2023 Columbus GA Visitors Guide
Nestled along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in west-central Georgia, Columbus was one of the last planned cities of the original 13 colonies. The city served as a major supply point during the Civil War and in fact, one of the last battles of the Civil War was fought in Columbus in 1865. Needless to say, Columbus is steeped in history.
In fact, history has been made again with the opening of the new National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center at Patriot Park, honoring the 233-year legacy of valor and sacrifice of the American Infantryman. This facility serves to educate, honor, and preserve the legacy of the oldest branch of the United States Armed Forces.
Inside the National Infantry Museum, you’re able to traverse the “Last 100 Yards Ramp,” where battles from each of the Infantry’s major conflicts over the years are depicted in striking realism, then amble through interactive galleries tracing Infantry history from colonial times to the present and the training of today’s Soldier.
Truly a one-of-a-kind experience is a visit to the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, the only museum in the country dedicated to taking a comprehensive look at this fascinating aspect of the Civil War. Get swept away with stories of powder monkeys, and even see how the navies used submarines and torpedoes. New on the grounds at Port Columbus is a full-scale replica of the USS Water Witch, representing one of the most exciting events in Civil War naval history. Climb aboard the Water Witch to get a taste of what life was like sailing the high seas.
A stroll along the 15-mile Chattahoochee Riverwalk will bring you to the edge of Georgia and of history. As you meander beside the river, you can almost hear the whistle of an arriving paddleboat loaded with cotton. Walking, jogging, biking, or in-line skating down the Riverwalk is a treat year-round.
But step back into today, and you’ll experience the new RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the crown jewel in Columbus’ new arts and entertainment district; the Columbus Museum, one of the largest museums in the South and offers a rich collection of regional history artifacts, Native American crafts made on the Chattahoochee River, and fascinating American impressionist paintings and vibrant contemporary mixed-media pieces; or you can literally gaze into the future as you study faraway planets and distant galaxies or even board the space shuttle and go on a moon mission at the Coca-Cola Space Science Center!
Columbus is also home to the Springer Opera House and the State Theatre of Georgia. This is one of America’s most vibrant professional theatre companies, complete with a popular Mainstage Series, an innovative second-space series called Studio II, an Academy Series featuring some of this region’s most talented student actors, and a ten-state regional touring program called Springer Theatre On Tour.
From military history, and art and science museums, to world-class entertainment, Columbus takes the best of the past and merges into the present, creating a place that is both timeless and comfortable.
The longest urban whitewater course in the world—who knew? Not many towns may lay claim to that distinction. Columbus, Georgia does. But that isn’t the only accolade to be noticed on a long weekend in this clean, organized, and polite Southern city.
It all started with the 1996 Summer Olympics and the decision to host the fastpitch softball games outside Atlanta, in Columbus, only an hour away. The city developed an impressive cluster of ball fields, but that was only the beginning. “Our leadership developed a vision and formed a public/private partnership that would begin a 30-year reinvestment program,” says Peter Bowden, president, and CEO of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It has changed everything.”
The city created a whitewater course through a section of low falls in the broad Chattahoochee, practically within a stone’s throw of the CVB. Later, a zip line would sweep adventure seekers right over to Alabama on the opposite side of the river from a high bird’s nest platform. For connectivity and recreation, a 20-mile Riverwalk was built, increasing riverfront development, as well as commercial and residential property values.
The 240,000-square-foot RiverCenter for the Performing Arts is the city’s cultural hub and includes a 2,000-seat theater, a 430-seat hall and a 150-seat studio theater for a variety of concerts and performances. Executive Director Norm Easterbrook oversees this impressive asset that draws crowds from near and far. “RiverCenter offers a broad range of performances each season,” he says. There are 24 performances in the lineup for 2018.
We had tickets to a Classic Albums Live concert at the RiverCenter. It happened to be a clever and convincing performance of the entire “Dark Side of the Moon” album by Pink Floyd. Remember, “Money—it’s a gas, grab that cash with both hands and make a stash,” along with other lofty lyrics from 1973. Totally entertaining! The series was sponsored by Aflac, Synovus, TSYS, Georgia Power, Callaway Gardens and the Columbus Jazz Society, to name a few. The mix of Broadway productions, symphony performances, pop concerts, children’s shows, and holiday presentations are a highlight for the city of Columbus and its visitors.
Checking into the Marriott Columbus put us within walking distance of the most interesting restaurants and attractions, beginning the next morning with a Saturday street market that extended several blocks down Broad Street. Vendors of farm-fresh vegetables, French pastries, straw hats, knitwear, jewelry, artwork, and pottery created a lively atmosphere.
Later, a tasty lunch at the charming Wicked Hen Restaurant on 13th Street featured the produce, meats, and cheeses of Chattahoochee valley farmers, and was the prequel to our afternoon museum tours.
The Columbus Museum is housed in a mansion on a hill overlooking the city and is reminiscent of the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga. This museum is actively building its acquisitions, which include local history and the obligatory works of Sargent and Henri, but also new works by glass artist Dale Chihuly and a gallery for children. It also just acquired a sizable collection of art assembled by the Alma Thomas Society. The organization is dedicated to bringing award-winning African-American art to life in this region.
On the way back to the riverfront we stopped in to see the National Civil War Naval Museum, housing several Confederate warships that were actually built in Columbus, then sent downriver to the gulf to be used in maneuvers along the coast. Near the end of the war, some ships were burned to prevent their capture and later their hulls were recovered from the bottom of the river to be displayed here. Other museums include the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center and several Coca-Cola-related attractions.
Like Chattanooga, Columbus also has a direct lineage to soft drink genius, through the likes of pharmacists Claud Hatcher who developed Royal Crown Cola and Dr. John Pemberton who originated the Coca-Cola formula. Ernest and Robert Woodruff were also born in Columbus. The Woodruffs created a syndicate to purchase Coca-Cola from the Candlers in 1919 for $25 million. This reorganization of the company required that they move to Atlanta. The Historic Columbus Foundation and the Coca-Cola Company have worked together over the years to restore and preserve many of the homes and drug stores from this era.
Located along the town’s unique riverfront, enlivened by urban rafters and groups zip lining across the wide Chattahoochee, are the outfitters themselves and the newest restaurants serving uptown and riverfront visitors. Whitewater Express Outfitters on Bay Avenue put together the perfect adventure for couples, friends, and families. From spring break to summer holiday, to fall finale excursions—Columbus entertains in a variety of ways. And, adventurers work up an appetite!
The exceptional new riverfront restaurant, 11th & Bay, serves Southern cuisine with a fresh, contemporary style in a smart, relaxed environment. Seasonal salads, small plates, seafood, chops, and steaks are enhanced by a range of beverages, including craft cocktails, draft beers, and fine wines. The watermelon salad and grilled redfish were beyond expectations. Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed on Sunday, so plan the visit carefully. In fact, in planning the journey, one discovers a trove of potential adventures.
Take scenic Highway 27 due South, deep into Georgia. The route takes a bit over four hours but is more interesting than the unpredictable Interstate drive through Atlanta. For visitors, the easy exploration the highway offers could reveal new attractions. Columbus is only one locale along a back road route that passes eight state parks and 13 notable small towns. The US Twenty-Seven Association offers an informative map.
The welcoming people of Columbus are a pleasant surprise with their hospitality and polite ways. While there is plenty of high energy adventure to be found there, the city moves at an agreeable pace that gives one time to catch up.