Augusta, Georgia, is the epicenter of the sports world every April, when the planet’s finest golfers converge at Augusta National Golf Club for the Masters. For a week, the town erupts in concerts, cool restaurant events and the occasional Tiger sighting. But the excitement doesn’t stop once the tournament ends.
During the summer, especially, Augusta (which sits approximately two hours east of Atlanta) shows that it’s made of much more than birdies and chip shots. With exciting restaurants, attractions and cultural happenings, Augusta is ready to prove that it can score in the summer and fall just as well as it does in early spring.
With a vital Army base (Fort Gordon) and a median household income that Forbes says is just over $51,000, Augusta proudly wears its working-class distinction. So, where the city lacks in higher-end lodging, it makes up for with family-friendly suites and mid-level accommodations. But when you do want to splurge, the recently renovated Partridge Inn is a local institution.
Just 85 miles from downtown Augusta is The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee. A sensible escape from the mayhem of Masters Week (or any other time, really), the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star getaway is a hit for adults (five golf courses), children (infinity pool, quaint beach) and everyone in between (tennis, water sports). Seasonal promotions — the Ultimate Father’s Day Weekend Package includes custom-built golf clubs, a sunset boat ride, a three-night cottage stay and much more — make the lakeside resort even more appealing.
The Food and Drinks
As locals say, being the home of the Masters has its pluses and minuses. One downside is that when outsiders think of the local cuisine, conversations sometimes include pimento cheese sandwiches. And while those Augusta National staples have their place, the city’s overall culinary scene is quite a bit tastier. But when you think about how the destination has one bare foot squarely planted in the deep South and another wearing galoshes near the Atlantic coast, all the flavors start to make sense.
For proof of the city’s love affair with seafood, visit Abel Brown Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar. The 2014 eatery welcomes you with a clean, soft color palette, an amicable staff and a menu filled with smoked fish charcuterie, white shrimp and grits, and fresh oysters. Pair your lobster roll with a crisp chardonnay and you’ll swear you’ve been swept away to a restaurant in coastal Carolina.
If you have a hankering for something with even more sustenance, stop by one of chef Sean Wight’s two Farmhaus Burger locations for some smoked-Gouda-topped, Angus-stuffed awesomeness. But Wight doesn’t stop there; he does steaks, swordfish and lamb all with equal splendor across his four Augusta restaurants (beyond Farmhaus, Wight helms Frog Hollow Tavern and Craft & Vine). We could sing his praises for much longer — and we actually did that here — but we’d rather tuck into another handful of his cauliflower popcorn.
The bites at Broad Street’s Whiskey Bar Kitchen are nearly as delectable. From slow-braised apple honey wings and lava shrimp tacos to a Far East chicken bowl doused in ginger, scallions and a lip-smacking teriyaki sauce, the Asian-tinged kitchen does its magic with each dish. We can say the same for the bar that works its rocks-glass-filled sorcery with more than 200 kinds of whiskies.
Spirits are kept high at River Watch Brewery, too. The first business of its kind to open in Augusta since Prohibition, River Watch exudes the same hard-working, no-nonsense attitude of the city from a come-as-you-are tasting room just off Laney Walker Boulevard. Though the taps flow with a set of core pours (including a blonde ale and red IPA), River Watch does a lot of experimenting as well. We had a Hippies Use The Side Door (a honey lavender pale ale) this past spring that was so good we almost made the executive decision of putting it on the permanent menu ourselves.
Indigenous groups sourced and traveled the Savannah River long before European settlers came. When the British did finally make their way in 1735, it was at the behest of Georgia founder James Oglethorpe, who sent troops up from Savannah to establish a town at the head of the navigable part of the river. That settlement would become Augusta.
Even today, the mighty river still plays its role. Locals like chef Wight consider an afternoon stroll along Augusta Riverwalk to be one of their favorite in-town activities. And we understand why — the place exudes a calm. On the side with the riverwalk, you’ll find attractions (Morris Museum of Art, Augusta Museum of History), businesses (Boll Weevil Café) and family detours (a children’s playground, gardens). Just across on the other bank, you’ll see South Carolina.
The Augusta Canal, which was created in 1845 to harness some of the river’s power for other areas, has its own stories to share. Read some of the fascinating tales at the Augusta Canal Discovery Center through interactive exhibits.
Experience the history more viscerally during one of the Petersburg boat tours taking off just outside the center. While you float by people fishing and cycling, a guide will point out old neighborhoods and explain what new endeavors are coming to once-abandoned factories. Reserve a spot on the special music cruise to have your canal history lesson accompanied by live jazz and light bites you’ve brought aboard.
Keeping with the river theme, the just-opened SRP Park is the gorgeous, 5,000-seat home of the Augusta Greenjackets Minor League Baseball team sitting right along the water’s edge. The $40 million stadium, which will host Greenjackets games through early September, offers state-of-the-art videoboards, a kid’s zone, picnic porches and a terrace where you can take MVP-level selfies in front of the Savannah River.
After the Masters, music icon James Brown may be Augusta’s most famous export. “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” gets his appropriate due around town through a life-sized statue along Broad Street and a remarkable permanent exhibit at the aforementioned Augusta Museum of History. Here, you’ll not only watch Brown perform “It’s a Man’s World” with opera legend Luciano Pavarotti, but you’ll also go through his bedazzled wardrobe and see what was inside his bathroom cabinet. (Spoiler: “The Godfather of Soul” probably smelled like Eternity for Men on stage.)
The museum continues its thoroughness with collections dedicated to the military, golf and famous natives like Hulk Hogan and Laurence Fishburne.
The city doesn’t spend all of its time reminiscing, though. In fact, Augusta residents are looking forward to a robust summer entertainment schedule that includes live music (Gladys Knight, July 27), holiday gatherings (Independence Celebration at Fort Gordon, June 29), festivals (Augusta Beerfest, August 18) and theatrical productions (Heathers: The Musical, July 20-22).
Some of the season’s bigger events will take place at Miller Theater, a 1940-erected hall that completed a seven-year, $23 million restoration in early 2018. When you peek at the dashing venue’s calendar, you might be surprised to see names like Indigo Girls (July 17), magician Mat Franco (August 17) and Chris Isaak (September 11) on the roster. But when you take a moment to reflect on all the surprising food and sights you’ve experienced in a city best known for golf, the impressive lineup should actually feel par for the course.