Macon is one of those cities that keeps alive the architectural splendour of the Old South. Ever hospitable, the city has one of the south’s largest and most beautiful collections of antebellum churches and homes. Take your time to walk the city streets adorned by thousands of cherry trees, snapping the old brick buildings that have been carefully looked after for many decades. Just outside Macon you can set off for water-based exploits along the Ocmulgee Water River Water Trail or see one of America’s largest collections of military aircraft at the Robins Air Force Base. Here are the best things to do in Macon:
1. Hay House
A Macon standout Hay House is among the most beautiful antebellum buildings in the South, and has been occupied by only two families since it was built. Hay House is a mansion from the 1850s with a design inspired by the Italian renaissance. It’s a treat from top to bottom; the interior is opulent down to the finest details, from its delicate stained glass windows to the amenities that were state-of-the-art for their time. The house’s high-end Victorian conveniences included a speaker-tube system that linked 15 rooms, hot and cold water on tap and even a mechanical lift.
2. Ocmulgee Indian Mounds
On the eastern side of the city is a site that has evidence of continuous settlement stretching back 17,000 years. Needless to say it’s a significant place to Native Americans, not least because of the ceremonial mounds that were built by the Mississippians around a millennium ago. These pyramid-shaped structures demonstrate high levels of technical skill, especially the Great Temple Mound, which stands 17 metres in height and can be scaled via a stairway. You can even the enter the Earth Lodge, with a fireplace and where 47 seats were moulded for the culture’s high priests. To round off the experience the visitor centre features the artefacts recovered from Ocmulgee.
3. Amerson River Park
Recently enhanced by a multi-million dollar project, this immaculate park is a miniature wilderness, just the ticket for a waterside family picnic on a sunny day. In the summer the Ocmulgee River is especially tempting and if you can get your hands on a canoe you’ll be able to paddle the park’s waters, gliding through tranquil woodland. Dryside there are more than 3.5 miles of walking trails so you can escape the city for half an hour, taking breaks on benches placed at regular intervals on the route.
4. Tubman African American Museum
A part of Macon culture for more than 35 years, the Tubman Museum is where you’ll be able to investigate the city’s African American heritage and learn about this community’s past and present. There are displays of historic folk art contrasted paintings and sculptures by Georgia’s most acclaimed African American contemporary artists. At the Inventors Gallery you’ll see the technological advances made by the most brilliant African Americans working in difficult eras, like George Washington Carver and Madam C.J. Walker.
5. The Allman Brothers Band Museum
Allman Brothers fans need to make the pilgrimage to this mock-Tudor house on Vineville Avenue, where the band members lived in the early-70s with their families and friends. Appropriate for this leafy part of the city the house is beautiful, with 18 rooms and large grounds. Inside the living areas and bedrooms have been kept just how they were 40 years ago, and you can also peruse the world’s largest collection of memorabilia relating to the band. You can see the very rooms where the band’s songwriter wrote some of the band’s most famous tracks, like “Midnight Rider” and “Please Come Home”.
6. Grand Opera House
When it was built in 1884 Macon’s Grand Opera House had the largest stage in all of the south-eastern states. Back then it was known as the Academy of Music and treading these boards in the early-20th century were Charlie Chaplin, George Burns, Sarah Bernhardt and Harry Houdini. The late-20th century wasn’t kind to the venue but it survived demolition plans and today is a valued cornerstone of Macon’s arts scene. Broadway productions have runs at the Gran Opera House, touring bands play here and the venue is also where Mercer University stages its productions.
7. Ocmulgee River Water Trail
Here’s your chance to float off into the great outdoors, on a river trail that runs 200 miles down to Hazlehurst. The going is relatively easy, with only class 1 rapids so it’s an adventure for all the family. Every few miles along the route you can pull your craft onto dry land and take time out amid pristine woodland. At these stops you can watch the river go by while you take a picnic or camp out. There are 23 at regular intervals, so you won’t need to worry about getting lost and can paddle through the woods and farmland with peace of mind.
8. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
A stunning neo-gothic building constructed in the late-19th century this church on Poplar Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The construction came about because the city’s growing Catholic congregation needed something more capacious than the converted Presbyterian church they had purchased in the middle of the century. When it was completed St. Josephs drew acclaim that has continued to this day; it’s a lovely piece of architecture, with a stirring interior lit by colourful stained-glass windows.
9. Rose Hill Cemetery
When cemeteries are as historic and elegant as Rose Hill they become attractions in their own right. Rose Hill features on the city’s walking tours and the designer, Simri Rose, actually wanted the cemetery to be a place visited and celebrated by Macon’s citizens. Two members of the Allman Brothers Band are buried at Rose Hill, having died in separate motorcycle accidents at the same intersection within a year of each other. On a visit you track down the graves of Georgia politicians, Confederate generals and even the pets of wealthy old families.
10. Museum of Arts and Sciences
This is a multi-disciplinary attraction that reconciles arts, science and humanities, so you can anticipate a fun and enlightening journey during your visit. Kids will love the science exhibits, especially because there’s a mini-zoo and fun assortment of hands-on experiments and games. If you want to understand Macon’s tumultuous past and vibrant culture you can see exhibitions devoted to the region’s poets, authors and historical figures, while there’s also a remarkable collection of paintings collected over the course of the last 60 years.
11. International Cherry Blossom Festival
If you could pick the best time to be in Macon it would have to be March and April, as this is when the city’s legions of cherry trees burst into bloom. There are 170,000 trees in total so there’s no better venue for an International Festival. To mark the occasion there are parades, street parties, crafts markets, live music performances, military displays and art crawls. The grand finale in mid-April means fairground rides and catering by local food vendors, before the whole event culminates with a fireworks display.
12. Warner Robins
You’ve got to make the half-hour drive south to this city for the fantastic Museum of Aviation. It’s totally free to enter this attraction, the second-largest Aerospace Museum in the country. You can see 93 aircraft on display in five different buildings. Aviation and military enthusiasts will be in heaven, checking out the fighters, bombers, helicopters, drones, missiles, trainers and various special aircraft on display. For many the high-point of an exhilarating day will be getting close to a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, the exact aircraft that hit an absolute speed record of 2,193.2 miles per hour back in 1976, unbroken to this day.
13. Lake Tobesofkee
Macon’s destination for outdoor summer fun, Lake Tobesofkee is a reservoir constructed in the 60s. Soon after its creation people from across the region flocked to its banks for the clean waters and natural shoreline. It’s one of those timeless holiday settings where you can spend your days relaxing by shimmering waters or engaged in any number of activities. There are three public parks around the shoreline and these are equipped with just what you need for recreation such as camping and boating. The waters are fine for swimming and you can get some rays at the lake’s sandy beaches.
A trip to Savannah would be an ideal complement for your holiday in Macon, as this city on Georgia’s coast is also famed for its stately antebellum architecture. One of the reasons for the great heritage is that when the Union soldiers took the Savannah in 1864 the city’s mayor offered no resistance to avoid the kind of destruction that occurred in Atlanta. It’s one of America’s most walkable cities with more than 20 splendid old squares and tree-lined streets flanked by stunning Georgian and Victorian homes that you can identify with the help of itineraries provided by the visitor center.
There are a host of must-dos in Georgia’s state capital, but when it comes to social and cultural importance the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site is unmissable. It’s King’s childhood home and the church where he was a pastor, and throughout the site you’ll get to know about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and his role within it. Also essential but for very different reasons is the Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the world up to 2012. The voluminous tanks are big enough to house ocean-going giants like beluga whales and whale sharks.