foods

Few things define a region like its local foods. While events provide convenient opportunities to sample many flavors, you can also visit local food producers, like Robin Schick and her sister Cathy Lynn of CalyRoad Creamery. Located in the heart of Sandy Springs near Heritage Green, CalyRoad is one of Georgia’s first micro-creameries. Since 2009, the sisters have been creating artisan cheeses, and they welcome the public to visit and participate in tours, tastings, and wine pairings.

One of the benefits of being in the South is the access to fresh fruits and vegetables. From April to September, and October through December, you can pick up locally grown foods at the weekly HSS Farmers' Market. It’s not only the perfect opportunity to get healthy produce, but also a chance to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee while chatting with locals and enjoying music from local artists.

Whether you’re mingling with folks at the farmers’ market, listening to live blues, or viewing great works of art, you’ll get a sense that Sandy Springs is a special place. From the banks of the Chattahoochee to the green lawns in the heart of the city, it offers fantastic opportunities to get outside to pursue healthy lifestyles and build connections with others. At the same time, the town has attracted people from many cultures, and their artwork, music, and food give the city a special vibe. If you want to see how Southern culture is becoming more vibrant and diverse, just head north of Atlanta to a place called Sandy Springs.

Written by Clay Duda for Matcha in partnership with Sandy Springs GA.