Come On Over To Augusta
By Joanne Hayes
Mention Augusta, and the Masters Golf Tournament held every April is the first thing that comes to mind. But there is much more to this blossoming city. Augusta was founded as a trading post during the British colonial period. Today it boasts a thriving medical community, a burgeoning arts and culture scene, dynamic recreation, unique eateries and fine cuisine, providing amusement year-round. Here is a must-do list of stops to make during your visit.
WHAT TO DO
A Historic Trolley Tour of Augusta’s downtown aboard the Lady Liberty explores antebellum homes on tree-lined streets, including the Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson. The tour also recounts the legend of the famous Haunted Pillar, a 10-foot-tall concrete column that stands at the corner of Broad and Fifth streets. The pillar was originally one of the columns that supported the Greek-style portico of a farmers market built in 1830. When a freak tornado struck downtown Augusta in February 1878, the entire market was destroyed, except for the one remaining column.
Enjoy a guided boat tour on the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, one of America’s oldest continually operating industrial canals. Built in 1845, the waterway played a major role in the birth of the Southern textile industry, the Civil War and the emergence of the “New South.” On a warm April day, spot herons, turtles and otters (and maybe the occasional alligator).
Visit the birds and wildlife of Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. Operated privately by Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, whose mission is to promote environmental stewardship, the park features 1,100 acres and 14 miles of hiking and biking trails.
WHAT TO SEE
Learn Augusta’s entire history through the permanent collections of the Augusta Museum of History, including the rockin’ “Godfather of Soul” James Brown exhibit and a History of Golf exhibit. The Museum is within walking distance of downtown and the Riverwalk, a brick-lined pedestrian-only road along the banks of the Savannah River.
The Morris Museum of Art is devoted to art and artists of the South. The focus of the permanent collection was established in 1989 with the purchase of 230 paintings from Dr. Robert Powell Coggins. In 1993, Coggins created a trust, donating another 958 works of art. MMA now houses more than 5,000 objects in all media, from the earliest days of the United States to the present.
Another famous Augustan, Miss Lucy Craft Laney, was an African-American educator remembered for her social activism; schools and buildings throughout the nation are named in her honor. The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History conveys her legacy through art, history and the preservation of her home. Permanent collections here give an overview of black Augustans’ contributions at local, state and national levels; rotating exhibits feature local artists and community leaders.
Built in 1897, the former Catholic church that is now Sacred Heart Cultural Center has been carefully restored to its original glory, boasting Victorian masonry, stained glass windows, and Italian marble altars. It is a popular venue for art exhibitions, concerts, festivals, weddings and more.
WHERE TO SHOP
Artists Row, established in 1994 as part of the revitalization of the Augusta Downtown Historic District, is a nonprofit organization supporting growth of the local creative community. Galleries, working studios, specialty shops, eateries and coffeehouses are flourishing here, with original works by local and internationally recognized artists.
Surrey Center is Augusta’s premier shopping, dining and entertainment destination just minutes from Augusta National. Situated at the corner of Highland Avenue and Berkmans Road, the open-air mall is home to national retailers such as Talbots as well as one-of-a-kind designer boutiques.
In Midtown Augusta pick up monster cookies at 2 Moms Cookies and artisan-roasted coffees at Buona Caffe, voted best in Augusta two years running. Launched in 2010 by husband and wife Pat and John Curry after years in journalism, their “hobby” has thrived. After receiving a Buona Caffe gift basket, First Lady Sandra Deal made it the official coffee that is served at the Governor’s Mansion.
WHERE TO EAT
Augusta is home to more than 300 restaurants, many winners of regional acclaim. Enjoy gastropub fare at Finch & Fifth, Mexican at Nacho Mama’s, international tapas at The Bee’s Knees, farm-to-table at Frog Hollow Tavern, and a bountiful breakfast at The Partridge Inn. For an after-dinner drink, head to Whiskey Bar. The Boll Weevil Café and Sweetery, on the Riverwalk, is the one place not to be missed, for its gigantic slices of cake big enough for two (or four). A sweet ending to a charming visit.
Warm or cold, rain or shine, I can’t wait to “Come on Over” again, to experience Augusta’s year-round Southern hospitality.