By Dustin Turner
We all dream of taking that grand vacation to an exotic destination to explore a new city, enjoy new restaurants and art, and see things we’ve never seen before. You can do all of that for a fraction of the cost by becoming a tourist in your own hometown. There are lots of interesting and fun things to do in Augusta and Aiken while you are out exploring what these cities have to offer.
So, of course, the first thing to do is to become a tourist. That does not mean you have to wear a Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, socks with sandals and a big sun hat. Unless you want to, then by all means, you do you. Whatever you wear, just be sure to take plenty of photos to preserve the memories you are going to make.
Here are tips for becoming a tourist in Augusta and Aiken:
Pick your transportation: You drive around Augusta/Aiken daily, making it difficult to truly see your surroundings. Try a different mode of transportation. Pull some friends in for a tourist day but get them to drive. Or use a rideshare app such as Lyft or Uber so you really get the feel of being in a different city. If you insist on driving, rent a fun ride for the day, like a convertible. Doing something different adds to your adventure.
See the art: Augusta and Aiken are home to very large, diverse arts communities. You could spend an entire weekend just exploring the art in the area and still not see it all. In addition to the many independent artists’ galleries around the area, be sure to check out:
• The Augusta Sculpture Trail: The trail features 10 sculptures on display in downtown Augusta. Each month, a special event will be held somewhere along the trail.
• The Morris Museum of Art, 1 10th St., Augusta: The Morris is the first museum dedicated to the collection and exhibition of art and artists of the American South.
• Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, 506 Telfair St., Augusta: The former home of Augusta mayor and U.S. Senator Nicolas Ware, the museum was founded by Olivia Herbert in 1937.
• Artists Row, Broad Street, Augusta: Galleries, art studios, specialty shops, restaurants and coffee houses, Artists Row offers original works by internationally renowned artists, local fine art, pottery, hand-crafted glass work, sculpture, regional crafts, photography, jewelry and specialty gifts.
• Aiken Center for the Arts, 122 Laurens St. SW, Aiken: Five galleries feature works from local, regional, national and international artists and a gallery shop sells gifts and items made by local artisans.
Check out the history: There is so much history in Aiken and Augusta that many residents might not know about. Augusta was founded in 1736 as the second established town in Georgia because of its location on the Savannah River. Aiken was founded in 1835 as a Winter Colony for wealthy Northerners to escape the harsh winters. Many of the original homes and buildings still stand, and both cities are happy to show off their past.
In Aiken, you can take a trolley tour or a Pedego Electric Bike tour of the historic and equestrian district to see the many Winter Colony homes and one of the oldest continually used polo fields in the country. Historic Augusta’s website offers a self-guided walking tour of some of the historic sites downtown. There are many noteworthy places to visit, but a good history tour must include:
• Magnolia Cemetery, 702 Third St., Augusta: Founded in 1818, the final resting place of seven Confederate generals, five Jewish cemeteries, a Greek cemetery and home to the oldest tree in Georgia.
• Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson, 419 Seventh St., Augusta: Built in 1859, childhood home of the 28th president.
• Sacred Heart Cultural Center, corner of Greene and 13th Street, Augusta: Built by Jesuit priests, Sacred Heart had its first church service on Dec. 2, 1900. It now serves as an events center.
• Willcox Hotel, 100 Colleton Ave. SW, Aiken: Built in 1898, guests at the Willcox have included celebrities, British royals and U.S. presidents.
• Redcliffe Plantation State Park, S.C. Hwy 25, Beech Island: Begun in 1859, Redcliffe is representative of the architecture of the South in the early 1800s. Its builder, James Hammond, served two terms as governor of South Carolina.
• The oaks of South Boundary: Take a slow drive or a walk down South Boundary to see the famous canopy of oak trees that have been the subject of countless family and wedding photos. The scene is the official logo of Downtown Aiken.
Go to a museum: When planning something to do, many residents don’t think about the fantastic museums in the area. Aside from the above-mentioned sites, these are great places to learn more about the history of where you live.
• Augusta Museum of History, 560 Reynold St.: Exhibits and collections here are dedicated to the history of the Augusta Area.
• Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, 1116 Phillips St., Augusta: This small house museum is dedicated to the legacy of the prominent Black educator.
• Augusta Canal Discovery Center, Blome Lane, Augusta: As the name suggests, this small museum in Enterprise Mill shows off the history of the Augusta Canal.
• Laurel & Hardy Museum, 135 N. Louisville St. Harlem: Dedicated to the famous comedy duo in the hometown of Oliver Hardy.
• US Army Signal Corps Museum, 504 Chamberlain Ave. #29801, Fort Gordon: Exhibits in this museum dedicated to Army communications include a telephone from Hitler’s bunker.
• Aiken County Historical Museum, 433 Newberry St. SW, Aiken: Exploring the history of Aiken, exhibits include a one-room schoolhouse and a replica of a 1950s pharmacy.
Get out in nature: If you want to include some outdoor adventure in your tourism escape, there are plenty of options. There are, of course, dozens of options for an outdoor picnic or a short walk, but be sure these are on your list if you want to be a true tourist:
• Take a bike ride or walk in Hitchcock Woods. In the center of Aiken, Hitchcock woods is the largest urban park in the United States. Just watch out for horses; it’s also a popular place for equestrians.
• A 1,100-acre nature park in Augusta, Phinizy Swamp Nature Park contains wetlands and woodlands and all the native flora and fauna.
• The Serene 18 Paddle Trail includes 18 square miles of water trails along the Savannah River, Augusta Canal and Lake Thurmond. Complete a route and get an official passport stamped at approved locations along the way. Find out more at VisitColumbiaCounty.com.
Spend a day downtown: In recent years, the downtowns of Augusta and Aiken have truly become destinations in themselves. Many of the destinations above are in the downtown districts, which also are home to many locally-owned, unique restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and stores. You could easily spend a full day eating, shopping and exploring without ever leaving downtown. There are too many attractions to list, but you can find out all the details at VisitAugusta.com and AikenDDA.us.
Whatever you decide to do, the whole point is to learn more about where you live and have new experiences without ever leaving your hometown. Make a day or weekend of it with friends or family. Have fun exploring—and be sure to share your experiences on social media!
Dustin Turner is the Communications and Content Manager for Alison South Marketing Group. He lives in Aiken with his amazing, beautiful and very patient wife of 22 years, Jamie, and their artistic, sassy and fierce daughter, Abigail, 12. Dustin enjoys writing, shooting and editing video and acting and directing in community theatre.
photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com