Somebody once said (and I wish I could take credit for it) that “you can’t get to Auburn….and if you do finally make it you can’t leave!” That might explain why I have heard that aubie fans are the largest owners of RVs in the SEC and if you have ever been stuck in Auburn traffic on game day you will understand why.
Outside of drinking lemon-ade and staring at a space where majestic oaks used to stand at Toomer’s Corner there is not a lot to do in Auburn-Opelika. You could spend some time touring the neo-classical (1896) Lee County Court House or doing a driving tour of historic homes but that, along with the Eastern Alabama Museum of History is the extent of interesting things to see in the immediate region. That being said there is a lot to see/do either on the way or if you choose to venture a little ways from Auburn proper.
If you are coming from the Athens/Atlanta area you will pass Warm Springs about an hour or so before reaching Auburn and not only does this small city offer an inviting shopping and dining experience it is also the home to The Little White House State Historic Site . Included as part of the park offerings are the simple and humble house built by Franklin Roosevelt for his frequent visits to what he hoped were the curative powers of the warm water springs near-by as well as a small, but very good museum on the life of our thirty-second president with an emphasis on his time in Georgia and, of course, the springs and pools themselves. If you are lucky you will get a docent who was actually a patient at the hospital and get to hear their entertaining stories about spending time with FDR. Plan to spend much of the day exploring the park as well as Dowdell’s Knob, the near-by favorite picnic spot of Roosevelt, and the lovely little city of Warm Springs and what it has to offer.
If you prefer the scenic to the historical then plan a visit to near-by Callaway Gardens. Started in 1952 by the Callaway family to help preserve a rare native azalea the facility has grown to include the beautiful gardens, golf courses and other athletic facilities, the butterfly conservatories, a raptor center, incredible walking trails, as well as dining and lodging facilities amongst other things to see and do.
A bit South of the main route leading into Auburn is Columbus–where many folks heading to the game stay–and all that city has to offer. Take a leisurely stroll along the Chattahoochee River Walk and soak in the history of the city and its relationship with the river. The Columbus Museum blends historical exhibits with art and, surprisingly, is the second largest museum in all of Georgia. Once considered the best theater house between Washington and New Orleans The Springer Opera House, built in 1871, is the “Official State Theatre of Georgia” and is well worth a tour. The hauntingly beautiful Linwood Cemetery, established before Columbus was even a city, is the burial site of many who were important in the city and region as well as is an incredible example of funerary art. The National Infantry Museum looks at over 200 years of the US infantry soldier and the National Civil War Naval Museum explores the rich history of naval operations during the WBtS–especially those on the Chattahoochee and near Columbus. And those are just the highlights of Columbus as there are also walking and driving tours of the historic areas of the city.
Many of you have probably seen the movie Red Tails about the Tuskegee Airmen. Did you know there is a museum devoted to these brave WWII fighting men? Run by the National Park Service it is located just outside of Tuskegee, Alabama not too far southwest of Auburn. Also in Tuskegee is Tuskegee University. Founded in a one room shanty in 1881 with Booker T. Washington as the only teacher Tuskegee University is now one of the pre-eminent “historically black universities” in the nation and is well worth taking the time for a visit. Washington–whose on campus home, The Oaks, is part of the tour–became the first president of Tuskegee and is honored with a beautiful and moving statue on campus, “Removing the Veil”. In 1896 he persuaded George Washington Carver to come to Tuskegee and head up the new agricultural research institute at the school. Many of us know about Carver and peanuts but do not realize that peanuts were not his only focus as he experimented with any and all things agricultural and made discoveries that are still being used to this day. The life of this incredibly fascinating scientist and educator was honored by a museum built in the former laundry of the school and is a major part of the entire Tuskegee experience.
Not very far north of Auburn on state highway 49 is Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was a major fight between forces representing the US Government and the Creek Nation that did not turn out so well for the Creeks. Not only did the battle help to propel Andrew Jackson to national prominence it also forced the Creeks to cede over half of their ancestral lands to the United States and that area eventually became the state of Alabama. Visiting the site is essentially visiting history as there is not much to see except the actual battleground but if you can catch one of the several re-enactments or studies of the battle then you are in for a real history lesson.
As for where to stay around Auburn…….price gouging seems to be an art for Auburn home games. Even little Chewacla State Park just across I-85 from Auburn raises its rates by 50% for game week-ends. We used to rent a house on Lake Martin and enjoyed that for several years until they discovered that people were renting for the games and they started raising rates on game week-ends. If you look you can still find some deals around but they are few and far between but good luck.