Sometimes, the best trips are those closest to home. Even though I travel around the country on a regular basis, I always relish the trips that are not far from the metro area.
More than just an annual gathering for the Masters Tournament and a "pass-through" to Charleston, Augusta is becoming a vacation destination.
Over the past 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, a spruced-up area of greenspace that features a path that runs alongside the river and a modern amphitheater.
Augusta is a hit with music lovers like me. I enjoyed strolling down 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.
While I was in awe of anything that had to do with James Brown, my family was impressed with the Augusta Museum of History and Fort Discovery, a children's museum. Caitlin, my 9-year-old daughter, was wowed by the 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 the Rev. Wilson, the future president's father, read to his kids on the floor. I could just envision him lying on the floor with a pillow propping him up. Another vivid reminder of the past is an etching that the young Wilson, known as Tommy in those days, carved into a window.
There are other structures 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 fish. I hopped on one of the tour boats that cruise this pristine canal. 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 at this center. 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 recent weekend, I wanted to get away from it all, but not go too far.
"Let's go to Gainesville," my wife said.
"That's not much of a quick getaway," I replied.
"Well, there's the Elachee Nature Center," she said, while stumbling upon its listing in the newspaper.
After conceding to my wife's request, I was on the road for the trek. We went up Interstate 985 in search of the Elachee Nature Center. After negotiating the route, we were pleasantly surprised by this natural wonder. The 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 neotropical 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.
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 in 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.
It is tough to believe, but Gainesville is a great 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 Interstate 75 offers 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.
An overnight stay at Barnsley is an oasis from the madness that is metro Atlanta. Add a great meal at the Woodlands Grill, the Rice House or Beer Garden and a spa treatment, and you will forget that a world of traffic congestion is nearby.
Barnsley Gardens Resort is an outdoor recreational paradise. If golf is one of your favorite activities, you're in luck. Barnsley Gardens has a Jim Fazio-designed course that is set against the backdrop of north Georgia's rolling hills. Cycling, horseback riding, fishing, quail hunting and even paintball are activities that are also offered through this exquisite resort.
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.
SideBar: If You Go
Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau
Gainesville Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Barnsley Gardens Resort