Perhaps unbeknownst to many, Macon, Ga. is known as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World. Each March, the city turns pink as the trees bloom. The city celebrates this display of color with the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
It hasn’t always been this way though. A local realtor, William A. Fickling, Sr., discovered the first cherry tree in his backyard in 1949. In fact, this tree is so rare to the South no one in town even knew what kind of tree it was.
Three years later, during a business trip to Washington, D.C., Fickling spotted the same exact tree and finally figured out that he had a Yoshino cherry tree. Back home, he quickly learned how to share the tree with the community.
Over time, residents and the city planted trees in various neighborhoods and throughout the town. The Cherry Blossom Festival started in 1982 and, over the last 35 years, has grown to one of the biggest festivals not only in the South, but in the country. Today, the festival is a 10-day celebration including hundreds of events and is known as the “Pinkest Party on Earth!”
Somehow, despite living in the South my entire life, I had never heard of the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival until Grant mentioned it a few months back. He had heard a lot about the festival from his dad, who used to live in Macon.
The festival spans two weekends at the end of March and early April. Highlights of the festival include the amusement ride midway (carnival), a bed race, firefighter competition, Gala, parade, arts & crafts, a street party and lots of entertainers!
Central City Park
We arrived on Friday afternoon, just a few hours after the opening ceremony. Central City Park, where the amusement rides are located, was our first stop for the weekend.
Since it was still relatively early, there were not many folks there yet, but everything was up and running and ready for guests. We perused the various vendors, rides and carnival food booths, choosing a pink margarita for our happy hour drink.
The park is also the stage for various entertainment, including Zuzu African acrobats, a Butterfly Encounter and much more throughout the weekend. The acrobats were amazing and put on a great show! We learned how to feed a butterfly (with a nectar-filled sponge) at the walk-through butterfly exhibit.
We heard the first few songs of an 80s cover band, then decided to leave to find some “real” food!
For dinner, we headed into downtown Macon and stopped at the Ocmulgee Brewpub… We just can’t pass up a local brewpub! The beer and burgers were tasty and the atmosphere was just right. We enjoyed the communal tables and friendly staff.
Following dinner, we headed to Ocmulgee National Monument, a prehistoric American Indian site – you know how we love our National Parks sites!
During the Cherry Blossom Festival, Ocmulgee NM does a special Lantern Light Tour. The tour took us on a trail from the Visitor Center to the Great Temple Mound. Along the way there were several interpretive talks, sharing the 17,000 year history of Ocmulgee and the people who lived here.
Saturday morning we headed to the Woodruff House, an Antebellum Mansion that overlook the city of Macon. The house was built in the 1830s and is a Greek Revival plantation-style house. The house was built as a private residence, but is believed to have been used by both Confederate and Union forces during the Civil War. It has also been used as a school and today is owned by Mercer University.
The house is now on the National Register of Historic Places and the used for special events by the university. The house is open for viewing during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Woodruff House is very stately and its perch on the hill overlooking the city implies the wealth and prominence of its original owners. The interior is nicely decorated, showing off the living room, dining room and library downstairs, as well as four bedrooms on the second floor.
Also on display at Woodruff House was the Ikebana Japanese flower arranging exhibit.
Cherry Blossom Trail
After touring Woodruff House we drove through Macon in search of the famed Cherry Blossom Trees. A guided tour on a large bus costs $25/person, but we chose to save some money and follow the map provided online ourselves.
We drove past some wonderful homes and beautiful neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the cherry trees just aren’t blooming yet. We spent about 30-45 minutes driving through town and only found a few trees with a few blooms on them. Considering Georgia had a fairly cold streak which just ended about a week ago, this is not too surprising.
Many of the houses had pink ribbons or other displays on the mailbox or in the yard, which was nice. While we did not see the neighborhoods “painted pink” with flowers, we can tell once the blooms come out, it will be a fabulous display of color!
More Cherry Blossom Festival Events
Following our unfulfilled search of cherry trees, we headed downtown for lunch and more festival fun! There was an Open Air Market with several vendors, including all kinds of homemade goods. There were a couple of food trucks, but the lines were long.
We decided to eat lunch at the Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen. Grant and I both ordered the Smoked Chicken Salad sandwich. We rarely order the same meal, but the menu was limited. They did offer some burgers and other items that look good, but somehow we were just both in the mood for the chicken salad.
The smoked pulled chicken provided a nice flavor for the chicken salad. There was just the right amount of candied pecans to give it a nice additional pop of flavor. Grant had the White Rabbit Wit beer, which he enjoyed. I chose a Jack’s Hard Cider, which had a mild flavor, but was tasty.
Bed Race & Firefighter’s Competition
Following lunch, we found a couple of the festival’s quirky events. First, the Bed Race. Teams build beds on wheels and race for the fastest time. The tough part – they have to race up a slight incline! The teams crafted their beds in many different styles, some studier than others. In fact, one bed had two of its wheels fall off right at the start of the race!
Following the bed race, there was a firefighter competition. For the first event, firefighters race to dress in all the appropriate fire-fighting gear. The fastest times were just over 30 seconds to get into the boots, pants, jacket, helmet, gloves and hook up to an oxygen tank. Firefighters also competed in team relay events that included getting dressed, carrying two fire hoses, moving a ladder and rescuing a person (a very heavy dummy).
While these events were interesting and had quite a view viewers, they didn’t pack quite the punch we hoped. I think that is due to the slower pace of how the events were run. Overall, it provided a couple hours of unusual entertainment!
For dinner, we chose Macon’s number one rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, The Rookery. As an appetizer, the spicy pimento cheese dip had just the right amount of heat to add flavor without being too spicy. For entrees, Grant had the fried green tomato BLT and I had the Chicken Chèvre (chicken with goat cheese). Both were outstanding!
After dinner, we just couldn’t resist choosing from The Rookery’s wide menu of milkshakes. Grant opted for the Shake of the Month, a Tagalong milkshake, while I got a MoonPie milkshake. Both were good, but not quite a thick & creamy as we would have liked.
Overall, it is not difficult to see why The Rookery is rated #1. Our food was fabulous, service was quick and friendly and the menu had a good selection of offerings. To top it off, we only had to wait about 35 minutes at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night!
Ocmulgee National Monument
After spending a lazy morning at the hotel, we headed back to Ocmulgee National Monument on Sunday to check it out in the daylight. There is a small visitor center with a movie and a few artifacts on display. We skipped these, as we felt that our visit on Friday night gave us a pretty good primer on the area.
Ocmulgee has a total of six miles of trails, though each trail is no more than one mile long. We decided to connect several trails together to form a loop around a majority of the eastern part of the park.
To begin, we followed the same path as the lantern tour, hiking through the main area of mounds. We took a look inside the Earthlodge, which is a reconstruction of a ceremonial mound. The original clay floor is about 1,000 years old!
After viewing the Earthlodge, we continued up to the Great Temple Mound. Like many of the mounds, park rangers know very little about the purpose. Most likely, the mounds were ceremonial or religious in nature.
From here, we continued on the Opelofa Trail, which winds by a wetlands area. We saw several egrets, turtles and a water snake. Along the way, we took the 1/4-mile Loop Trail which ran along a small creek. Our trail continued past the Southeast Mound, a small mound back in a wooden area, away from the other mounds. The final part of our hike was along Bartram Trail, which took us back to the Visitor Center.
The National Park Service has marked and maintained the trails nicely. It was easy hiking on fairly level ground. There are some slight uphill portions, but nothing difficult. While most of these trails are unpaved and not great for a stroller or wheelchair, anyone in reasonably good health should be able to handle the trails with ease.
Overall Impressions of Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival
While parts of the Cherry Blossom Festival were interesting and unique (like the Bed Race), overall it felt lackluster. After some debate, we decided to skip the parade. Scheduled at 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon, it felt as though it was geared more towards locals than visitors. Knowing how bad traffic can be on I-75, especially during Spring Break season, we chose to leave sooner rather than later.
There are many other events that we did not attend this weekend, such as a Puppet Show, a scavenger hunt, a couple of bicycle events, the Pink Pancake breakfast and much more. Additionally, there are more events throughout this week and next weekend.
Highlights of the next weekend include the Street Festival with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and the Grand Finale. There are also several arts & crafts events, music events and a “Food Truck Frenzy.” We know those are some big events to miss. Grant, in particular, is bummed about missing George Clinton, but, alas, we are flying to Italy next weekend.
While we enjoyed our weekend, the restaurants in downtown Macon were the real highlight. Perhaps this is because we are not big “festival people.” We certainly enjoy and appreciate a good festival and were definitely intrigued and excited about attending the Cherry Blossom Festival, but overall, it’s not a common thing for us.
Hopefully, with some warmer temperatures this upcoming week, the cherry blossoms will bloom. That should help to increase the energy and excitement of the festivities.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites at I-475. We used a combination of points and money for the stay, making it very affordable. This was definitely a great hotel. Situated in a good shopping and dining area, the hotel is only about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown Macon.
It appeared as though the hotel had gone through a recent renovation, as all the furnishings were very nice and modern. This hotel definitely felt a bit nicer than the usual Hampton Inn.
If you live nearby, this is certainly worth visiting for a day or two. There are certainly some unique events and enough going on that you can find something of interest to you. If you like amusement rides, the events at Central City Park are good, especially for kids. I think we would have enjoyed that part more if we had not been there just a few hours after it opened. At least it wasn’t too crowded while we were there.
I do not think that the Cherry Blossom Festival itself would be worth a long drive in, unless you just really like festivals or have a particular interest in a couple of the events.
Macon, itself, is a lovely city, though, and we enjoyed spending a few days there. The downtown area is definitely experiencing a revival, but still has a ways to go. There are some good restaurants and bars, and a few good shops, but there is still a lot that is empty. With all the lofts and housing construction, hopefully, that will change.
We enjoyed our weekend and would recommend Macon as a weekend get-away. The Cherry Blossom Festival was just ok. Perhaps it is more enjoyable for locals and others who really enjoy parades and carnivals.