Augusta, Georgia, may be the holy grail of golf fanatics, but for decades the rest of the city wallowed in despondency, offering little for anyone else. Until now. In what’s got to be one of the nation’s most amazing rehabilitation stories, Georgia’s Second City is opening innovative restaurants and art galleries in old brick warehouses. Its canal has been cleaned up, offering a peaceful haven for boaters. It’s shaking off the cobwebs of obscurity with vigorous life. At long last, you don’t need to be a golfer to enjoy Augusta. Here are seven exciting things to check out.
The Godfather of Soul grew up in Augusta, overcoming poverty and segregation to become an international star … and he continues to be celebrated as a native son. The Augusta Museum of History has the world’s most comprehensive exhibit delving into the Man, the Music and the Legacy, with thousands of personal items on loan from his family. (The museum has plans to expand the exhibit to a first-floor extravaganza.) You can take a James Brown Family Historical Tour to visit related sites around town, spearheaded by his daughters who dredged up personal memories to create the itinerary; you’ll see the house where he grew up (a brothel run by his aunt), his lifesize statue (he was rather petite), the Imperial Theatre, where he rehearsed; and Deshawn’s Seafood, run by his son-in-law who sometimes will share a story or two.
The city’s revitalization is centered on this tree-shaded historic street, where artists paved the way in the nineties. Today, innovative restaurants south Southern flair include Farmhaus Burgers, Nacho Mama’s, Mellow Mushroom and Whiskey Bar Kitchen. Artisans work in studios and sell their works, including fine art, pottery, hand-crafted glass.
This pleasant, brick walkway along the Savannah River is a serene place to stroll. Stops include the Japanese Gardens, the Jesseye Norman Amphitheater where concerts take place in summer, and the popular Saturday farmer’s market, which sprawls onto the 8th Street Plaza and always includes good music and local seasonal farm goods including peaches, strawberries, and asparagus.
Nouveau Pimento Cheese.
You’ll find this novelty “food” throughout the South, but Augusta takes the most pride since it’s the signature sandwich at the Masters’ golf tournament (on sale for $1.50). You’ll find this concoction of cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos on menus throughout the city, including Whiskey Bar Kitchen’s burger with pimento cheese; Farmhaus’s sandwich with pimento cheese, pork belly and bacon jam; and WifeSaver, serving the old-fashioned version of pimento cheese as a side since 1965.
Everyone’s making craft beer these days, it seems. But not everyone comes from the Peach State and thinks of incorporating the sweet nectar into its brew. Augusta has two breweries, including River Watch—a mother-daughter enterprise that uses such local ingredients as peaches to flavor its swills. It’s not overwhelming—just a nice hint of southern yumminess.
For years Augustans had no idea the city even had a canal. And then developers wanted to take it away. There was a huge outcry, and the historic canal was saved. Today it’s a placid escape for kayakers, birdwatchers, and anglers. Runners, bikers and walkers take to the adjacent towpath. You can take a barge trip up and down its length, listening to a fascinating narrative of its history and natural wildlife (and see plenty of turtles along the way!); on some summer evenings the barge trip features live music, an idyllic way to enjoy a picnic dinner. An excellently curated museum along the canal provides a historical look.
When summers got too hot, Augustans escaped to Summerville, a hilltop neighborhood today filled with gorgeous Southern-style mansions. Most of the houses are private, though the Greek Revival-style Appleby Library and the Stephen Vincent Benét House are open for tours. The best place for a taste of yesterday, however, is the grandiose Partridge Inn, originally the site of George Walton’s home (one of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence). The open verandah is the perfect place to sip a cocktail and soak up the Georgia sunshine.