Masterful Attractions in Augusta

Far away from the fairways and azaleas of the Masters Tournament, Georgia's second-oldest city has a artsy downtown.

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AUGUSTA, GA. — In early April, golf enthusiasts nationwide get a peek at Augusta’s blooming azaleas and Southern charm through the Masters Tournament.

But the city, Georgia’s second-oldest, has more than just early-spring blooms and a hankering for good barbecue. Augusta has a bustling downtown area dotted with artist studios, is has intriguing historic sites and a few green spots away from the golf fairways.

Riverwalk is an ideal location for a visitor to begin a tour, according to Jennifer Bowen of the Augusta Convention and Visitor Bureau.

Since 1987, Augusta has been blessed with a picturesque garden walk along its Savannah River front. As part of the city’s plans to revitalize the downtown, Augusta created walkways to take advantage of the spectacular river scenery.

There are two promenades that stretch from Sixth Street to 10th Street, totaling 38 acres. One path offers views of both the city and the river while the other gives a more intimate view of the river. Dogwoods, azaleas, river birch trees and other species native to the area line the path.

However, a pleasing find is a Japanese garden on the grounds. Along the brick walkways, willow oaks hang overhead in some parts while Japanese Pagodas shoot from the ground in others.

Nearby is Artist’s Row on Broad Street and the Morris Museum of Art at 10th Street.

“Artist’s Row is primarily filled with studios of artists,” Bowen said. “They have unique and one-of-a-kind artwork in them, ranging from pottery to fine art paintings. There is also an area in Artist’s Row that has a specialty soap shop, selling all kinds of exfoliants and soaps made in the Augusta area.”

This downtown area comes with landscaped city sidewalks lined with cafes and shops ideal for dining outside on a beautiful day.

At night, the streets are lined with people enjoying First Friday, as artists open their studios – some even offer wine and cheese – while outdoor music drifts through the air.

Another recommended artistic stop is the Morris Museum of Art, the first museum of its kind to showcase work from artists of the South.

Across the street is the Augusta Museum of History, which houses a number of artifacts significant to the city’s history. For example, James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," donated a performing outfits to the museum. Brown, who grew up in Augusta, is also honored with a statue in James Brown Plaza in the center of Broad Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets. The life-size bronze statue is accessible for visitors to get a picture standing next to the hit artist.

Another historical site is the boyhood home of President Woodrow Wilson. A number of cities claim Wilson lived there, mainly because his father was a Presbyterian minister frequently moving from church to church.

“However, Augusta can say he lived here the longest,” Bowen said.

Wilson lived in the city from 1860 to 1870 while his father ministered at First Presbyterian Church.

Thirteen furniture pieces that were in the home when Wilson lived there have been preserved by the church and are now on display in the home.

Regularly scheduled tours of the Augusta Canal are offered aboard the Henry Cumming and the William Phillips, both Petersburg boats. The boats are replicas of the vessels that once hauled cargo along the canal and Savannah River during the 19th century. An hour-long canal cruise includes a view of Meadow Garden, home of Declaration of Independence signer George Walton.

A three-hour tour includes the Canal Headgates, where the nine-mile Augusta Canal begins from the Savannah River.

Within walking distance from the Riverwalk is the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame’s Botanical Gardens. The nearly nine-acre botanical gardens are accentuated by six larger-than-life sculptures dot the gardens in honor of some of golf’s greatest legends, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones.

And almost as well known as golf are the beautiful shrubs that are abundant in what's known as the Garden City.

“When you talk of Augusta, you would be remiss not to mention the azaleas,” said Robyn Jarrett, director of marketing for the facility. “So there is an azalea garden with a path meandering through.”

The azaleas are complemented by dogwoods, hostas, mountain laurel and a host of other blooming treasures.

Another highlight is the butterfly garden. Not only is it packed with blooming plants that attract butterflies, but it is also surrounded by stonework in the shape of a butterfly. The plants are positioned in such a way to reflect a bold, colorful pattern of a butterfly’s wings. Nearby is an iron bench in the shape of a butterfly this is popular with brides sitting for wedding portraits.

Admission to the Botanical Gardens is $6. Seasonal hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 12 p.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.