On the Road

Columbus, Georgia: A River Runs Through It

By: The Local Palate

A swing through Columbus, Georgia, reveals art, waterworks, and creativity on the plate

There’s a lot of quirk going on in Columbus, Georgia, the second-largest city in the state after Atlanta. Despite its size, this big-hearted small town surprises at every turn.

Epic Dogs and Eats

Served with pride at the circa-1918 Dinglewood Pharmacy’s lunch counter, where the regional fave was invented, scrambled dogs are something else. Layered on an oval platter, there’s chili, hotdog buns, pickles, coleslaw, and atomic-red nuggets of hot dogs, all topped with oyster crackers. Add cheese, onions, and mustard to taste. You probably just need one for the table.

Columbus Epic copy

For another kind of dining experience, Epic Restaurant is a sexy, art-filled concept from gregarious chef Jamie Keating, showcasing his deft talent for modern American cuisine. The seasonal chef’s tasting might include compressed watermelon salad with feta and hemp-crusted salmon with wild rice and brown butter. Add the creative charcuterie board—Georgia on my Plate—to taste locally produced meats and cheeses with (a first for most folks) boiled peanut hummus served with sweet potato chips. Epic is on the river, but there are plenty of other dining options in the heart of town.

Whitewater Rafting in Columbus

Urban Rapids

Once a busy mill town on the Chattahoochee River, the city has reimagined itself, turning industrial brick buildings into mixed-use spaces for living, eating, and retail. In 2013, a man-made wave shaper was installed in a 2.5-mile section of the Chattahoochee, and it’s now the longest urban whitewater rafting course in the world. Another draw is ziplining across the w from Georgia to Alabama and back again. Columbus’ green space includes 22 miles of paved RiverWalk that meanders past downtown, perfect for strolling or biking.

Art Focus

The spectacular Bo Bartlett Center on the leafy downtown campus of Columbus State University is testimony to the town’s vivid art scene, which shows up in street murals and local art shows. Besides showcasing the American realist’s large-scale portraits, the center is an experimental arts incubator and community hub. Thirty miles outside of town, there’s Pasaquan: The technicolor complex was home to the late eccentric folk artist Eddie Owens Martin, who called himself St. EOM and told fortunes on the side. As a gay teen without family support, he fled Georgia for Greenwich Village, returning to the family home when his parents died. He worked on Pasaquan for 30 years until his death in 1986. Now under the stewardship of Columbus State University, its 900 feet of elaborately painted masonry walls are vivid with images evoking pre-Columbian, African, and Native American cultural and religious symbols.

Ma Rainey Slept Here

Director Theresia Highsmith leads entertaining tours of the Ma Rainey House, which Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s bought for her mama and retired to in 1935. The home is a portal into the early 20th-century blues and minstrel scene, with memorabilia and personal effects and furniture from this blues legend, whose life inspired the character of Shug Avery in The Color Purple.

Vinny Barbarino, Pinups, and Fast Cars

radio museum

If you carried a lunch box back in the day, chances are it’s on display at Allen Woodall’s Lunchbox Museum, the world’s largest, packed floor to ceiling with more than 3,000 lunch boxes and 100 thermoses. The boxes showcase pop culture icons from Mickey Mouse to Star Trek, Flipper, Happy Days, and John Travolta in Welcome Back Kotter. Woodall is a compelled collector, rounding out the Columbus Collective Museum with the Nehi, Chero-Cola and Royal Crown Cola Museum, all produced in Columbus. There are sassy RC Cola pinup lovelies from the early 1900s, the Georgia Radio Museum (a nod to Woodall’s broadcasting career), the Tom Huston Peanut Museum and a car collection that includes a cherry red 1955 Thunderbird and a 2008 Tesla Roadster. The place is laced with nostalgia, but even at 89 years young, Woodall isn’t done. He still buys from collectors at the museum’s front counter and plans to open a visionary art gallery this fall.

Mind the Mill

The newly opened 64-room City Mills Hotel, situated steps from the river and walking distance to town, honors its gristmill past by preserving impressive architectural and industrial details in a stunning design. From the original brick walls and hand-forged metalworks and artifacts to the VIP guest treatment and funky bar and restaurant on-site, this hotel is special. Bring Fido, too: City Mills is critter friendly.

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