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Mom: Dunwoody offers the coolness of Atlanta without the hassle

“What in the world is in Dunwoody?” my friend asked, when I mentioned our family’s trip.

Previously, I equated Dunwoody with Perimeter Mall. Then, we discovered Treetop Quest, a zipline adventure park. We found fun food and original art. A mural with the words “Everything Will Be Okay” is their unofficial symbol, which fits this Atlanta suburb.

We avoided my main Atlanta complaint: driving! We bypassed the interstate until home. Our hotel was across from Georgia’s second largest mall, but even on Saturday, we never hit traffic. If you’re looking for a fun destination this Labor Day weekend or this fall, there are plenty of reasons to consider this family friendly destination.

A Sweet Suite

No parent enjoys stumbling in the dark after the kids’ bedtime, but for a family of five, a suite is necessary. We’ve tried other chains, and the Staybridge Suites (owned by Holiday Inn’s parent company) had more space and features. We had a two-bedroom apartment with a full-sized refrigerator. No overstuffed dorm fridge! The second full bath spoiled me for life.

Zipline Adventure

We left Friday morning for a noon appointment at the Treetop Quest location in Dunwoody’s Brook Run Park. My husband and oldest child rode a zipline at our church retreat, but the little sisters were too young, and I hate heights. Treetop Quest, though, was less intimidating. They offer six courses, from easy to difficult, in increasing height and distance.

Treetop Quest had small platforms built around trees, like mini-treehouses. The platforms connect zig-zags of obstacles and ziplines. It felt like Swiss Family Robinson meets Tarzan.

The required training settled my nerves. Even if you’re experienced, their European design has slight differences for safety. My 5-year-old completed the “Chickpea Course” for ages 4 to 6 with a guide. Four courses allowed ages 7 and up. My lanky 9-year-old glided through them like a wood sprite. The parents jostled due to extra weight. My tiny middle child’s cautious pace also caused wobbling.

We were nervous, but my middle child and I victoriously completed level 2B! It was tough for us, but we felt proud of what we accomplished. My two younger kids and I cheered for my 9-year-old and her dad on level 3, the most advanced course for her age. Two long, tall ziplines were the course finale. The last was about 200-feet long and 60-feet high. She was thrilled and wished she could do the 12-plus course.

Fees cover two hours, plus 30 minutes of training. Reservations save $2 per ticket. Advance tickets run $22 for ages four to six; seven to 11 is $32; 12 to 17 is $39, and adults are $49. Groups discounts are available.

Cowfish for Dinner?

The kids were bonkers for Cowfish, “a sushi and burger bar” located in Perimeter Mall. My husband was excited to get sushi, while his picky family ate burgers. Cowfish are real, and an aquarium exhibited this funny creature. The whimsical décor included a massive aquarium, pop culture posters and sculptures in colorful plastic blocks.

My husband and I giggled at the kids eating fries with chopsticks. Our appetizer was a yummy lobster and crab spring roll, and I had an awesome lamb burger. My husband drank local craft beer, and I tried a fusion cocktail. My husband ordered the Cowfish Bento Box: a slider, edamame, Thai cucumbers, and a choice sushi. My sushi connoisseur liked the flavor (not too spicy). They also did a great job managing our daughter’s tricky allergies. When we left, the kids declared it their new favorite restaurant.

Food, Play & More

Saturday, we returned to Brook Run Park for the farmer’s market. Though smaller than Greenville’s, their market is held in a grassy, tree-lined field, a nice change from Main Street’s asphalt. Live acoustic music, Watsonia peaches and a two meat and egg producers were there. While Upstate markets offer more produce, these sellers mainly produced homemade wares: baked goods, soap, even barbeque sauce by a Food Network kid champion. We love Jamaican food and found a curried chicken salad. An energy bar maker explained her process, so we could buy them for our allergic daughter.

In the shade, the girls ate King of Pops treats before visiting the playground, where they found a play water feature designed as a rocky creek to stay cool.

Next, we headed to the Spruill Center for the Arts by the library, which happened to be hosting a book sale. We hit the summer reading jackpot, and my husband scored out-of-print books by a favorite author. The center showed some art, but it mostly hosts classes. The main exhibit was at the Spruill Gallery by our hotel.

The Village Burger handled our allergy diet like a champ. A local favorite for decades, we saw lots of college kids home on break eating frozen custard under red umbrellas on the patio.

Next, we hit Alon’s for a picnic to eat that evening at Dunwoody Nature Center. Alon’s is a European-style bakery and market. Gourmet sandwiches, muffins, chocolate-covered banana bites, and assorted macarons filled our bag.

The Nature Center suggested several projects. My tween privately wrote a nature poem. All three loved scrubbing rocks with toothbrushes. A toy that played bird calls taught us the noise in our yard is a barn owl. Thunderstorms pulled us away before a campfire and smores.

Contemporary Art in a Historic Space

The Spruill Gallery was a fun substitute. A historic home, converted into a gallery, the site has two rustic outbuildings and a sculpture garden. The “Everything Will Be OK” mural piece rests against a log cabin. The main house still features fireplaces and wood floors. Old house lovers may enjoy the nearby Cheek-Spruill House and the Donaldson-Bannister Farm.

Front rooms held high-end paintings and sculptures. The back rooms showed affordable jewelry, pottery small paintings, and handmade scarves and purses. Ceramic fortune cookies stood out. You could get curly, clay “fortunes” with messages like, “Say No to Negativity.” A gift shop had funky magnets and local souvenirs.

In the sculpture garden, a wire-framed ballerina “dances” among colorful metal flowers. When we left, my oldest jokingly bid sweet farewell to a massive black widow spider.

Shopping Highlights

Perimeter Mall has grown up since I shopped there the late 90s. Back then, it was like Haywood mall. Several additions later, it’s now the second largest mall in Georgia. Retailers not found in the Upstate, like The Container Store and Henredon, surround the area. Nordstrom and Von Maur are two of the mall’s anchors. Shop for decor at Sur La Table and Z Gallerie, clothes at H&M and Windsor, and cakes at Carlo’s Bake Shop of Food Network fame. Want more? A MARTA train station can carry shoppers downtown to Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza. We skipped – I can’t afford Gucci!

Lolli & Pops, a novelty candy store, was fun. We accidentally tortured our children by arriving before the mall opened. They peered into the façade of old-fashioned window panes, like a candy store in the movies. Behind the glass, we saw a tower of swirly lollipops and case of colorful marzipan and petit fours. The astonishing gummy section featured oddball novelties like pizza and burgers, plus animals like long snakes. A huge assortment of chocolate bars included one with fruit ring cereal. The store encourages customers to choose samples. After tasting chocolate clusters with coconut and with caramel pretzels, I selected fancy truffles and macarons. The kids’ got rainbows of sugar, with watermelon gummies and crazy-flavored jelly beans as favorites.

The Disney Store stunned my girls with Star Wars merchandise. My youngest daughter squealed for a “Dark Vader” costume and pleaded for a Chewbacca jacket. Despite claiming she’s “not into princesses,” my middle child loved the playhouse castle. Meanwhile, my tween surprised me by eyeing a costume with kimono details and jewel tones.

The bottom line: Dunwoody says “Everything will be OK,” but our visit was more than just “OK.”

You can go

Dunwoody is located 10 miles outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more by visiting