There’s a common sentiment in Macon that downtown used to be nothing but parking lots—and now you can’t find anywhere to park. While you may have to settle for a space an extra block or two away these days, strolling around town is precisely the point of this charming central Georgia city’s cultural and social revival. Meticulously preserved antebellum architecture complements hip breweries in refashioned industrial spaces. Impressive upscale dining is surrounded by bluesy musical heritage (such as Mercer Music at Capricorn, a museum and studio where the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Otis Redding all cut tracks). A huge part of Macon’s allure is that easy-breezy walkability that Atlanta developers are constantly trying to recreate just an hour up the road.
CHECK IN ➞ When location is key, Hotel Forty Five on centrally situated Cotton Avenue is a perfect weekend headquarters. Upscale but laid-back, the 94-room property opened last year as Macon’s first boutique hotel. Distinctively set on a wedge-shaped parcel, this converted 1940s office building was newly dubbed Hotel Forty Five to reflect both the 45-degree angle of the property and the 45 RPM hit records that put Macon on the map in the 1960s and ’70s. For a quick bite and cup of joe, Reckon is at street level, or for a full sit- down affair, the hotel’s chef-driven restaurant, Loom, serves a perfectly seasoned filet and stiff bourbon cocktail called River in Macon. Grab a drink at rooftop lounge Hightales, where the terrace views encompass iconic structures like the towering St. Joseph Catholic Church. At night, up here, Macon twinkles.
EVENING ➞ Walk a few blocks down Poplar Street, enjoying the throb of live music at Grant’s Lounge (aka, “The Original Home of Southern Rock”), to dinner at Bearfoot Tavern. With an English-style facade, exposed brick walls, and soccer matches on TV, the longstanding gastropub and beer garden has European vibes. Try the pimento cheeseburger (fried green tomato, pepper jelly, pimento-bacon cheese) for quick transport to culinary nirvana. Pair that with an experimental pour from nearby Fall Line Brewing Co. like the Mile Zero, a strong and fruit-packed double IPA, and buckle up.
For a live-music fix in a dive-y setting, head around the corner to the Hummingbird Stage and Taproom, a popular hang for music aficionados and the college crowd that’s helped springboard the likes of Jason Isbell and Gary Clark Jr. to the big time.
MORNING ➞ Fuel up for a day of exploring at Macon Bagels (get it?), a celebrated purveyor of made-from-scratch morning delights on Third Street with soaring ceilings, creaky wood floors, and kitschy cartoon Hotel Forty Five decor. Go with the Champ—a bagel with bacon, avocado, tomato, and caramelized onion spread—for hearty, sloppy goodness. Those with a sweet tooth may opt for the delectable, crumbly, and approximately two- pound oatmeal cream pie.
Next, take a 10-minute drive to Amerson River Park. Situated just north of downtown, the 180-acre greenspace includes pretty meadows and wetlands along an Ocmulgee River oxbow. There’s a one-mile unpaved path around the park, but stroll the slightly shorter paved route instead for a soothing immersion in nature along the river, around picturesque stacked-stone pavilions, and through a mature forest.
AFTERNOON ➞ It’s back to Third Street for lunch at Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen, a hip, airy space with a killer arcade in the basement. Keep it light with the signature Satisfied lager, as Piedmont specializes in big portions; the smoked-sirloin French dip is among the juiciest you’ll find.
Ward off a food coma with a bubble tea (add coffee jelly for extra kick) at pink-painted, anime-adoring Hello Boba Cafe down the street. From there, it’s a two-mile drive to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, a prehistoric site dating to the Paleo-Indian period.The park’s renowned earthen structures reveal the culture and uses of a millennium, from Mississippian burial ground to British trading post to Civil War battlefield. A walk to the top of the Great Temple Mound affords a 360-degree view of the park’s variety of preserved mounds and its eight-mile network of public trails, with downtown Macon in the distance. Budget an hour for exploring the Art Moderne–style visitors center and museum, a wonderland of artifacts.
EVENING ➞ Heed locals’ recommendations and book a reservation at Dovetail, a rustic-cozy upstairs space on Cherry Street that’s been dishing regionally sourced Southern cuisine for a decade. The staff is impeccably attentive, the drapes and rugs plush, the glow of Edison bulbs romantic. With its bacon marmalade and crab-and-cracker salad, the Put-Ups plate is a fine place to start, especially alongside a perfectly layered old fashioned they’ll smoke at the table. The blackened Scottish salmon, laid on a bed of saffron rice, is remarkably tender, and each veggie selection tastes like it was plucked straight from the ground only moments before cooking.
For a post-dinner stroll and nightcap, mosey a few blocks over to Fall Line Brewing Co. on Plum Street, a renovated, circa-1918 horse and mule shop where the huge courtyard’s firepit is fit for a dozen revelers.
MORNING ➞ Explore the leafy residential streets of the Vineville and College Hill neighborhoods near Mercer University before an early brunch at Yollah Social Kitchen + Garden. The lively Latin American–inspired concept, drenched in pastels, features a spacious backyard full of shaded seating and, often, live music. The Cuban sandwich—light with a hint of woodsmoke—alongside a robust French press provides fuel for your Macon weekend grand finale.
Fittingly coined the “Palace of the South,” the Italian Renaissance Revival–style Hay House encompasses 18,000 square feet, 24 principal rooms, and enough jaw-dropping opulence to make the Kardashians seem miserly. Completed in 1859, it’s considered one of Georgia’s grandest residences and a window into bygone ways of life. Tip: Pay the extra $5 to tour the upper floors, where the two-story cupola functions as an observation tower. From there, survey the historic districts of Macon you’ve come to know—and love—over the past two days before hitting the road home.
BOUNTY OF BOUTIQUES
Whether you’re hunting for cocktail kits, vintage tees, or hand-poured candles, downtown Macon has you covered.
THE BOHEMIAN DEN
This trippy but welcoming metaphysical gift shop showcases local artists and deals in everything from kantha quilts and smudging wands to fair-trade jewelry. Don’t miss the dirt-cheap books of matches that become coconut-scented incense as they burn.
7TH STREET SALVAGE
A circa-1910 warehouse turned beautiful, two-story corner store, 7th Street Salvage is a maker’s paradise of handmade candles, custom doors, quirky puzzles, and old books.
This inclusive, local women’s clothing store oozes style for all seasons and can accessorize you from head to toe, including requisite college-town “game day” buttons and tees.
This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Southbound.