Published by Forbes on April 24, 2023.
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By: Rebecca Deurlein Contributor
If you ask me what my favorite part of travel is, I’d have to say it’s being surprised by a place, or, in travel-writer terms, finding a hidden gem.
One of those gems, I’m thrilled to report, is Macon, Georgia. On a recent weekend visit, I discovered a city undergoing an impressive downtown revitalization that encompasses dining, entertainment, art, and shopping. Not to mention some recent, history-making achievements that are bound to make visitors stand up and take notice of this central Georgia locale.
This year, Macon celebrates its bicentennial, and this noteworthy birthday brings with it seven art galleries, 40 theaters and bars, 52 restaurants, and 37 shops and boutiques. It also brings a unique – and impressive – distinction to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, one of Macon’s not-to-be-missed sites.
Later this year, Ocmulgee Mounds is hoping to be named Georgia’s first full-fledged national park (the bill is before Congress now). The mounds are the former homes of the Muscogee Nation and reflect more than 17,000 years of habitation. The highlight of any visit is stepping into the Earth Lodge – stooping low through a long tunnel inside one of the mounds, versus on top of it – where Indigenous people held council meetings for 1,000 years and where the original eagle-shaped clay floor has been beautifully preserved. The park is comprised of six mounds, a 1690 British trading post, and Civil War earthworks where troops fought on top of these sacred grounds, so you can easily devote an entire day to exploring.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation played a crucial role in seeking the national park designation as co-creators, a first for any potential national park east of the Mississippi. It will include a 70,000-acre expansion of the park, including a wildlife preserve, educational and recreational trails, and a cultural center operated and maintained by the Muscogee people. You can be among the first to see this expansion to an already impressive park.
While you’ll have to drive to the mounds, it’s possible to park your car in the downtown area and not touch it for days. And the best place to park it is that area’s first hotel, the Hotel Forty Five, opened in 2022 in a former bank building. Walkable to everything the city has to offer, the hotel boasts its own rooftop bar, Hightales, a patio big enough to accommodate a group but with cozy areas for two, as well. The hotel is named after the city’s extensive music history, which you can explore on various tours or just by popping into The Museum at Capricorn, Mercer University’s preservation of Macon’s music legends. You’ll be surprised at the music that was born in this city, from Otis Redding to the Allman Brothers.
Another surprise in Macon is the impressive food scene. This isn’t your standard southern fare – nearly every type of food is represented here, so much so that you’ll find yourself comparing it to big city offerings. Think Latin fusion, upscale ramen, red hot dogs (a Macon staple dating back to 1916), and sushi all on one block.
For the best burgers in town, washed down with locally brewed beers, order up at Ocmulgee Brew Pub, then grab a table outside to people-watch while you chow down. It’s a great respite during a day of touring Macon, whether you are shopping local boutiques or taking a tour of the city’s history. As you do, you’ll notice the recent changes to the downtown scene. Streets and storefronts are pristine, and even the alleys have enjoyed a facelift with framed photos lining the walls and ambient lighting providing both safety and a lovely nighttime mood.
When the sun sets, visit one of Macon’s most critically acclaimed restaurants, Dovetail. Located in the center of the downtown district, this twist on southern cuisine is uniquely crafted by Chef Lane Richardson. The pork belly bites are popular diet-killers, and the blackened salmon has just the right amount of spice. Be sure to make reservations well in advance and arrive early. Dovetail is on the second floor of Rookery, a welcoming restaurant bar that is happy to serve you a cocktail before your dinner.
If your libations matter as much to you as your meal, Kinjo Kitchen & Cocktails is the place to be. Everything here is made with care and with an eye toward presentation. Cocktails arrive with a flourish, and usually with a garnish that makes each concoction picture worthy. The reasonably priced but absolutely delicious ramen is served in ample portions and with attention to detail. Try the Tonkotsu with shaved ribeye, strips of zucchini, green cabbage, pickled red onions, and shiitake, topped with a 6-minute soy-marinated egg. That level of precision results in a perfect mixture of flavors that may have you coming back for lunch the next day.
Whether it’s the food, the history, or the attractive city, Macon’s revitalization will surprise you. It is a weekend getaway that will leave you thrilled to find a true hidden gem.
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