BY ANGELA WEIGHT
GRAD A MINI GETAWAY RIGHT HERE IN CENTRAL GEORGIA
Not long ago, after spending a decade in Northern California, my husband and I moved our family of four back to my childhood home of Middle Georgia, a place I love more than any other. Like a kindergartner at Disneyland, I was beside myself with the excitement of playing weekend tour guide to my husband James and our young sons Andrew and Jack. We started our family tour in Macon’s historic, yet eclectic downtown, taking in a few museums and some fantastic Southern cooking. If you are longing for one last getaway before school starts again, you might consider a visit to one or more of those magical places.
Georgia Music Hall of Fame
Macon is a city that’s synonymous with musical tradition, where Southern rock, rhythm and blues seem to flow through the water system. It’s home to legendary stage acts like the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding and Little Richard. Maconites (as we call ourselves) don’t just listen to music; we live it. To give James and the boys a lesson in Georgia’s past and present musical influences, we took a walk downtown to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, an interactive museum and concert hall celebrating homegrown talents too numerous to name.
Strolling through the marvelously realistic exhibits, we lost ourselves in the Vintage Vinyl Café among neon guitars and original memorabilia from Lynyrd Skynyrd, REM, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Toni Braxton, the B-52’s and the Tams. In the Skillet Licker Café, my boys, who tend to lean toward country music, sang along with their favorite Alan Jackson and Tricia Yearwood pieces. The Jazz and Swing Club, like stepping back in time to shadowy speakeasy, entranced us in the sounds of Johnny Mercer and Lena Horne.
Georgia Sports Hall of Fame
Just across the street is the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. As we walked through the doors, my 43-year-old husband became a ten-year-old once again, his eyes lighting up to see memorabilia of baseball idols like Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb and Phil Niekro. Andrew would’ve spent all day in the Nascar Atlanta Motor Speedway simulator; while Jack jumped up and down happily every time he rang a basket in one of the kid friendly basketball hoops. Recently, the Sports Hall of Fame inducted their 2009 class of athletes including all-time great tight-end Shannon Sharpe who earned three Super Bowl rings during his career.
The Tubman Museum
After getting our fill of Georgia’s music and sports legends, we took a walk over to Walnut Street to the Tubman Museum, a gallery named for Harriet Tubman, an African-American woman who led countless slaves to freedom and served as a Union nurse, spy, and scout during the Civil War. In this 8,500 square foot archive, we got a lesson in African-American history through engaging exhibits of folk art, relics, and inventions. Andrew and Jack especially enjoyed the vivid pictorial storytelling of the African Griot, (a series of narrative paintings that read like a picture book). In the Spring, the Tubman Museum hosts a Pan African Festival, celebrating the influence of African culture throughout the world.
Antebellum Architecture Abounds
For lovers of grand architecture at its finest, Macon offers a feast for the eyes. Turn down any street in the downtown area and you’ll be transported to a more genteel time where horses pulled buggies down cobblestone streets (yes, a few of them are still cobblestone) and women in hoop skirts were escorted by Southern gentlemen up the steps of their lovely mansions. A few spectacular homes that offer public tours are the Hay House, the Cannonball House, the Sidney Lanier Cottage, and the Woodruff House on Coleman Hill which offers the best views of the city. Maps are available at the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
On the Menu in Macon
For lunch, there was only one option for our hungry foursome in this city of song and soul—The H & H Restaurant, where soul food inspired the songwriting talents of the Allman Brothers back in the day—and had Oprah Winfrey raving about it during her recent visit. This hole-in-the-wall eatery doesn’t offer a whole lot in décor, but who bothers to look around when there’s such mouthwatering food right in front of you? We feasted on fried chicken, barbecued ribs, homemade macaroni and cheese, lima beans, and apple cobbler; and there was much more to choose from. Mama Louise, the H & H’s proprietor, was there to greet each of her hungry patrons.
For those desiring more than Southern cooking, Macon has a surprisingly vast selection of charming restaurants and cafes. The Back Burner, on Ingleside, offers a delightful French provincial menu, while Marco’s takes diners on a world class Italian culinary tour. If you like New York-style pizza in a funky and fun atmosphere, don’t leave Macon without a visit to Ingleside Village Pizza. Andrew and Jack are always enchanted by the off-beat, fun house décor and get a thrill from watching the chefs toss pizza dough high into the air.
Ocmulgee National Monument
Well before Mama Louise fried her first chicken and when the Hay House was still centuries away from construction, Native American people called the Mississippians lived on the land around what would be Bibb County. Between 900 and 1,200 AD, they were skillful hunters and farmers and developed a distinctive culture. Today, visitors to the Ocmulgee National Monument, in East Macon can tour the sacred Mississippian burial mounds and examine artifacts left behind from so long ago. After many trips here, I still get a feeling of connectedness to the past as I hike along the tall, rounded mounds. The Mississippians left a pervasive spirit on this land that visitors can sense. Looking for a perfect picnic site on a sunny day? There is no better place than Ocmulgee National Monument.
Museum of Arts and Sciences
There’s no doubt that my boys’ favorite place in all of Middle Georgia is the Museum of Arts and Sciences. They delighted in getting a personal tour of the solar system in the 40- foot diameter dome planetarium, where each planet came to life right in front of our eyes. At the museum’s mini-zoo, we got up close and personal with exotic animals like four different types of geckos, macaws, a hedgehog—even a Chilean rose-haired tarantula. They even got a lesson in modern day pottery from a local artist.
Warner Robins’ Museum of Aviation
Middle Georgia’s charm and culture isn’t all within Macon. Just a short drive south, visitors will find a completely different vibe in Warner Robins. Named after the bustling Robins Air Force Base, one of the largest and most productive in the country, Warner Robins is a modern, progressive city that continues to experience growth each year. The Museum of Aviation, located on RAFB is a ‘can’t miss’ attraction, especially for children and flight enthusiasts. James, Andrew, and Jack marveled at the overwhelming array of aircraft: bombers, cargo planes, fighters, helicopters, missiles and drones; a veritable military aircraft wonderland for wannabe pilots, young and old, to explore. We took turns in the transporter, simulating flying, and roller coaster experiences; then we strapped into an F-15 cockpit and toured the mammoth C-130 cargo plane. That adventure had both Andrew and Jack planning to become pilots when they grow up.
If your family is looking to experience Middle Georgia from a local’s point of view, visit www.GeorgiaFamily.com to learn about other family-friendly events you can take in. #