Athens, Georgia, is perhaps best known as the home of the University of Georgia, one of the nation’s top “party schools.” But there’s plenty going on beyond the hedges of the football stadium.
Athens has deep ties to the music industry, especially for bands R.E.M. and the B-52s, which came out of the city. Neighborhoods like Cobbham, Normaltown and Pulaski Heights are home to the locals and their beloved bars, restaurants and shops. Foodies are also sated by award-winning chefs, like Hugh Acheson and his restaurant Five & Ten.
Located less than two hours from downtown Atlanta, the “Classic City” has plenty to keep you busy on a 24-hour jaunt.
Start your day with breakfast at Ideal Bagel, home to New York–style bagels in a former toy factory. Heirloom Café is an alternative, with a sunny patio that offers a menu of locally sourced dishes — the Love on a Biscuit is a crowd pleaser. Get your caffeine fix at local roaster 1000 Faces Coffee, and take a bag of beans home with you.
Spend the rest of your morning browsing the local shops. The Athens Farmers Market holds twice-weekly markets with goods from local farmers and artisans. Continue to shop local at Avid Bookshop, a cute bookstore that hosts author signings and readings with locations in Normaltown and Five Points.
Of course, every college town needs a record store. Wuxtry Records dates back to 1976 and once employed members of R.E.M. Shop for vintage finds at Dynamite Clothing on a downtown side street. You never know what you might find at this sprawling shop that carries clothing and accessories for men and women.
When you’re hungry again, visit White Tiger Gourmet, which is literally off a beaten path in a residential area. The former corner store is known for its cozy atmosphere and casual menu of barbecue and burgers. Pulaski Heights BBQ is another pork-loving eatery overlooking the railroad tracks. Order the brisket and mac and cheese and wash them down with a glass-bottled soda.
Properly fueled, head to the unique attractions in Athens. Start at “the Arch,” the most notable landmark on the university’s campus. Head over to the East Campus to roam the galleries of the Georgia Museum of Art, which displays student work as well as pieces by regional artists like Howard Finster and Lamar Dodd.
Back downtown, see the “Tree That Owns Itself,” a tree that is deeded to itself, and stroll through the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which has acres of green space, themed gardens and a hummingbird trail.
Near Dudley Park’s Poplar Street parking lot, pay a visit to the “Murmur” trestle, the abandoned rail trestle featured on the R.E.M. album cover. Finally, see the rescued bald eagles, reptiles and amphibians that call Bear Hollow Zoo at Memorial Park home.
Grab an early dinner at Trappeze Pub. Named for the Trappist monks that brew such legendary beers, this beer bar also has a tasty menu of elevated pub fare. For a nice dinner out, opt for Five & Ten, Hugh Acheson’s original Athens eatery that serves seasonal Southern fare.
Avoid the college hot spots in favor of the “townie” favorites. Manhattan Café is a misleading title for the eclectic watering hole on what’s known as “Hot Corner,” the city’s former African-American business district. Sip your cocktail in mismatched glassware in the dark and oddly decorated interior.
The second location of the Atlanta original, Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium, shorted to “Church,” is everything sacrilegious. Hold your tall boy of PBR in one hand while donning a choir robe and playing a game of Ping-Pong with the other. Normaltown’s favorite bar, Hi-Lo Lounge, is where to go for a late-night bite or craft beer over trivia and live music.