What to See and Do in Augusta, Georgia
A 24-hour guide to the Garden City.
A soft red light beckoned as I waited on the median of a bustling downtown street. The traffic light changed and I made my way towards a funky dive bar with a line of people waiting to get in. Midnight had come and gone by the time I passed through the entrance and I was greeted by a cavernous space full of fantastic music and people dancing on a mini-stage. As I stood at the bar admiring the vintage posters on the wall, an Augusta local who was showing me around town leaned over and said, “That’s the pool table James Brown used to play on.” I eventually settled into a cozy booth with my drink and took it all in. This was not the Augusta that I expected but it certainly was a pleasant surprise.
Like most, whenever I think of Augusta, Georgia, I picture one thing: The Masters. The annual golf tournament takes place every April at Augusta National Golf Club and is known as the sport’s most prestigious competition. The winner receives a green jacket and honorary membership to one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. I attended the final round of the tournament, my first time ever setting foot on the hallowed ground, and I will tell you that it is even more perfect than it looks on television. As memorable as that experience was though, I couldn’t help but think back to my previous 24 hours in the Garden City. I managed to cover quite a bit of ground and quickly realized that the city is so much more than well-manicured fairways, pimento cheese sandwiches and pastel polo shirts.
What I learned from talking with locals and visiting several museums is that Georgia’s second largest city has a diverse community, a vibrant nightlife scene and with several major projects on the horizon, an exciting future as well. Whether you’re lucky enough to score tickets to The Masters or not, Augusta is the secret Southern gem you’ve been looking for, and here are just a few of my favorite spots to check out while you’re there:
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a historic building with modern amenities, the Partridge Inn is where you want to be. Built in 1816, the hotel – known as the “P.I.” by locals – once hosted an extravagant gala for President Warren G. Harding. The property has changed hands a few times over the years but has maintained its charm and unique architectural elements throughout. Plus, the P.I. Bar and Grill on site has an amazing brunch and late-night cocktail selection.
Breakfast: 9 a.m. - 10 a.m.
Head down to Broad Street in downtown Augusta to visit The New Moon Café. The atmosphere is casual with indoor and outdoor seating but they take their menu seriously. Whether you go with a pastry in the display or a breakfast sandwich, you really can’t go wrong. The Downtown Mess was recommended to me, Augusta style of course, and it didn’t disappoint – a large bowl full of grits, avocado, pimento cheese, salsa, bacon and Cholula rarely does. Wash it all down with a cup of delicious coffee and you’re ready for the day.
Something to Read: 10:30 a.m.
After you feed your stomach, feed your mind by walking next door to The Book Tavern. This two-story independent bookstore houses new, used and rare books in a space that has that wonderful “book smell” you can only get in a place like this. Check their calendar of events when planning your trip to catch a reading by a special guest, and be sure to pick up something to read during your trip. You never know when you’ll find a shady spot under a magnolia tree.
History Lesson: 11 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Take a photo next to the life-size James Brown statue located in the center of Broad Street across from the Augusta Common Park, and then head over to the Augusta Museum of History nearby to learn more about Brown and the city of Augusta. I was lucky enough to go on a tour with Nancy Glaser, executive director of the museum, and I was blown away by the museum’s collection. Inside, you’ll find detailed displays ranging from Civil War relics to iconic golf memorabilia – including a green jacket on loan from Augusta National. The exhibit that attracts visitors from around the world though is the one that covers the life and legacy of the Godfather of Soul. Glaser and her team have curated a wide array of items that tell the story of Brown and his many accomplishments. From his albums, bedazzled outfits to even his comb, it’s all here and it’s a must-visit for anyone who is a fan of this Augusta native.
Lunch: 1 p.m. - 2 p.m.
Bodega Ultima is tucked away in Surrey Center, a shopping center near Westover Memorial Park, and is an ideal spot for lunch. Sit at the bar, grab a table inside or head out onto the patio if the weather permits and grab a cocktail while you’re at it – I recommend the Bloody Mary. The menu is Mediterranean-inspired but even if that’s not your thing, there’s something for everyone (I had the fire-smoked ham and turkey croissant). On your way out, grab a freshly brewed coffee and check out the mini-marketplace along the wall.
Natural Beauty: 2:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.
The South is known for its stunning vistas and Augusta is no exception. Head outdoors and spend your afternoon discovering why they call Augusta the Garden City.
First up is Phinizy Swamp Nature Park located just outside of Augusta. Visitors can spot a wide array of wildlife throughout the 1,100-acre park via guided swamp hikes and park tours. Admission is free and the park is open all year round.
For something a little more laid back, check out the Augusta Canal Discovery Center and go for a Petersburg Boat Tour afterward. The discovery center shines a light on how an ambitious canal project in 1845 transformed the city into an industrial powerhouse and how it has evolved into present-day use. Afterward, explore the Augusta Canal aboard a Petersburg Boat for a guided tour of notable landmarks along the banks.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Sheehan’s Irish Pub is my recommendation for dinner, but don’t expect authentic Irish cuisine – as odd as that may sound. The name is slightly deceiving as the menu features items like shrimp and grits and wood fire grilled pork chops, but the locals-only atmosphere and delicious entrees are worth overlooking this slight oddity. Make sure you have a reservation as the place fills up quick – especially during Masters week – and dessert is a must.
Drinks: 7:30 p.m. - Last Call
After a busy day, it’s time to let loose with a drink (or two). Up the street from Sheehan’s is a place called the Arsenal Tap Room + Kitchen. Craft beer lovers will rejoice at the extensive offering from seemingly every corner of the globe. For a strong cocktail, head over to Finch & 5th not too far away from Sheehan's either. This bistro serves lunch, dinner and brunch on the weekends, but it's also the perfect place for a nightcap – I suggest the Old Fashion Tomahawk.
If downtown is more your scene, head on over to The Soul Bar – the one with the billiards table James Brown used to play on I mentioned earlier. Grab a beer and hang out, but if the right song comes on, make sure you “Get On Up” and hit the dance floor.
Special thanks to Visit Augusta for their hospitality.