By Debi Lander
A drive to Macon, Georgia takes about four hours from Jacksonville and in my opinion, is well worth a trip. Macon’s soulful roots include musicians Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, Little Richard and Jason Aldean.
A fun evening activity is a stroll through music history on a Rock Candy Tour, stopping to hear stories at legendary sites. You’ll get directions to Duane Allman’s grave in Rose Hill Cemetery, if you ask. The city sings with all types of music performed in venues such as the Grand Opera House, the Cox Theatre and the intimate Grant’s Lounge.
In addition to music, Macon’s draw is its revitalized city core, known as The College Hill Corridor. Like many downtowns, Macon suffered when residents moved to the suburbs and shops closed; however, a combined community and collegiate initiative created a master plan that eliminated abandoned houses, lowered crime and brought back happy voices. The two-acre Corridor showcases historic homes, a vibrant restaurant scene, new businesses, and the lively Mercer Village adjacent to Mercer College.
Although hometown son Otis Redding is famous for “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” if he were alive, he’d find much to do in Macon. Second Sunday free concerts average over 1,200 people per show. The annual Magnolia Street Soapbox Derby draws throngs of neighborhood participants. Numerous parks become festival grounds and biking trails allow safe space for cyclists. Drop by the Tubman Museum of African American Art or the sacred Native American mounds at Ocmulgee.
A must-see is the Hay House, known as the Palace of the South. It earned five stars on my list of noteworthy historic homes. The seven-storied mansion, built in the mid-1800s, is capped with an 80-foot cupola. If you’re willing to climb the spiral staircase, itself an architectural beauty, you’ll receive some panoramic views — but the grand hall and ballroom are my favorite rooms with hidden symmetrical designs. You have to observe them to understand the marvel, so be sure to take a tour.
Dining options are plentiful whether you are looking for down home Southern fare or upscale culinary creations. Start the morning at H&H Soulfood with their stone ground cheese grits, corned beef hash and a melt in your mouth southern biscuit with honey butter. The penniless Allman brothers came here looking to share a meal before they hit the big-time. Mama Louise Hudson noticed their hungry looks and heaped on the servings, thus endearing her to the brothers and their music fans. She is known as the matriarch of Southern Rock.
Find juicy burgers at the Rookery, named to pay tribute to Georgia celebs. The James Brown Black and Blue is a blackened burger with bleu cheese crumbles and sautéed onions; the Jimmy Carter features peanut butter and applewood smoked bacon. This popular local hangout offers many craft beers and often live music.
The more refined Dovetail serves lovingly prepared southern cuisine, often with a modern twist. The restaurant maintains a reputation for artisan cocktails including a selection of over 70 whiskeys. Do not miss the Cracked Pie, something akin to chess pie, but better.
A perfect time to visit Macon would be mid-March through April for the annual International Cherry Blossom Festival. It features over 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees that earn Macon the title of Cherry Blossom Capital of the World. For comparison, the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC offers just 3,750 trees.
Whenever you make your way to Macon, you’ll find a city that hums an old sweet song to a hip-hop beat.
If you go: www.collegehillmacon.com
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander.
Hidden symmetrical design at Hay House, an architectural marvel in Macon.