Last Updated on December 21, 2023

People driving between Florida and Atlanta often overlook Macon. They are missing a lot. It’s filled with fun attractions of every kind, true Southern dining, and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns. Macon’s history dates back to prehistoric times and moves through Civil War and Civil Rights. Music history lives in Macon. Outdoor fun abounds.

Macon is a city with something for everyone. Its location on the Ocmulgee River and nearby Lake Tobesofkee offers ample outdoor and camping fun, you can even go on a scavenger hunt!

16 Best Things to Do in Macon

Tubman Museum

Macon GA
A look into one of the exhibits at the Tubman Museum. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Tubman Museum shares African American history and culture. It’s the largest museum of its kind in the Southeast. The museum makes a positive statement about Black history. You’ll find military heroes such as Crispus Attucks, the first Black man to die in the American Revolution. Rodney Davis is Macon’s only Medal of Honor recipient.

Entertainers like Otis Redding, sightless singer-guitar player Rev. Pearly Brown. Rev. Brown performed at Carnegie Hall and became the first Black entertainer to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. The new museum also has some exhibits from the defunct Georgia Music Hall of Fame. One of my favorites there is a colorful pair of boots belonging to Little Richard.

Loose Cannonballs Can Be Fun

Step inside to see a real Civil War cannonball at this historic site. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Cannonball House has a Civil War cannonball still in place. It is a fun place to tour. During the Battle of Dunlap Hill, the now-famous cannonball became lodged in Judge Asa Holt’s residence, now called the Cannonball House. The shot was aimed at Hay House, the home of William Butler Johnson, who was then Treasurer of the Confederacy. Instead, it glanced off one of its columns, passed through the parlor wall, and settled unexploded at the bottom of the stairs. It is still there. You can stand right next to it. While there, be sure to visit the original brick servants’ quarters and kitchen in the rear.

Hay House

Get transported back to the seventeenth century when you visit the Hay House. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Built in 1860, the Hay House had such amenities as hot and cold running water, walk-in closets, plus a heating and cooling system. Even the White House didn’t have all the luxuries at the mansion owned by William Johnston.

Johnston made his fortune in insurance, real estate, and banking. His young wife, Anne, called Hay House “her fairy palace.” Hay House is now owned by the National Historic Trust and is open to the public as a museum.

Black Theaters

Catch a show or film at this historic theater. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Douglass Theater is one of the few historical theaters built, designed, owned, and operated by an African-American. Charles Douglass was a man ahead of his time. His theater offered patrons the opportunity to see three or four short films on its golden screen and traveling vaudeville performers. It hosted Duke Ellington, Ma Rainey, Little Richard, Otis Redding, and James Brown during its heyday.

As television in homes dominated movie theaters, the Douglass Theatre closed its doors in 1972. However, the dream didn’t end. The theater reopened in 1997 after a more than three-million-dollar facelift. The Walk of Fame out front recognizes Georgia’s musical giants.

Explore Prehistoric Times

Trek up the various mounds at this park to gaze at artifacts. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park takes you back to Macon’s pre-Columbian history. From Ice-Age hunters to the Muscogee (Creek) people of historical times, there is evidence of 12,000-years of human habitation near present-day Macon.

The mounds you visit were the homes of an ancient settlement dating back to around 900 AD. These were not the first dwellers here. The people of the Mississippian era displaced earlier groups of hunter-gatherers, then started a farming culture on the river banks.

The park has seven mounds. The tallest is the 55 feet Great Temple Mound. The mounds probably had houses on top of them. One mound was a burial mound. One of the mounds houses a reconstructed council chamber with the original 1000-year-old floor still intact.

Imagine the leaders sitting in the circle facing their bird effigy and deciding tribal policy. Seeing the mounds requires a good bit of walking. But, for the very fit, you can climb the steps to the top of Temple Mound.

The museum highlights archeological finds at the mounds with over 2,000 artifacts. The oldest date to 12,000 BC. Two of the displays are life-sized replicas of life in that era. In addition, there is a short film explaining Mississippian Culture. The park has picnic tables and hiking trails. I took a candlelight tour; it was marvelous.

Macon’s Music History Includes Opera

Macon’s Grand Opera House is called “The Grand Lady of Mulberry.” Built in 1884, it lives up to its name. It was once the largest stage south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

You can still catch a performance today, but it is mainly concerts, not opera. The theater suffered a decline with the rise of movies and later television and was destined to become another high-rise parking lot. However, it was rescued through the efforts of Supporters of the Grand Old Opera House in 1967. It was Macon’s first building to appear on the National Register of Historic Places.

The theater has a resident spirit, known as “Randy.” Randall Widner, the former managing director, took his life in a room called the Thunder Room above the stage in 1971. Since then, whoever opens the Grand Opera House always greets Randall as if he were there—and perhaps he is.

One unexplained phenomenon involves the theater’s spring-loaded seats. When Randall was alive, he frequently sat in one of the seats to eat lunch. Frequently, people have observed a seat popping from the down to the up position as if someone had gotten up.

Capricorn Recording Studio

Gaze into the front window of this sound studio. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Mercer Music at Capricorn, where Bob Conrad, the director, led us through a tour of this musical icon is a work of art. One section is a brand-new studio that still fits the original image. Bob told us, “We built this on in 2019. We’re still a very active recording studio.”

While we were there, a local radio station broadcast was in progress in one of the control booths. Next, we went across the other side of the lobby. We visited the original studio where so many famous musicians of the 1970s recorded. Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Wet Willie, Marshal Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, and others all called this their musical home. According to Bob, “This is like stepping back in time. Everything here, except the instruments, is original.”

Upstairs there is a museum. There is an interesting exhibit that is a digital version of a record player. You choose an album, and it brings up an image of a vinyl record where you put a digital needle on the “record” and listen through a headphone.

The Big House in Macon

A wall dedicated to the Allman Brothers at The Big House. Photo by Kathleen Walls

The Allman Brothers Museum is at The Big House, where Southern Rock was born. But, the three-story twin-gabled house is more than a museum. It was home for the band members and friends.

Southern rock changed the sound of American music in the 1970s. It is a unique style that incorporates elements of blues, jazz, and country music. I liked the large painting of the band displayed next to their multiple gold records. Naturally, there are many of the band’s instruments and clothing.

Allman Brothers Band was a big influence in getting Jimmy Carter elected as President of the USA. Several letters from him to band members are on display. In addition, there is a photo of Carter wearing a Win, Lose, or Draw album tee shirt. Underneath it quotes him saying. “I don’t intend to lose.”

Upstairs the bedrooms of Duane Allman and the Oakleys look like they’re waiting for their occupants to return home. The Oakley’s bedroom contains many of their daughter Brittany’s toys and clothing.

Rock Candy Tour

Hop on the Rock Candy Tour and learn of Macon’s musical history. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Every music lover should take the Rock Candy Tour. It touches the bases of every musician that passed through Macon.

My guide was Rex Dooley. He was knowledgeable, funny, and seemed to know an awful lot of the present-day musicians. He took me to places where Gregg Allman proposed to Cher, the Douglass Theater with its Walk of Fame, and dozens more. We met Newt Collier, whose star proclaims him Dean of Macon Music.

Later, as we passed Capricorn Studio. We met up with several musicians; Michael Ventimiglia and his band, Big Mike and the Booty Papas were heading in to sing the blues after a tour in Europe.

Jessica Walden, a co-founder of Rock Candy Tours, has music in her blood. She is the daughter of Alan Walden and niece of Phil Waldon, both inductees in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. As a young man, Phil Waldon managed the then little-known Otis Redding.

Rex pointed out the two buildings, almost side by side, where Otis Redding’s funeral was held. Later, Duane Allman and Berry Oakley were brought after their separate fatal motorcycle accidents. Ironically, both men were only 24 when they died a year apart.

Otis Redding by the Water in Macon

Otis Redding Statue in Macon GA
Statue of Otis Redding playing the guitar at Gateway Park. Photo by Kathleen Walls

About midway in the Rock Candy Tour, we stopped in at the Otis Redding Foundation. There’s a small Otis Redding Mini-Museum inside that preserves the history of the King of Soul. It’s also where Soul lives. The Otis Redding Foundation helps underprivileged kids through music appreciation.

Otis Redding’s life-size statue sits on the bank of the Ocmulgee River at Gateway Park.

Cemeteries Are More Than Burial Places

Macon has two historic cemeteries. Historic Riverside Cemetery offers a Spirits in October guided walking tour. In the tour. Actors portray the spirits of some of Macon’s most fascinating characters. The cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rose Hill Cemetery is where Duane Allman, his brother Gregg, and the band’s bassist Berry Oakley rest. The cemetery inspired the Allman Brothers Band’s song, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. She is buried here.

The cemetery’s original purpose was to serve the Macon community as a park. Rose Hill Ramble, a historically focused tour, showcases different architectural designs, building materials, and cultural burial practices throughout different cemetery sections.

Among the stops: Dunlap Mausoleum, Central Avenue, St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, exploration of Eglantine Square, the historic Hebrew Burial Ground, and the Allman Brothers burial site.

Georgia Sports Hall of Fame

Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is America’s largest state sports museum. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame opened, April 24, 1999. It’s an interactive museum where you participate, not just appreciation many of the exhibits. One example is an interactive wheelchair race, or taking a seat in the sportscaster’s chair where you can make the call for one of sports history’s significant moments.

My tour began with a video introducing you to the world of Georgia sports in a 205-seat theater modeled after a ballpark stadium. Then, when the cheers died away, I emerged into a colorful display of jerseys and banners.

A thrilling exhibit is Bill Elliott’s red NASCAR automobile, featured prominently on the second floor. No way could they could have driven it to that spot. Robbie Burns, the museum’s former publicity director, told me the secret. “It was hoisted and maneuvered through an opening on the second floor where a huge, curved window had been removed to allow the car’s access.”

Outdoor Fun in Macon

Get outside and camp out at this beautiful recreation area. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Lake Tobesofkee Recreation Area offers three parks and 1800-acres of freshwater fun. Here’s where you do your fishing, boating, picnicking, tennis, and swimming.

If you want to camp, two of the parks, Arrowhead and Claystone, are ideal. Claystone Campground offers several sites near the lake. There’s a laundromat, the showers are spacious and clean, plus there is a day-use area with a beautiful sandy beach.

Macon Dining

A look at the stained glass window at The Rookery. Photo by Kathleen Walls

There are many restaurants worth enjoying in Macon.

Oliver’s has fresh food done in its unique style. I had the day’s special, a steak quesadilla with a delicious sauce. For an appetizer, try the sweet potato fries with blue cheese topping.

The Rookery was a favorite dining place of both Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers Band. The pot roast is a tasty treat.

At Piedmont Brewery and Restaurant, try the Lemon Pepper Wings and a special lemon cheesecake.

Sleep in the Past

For out-of-towners take a look into a stay at the 1842 Inn. Photo by Kathleen Walls

Macon calls itself the city of “White Columns and Cherry Blossoms.” One of the most beautiful white columns, the gracious Greek Revival, 1842 Inn, was built by Judge John Gresham as his family residence. The inn is the perfect Southern image of hospitality. It played host to many famous people over the years, from Jefferson Davis to William Howard Taft.

Each room carries the name of a prominent person or place that has a connection to Macon. Georgia Belle, Dogwood, and Magnolia rooms pay homage to the South’s favorite flowers.

There are rooms named in honor of Sidney Lanier, Georgia’s most famous poet, and William Bartram, a naturalist who traveled through Georgia. However, what is unusual in this bastion of Southern heritage is to find a room (it’s not a sleeping room but a public parlor) named in honor of Taft. The reason? Taft stayed here in 1909, shortly after his election.

I stayed in the Macon Room on the second floor. It had a beautiful historic feel with all the modern amenities. Breakfast is served either in the parlor, courtyard, or your room. I had French toast filled with cream cheese, topped with strawberry preserves, fresh strawberries, and dusted with powder sugar. So yummy! I couldn’t have found a more hospitable place to stay in Macon.

Festivals

Macon hosts many festivals during the year. The biggest festival revolves around the Yoshino Cherry Tree. It produces no fruit, but lives to create beauty. In early spring each year, the trees drape the city in a blanket of soft pink blossoms. Locals love nature’s blushing masterpiece. They share it with the world.

In 1983, residents decided to gift-wrap the city with pink bows, put together tons of different entertaining activities, invite artists and crafters, and throw a city-wide party. Thus, the first International Cherry Blossom Festival was born. It continues to this day.

Two other notable festivals are held annually. The Juneteenth Freedom Festival celebrates African American freedom and the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration. Members of many indigenous tribes come to celebrate their heritage in September.

Getting Around

There is a small regional airport, but most people arrive in Macon by car. Two interstate highways cross in Macon; I-16 for travelers from Savannah and coastal Georgia,  I-75 if you are traveling between Atlanta and Florida. It’s about 85 miles south of Atlanta putting it right in the dead center of Georgia.

There is a bus service in Macon. Macon/Bibb County Transit Authority (MTA) operates 10 routes. The fare is $1.25. The transit station occupies a historic Beaux-Arts-style former railroad station, built in 1916; the station is on the National Register of Historic Places. Most people drive as it’s an easy city to navigate. Parking is available.

Where to Stay in Macon

Looking for where to stay in Macon? Check out these hotels located in the area.

Booking.com

Is Macon Worth A Visit

Macon is a city with something for everyone. Its location on the and nearby Lake Tobesofkee offers ample outdoor and camping fun.

The Visitor’s Center is a museum and a great place to get information. You can’t miss it. It has piano keys all around the roofline and its slogan “Where Soul Lives” in bold orange letters on it.

Author

  • Kathleen Walls

    Kathleen Walls, a former reporter for Union Sentinel in Blairsville, GA, is publisher/writer for American Roads and Global Highways. Originally from New Orleans, she currently resides in Middleburg, FL and has lived in Florida most of her life while traveling extensively.