Blossoms, food make Macon, Ga., worth the trip

Diverse architectural assets, easy pet access and a slamming food scene are just a few of the reasons to visit Macon, Ga. The international cherry blossom festival held in March is another. With special events, music and public art access, this annual event easily rivals others around the world.

Factor in a music history that includes the likes of Little Richard, Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers and other greats, and you can begin to see why the locals are so proud to call this place home. Bonus? Macon is more than affordable for the average traveler. Here’s how to make the most of your time when visiting this sultry Southern city.

Architecture: Macon’s historic buildings contribute a great deal to the city’s charm. The diverse styles and structures make strolling through the streets an itinerary-worthy activity. Churches, tourable mansions and even a selection of tiny leave-and-take libraries scattered throughout the city provide an interactive platform for peeking back in time.

The Hay House in particular is worth a stop. A popular wedding venue with over-the-top opulence, it’s open to the public for tours. Those interested in getting a glimpse of history’s high society lifestyle can do so with an affordable $11 entry ticket. The Cannonball House offers a similar historical experience, albeit a less elaborately decorated one. This structure is so named because it managed to survive a cannonball strike and remain standing. Tours last 45 minutes, and entry passes are six bucks. Literary fans may want to check out the Sidney Lanier Cottage, which lets visitors experience the home and artifacts of this famed poet and musician for an entry price of $5.

Perhaps the oldest architecture Macon has to offer, however, is the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. Featuring ancient Indian earth mounds and various tribal artifacts from different habitation periods, this National Park Service venue provides access to the interior architecture of the mounds and basic tourist amenities for those who would like to stay a bit to picnic and explore the grounds. While fees are charged during special events, day-to-day access to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is free.

Appetites: Whether you’re looking for roll-up-your-sleeves soul food or a high-end dinner splurge, you’ll find plenty of succulent options in this Southern city. One fancy yet frugal option exists at the Tic Toc Room. A former music venue famous for hosting performances by Little Richard, Otis Redding, James Brown and more, it provides a romantic atmosphere with a streamlined, modern vibe.

Small plates of lobster tacos, tapenade with pita wedges and calamari are available for less than $10, and their selection of fusion sushi rolls is available for eight bucks a piece. If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial, they also have a number of seafood entrees available for less than $20, including grilled salmon, jumbo lump crab cakes, shrimp with grits and lobster ravioli. Dovetail is a splurge-worthy choice as well, although more suited to carnivores. Their braised rabbit risotto is exceptional, and priced at only $19.

If traditional Southern fare is your food of choice, head to H & H Soul Food. Managed by the same woman for decades, it’s a sought-after experience by locals and tourists alike. A four-piece fried chicken order with two rolls is six bucks, with home-style desserts ringing in at a mere $2.50. Francar’s Wings is also of note, selling wings with a long list of sauce options, along with waffles and other regional sides. Popular with the local college crowd, Francar’s is definitely suited to travelers on a limited vacation budget.

Animals: Traveling with a four-legged family member? Macon makes things easier with a number of canine-appropriate amenities. First, there’s the Macon Dog Park, which features separate play areas for large and small breeds, summer shade, seating benches and a small stream complete with a waterfall for frolicking. It’s free to visit, and even hosts a number of special events for dogs and their service humans during warmer weather.

TailsSpin, a downtown pet food and accessories store, features packaged gourmet snacks and other goodies that Bowzer can enjoy with gusto. To catch some live music and make Fido happy at the same time, check out Macon’s Second Sunday concerts. These free monthly events start in mid-April and feature rocking tunes, a cash bar, food vendors and boatloads of enthusiastic canines. As parents of a large pooch, my husband and I were thrilled to see so many big dogs attending on the same night our Labrador did. Not all pet-friendly events are appropriate for dogs larger than a loaf of bread, but this one definitely is.

If you want to check out local venues where canines aren’t allowed, People and Pets provides day care and personal attention for roughly 20 bucks. If you’d like a little luxury in your choice of overnight accommodations, the 1842 Inn is worth consideration. Nightly happy hour receptions and period decor combined with plush rooms and complimentary breakfast make this venue a huge bang for the buck.

Rack rates start as low as $189, and the $50 pet fee is per stay, not per night. Rooms toward the back of the property can take breakfast on the patio instead of the front parlor. Our lovable drool machine is known to have trouble in public dining situations, but we found that booking an early breakfast slot and hooking her leash to the sturdy porch rails while we shared our treats to be a situation where she could easily succeed. It’s also important to note that the breakfasts here are pretty high end, so if you’re staying a minimum of two nights, the morning meal more than makes up for the pet fee.

Myscha Theriault is a best-selling author and avid traveler. She is currently traveling through North America with her husband and Labrador retriever. Readers can follow their adventures on Twitter by following @MyschaTheriault.

©2015 Myscha Theriault
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