IF YOU KNOW AUGUSTA ONLY FOR ITS GOLF REP, YOU’RE MISSING A WORLD OF HISTORY, SOUTHERN CHARM, ARTS & CULTURE, AND — MMM — GREAT FOOD.
AUGUSTA IS KNOWN worldwide for the venerable Masters Golf Tournament it hosts each spring, but Georgia’s Garden City is often overlooked for four-season travel, overshadowed by the sweet sorcery of Savannah and Atlanta’s New South sparkle.
As one of Georgia’s oldest and largest cities, it has more to show and tell than what’s seen in its annual April star turn. Globally recognized golf is impressive but so is presidential history, pop culture, oodles of outdoor recreation and comfort-meets-city cuisine. Time for Augusta to step center stage.
Augusta (population: 200,000) is on the banks of the Savannah River and 150 miles east of Atlanta. It’s an easy 2.5 hours from both beach and mountains. The region, in which the city straddles the South Carolina border, is home to a hefty half-million people.
History, hallelujahs and heads of state
Augusta, established in the early 1700s, even had a brief stint as Georgia’s capital and has nine neighborhoods on the National Register of Historic Places.
You can visit President Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home here and learn about our 28th president. Two founding fathers — George Walton and Lyman Hall — signers of the Declaration of Independence, are buried here. A towering monument holds their remains, their lives remembered along with a third signer, whose body has never been found. Button Gwinnett, briefly Georgia’s provisional president, was killed in a 1777 duel fueled by political differences when a rival called him a “rascal and a scoundrel.”
Springfield Baptist Church is one of the oldest established African-American churches in the country and is open, by appointment, for tours.
The city that birthed music superstar James Brown hasn’t forgotten him. He has a life-size bronze statue downtown and — if you feel good about it — try the James Brown cam there. It takes your photo with the Godfather of Soul and sends it to your cellphone within minutes.
Golf, of course
In 2009, Golf Digest magazine named Augusta National, site of the Masters since 1934, the No. 1 course in the world. It’s as expensive as it is exclusive. You can’t play at this private club unless you’re a member or a member’s guest. Until 2012, you couldn’t join if you were a woman.
There’s a waiting list for memberships ($25,000-$50,000), so if it’s golf you seek, try Augusta’s River Golf Club. The 18-hole course on the Savannah River has hosted qualifying rounds for the U.S. Open and mini-tour championships.
The river region overflows with everything from kayaking the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area to paddleboarding at Savannah Rapids Park. Cole Watkins Tours and Rentals can help you take on Betty’s Branch, a Savannah River tributary with a particularly challenging route around wildlife-abundant Germany Island.
The canal’s Petersburg Boat Tours highlight 19th-century textile mills, the Confederate Powder Works and two of Georgia’s only remaining 18th-century houses. The 90-minute nighttime Music Cruise features everything from blues to bluegrass and lets you bring your own refreshments aboard.
If you prefer to stay on land, pack a picnic and head to Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, an ecological paradise where you can bike and hike. The wide, level towpath of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area is popular with hikers, cyclists and runners.
More advanced riders might seek out the Forks Area Trail System (FATS), with more than 20 miles, six trails and nighttime trail riding.
The 1,600-seat Jessye Norman Amphitheater — named for the renowned Augusta-born opera singer — is among the attractions on the Augusta Riverwalk. You’ll also find restaurants, museums and a playground. The outdoor theater, which hosts events year-round, provides amazing views of the Savannah River.
Sip and sup
The Garden City has some 300 restaurants, so you won’t go hungry. The Buona Caffé coffee shop roasts its own beans and considers brewing an art form. Its custom-made Harvest Blend is the official coffee at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.
Boll Weevil Café, iconic for its soulful dishes and indulgent, eight-layer-tall desserts, is a Riverwalk favorite. The chic Finch & Fifth is known for its customized charcuterie plates and craft cocktails. Have your own oyster-paloooza at Abel Brown, known for intricate entrees and bivalves of every sort.
Farmhaus, an artisanal burger spot, lets diners construct their own meals from locally sourced farms and pair them with boozy shakes and floats that come in Mason jars. The Bee’s Knees serves light bites and tapas using local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients served with carefully constructed cocktails.
The Partridge Inn (est. 1910) was the first Georgia hotel welcomed into the Historic Hotels of America fraternity. Views of the city, lovely verandas and high-ceilinged guest rooms make your stay singularly Southern.
The Olde Town Inn is another option. The intimate, historically appointed bed-and-breakfast is near Augusta nightlife and connected to the Fox’s Lair, an underground bar with live music.
The Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center (and its 372 guest rooms) were renovated in 2016. Its central downtown location is within walking distance of restaurants and attractions.
- Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home. 419 Seventh St. 706.722.9828. Details: www.wilsonboyhoodhome.org.
- James Brown statue. 836 Reynolds St. Details: https://www.visitaugusta.com/listing/james-brown-statue/266/.
- Signers Monument. Greene and Monument streets, 706.724.0436. Details: http://www.exploregeorgia.org/listing/4144-signers-monument.
- Springfield Baptist Church. 114 12th St., 706.724.1056. Details: https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/augusta/springfieldbaptists.html
- Abel Brown Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar. 491 Highland Ave., 706.738.6491. Details: http://www.abelbrownaugusta.com.
- Bee’s Knees. Light bites, cocktails and tapas. 211 10th St., 706.828.3600. Details: http://www.beeskneestapas.com
- Boll Weevil Café. Classic Southern dishes and indulgent desserts. 10 James Brown Blvd., 706.722.7772. Details: http://www.thebollweevil.com.
- Buona Caffé. Artisan coffee. 1858 Central Ave., 706.869.4074. Details: http://www.buonacaffe.com/.
- Farmhaus. Build a burger. Add a Farmarita, boozy shake or float.466 Flowing Wells Road, 706.496.2846. Details: http://www.farmhausburger.com.
- Finch & Fifth. Customized charcuterie plates and craft cocktails. 379 Highland Ave., 706.364.5300. Details: http://www.finchandfifth.com.
- The River Golf Club. 307 Riverside Blvd., 803.202.0110. Details: http://www.rivergolfclub.com.
- Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center. Starts at $132 per night. 2 10th St., 7706.722.8900. Details HERE.
- Olde Town Inn. 349 Telfair St., 706.828.5600. Details: https://www.oldetowninnaugusta.com.
- The Partridge Inn. Begins at $248 per night. 2110 Walton Way, 706.737.8888. Details HERE.
- Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. Canal boats, kayaks or on Pedal Thru the Past rides. 1450 Greene St., 706.823.0440. Details: http://augustacanal.com.
- Augusta Riverwalk. The city’s front porch. 4 Eighth St., 706.821.1754. Details: https://www.visitaugusta.com/things-to-do/attractions/riverwalk/.
- Cole Watkins Tours and Rentals. $30-$50 per person or 24-hour rentals. Details: http://www.colewatkinstours.com or 706.840.0433.
- Forks Area Trail System (FATS). Twenty miles from Augusta, just inside the South Carolina border. Details: https://sorbacsra.org/index.html or 864.333.3478, Ext. 1186.
- Petersburg Boat Tours. Check out the nighttime music cruise. $25; 706.823.0440, Ext. 4. Details: https://augustacanal.com/boat-tours.php.
- Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. Free admission and parking year-round. 1858 Lock and Dam Road, 706.828.2129. Details: http://phinizycenter.org.
- Savannah Rapids Park. 3300 Evans to Locks Road, Martinez, Ga., 706.868.3349. Details HERE.