Below: A Traveltorial by Andge
Summer cumulonimbus clouds greeted our arrival into the Atlanta airport. With the summer travel season kicking off in full-swing, our arrival into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was an unexpectedly smooth operation.
The temperature gauge ran hot yet the Atlanta traffic ran surprisingly cold (A good thing). The easy departure from Atlanta down Highway 85 South on the short drive to Auburn left little room for anticipation, as before we knew it, the city presented itself on the horizon. The protracted nature of the Atlanta Metropolis paired with the quick ease of transport could have one forgiven for calling Auburn a friendly neighborhood suburb of Atlanta.
Approaching my accommodations is a pleasant drive just on the outside of downtown Auburn, countryside giving way to beautiful evergreens. Upon driving through the winding path of the resort entryway, I look out the window to peer at the exceptionally well-kempt green landscape. Hints of the surrounding Robert Trent Jones Golf Course sporadically reveal itself on the approach to the Marriott frontal.
The journey inward, the modern interior facade and vibrant, tasteful colors that greet you as you arrive in the lobby of the Marriott resort, not to mention the scenes of tropical contrast that is the pool and cabana area, all serve to wipe the slate clean of where we are-this place is an experience in its own right. Tucked away just out of whistle’s call from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, Montgomery and Mobile, I get the feeling this may be just the Southern retreat I’ve been looking for. I almost feel as though I’m in on a delightful secret. A sharp dressed staff with Southern charm await patiently and humbly behind the front desk. Two Southern Belle’s dressed in unique elegant chic summer sundresses and a young gallant gentleman are assisted by a service attendant reminiscent of the lyrics “Put Me In Coach”. No uniforms. They were ready to play, gathered our information effortlessly and after asking for some criteria so they could place us in the best room suited to our individual needs, gave us our cards and pointed the way.
Arriving into the cabana area, a slide guitar musician sings an Outlaw Country tune and brings the experience back around full circle. The character is unassuming, the music setting the tone in the background as children and well-behaved adults alike enjoy pool areas. A full-bar cabana, cornhole courts and the background sounds from the waterfall all make for a pleasant and peaceful area for dinner and drinks. The distant sounds of tennis balls and the clanking of disc golf baskets accentuate pure sounds of summer delight. Sure, there are two charming towns within a stone’s throw chock full of dinner eateries, but there’s no reason to go anywhere. This place has it all.
The spritely young man of a bartender fashions a flare of a smoked old fashioned, flaming orange peel not excluded, and the next thing I know, I’m in bed. Despite the fun atmosphere and live music that continued well into the night, my room, just feet away from the pool and bar, was quiet, the thick glass and insulation of the building allowing for a quiet sleep despite anything that could be occurring just feet away outside. I could go on about the comfort and modernity of the room, but let’s face it, it’s of the highest Marriott quality-enough said.
The next morning, before my foray into Downtown Auburn, I enjoy an elegant breakfast buffet with all of the breakfast staples you’d expect under the brass sun and a timely wait staff that I almost didn’t know was there. The surprisingly short drive from the Marriott Resort to Downtown Auburn has me anticipating my first stop in town: Toomer’s Lemonade. Toomer’s is an Auburn staple that originally opened its doors as a drugstore in 1896. It’s too early for alcohol, but it’s the perfect time to start the day with a fresh, hand-squeezed lemonade. After taking my first sip, I find myself unsure of which would have a bigger kick. The hospitality of the workers there, the dense feeling of history there and the taste of the lemonade itself was just what the doctor ordered. I can see why Esquire Magazine rated Toomer’s Lemonade as the number one reason in its list of “162 Reasons It’s Good To Be An American”.
The Auburn campus snuggles up next to the town of Auburn. There’s excitement in the air, and the summer breeze shows the first hints of Fall that ever-so-softly begins to knock on the door. The winds also bring the future class of 2022, traveling in groups around campus with their university guides who point towards the towering Samford Hall, the most iconic building in town that stands as a pillar for Auburn University. Thinking the phrase “Class of 2022” makes me feel aged, yet seeing the excitement of the young adults on the cusp of college life takes me back to a time of my own adolescent wonder.
A passersby smiles, waves and exchanges a greeting as I make my way to the Hotel at Auburn University, a lovely hotel and conference center that sits within a stone’s throw from the shopping and dining district of Downtown Auburn. I feel at home in this town. Southern hospitality is no myth, and I can feel it here. The exterior of the hotel, recently renovated in gorgeous fashion, is nothing compared to what I found as I made my way inside the automatic doors that swung open to a surprisingly elegant lobby. It’s true that in Auburn it’s difficult to escape the Auburn orange, the War Eagle or the Tiger, but the only semblance of town pride I spy in this den is a tasteful bronze statue of an Eagle about to take flight that sits within a convocation of swanky seating. A coffee shop miniature diorama sits just to the back of the lobby and is a welcomed staple to the drab coffee station one typically encounters in a hotel lobby. The smiling barista is the cherry on top. Ariccia Trattoria rounds out the other end of the lobby and offers a dimly lit dining experience and full bar. The terrace seating outdoors is encircled by brick and kingly ferns, allowing for a delightful outdoor occasion with views of the University while providing private comfort from the sidewalk. Trendy Edison bulbs flank the traversing pergola as welcomed fireflies.
As I make my way to the other end of the hotel, I spot computer bays and a private board room. A short detour down a hallway flanked on either side with towering mirrors leads me to the Dixon Conference Center. Three sizable banquet rooms are connected to a dazzling common area neatly and perfectly symmetrical, lit from above by artistically original aureoles and supported by luxurious shag. While the Conference Center is easily accessible from the lobby, it is tucked away from the hotel’s foot traffic.
Now is the time to head to Opelika (Say it with me: “Oh-Pah-LIE-ka”), a neighboring town, to experience some nightlife. Now, Downtown Auburn and the Marriott resort both have their fair share of nighttime activities that would appease any visitor, but I want to experience something unique. Something off the beaten path. I’m told that Eighth & Rail is the place to go. Boasting as one of the South’s great music venues, Eighth & Rail’s menu was also impressive, from sushi to coffee to cocktails to beer and wine. The long red curtains that drape down the front facade windows hold in a secret: a surprisingly hip (if not hipster) joint that offered let-loose restraint. Think Downtown Auburn’s Uptown Cousin. She drinks red wine, craft beers, laughs at increasing heights, sometimes plays in a folk band. She has a great time, but you probably won’t catch her fist pumping.
Downtown Opelika is small, and Eighth & Rail sits politely in line with a storybook front of other assorted shops and eateries. Boutiques, an icecream shop from another time and other palette pleasantries ride the rail. What excites me most, though, is the Red Clay Brewing Company and the John Emerald Distilling Company. The Red Clay Brewing Company offers a variety of craft brews and an Irish pub vibe as I spy several gentlemen posted up around a table, donning instruments they strum and whisp from the acoustic guitar to the viola. Brew enthusiasts and locals alike scatter the evening floor and congregate outside upon the wooden benches. I didn’t have the chance to take the John Emerald Distilling Company tour, but you know what they say? Got’ta leave something to come back for.
The next day, I set out to tour some of the unique venues Auburn-Opelika has to offer. My first stop was at the infamous Red Barn. From the photographs I had seen of the place, the events I had heard about being hosted there, such as elegant barn-chic company dinners and keynotes and weddings, and the fact that it is literally a red barn, I imagined it being off the beaten path down some dusty hidden road. This was not the case, but a delightful location nonetheless. From the pond out front of the red barn one can spy Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s literally that close to Downtown Auburn. I see this as an asset, especially considering its proximity to the Hotel at Auburn University. The interior was charming as you might expect, and looking inside I could imagine what ornamental feats could be accomplished with the space. Talk about a Fall’s day dream.
A short drive over to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art had me arrive to a wonderland of outdoor sculptures that immediately piqued my interest. Sitting just at the entry of Auburn University’s main campus, the interior was just as dazzling. This modern marvel of architectural excellence contained a surprisingly diverse interior: a French-style cafe, a theater, an English-inspired formal area, a terrace overlooking a great pond with two very mysterious creatures lurking in its midst and six gallery spaces exhibiting everything from classic Americana to the avant-garde obscura. The museum docent had a sunny dress and a personality to match.
My time was almost up, but before I skipped town, I had one last stop: Chewacla State Park. The Park offers nearly 700 acres of green and blue space, with green fields and recreation pavilions standing alongside bike paths and a lake. The real treasures here, though, are the iconic arched masonry bridge as well as the natural and man-made waterfalls. It’s quiet here, the kind of quiet where the true density of nature is allowed to set in. The picturesque views and incredibly unique masonry of the park’s most popular, and largest, waterfall at the backside of the lake allows me to click away at leisure one last time before I skip town.
As I stood and looked up at the towering wall of water, not a person in sight, I realized the most surprising element of my whole experience in Auburn and Opelika: That more people aren’t flocking here.
I won’t tell if you won’t.
“Andrew is the resident Wild Card at Digital Edge, lending his hand to general jobbing that includes pre and post production for film, motion graphics, interactive media and, when he’s feeling spritely, copywriting for the Digital Edge blog.”