You’re in Charleston at your favorite rooftop bar, sipping a mojito and basking in the warmth of an early fall sunset. Life is good, but, strangely, you feel guilty. You’ve been perched here all summer. Isn’t it time to move on? Our advice: “Go west.” Specifically, head inland to explore two places with a rich Southern history: Augusta, Georgia, and nearby Aiken, South Carolina. These cities offer everything from world-class museums to outdoor recreation. Moreover, at the end of the day you can assume your accustomed rooftop roost. Here’s how to plan a perfect weekend on the Savannah River.
First, check into one of these luxury hotels. The new Crowne Plaza Hotel is located in North Augusta’s Riverside Village, a mixed-use development on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. This ultramodern hotel has a spacious, art-filled lobby, relaxing guest rooms and a rooftop bar popular with locals. From the bar, you can watch the sun set over the river and breathe in the tempting aromas that rise from the hotel’s wood-fired grill on the first floor.
Across the river, the rooftop bar at the historic Partridge Inn affords an expansive view of Augusta and the river as it winds through the countryside. Since it opened in 1910, the inn has hosted grand parties and welcomed many celebrities and dignitaries. Enjoy the recently renovated boutique-style rooms and dine on the hotel’s wide veranda for a timeless Southern experience.
Augusta is perhaps best known for hosting the prestigious Masters Tournament. But the city has more to offer than golf.
The Riverwalk Augusta’s quiet riverside promenade draws picnickers, bicyclists and hikers and is a relaxing place to take a stroll. You’ll find shade trees, lovely gardens and even a children’s playground. Attend a concert at the Jessye Norman Amphitheatre (named for the opera singer and Augusta native), an 1,800-seat venue right on the river.
Morris Museum Adjacent to the Riverwalk, this gem of a museum is the oldest in the nation dedicated to the art and artists of the American South. Its permanent collection includes paintings, works on paper, photographs and sculptures that date from the late 18th century to the present. Through October 27, 2019, the museum features a special exhibition on the Charleston Renaissance. Other special exhibits highlight folk art, art glass, African American artist David Driskell and the paintings of Vietnam veteran Richard J. Olsen. [Read a longer post about the Morris here.]
Augusta Museum of History Founded in 1937, the Augusta Museum of History showcases Augusta’s local and regional history. Highlights include an award-winning permanent exhibition of the area’s history, from the first Native American settlements to the making of the New South; the history of golf and its Augusta legacy; and a major exhibition covering the life of James Brown, the” godfather of soul,” who grew up in Augusta.
The Augusta Canal The 13-mile-long Augusta canal, a National Heritage Area, was built in 1845 to harness the water and hydroelectric power of the Savannah River. Today, visitors can take guided boat tours that focus on history or wildlife, or they can explore the canal on their own by canoe, kayak, paddleboard or bicycle.
Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site This Greek Revival plantation house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1859 by a South Carolina governor and notorious defender of slavery. Take the informative tour to learn about the plantation and its former occupants. (The plantation is about 20 minutes east of Augusta on the South Carolina side of the river.)
The Lucy Craft Laney Museum. The Lucy Craft Laney museum in downtown Augusta occupies the former home of African American educator and civil rights activist, Lucy Craft Laney, born 1854. Laney was instrumental in providing educational opportunities to black youth and was a founding member of the NAACP in Augusta. From October 1, 2019 through Jan 2, 2020, the museum’s annual quilt exhibition, “Stitching the Stories” will showcase quilts created by African American quilters from the metropolitan Atlanta area, Augusta and beyond.
In the 19th century, residents of Charleston and the Lowcountry came to Aiken in the summer to escape malaria and yellow fever. After the Civil War, wealthy Northerners arrived, lured by equestrian sports and mild winters. Today, Aiken remains one of the nation’s most prestigious equestrian communities.
Aiken Visitors Center and Train Museum The visitors center is a good place to orient yourself to Aiken and its history. Did you know that the first steam-powered railroad in America—and the world’s longest railroad at the time—was started in 1828 by Charlestonian William Aiken, for whom the city is named? Its purpose was to bring cotton and other goods from Augusta directly to Charleston. Ask the staff for a map of Aiken’s historic sites and grand estates.
Equestrian Events Depending on the season, you can take in polo games, steeplechases, hunter jumper shows, grand prix jumping and dressage competitions, thoroughbred racing and more. Check with the visitors center and the local paper, The Aiken Horse, for the latest happenings.
The Willcox This inn, which opened in 1900, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the early 20th century it was a vacation spot for the wealthy and well-connected. Even if you don’t stay here, enjoy a meal in the award-winning restaurant.