Athens, Georgia, is a town I’d been itching to visit. Home to its most famous resident, The University of Georgia, Athens has a prominent music history, charming Victorian-era homes, trendy artwork, impressive gardens, and popular nightclubs. Athens’ revered food scene was my main focus, having followed it on social media for months. See what epic things I found to see (and do) in Athens, Georgia during my visit.
Learn the Music History
Athens, Georgia, has been the scene for live music for 50 years. Perhaps the most popular era was the 1980s when the band’s REM, Widespread Panic, and the B-52s emerged from the Athens musical world. Bars, music venues, and clubs, like 40 Watt Club and the Georgia Theatre, have withstood the times and still pack in locals and visitors alike to hear the sounds of established headlining acts.
Take a specialty guided tour of the Athens music scene with Paul Butchart of Classic City Tours. He explains the venues, what happened there, and paints Athens as the coolest place to be at that time.
Tour the Georgia Botanical Garden
See the $5 million Alice H. Richards Children’s garden installation, brand new at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Besides that excellent addition, discover several themed gardens over the 313-acre preserve anchored by a tropical conservatory. I honestly felt like I was at a tropical destination with a fantastic selection of palm trees, succulents, and blooms. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is home to several rare birds designated by the Audubon Society and offers free admission.
Admire Beautiful Pottery
R. Wood Studio is the working ceramics studio belonging to artist Rebecca Wood, one of the country’s most famous potters. Colorful plates and tableware are for sale in the studio, and unique pieces and pottery/ceramic pieces made by her staff. You can find Rebecca’s gorgeous work in more than 25 states around the country, but her gallery in Athens is a great place to stock up on the things you love. Say hello to Dusty, the “mildly friendly” kitty who calls the studio home, on your visit.
Admire Incredible Art
What a treasure right amid Athens! The Georgia Museum of Art, actually located on the University of Georgia campus, is a do-not-miss find. This attraction was founded in 1945 and is the state’s official museum. Its permanent collection has over 10,000 items with American paintings, European and Asian works, plus several touring exhibits.
I was a big fan of the dark painted walls in the Georgia Museum of Art, making the paintings even more dramatic and impressive. Then, out of left field comes a dainty pale pink wall with “ballet-esque” paintings that won me over. Out of the Darkness (a light-up wall art piece by Artist Rebecca Rutstein) was intriguing and captivated my attention. The Georgia Museum of Art is the only place I’ve ever seen a work designed by Paul Revere: silver teaspoons, circa 1770.
There is a large amount of public art to see in Athens. I adored the Bulldogs around town, with over 40 originally painted dog statues. The streets of Athens also have creative murals, fire hydrants, and mosaic lamp post bases. Watch for some fun murals downtown, such as at Last Resort Grill and on Broad Street.
5. Drink Great Beer
There are four breweries in Athens, but I only visited two: Terrapin Beer Co. and Creature Comforts Brewing Co. Terrapin Beer Co. has been around since 2002 and is one of the most recognized beer brands in the state of Georgia. It was the first Athens brewery and is the biggest. Bestsellers are Hopsecutioner (aged in wood from Atlanta Braves’ baseball bats) and Walking Dead Blood Orange IPA.
Creature Comforts Brewing Co. has a beautiful and homey taproom, making me want to stick around and drink beer. Have a flight to sample 4 different kinds of beer. My favorite was the Awaken, My Love (a limited release), while Tropicália is the best-selling beer. Besides the beer, my favorite parts of the brewery were the fresh flowers on the tables and “Get comfortable” marquee letter lights; what charming special touches! You can also find live music, local events, and art shows at Creature Comforts Brewing.
Fun Fact: Think you’ve heard of Creature Comforts beer before? It was Thor’s beer of choice in Avengers: End Game.
Stroll UGA’s Historic North Campus
The University of Georgia (colloquially known as UGA) is the driving force behind Athens’s coolness factor–or at least I found it to be. UGA is one of the nation’s oldest public universities, dating back to 1785. The historic North Campus (the closest part of the campus to downtown Athens) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also holds the Reserve Chapel (and Chapel Bell), Abraham Baldwin statue, Old College (the oldest building in Athens), and the most iconic UGA feature, The Arch.
Dogwoods, flower gardens, and a picturesque fountain dot the North Campus landscape, while Herty Field (UGA’s first football field) is one of the primary focal points.
Eat at Delicious Restaurants
Hugh Acheson shares his culinary creations at 5&10, his flagship restaurant serving Southern cuisine from locally sourced foods in a darling renovated house. The location of 5&10 is amidst sorority and frat houses in the Five Points neighborhood of Athens. You may remember Chef Hugh from the “Top Chef” series or his two James Beard Awards.
While menus are seasonal and change often, the dishes I enjoyed were the Classic Caesar salad (with fried bread crumbs) and the Crab Rice ( green apple and miso butter). My friends raved about the Crispy Fried Chicken Skins with fermented hot sauce. If 5&10 offers housemate seasonal “soda pop,” try one. Mine was plum and delicious! 5&10 is open for dinner daily, except Sunday.
Last Resort Grill was originally a music venue in Athens, Georgia, and is now a restaurant with stellar food, interesting art, and homemade pasta. The Last Resort offers a daily ravioli dish, which most of the guests seemed to be ordering. It didn’t hurt that the cream sauce had artichoke hearts, lots of cheese, and basil. I chose the Pozole, a flavorful, hearty dish chock full of pork, vegetables, and a rich, tasty broth. A perfectly fried egg topped the Pozole.
Taste unique Mediterranean dishes at The National, a savvy eatery that prides itself on using locally-sourced ingredients and certified pork. Chefs Hugh Acheson (5&10) and Peter Dale (Condor Chocolates) co-founded The National.
Start your dining experience with Patatas Bravas (home fries with spicy tomato sauce) or Hummus with Lamb, a classic appetizer with pita bread and piquillo peppers. Pair your plates with a good glass of wine or a house-made cocktail.
My favorite Athens restaurant is home.made, owned by Chef Mimi Maumus. This catering business turned restaurant has a menu to die for, a stellar wine list, and food that will knock your socks off! Can’t miss appetizers are Pickled Deviled Eggs and Swanee Bites (cheese straws with pimento cheese rolled in pecans).
The Mayberry is the most popular item: a honking big biscuit with fried chicken, pimento cheese, bacon, remoulade, and spicy pepper jelly. Try the adventurous and toothsome baked Green Tomato Crisp with grits ice cream, streusel topping, and caramel. You have to taste it to believe how amazing it is!
Taste Condor Chocolates
Condor Chocolates is the brainchild of brothers Peter and Nick Dale, who use their mother’s native Ecuadorian roots to important cacao and coffee for making premium artisan chocolate. At Condor, you will find impressive chocolate bars, truffles, gelato, and coffee drinks. They are currently working on a chocolate factory tour, which should be starting soon.
At the Five Points location, be sure to enjoy the coffee and chocolate drinks, as well, including Cacao Coffee. I love the “bean to bar” slogan.
“If heaven is full of artists & hipsters it will probably be something like Athens”. –Southern Living
Browse A Wonderful Bookshop
Leave it to a local bookshop to be the moral center of town. Located in Five Points, Avid Bookshop is a one-of-a-kind shop hand-selects books based on the customers, a unique offering and testament to the customer service level they strive for. Avid Bookshop’s children’s section was darling and had a lot of books I’d never heard of, though I’m a regular bookstore junkie. You can even participate in community-focused events, bookshop programs, and much more.
Need a Place to Stay?
Homewood Suites by Hilton Athens has an excellent location, stylish and spacious rooms, eclectic decor, and a home-away-from-home feel. I loved the red, gray, and black finishes and the Georgia Bulldogs references. The Homewood Suites, with free Wifi and complimentary hot breakfast, has a large courtyard and plenty of outdoor seating. One morning I scored darned tasty biscuits and gravy, which pleased this hotel guest.
Athens: A Town You’ll Be Wowed By
I’m so glad to have visited Athens, Georgia, and hope to see more of. Mark my words, Athens is a charming town that you’ll be hearing lots more of in the future.
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