Travel: Get to Know Athens, Georgia’s Distinctive Vibe
An expert’s guide to The Classic City.
Photos by Bryan Redding
Mostly famously known for producing R.E.M., The B-52s and the SEC and NCAA champion Georgia Bulldogs, Athens, Georgia could certainly be called a party town. But that’s merely surface level. Peel back the layers and you’ll find a city rich with culture, natural wonders, activities for every age group and some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.
The best way to get to know Athens is through its neighborhoods. First up, downtown, where you can check the Classic City’s bucket-list experiences off your list. Head over to Clayton Street to visit Wuxtry Records, Athens’ last remaining vinyl store, where R.E.M. founders Michael Stipe and Peter Buck first met. You’ll find a variety of other music formats here as well – stay a while and scour. Across the street, College Avenue is blocked off for pedestrian traffic only, and as you approach Broad Street, you’ll find one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city, the UGA Arch.
But there’s much more to behold downtown. 1000 Faces Coffee has a diverse selection of sustainably sourced beans, and is cheerful to boot. The Lyndon House Arts Center is full of local art that inspires and engages. Flicker Theatre & Bar is a fun spot for drinks and a cult movie – be sure to show up early to work your way through the cocktail menu. The Last Resort Grill elevates Southern cooking to an art form.
Pro tip: Most streets downtown are metered parking, from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Allow extra time to look for a spot at popular brunch and dinner hours.
Downtown is also where you can find one of the most coveted tours in Athens: the Beer Trolley, which takes you to different local breweries depending on the night. Be sure to soak up suds at every spot; each has its own personality and offerings that make it special.
Next up, point your compass to Athens’ vibrant Five Points neighborhood, full of unforgettable restaurants, mom-and-pop shops and charm. When the weather’s nice, you’ll want to sit on the patio at Marker 7 Coastal Grill, where shrimp, scallops, grouper and ahi are all on the menu. Be sure to start your meal with the smoked salmon pimento cheese. If there’s no parking available behind the restaurant, you can find public parking across Milledge Avenue at Fire Station #3.
A little further down Milledge is Andree’s Essential Soaps, a home-turned-emporium of the most wondrous scents and bath implements. A hop, skip and jump away on Lumpkin Street is the Five Points Bottle Shop, where craft beer is available by the can and private-label distillery selections abound. Next door, ADD Drug is a pharmacy, lunch counter, post office and gift-giver’s
paradise—find Dawgs merchandise unlike any other here.
On the edge of Five Points, find the only-in-Athens experience that is Cali ‘n’ Tito’s. This local’s favorite restaurant is literally an oasis in the midst of the city, with palm trees surrounding its exterior and tropical libations inside the festive, colorfully decorated space. Ordering takes place at the bar, so grab a menu and queue up before you sit down. The fish burrito is a must here, as are the fish tacos and Cuban sandwiches.
Is retail therapy on your agenda? Head to Normaltown, where eclectic and wonderful shops line up along Prince Avenue. Starting from downtown, you’ll pass by the upcycled Emmanuel Episcopal Thrift House, one of the nicest thrift shops we’ve visited, full of higher-end brands at great prices. Athens Cooks offers gorgeous goods for the kitchen, bar and garden, plus a full slate of classes. Lark’s Winespace features unique, responsibly made wines and offers a monthly wine club.
Stop in for a sweet treat at the divine Cecilia’s Cake Shop when you meet up with north Milledge Avenue. Heading back to Prince Avenue, keep your eyes peeled for the Georgia Power building: out front stands the Georgia Power Dawg, a Bulldog statue dressed in repairman’s gear, complete with a hard hat.
Counting the Bulldog statues is a must for any visitor. There are more than three dozen, four-foot-tall statues to be found around Athens, and you’ll want to look for all of these cuties. You’ll get iconic photos that can’t be had anywhere else! For a list of Bulldog statues, and additional Athens info, visit visitathensga.com.
Everyone in your group will love these activities suitable for all ages!
Avid Bookshop: This independent bookstore prides itself on sharing diverse voices with the community. The large children’s section is one of the things that makes it so special. Avid’s buyer is a librarian who carefully curates the book selections, and you can feel that care as you browse. Be sure to check the online calendar for the many events the bookstore hosts.
Bear Hollow Zoo: Overload your cuteness quota while viewing native animals unable to be released back into the wild. See black bears, river otters, red foxes, deer, owls, and various species in the reptile house. Best yet, it’s free. Inside Memorial Park.
The Café on Lumpkin: One of the best hidden gems in Athens is this restaurant’s afternoon tea, available as a traditional low tea, a royal champagne tea and a children’s tea, complete with sandwiches, sweets and scones. There are also gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options. Reservations are a must.
State Botanical Garden of Georgia: Another free attraction is the glorious 313-acre botanical garden, full of gorgeous blooms, spots for quiet contemplation and nature trails. The newest themed area is the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden, where kids can learn about all things nature.
Rook & Pawn: Discover the love of board games at a different type of gaming cafe. Just $5 gets you all-day access to the game wall, which has hundreds of classic games, trivia games, strategy games, card games and so much more it’ll boggle your mind (and yes, Boggle can be found here).