Augusta, GA, situated on the Georgia and South Carolina border, is best known as the location of the annual Masters golf tournament. It turns out there’s a little more to this city than that. Here’s what I learned in a just under 24-hour visit.
James Brown - The Godfather of Soul - is all over downtown. There are murals, street names, arenas and statues in his honor. When he was four or five James Brown and his family moved to Augusta and settled in one of his aunt’s brothels. It was here that he began singing in talent shows and performing buck dances to entertain troops from Camp Gordon. There’s a bronze statue of the music legend downtown. It depicts him mid-career and captures him as so many remember him on stage. Before leaving on world tours, Mr. Brown and his band, the Sound Generals, would rehearse at the Imperial Theatre, which is located downtown. It's also where he held his toy giveaways to needy children at Christmas, a tradition which continues in his honor today. James Brown recorded his live album, Sex Machine, at Augusta's Bell Auditorium. Later renamed The James Brown Arena, it continues to be a popular concert venue.
James Brown wasn’t the only famous person to grow up in Augusta; the 28th president of the United States did as well. Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home is a block or two south of downtown. It was there that he grew up during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He lived next door and was childhood friends with Joseph Rucker Lamar, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by William Taft. The houses have been turned into museums and tours are offered to the public.
The downtown, which is larger than one might expect, seems to have passed it’s prime. Wide boulevards with lovely tree-lined medians divide the streets, which sadly have a lot vacant retail space, but the shops that had been filled seemed to do a good business. We ate dinner at The Bee’s Knees, a local, seasonal and sustainable tapas restaurant. I recommend making a reservation for dinner as the dining room was full and we ended up eating at the bar. We had the tempeh wings, kimchi cheesy rice balls and Asian BBQ tacos. All three were delicious, but the tacos really knocked it out of the park. Although we didn’t imbibe they also offered an extensive drink menu including craft cocktails and had several craft beers on tap.
For breakfast, we ate at the New Moon Café. Located across from what looked like a cool bookstore that was unfortunately closed, we ordered the egg scrambler bowl, lumberjack breakfast, a coffee and a specialty drink, the Tim Curry, a delicious curry latte that tastes like liquid gingerbread. Coincidentally our table marker was also a picture of Tim Curry. As both the cashier and our waiter excitedly pointed out, “This has never happened!” (If you don’t know who Tim Curry is, please watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show) The drink was delicious, and the breakfast was pretty great too.
Downtown is just one block from the Savannah River, which serves as the border between Georgia and South Carolina. After breakfast, we made our way to the waterfront. There was a path where you could run or bike, which was being frequented. On Saturday morning they have a farmer’s market with homemade soaps, crafts and local produce for sale. There was a regatta on the river, and it just so happened to be that Space Coast Crew was competing. It’s a small world.
We stayed at the Partridge Inn, a grand mansion dating from 1836. It’s part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, a soft brand within the Hilton Worldwide Collection that are supported by Hilton, but maintain their own individual branding. Located across the street from the Augusta Country Club and three miles from downtown, the hotel was very nice and clean. It had an upscale restaurant, the PI Bar and Grill, on site and a roof top bar, which we didn’t check-out because it was 38 degrees, which is too cold for Floridians!
On our way out of town we stopped to bike at the Fork Area Trail System (FATS). Located on the South Carolina side not far out of town, this area consists of six individual loops located in the Sumter National Forest. Mountain biking there was a challenge for a novice Floridian. Having time to do just one, we chose the “Skinny” six-mile trail. Described as “best for beginners”, it was a blast. While there was not much sustained climbing, there were a lot of roots to hop and drops to conquer. I have a feeling we’ll be back to check out the remaining five.
Overall, I think a one-and-done trip to Augusta is enough. If I make it back, I’d like to check out the minor league baseball team, the Augusta GreenJackets, an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, and do some more mountain biking.