How to spend your weekend in the classic city of Athens, Georgia

Plan the perfect fall visit to this well-rounded college town, no tailgating required
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Downtown Athens

Photo courtesy of Bigstock

Though it’s home to the University of Georgia, the first state-chartered university in the country, Athens is more than a college town. It’s a long-standing music mecca, where renowned venues host nationally recognized performers and nurture up-and-coming acts. It’s also a culinary draw with exceptional dining and craft-beer scenes—so plan on arriving hungry and raising a few toasts to the 2021 National Championship–winning Bulldogs. Though game day is an experience unlike any other, visit when the Dawgs are out of town for fewer crowds and more ways to fall in love with the Classic City. 

Friday

CHECK IN Originally built in 1918 as a family residence, ATH | BNB, The Rushmore opened its doors in 2021 and maintains its historic Craftsman charm while feeling decidedly current—and not at all like the former frat pad it is. Statement chandeliers, patterned wallpaper, and eye-catching artwork lend each of the 14 rooms a different vibe. Nearby Cafe on Lumpkin caters the morning breakfast spread and afternoon tea service, and the common-area fridge is stocked with local Creature Comforts beers. Located just steps from the shops and restaurants of the historic Five Points neighborhood, this chic stay offers proximity to both campus and downtown.

ATH | BNB, The Rushmore

Photo courtesy of Visit Athens GA

EVENING Dinner is at Last Resort Grill, a downtown icon named after and housed in a former 1960s music club. You can’t miss the mural of colorful veggies near the outdoor seating area (a pleasant pandemic-era addition). The locally sourced cuisine is Southwest-inspired with Southern elements; try the pork tenderloin stuffed with charred poblano and grilled pineapple and seared with a bourbon balsamic reduction. Save room for a giant slice of red velvet or tres leches cake.

Your last stop is the Rook & Pawn, a three-minute walk from dinner. It’s easy to linger at this cozy bar, which offers a vast assortment of board games, from classics (Monopoly, Scrabble) to more obscure offerings (e.g., Nuclear War, a satirical card game from 1965). It’s open until midnight on weekends, so order a craft cocktail and settle in for some friendly competition.

Saturday

MORNING Get your caffeine fix at Jittery Joe’s, an Athens mainstay founded in 1994 and located right down the road from the Rushmore. You’re likely to find students hunched over laptops, but order a dark roast to go and stroll down Milledge Avenue toward the Cobbham neighborhood of Athens for breakfast at Big City Bread Cafe. The family-run restaurant is known for its quiches, but the French toast with cinnamon-vanilla custard is also a winner.

There’s just something about a leafy college campus in fall. Take the requisite amble around campus, starting from the legendary Arch at the edge of downtown (tradition holds that students can’t walk under it until they’ve earned their degree). Wind your way through stately North Campus, and be sure to ring the Chapel Bell, another university tradition. You’ll soon pass Sanford Stadium, where the Dawgs have played between the hedges since 1929. Continue through campus until you hit the Georgia Museum of Art, the official state art museum. Tickets are free (with a prearranged time slot), so stop in to view stunning Southern photography at the Reckonings and Reconstructions exhibition (on display through January 8), and look out for the Howard Finster painting that lists UGA as a place that “helps Howard grow like a tree.”

UGA Arch

Photo courtesy of Bigstock

AFTERNOON Lunch is at another local favorite, Cali-n-Tito’s, located on Lumpkin Street near the university’s athletic facilities. The Latin American spot dishes up tasty fish tacos, Cuban sandwiches, and loaded burritos, and it’s BYOB with a small fee. Grab a seat at a picnic table and let the festive tunes and spiky palms whisk you elsewhere.

Wuxtry Records

Photo courtesy of Wuxtry Records

Next, head downtown for an afternoon of shopping. Peruse the vinyl collection at Wuxtry Records, an independent merchant since 1976—and where the founding members of R.E.M. met. Step into Community for sustainable, upcycled clothing. Around the corner, Bear Hug Honey Company offers artisan honeys and beeswax candles, plus plenty of local pottery, apparel, and home goods. Dynamite has loads of funky earrings and vintage clothing. At Condor Chocolates’ new downtown location, watch the chocolatiers in action and grab some coconut and Thai tea truffles to go.

Condor Chocolate

Photo courtesy of Visit Athens GA

EVENING Located across from Creature Comforts (see sidebar), the National has been whipping up Mediterranean-inspired dishes for 15 years. The menu changes often, but for dinner, order the seasonal veggie plate and several tapas, including the tangy boquerones (marinated anchovies on toast).

When in Athens, do as the Athenians do and catch some live music downtown. See who’s playing at the Georgia Theatre, which also has a rooftop venue serving up tasty drinks and snacks, and the 40 Watt Club, a launchpad for homegrown bands and artists (including R.E.M. and the B-52s) throughout its 43-year history.

For a more intimate atmosphere, slip into the World Famous—impossible to miss with its teal-lined windows and glowing “This is it” sign pointing into the quirky bar, restaurant, and venue. Simple but delicious cocktails with quintessentially Athens ingredients make up the bulk of the drinks menu; Gardening at Night mixes gin, cucumber, orange, and Creature Com- forts Athena, while the Dude blends vodka, local 1000 Faces cold brew, vanilla, and cream. 

Sunday

MORNING Before checking out of the inn, browse Avid Bookshop down the street. Handwritten employee recommendations guide you to the perfect new or used pick at this community-focused spot, named Athens’ favorite local business by Flagpole magazine for 10 years straight. Next, head to breakfast at the Farmcart on Baxter Street, a major campus artery home to high-rise dorms and the independent student newspaper. The brick-and-mortar restaurant began as a farmers-market purveyor of flaky biscuit sandwiches, and everything is made with local ingredients. Order the Fire Bird, stuffed with a crispy Springer Mountain chicken thigh, house-made pickles, and a fried egg. (Pro tip: Top it with sriracha honey.)

Burn off breakfast at the 313-acre State Botanical Garden of Georgia, home to numerous nature trails, native blossoms, and an international garden that highlights plants of historical significance. Relax in the shade with your new book before hitting the road home. 

State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Photo courtesy of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia

 

HOP AROUND
Sip on suds of all styles along the new Athens Beer Trail.

TERRAPIN BEER
Athens’s oldest brewery is a hop-lover’s heaven. Try the flagship Hopsecutioner IPA or a crisp Los Bravos lager while relaxing at one of the picnic tables scattered across the lawn.

CREATURE COMFORTS BREWING CO.
Prime downtown location and award- winning beer make this taproom a must-visit. Favorites include Tropicalia, a fruity IPA that boasts a cameo in Avengers: Endgame, and the easy-drinking Classic City Lager.

SOUTHERN BREWING COMPANY 
Try the Red and Black, a raspberry-blackberry sour available year-round, and peruse the event schedule to catch a live-on-the-premises Classic City Wrestling match or karaoke night. 

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This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Southbound.

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