Heading south from Atlanta on I-75 in a new Kia Sportage, we began a planned sojourn along the Coast of Georgia that had us going directly past Macon. This city has a musical heritage that has influenced rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, country, and pop for decades. Macon is the birthplace of Little Richard, the home of Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers Band, and the place where Macon recording studios routinely hosted the likes of James Brown and Ray Charles. With such a history, we decided it would be something close to a mortal sin if we didn't spend a day exploring this music mecca before poking around the inlets and estuaries that lace Georgia's coast. In all, we logged 700-plus miles while enjoying the luxury and comfort of our AWD Kia Sportage crossover.
We were totally impressed with the Sportage. The human factors Kia has engineered into the user-friendly controls, the vehicle's functionality, excellent visibility, and the pure comfort it yields left us no choice but to give it high marks -- and we recorded a very respectable overall fuel economy of 26.7 mpg on our trip. With a base MSRP of $24,795, this nicely appointed unit came at an as-tested price of $29,990.
A stop in Macon is not complete without visiting the Otis Redding Foundation mini museum located downtown. Inside, we talked with Otis Redding's wife Zelma, his daughter Carla, and his grandson Justin. They are warm, wonderful people who work diligently to preserve the legacy Otis Redding left to the music world. They use his name to provide grants and scholarships to talented individuals across all genres of music.
Ten minutes from the museum is the house where Little Richard was born It's called a "shotgun house: If you were to open the front door and back door simultaneously, you'd be able to see straight through, front to rear. It's painted a bright pink, exactly as you might imagine this rock 'n' roll giant's house to look.
The Big House, where the Allman Brothers Band lived and recorded until they were discovered, is now a museum. It houses memorabilia from those heady music years of the 1970s, complete with the band's instruments, concert posters, albums, personal items, and the classic album cover featuring Greg Allman and Cher, from when they were married. We took a detour through the Rose Hills Cemetery where some of their best tunes were composed. It's rumored that the lyrics from many of their love songs were actualized here on hot summer nights on the cool marble and granite slabs that date back nearly 200 years.
The place to stay in Macon is the 1842 Inn B&B where you're served Old Southern hospitality, and while you're in town, you must go to H&H for soul food. This is where the Allman Brothers Band got free meals. Mama Louise -- who still owns the H&H restaurant -- befriended them, giving them hot food and a place to enjoy it. Once the band reached the top, they didn't forget Mama Louise. On one occasion, they took her with them on a California concert tour where she rode in a black stretch limo with the band to their concerts. Her restaurant still features soul food, everything from smothered fried chicken to collard greens.
Pockets of music history dot Georgia's landscape. Along the south coast, one such place is the township of Woodbine. On Friday and Saturday nights, blues, gospel, and country are presented at the Woodbine Opry. For a few dollars, you can enjoy a home-prepared smorgasbord dinner, grab a seat in the old high school auditorium, and listen to the Opry come alive. Then there's Jekyll Island, only minutes away, where 100 years ago, the rich and famous from up north came south to spend the winter, play, and live in the lap of luxury. Today, the old, restored Jekyll Island Club Hotel is a wonderful place to spend a couple of days. Its long, sweeping verandas are lined with white handcrafted wooden rocking chairs where you can while away the late afternoon with a favorite beverage.
Adjacent to the hotel is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where injured and sick sea turtles are rehabilitated and released, a place where education is a primary goal. An interesting statistic is that only about one in every 8000 hatchlings makes it to adulthood. That's not very many, so the turtles need all the help they can get. Jekyll Island also has great bicycle and hiking paths, and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel offers bicycle rentals. While on the island, a seafood experience that won't disappoint is at SeaJay's Waterfront Cafe and Pub, where for about 10 bucks you can enjoy the all-you-can-eat Southern Boil.
A quick drive north of Jekyll Island is the town of Darien, a fun stop because of its history and the number of good eateries, wine and brew possibilities, unusual stores, and B&Bs along the bays and ocean inlets. The land hasn't changed much since the area was settled by a bunch of Scottish bad boys who built a fort to keep Spain from moving up the coast from Florida. Based on our experience, we can recommend the Blue Heron Inn as a great place to stay, and the vistas from the decks are magnificent. For good eats, the Purple Pickle, Darien River House Restaurant, and Skippers Fish Camp offer excellent fare.
Ten minutes from the Blue Heron Inn, you can catch the ferry (passengers only) over to Sapelo Island, where (with advance reservations) you can spend the night at the old Reynolds Plantation or at the Wallow B&B. Cornelia Bailey runs the Wallow, and the stories she tells about her slavery heritage are captivating. Only about 50 people live on Sapelo Island, the descendants slaves. Today, they own the land where their ancestors once toiled. Cornelia has made three visits to Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa, where her ancestors (nine generations ago) were sold into slavery. All the folks on Sapelo are related, like an extended family, and when you go on a guided island tour with JR Grovner, he has his own amazing stories to tell.
All along the Georgia coast are shrimp boats, for this is a huge industry. From St. Marys in the south to Darien in the north, you can purchase fresh shrimp for about $10 a pound, which is iced aboard the boats and sold in port. Each year, they hold a celebration to bless the shrimp fleet and pray for a bountiful harvest. If you want a real shrimping experience, in the coastal village of Brunswick you can board the Lady Jane and go out for an afternoon of shrimping. The skipper, Captain Larry Credle, takes some of bounty and cooks it on the spot aboard the shrimp boat. Take a tour of the pilot house, and pick the skipper's brain about life on Georgia's coast.
There are great kayaking opportunities here as well: Up the Creek Xpedition and Outfitters are located in the town of St. Marys, and Altamaha Coastal Tours and The Captain Gabby are in Darien. You can go solo or request a guided adventure out through the brackish water and sea grass to the ocean inlets. Dolphins often join the adventure, surfacing and diving alongside the kayaks. You can tailor an adventure to fit what you want to do and your capabilities.
No trip to Georgia's coast is complete without visiting Savannah, the crown jewel of all Southern cities. Sixty minutes north of Darien, nestled against the Savannah River, this is a city so charming that at least two full days are needed to explore what it offers. Stay in the Old Quarters downtown at the Presidents' Quarters Inn, and you'll be within easy walking distance of everything. Visiting Savannah is not complete without dining at Paula Dean's restaurant, the Lady and Sons, where Southern fare is served in abundance.
Paula prepares a pastry called Hoe Cakes, biscuit-like goodies originally baked in the rural South by heating the metal blade of a hoe until it was red hot, placing a portion of biscuit dough on the heated metal, and leaving it there until it was ready to serve. (Obviously, this isn't the way Paula Dean prepares them today.) Her collard greens, corn on the cob, and Southern fried chicken go nicely with these, and her bread pudding perfectly rounds out this dining experience. Reservations are required, for the Lady and Sons is a hot spot. You must arrive at 8 a.m., just to make a lunchtime reservation, but it's worth it.
Allman Brothers Band Big House
Otis Redding Foundation
Altamaha Coastal Tours
Blue Heron B&B
The Captain Gabby
Darien River House Restaurant
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
Jekyll Island Welcome Center
877/4-JEKYLL or 800/433-0225
JR Grovner Tours
The Lady and Sons
Lady Jane Cruises
912/230-4014 or 912/265-5711
The Presidents' Quarters Inn
SeaJays Waterfront Cafe & Pub
Up the Creek Xpeditions and Outfitters