Sometimes the best trips are those close to home [for us it's Georgia] Even though I travel around the country on a regular basis, I always relish the trips that are within a few hours drive from home.
More than just an annual gathering for golf lovers for the Masters and a “pass-through” to Charleston, Augusta has become a vacation hot spot. When I arrived, I quickly realized that Augustans have worked hard to work against these stereotypes and prove the typical naysayer wrong.
Over the last few years, this once-sleepy town on the Savannah River has become a vibrant bed of activity with a revitalized downtown that features the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a downtown attraction that features a path that runs along the river and a modern amphitheater.
While Riverwalk is Augusta’s main attraction, there is much more. As a music lover, I enjoyed James Brown Boulevard which features a statue of the music legend. Just seeing this replica of Brown reminded me of the time I literally bumped into to the Godfather of Soul. I said, “Hi” and he replied with his trademark, “Ha!” behind his dark sunglasses.
Just around the corner from James Brown Boulevard is the Augusta Museum of History and the Children’s Discovery Museum. Both are impressive attractions for families. My 9-year-old daughter was especially wowed by the children’s museum’s hands-on exhibits. That visit gave her the energy to explore more of Augusta.
After viewing the history museum you might be inspired to go over President Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home. While walking through this well-preserved structure with a tour group, I was taken back in time. These feelings came to me the most when I was in the home’s study. This was where Rev. Wilson, the future president’s father, read to his kids on the floor. I could just envision him lying on the floor with pillow propping him up. Another vivid reminder of the past is an etching that the young Wilson, also known as Tommy, carved into a window.
There are other structures that Augusta has preserved including Meadow Garden near the Wilson home. Meadow Garden was the home of George Walton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
To experience history and nature, visit the Augusta Canal which is a few minutes from downtown. The Augusta Canal is a working industrial waterway that invites visitors to canoe, kayak and even fish. I hopped on one of the tour boats offered here. The informative tour operator told us about the people who built the canal as we waved to fellow canal enthusiasts and walkers and cyclists on the path that runs parallel to the waterway. Tours start at a refurbished mill where you may view a short film about the canal and visit its museum and gift shop. Canal tour tickets are available here. You may choose from a Daily One Hour, Sunset or Family Fun Float tour.
For a weekend or weeklong trip, Augusta is kid-friendly, affordable and easy to navigate.
Gainesville is great
On a weekend jaunt, I wanted to get away from it all, but not go too far. “Let’s do Gainesville,” my wife said. “That’s not much of a quick getaway,” I replied.
After conceding to my wife’s request, I was on the road for the long trek north. We went up I-985 in search of the Elachee Nature Center. After negotiating the route, we were pleasantly surprised by this natural oasis. This nature center includes a museum that has environmental and live animal exhibits. While she enjoyed the displays that pay homage to the environment, Caitlin was more impressed with the Astronomy Hall.
After viewing the neo-tropical birds and Red Tailed Hawks in the center’s aviary, we hit one of Elachee’s hiking trails. As we met other visitors on the trail, we were appreciating all that nature has to offer in the peaceful setting.
As we drove away from the center, I noticed a set of cyclists getting ready to do some mountain biking. As a regular cyclist myself, I was quite jealous, but hungry at the same time. We decided to head into the town square. Since this was a weekend in the early part of the year, not many shops and restaurants were open on this historic area. After walking around, we settled on the Monkey Barrel restaurant and bar. This hole-in-the-wall hit the spot for all of us. Pizzas, calzones, pastas and sandwiches populate the menu. I settled on the Philly Sandwich and Tater Tots while Caitlin devoured a plate of pasta.
Indeed it is tough to believe, but Gainesville is a getaway up the road. After a few hours here, you hardly realize that you didn’t travel far.
Barnsley Gardens. a nice splurge
If you are willing to splurge for a luxurious overnight stay, look into Barnsley Gardens Resort. This North Georgia hideaway in Adairsville near I-75 is offering great packages. The Woodlands Retreat package for rooms, suites or cottages includes a one-night stay with a bottle of wine, dinner and breakfast in the morning. Other packages include a Spa Retreat, Golf Getaways, Luxury in the Country or Build Your Own Barnsley Gardens Getaway.
Whether you’re looking to take a quick, cheap trip up the road or are willing to spend a little for luxury, Georgia has a lot to offer.
Special to us by Robert J. Nebel, publisher of the online travel blog Menstraveler.com
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