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Day Tripper: Augusta Beyond the Masters

Georgia’s second largest city is second to none when it comes to a great getaway.

I look over at the clock, which reads 11:15 p.m., and I realize we’ve been eating and drinking for the past five hours! Oh so many calories ago, our group started off on a dine-around at some of Augusta, Georgia's best restaurants.

We began our gustatory adventure at La Maison, where gregarious chef Heinz Sowinski treated us to some well-selected bottles of wine and delicacies like frogs’ legs and lollipop lamb chops in the restaurant’s cozy Veritas lounge area.

We then lingered over a long communal table and yummy small plates like smoked Gouda nachos and spicy Louisiana crab cakes at The Bee’s Knees, a tapas restaurant just off Artists’ Row.

Right now we’re at Boll Weevil Café and Sweetery, sipping coffee and sharing huge—no, make that humongous—slices of chocolate peppermint and red velvet cake from their incredible selection of decadent desserts.

Pigging out seemed to be a common theme during my three-day excursion to Augusta, which also makes a fun day trip if you don't choose to stay the night.

Just two and a half hours east of Decatur and Avondale Estates, the state's second largest and second oldest city is chock-full of restaurants that make the food alone worth the trip.

For one, there’s the French Market Grille, a lively spot that’s been dishing out Cajun and Creole specialties for more than 25 years. (I can recommend the spicy fried chicken breast, and marveled at the size of the po’boy sandwiches.)

There’s also the Rooster’s Beak, a friendly downtown spot delivering a Mexican-inspired “righteous grub revolution.” (My suggestion is to go light on dinner and instead sample a few of their yummy cocktails and homemade ice creams.)

Another meal you won’t want to miss is the awesome Sunday brunch at the Partridge Inn, made even more delicious by the melodic stylings of singer/guitarist Keith Gregory.

Of course, there’s more to do in Augusta than just strap on the feed bag.

It’s well-known to many as the host of the Masters Golf Tournament, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. It also produces more than 80 percent of the world’s golf carts, a surprising fact I learned during a tour of the Augusta Museum of History, which devotes two whole galleries to the game, including tributes to Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and other golf greats.

Another historic figure is remembered at the Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson, a national landmark and museum that explores the childhood of our 28th president, who lived in the brick, multistory house from 1860 to 1870 (you can even still see where he etched his name in one of the windows).

Elsewhere within the Augusta Downtown Historic District is the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, a nonprofit visual arts school and gallery dating back to 1937. Just about a mile away is the Morris Museum of Art, one of the only institutions in the country dedicated to the art of the American South.

Its permanent collection is quite impressive and features everything from modern-day folk art to nineteenth-century portraits. The museum is situated next to the Riverwalk, a scenic pathway that winds along the Savannah River, and is directly across from the Marriott at the Convention Center, which makes a perfect home base if you're staying the night or over the weekend in Augusta.

Augusta’s waterways are an important part of its history, and one way to explore their significance is to take a guided boat tour along the Augusta Canal, a man-made channel built in 1845 that helped harness the power of the Savannah River. It also helped to transform the city into a leading textile manufacturer.

Exhibits at the Canal Interpretive Center feature working looms, depict the life of a 19th-century mill worker, and much more.

I was so enamored with Augusta, I’ve already planned a return trip in October, in part for the annual Summerville Tour of Homes, which showcases one of the most extensive collections of historic residences in Georgia.

While there, I’m hoping to have time to do some of the stuff I couldn’t squeeze in on my last visit, like touring the magnificent Sacred Heart Cultural Center, hiking the trails at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, and having my picture taken next to the life-size statute of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, on Broad Street.

Of course, I’m sure they’ll be lots more eating and drinking, as well. Maybe I better start dieting now.

For more information about Augusta, visit www.augustaga.org.

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