It’s fall in the South, which means a few things. The humidity has started to lessen and the temperatures started to lower. The students are back in school. And college football season is upon us. No matter what team you root for, the region has so many great college towns with plenty to offer beyond the campus. Next up is Athens, a city all of us writers are familiar with. Both of my sisters lived there for years as both students and adults, so this guide features both downtown favorites and lesser-known spots. This guide assumes that you will be spending the majority of your time in the Classic City tailgating near Sanford Stadium, but we’ve highlighted a few other things to do in Athens, Georgia.
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Things to Do
No matter what time of year you visit, you’re sure to find plenty to entertain you beyond football. AthFest is just one of the popular events, which takes over live music venues around town. But you can also catch a live music act anytime at the stages where the B-52s and R.E.M. once played. And if you’re interested in the campus history, take a tour from the visitor’s center.
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia– Wander the trails of this university affiliated botanical garden, which is a popular spot for picnics, long walks, and weddings.
Oddities– Some of the bizarre roadside attractions that are worth a detour are the Tree That Owns Itself, a neighborhood tree deeded to itself, and the world’s only Double Barrel Cannon, set in front of the historic courthouse.
Georgia Museum of Art– This art museum has some of the best examples of the state’s art offerings from names like Lamar Dodd and Howard Finster. They also have regularly changing exhibits and admission is free.
Athens Farmers Market– Come browse the offerings of the twice-weekly farmer’s market. On Saturdays, it’s held at Bishop Park and on Wednesdays at Creature Comforts Brewery.
Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail– This humble zoo at Memorial Park is home to rescued non-releasable animals like a bald eagle, reptiles, and amphibians. It’s free to visit, so wander the zoo and get some exercise in the park.
Shopping– Downtown Athens has a diverse selection of independent shops selling just about everything. Some of our favorites are Avid Bookshop, Agora Vintage, Atomic, Dynamite Clothing, Wuxtry Records-Athens, and The Impeccable Pig.
Where to Eat
Restaurants close to campus will be crowded, so get further out to enjoy the best local eateries in Athens. One taste and you’ll understand why chefs like Hugh Acheson call the Classic City home.
Mama’s Boy Restaurant– Home to one of the city’s favorite brunches, Mama’s Boy creates Southern dishes to write home to your mama about. Try the Georgia Peach French Toast with a cup of coffee.
Ideal Bagel Co– Authentic bagels might seem unlikely in a rural area, but these are great, set in an old toy store. Order your bagel of choice in sandwich form with pastrami and fried egg, pictured above.
Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market– Focusing on local and seasonal ingredients, you haven’t lived until you’ve had their brunch menu’s Love on a Biscuit.
Pulaski Heights Barbecue– Cross the train tracks for this neighborhood barbecue spot for pulled pork on their patio. Or try their Reuben, tacos, and weekly specials with glass bottle classic sodas.
White Tiger Gourmet– You might drive past this old grocery store without realizing it, but once inside, you’ll find spicy chicken tacos, juicy burgers, and even brunch options. It’s best enjoyed in one of their picnic tables outside, weather permitting.
The Varsity– And, of course, the Athens outpost of the world’s largest drive-in is a gameday favorite. Opt for chili dogs, burgers, chili fries, and a frosted orange.
Five and Ten– Hugh Acheson opened this fine dining restaurant in the humble college town and now has others in Athens. Enjoy their Sunday supper and weekly ramen night in this former home.
Trappeze Pub– Named for the Trappist monks that make the beer on tap, which are certainly worth a try, the elevated pub fare is the main draw. Whatever you do, be sure to order the frites!
The World Famous Athens– A personal favorite, this place is slightly off the downtown strip and is more than just a bar. In addition to cheap beer and margaritas, they serve the chicken and waffles club sandwich, schwarma, poutine, and pork buns that are sure to make you happy.
Where to Drink
It wouldn’t be a college town without some watering holes, would it? You’ll certainly find the coed-friendly spots downtown, all smelling of spilled beer, but if you wander to Normaltown, you’ll find older-skewing establishments.
1000 Faces Coffee– While there are other coffee roasters in town, this is my favorite. You can buy the beans to enjoy at home or get them to make you an Americano.
Hi-Lo Lounge– This Normaltown pub has surprisingly good food, an extensive bar menu, and nightly events like trivia. Grab some hair of the dog on Sunday.
Manhattan Cafe– There is nowhere in town like this place, located on historic Hot Corner, for a classic cocktail in vintage glassware. Munch on free popcorn as you listen to the wide range of jukebox tunes. Their patio is also a great spot for people watching.
Little King’s Shuffle Club– Right next door, you can sip a local beer on their patio, which has a nautical theme with a speedboat parked. Trivia, drag shows, and DJs are also part of the draw.
Where to Stay
Hotel rooms are plentiful in the greater Athens area, but be sure to book well in advance before a big game or you’ll be stuck out by the highway and driving in.
Graduate Athens– Formerly an iron mill, this was one of the first locations of the chain of boutique hotels in college towns. They boast chic design, a spa, and a live music venue. Read our review here.
Hotel Indigo Athens Downtown– Another boutique property, the exterior design is inspired by the covered bridges found in the area. They also have an art gallery and in-house coffee shop.
Airbnb– Stay in a historic home in a local neighborhood, which is ideal for bigger groups. Seek out neighborhoods like Cobbham, Pulaski Heights and Normaltown that are farther from campus but close to other amenities.