If you’re told to think of a city in Georgia that starts with “A,” chances are you’re not thinking of Augusta – but maybe you should be. This often overshadowed Southern city sits along the Savannah River on the border with South Carolina and offers everything you’d want in a trip: arts and culture, recreation, natural scenery, historical significance, and of course all the sweets and savory bites you can eat.
Historical figures such as a U.S. president and a renowned civil rights activist have called Augusta home – as has golf’s prestigious Masters Tournament since 1934. This quaint Georgia city, rooted in a legacy of art and innovation, boasts plenty to do along the river and throughout its colorful neighborhoods. When you work up an appetite wandering the urban green spaces or museums, Augusta serves up mouthwatering barbecue and Southern comfort delights alongside world-class chocolates from a Belgian expat. The top things to do in Augusta offer something for every kind of traveler.
(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Play a round at Forest Hills Golf Club
Augusta is perhaps best known as the host of the Masters golf tournament every spring, so why not say you’ve played in the same city as the greats? The public can’t play at the private Augusta National Golf Club – though you can always try your hand at winning a ticket to watch the Masters – but tee times are available to book at Forest Hills Golf Club, an 18-hole course owned by Augusta University. Visitors can also take advantage of the resident expertise and schedule a lesson, available to avid players or kids as young as 6. This famed course was founded in 1926 and renovated in 2003 by the Arnold Palmer Company. Recent players have said Forest Hills is well maintained and steeped in history, adding that games might take a few hours so you’ll want to put the time aside. Grab some souvenir attire or equipment at the Pro Shop, then enjoy a club sandwich and a cold drink at The Grille.
Address: 1500 Comfort Road, Augusta, GA 30909
Phinizy Swamp Nature Park
Explore the swamps of Augusta at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, free and open to the public year-round. Features of the park include a fishing pond, wooden boardwalks and observation decks, and a bridge over Butler Creek where you can occasionally observe turtles and river otters. You can enjoy a number of short nature trails with views of the wildlife inhabiting the floodplain along with a picnic pavilion. Recent visitors to the swamp appreciate the well-kept trails – and some say you may even spot an alligator or two in the water. Look up for the chance to see nesting osprey at the Windshear Tower. If you explore the park on a weekend, stop in at the Swamp Shop, featuring rotating exhibits on natural history, an area to observe its active bee colony and the Kids’ Corner, where children can color a picture of the park’s mascots, Phin and Izzy.
Address: 1858 Lock and Dam Road, Augusta, GA 30906
A must-see attraction in Augusta is the city’s Riverwalk, with museums situated at either end and events on the schedule year-round. A multilevel brick trail between 6th and 10th streets in downtown Augusta offers a relaxing walkway along the Savannah River, complete with a children’s playground and fountain. The booths of the Augusta Market at the River, which is held from spring through fall, fill the Riverwalk on Saturday mornings with the aroma of coffee and the enticing colors of fresh fruits and veggies. Along the walkway, the Jessye Norman Amphitheater can seat up to 1,600 people looking to watch a concert or attend a festival with riverfront views. If you’re feeling peckish, the locally renowned Boll Weevil Café and Sweetery is housed in an 1870s cotton warehouse. Today, it serves up dozens of award-winning desserts alongside a Southern menu with favorites like shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes.
Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History
(Courtesy of The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History)
Lucy Craft Laney – born in Macon, Georgia, in 1854 – was one of the first African Americans to have her portrait hung in the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta and now has an Augusta museum named after her as well. The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History honors her work as an educator and civil rights activist: Laney founded the Augusta chapter of the NAACP, among other accomplishments. The museum periodically offers guided tours of its permanent exhibitions, which highlight the contributions of Black Augustans, as well as special exhibitions that might focus on topics like golf or hometown musical hero James Brown (the Godfather of Soul). Call ahead if you want to book a tour.
You can also take a walking tour of the Golden Blocks to explore a museum-led project that has enlisted the talents of Black artists to create murals and other works of art around this area of the city, which was a historic corridor of Black businesses amid segregation. A digital guide helps visitors navigate the Golden Blocks and see these installations along the way.
Address: 1116 Phillips St., Augusta, GA 30901
Savannah River Brewing Co.
Beer enthusiasts can’t miss Savannah River Brewing Co., a 16,000-square-foot facility in Augusta that produces about 1.8 million cans of beer annually. The brews are eclectic, and the atmosphere of the on-site taproom is friendly. Try the Swamp Shake milkshake sour or the Son of Kong pineapple IPA, among myriad other beer options. The brewery’s regular events schedule means you can socialize with locals at trivia nights, beer yoga, karaoke and more. There are also brewery tours offered on certain days. Recent visitors call the Savannah River staff energetic and inviting – and say the brewery is even pet-friendly, to boot.
Address: 813 Fifth St., Augusta, GA 30901
Augusta Museum of History
(Courtesy of Augusta Museum of History)
Familiarize yourself with 12,000 years of history in Augusta and the greater Central Savannah River Region with the collections at the Augusta Museum of History. Rare books and photographs from the archives complement exhibits that honor the city’s military history and pay homage to local legends like Hulk Hogan and James Brown – as well as Aquilla James Dyess, the only American ever to receive both the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism and the Medal of Honor. Exhibits on the region’s connection with golf might reel in visitors who love the game: According to recent patrons, the Augusta Museum of History is the perfect place to bring a golf fanatic.
An extension of the museum is at the Ezekiel Harris House, built in 1797 and still standing today; this house is open to the public on Saturdays and by appointment only on weekdays.
Address: 560 Reynolds St., Augusta, GA 30901
Taste Georgia barbecue
(Courtesy of Sconyers Bar-B-Que)
No trip to the American South is complete without sampling the local barbecue, and in Augusta you’ll want to stop at Sconyers Bar-B-Que. This famed eatery was founded in 1956 by struggling farmers Claude and Adeline Sconyers, who decided to try out a new hobby by opening a small restaurant. More than 65 years later, Sconyers remains a Georgia institution. Fans of its barbecue claim that the hash is second to none and the location has a quaint and rustic charm. The house specialty is known as the Plantation Platter and includes a quarter of a chicken or sliced turkey, two ribs, chopped brisket and chipped pork.
Address: 2250 Sconyers Way, Augusta, GA 30906
Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art
(Courtesy of Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art)
Housed in a Federal-style building called Ware’s Folly you’ll find the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art. This mansion, constructed in 1818 by Georgia businessman and politician Nicholas Ware, was considered garish for its time – and thus a “folly,” earning it the moniker Ware’s Folly. The art institute itself was founded in 1937 after Olivia Herbert rescued the property from demolition; its name serves as a memorial to her daughter Gertrude. Today, guests can peruse the institute’s galleries and visiting exhibitions, which feature contemporary artists from around the country and the world. The Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art occasionally holds special events, and its education annex, Walker Mackenzie Studio, offers workshops and studio art classes in an ADA-compliant classroom space, so check the institute’s calendar before your visit to see what might pique your interest.
Address: 506 Telfair St., Augusta, GA 30901
Explore the Augusta Canal
Georgia’s very first National Heritage Area was the urban green space known as the Augusta Canal. You can walk or bike along the canal, but the best way to experience the waterway is to get in it and start paddling. Boat tours and kayak tours and rentals are offered at the canal’s head gates at Savannah Rapids Park. On the other end of the canal, the Augusta Canal Discovery Center at Enterprise Mill provides a little context on the nation’s only industrial power canal still in use for its original purpose – more than 170 years later. Recent visitors to this small museum appreciate the inclusion of some of the original machinery used to operate the locks. Consider visiting in autumn, when the leaves along the canal are displaying vibrant fall colors.
Dine at the French Market Grille
If you’re seeking the best cuisine in Augusta, your search won’t be complete without a stop at the French Market Grille, which has been serving up Cajun and Creole food to the city for more than 35 years. Come for lunch or dinner to experience New Orleans-inspired dishes like gumbo and crawfish etouffee alongside house originals like peanut butter pie. Patrons consider a meal here a classic Augusta experience, encouraging diners not to miss the seafood crepes – and to save room for dessert.
Address: 425 Highland Ave., Augusta, GA 30909
See a show at the historic Imperial Theatre
The Imperial Theatre was affected by quarantine – but not the one you’re thinking of. In February 1918, The Wells opened its doors, primarily for vaudeville performances (including an appearance by Charlie Chaplin), but by October the Spanish flu pandemic had closed all public venues in Augusta. When the shutdown ended about two months later, The Wells had acquired new owners and become the Imperial Theatre. Visitors to Augusta today – more than a century later – can experience its legacy by attending a stage show or film while in town. Recent attendees have commented that the theater is beautifully restored, dripping with character and ambiance. And another landmark lays inside: the Mighty Wurlitzer, a custom-made theater organ installed in 1925 to accompany silent films.
Address: 745 Broad St., Augusta, GA 30901
Experience Belgian chocolate-making in the American South
You don’t have to journey to Europe to taste luxurious Belgian chocolate truffles. Trained at Belgium’s Chocolate Academy but now living in Georgia, Bébette Smith has brought her expertise as a chocolatier from her native Belgium all the way to her Augusta shop, La Bonbonnière. Using top-shelf cocoa, Smith crafts complex but smooth bites in flavors like bourbon, orange peel or Irish cream, with seasonal varieties such as pumpkin spice in the mix as well. Patrons of La Bonbonnière mention that while the chocolates don’t come cheap, the refined quality and unique truffle flavors make them worth the splurge.
Address: 231 Fury’s Ferry Road, Suite 206B, Augusta, GA 30907
Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, grew up in Georgia during the Civil War and Reconstruction. His childhood home in Augusta is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest presidential residence in the state. Woodrow Wilson’s life and legacy were marked by war, as he led the country through World War I. Guided tours of the home are held periodically by appointment only. Visitors to the site call it a great step back in time for a half-hour or so, adding that the knowledgeable tour guides impart plenty of information about Wilson and his family.
Address: 419 7th St., Augusta, GA 30901
Stroll the streets of Pinched Gut
Far more charming than its name suggests, Pinched Gut (also known as Olde Town) is a neighborhood of Augusta where passersby can admire architectural styles spanning centuries of history. From Federal- to Craftsman-style homes, some residences here have survived since the early 1800s, even after a fire in 1916 led many to rebuild. Whether its moniker derives from the aftermath of a 19th-century flood that left residents without food or from the corsets women wore back then, Pinched Gut’s historic houses and popular restaurants make for a great walking or driving tour. If soaking in all the history makes you hungry, Whiskey Bar Kitchen on Broad Street is just a short walk away.
Morris Museum of Art
(Courtesy of Morris Museum of Art)
The Morris Museum of Art, one of the two museums along Augusta’s Riverwalk, bills itself as the nation’s oldest museum dedicated to the art and artists of the American South. As such, this Augusta attraction features a permanent collection spread across 10 galleries with 5,000 works of art dating from the 18th century to present day, in addition to various rotating exhibitions that highlight Southern creators, culture and history. If you plan your visit for a weekend, the museum typically offers a free guided tour of the main collection – as well as free admission – on Sundays. Visitors to the Morris say it’s the best free thing you can do on a Sunday; they appreciate its intimate and local aesthetic.
Address: 1 10th St., Augusta, GA 30901
Visit a bird sanctuary
Pendleton King Park is a 64-acre bird sanctuary situated in the heart of Augusta. Elevation in the park changes more than 100 feet, giving way to a wide variety of trees amid the trails and wetlands. In addition to plenty of opportunities for bird-spotting, visitors might also encounter wildlife such as beavers, turtles, lizards and more. Among the nature trails and the waterfall of Lake Elizabeth, families can enjoy on-site playgrounds, a dog park, gardens and an 18-hole disc golf course. Pendleton is a recreational oasis in Augusta that will appease everyone from birding enthusiasts to kids hunting for snails.
Address: 1600 Troupe St., Augusta, GA 30904
Time travel to the 18th century at Meadow Garden
(Courtesy of Meadow Garden)
George Walton, the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence, lived in Augusta. His former residence, Meadow Garden, has been open to the public as a house museum since 1901, and you can still take a guided tour of this National Historic Landmark today. Orphaned at the age of 7, Walton eventually moved from Virginia to Georgia where he apprenticed as a lawyer and was elected to the Second Continental Congress at 26 years old. He went on to become a colonel, governor, senator and chief justice in Georgia. Tours of Meadow Garden last about 45 minutes and are delivered by a docent in period dress. Recent tour-takers laud the immaculate condition of the house museum – one of the state’s oldest – along with the accommodating tour guides.
Address: 1320 Independence Drive, Augusta, GA 30901