Athens, GA

Mellower, townie vibe during the summer months
Rabid sports fans and loyal UGA alums make the 70-mile trek from Atlanta to Athens during football season, braving crazy congestion and peak hotel rates. But for the rest of us, the best time to visit is summer, when a mellower townie vibe prevails. Celebrate the Classic City’s musical legacy during the annual AthFest, which this year takes place June 23–27.

Just because you’re attending a music festival doesn’t mean you have to endure the grunge of your own college days. Retreat from the crowds at Hotel Indigo Athens. The sleek, modern hotel that opened in 2009 is LEED Gold certified and an easy walk from downtown. Enjoy both grown-up comforts and cutting-edge music at Foundry Park Inn & Spa, a complex that includes 1820s industrial-type buildings and a “game day” motel remodeled with luxury details (Martha Stewart would approve). The grounds include the historic Hoyt House restaurant and the Melting Point, an intimate performance space deemed one of America’s 40 best music venues by Paste magazine.

As an alternative to critically acclaimed Five and Ten, stop by chef Hugh Acheson’s newer Athens venture, the National. The menu has Mediterranean influences but draws on locally grown and sourced foods. After dinner, walk across the street for a drink and a game of cornhole at Little Kings Shuffle Club (706-369-3144). Speaking of drinks, Athens reportedly has the country’s highest bar-per-capita ratio, and you can choose from more than three dozen in six downtown blocks fronting Broad Street. Or sample local brew Terrapin during a brewery tour. In the morning, fortify yourself with strong coffee and fluffy biscuits at budget-friendly Big City Bread Cafe.

Over AthFest’s five days, more than 200 bands will perform at 20 venues, all available for a $15 wristband. Headliners perform on two main stages (the Pulaski Stage outside legendary 40 Watt Club and the Lumpkin Stage outside the still fire-damaged Georgia Theatre). There will also be an outdoor artists market, screenings of Georgia-produced films and music videos, and kid-friendly activities. During AthFest, you can take the Athens Music History Tour (call 706-208-8687 for reservations), a two-hour bus excursion, or set your own pace on the Athens Music History Walking Tour, following a detailed guide posted online by alt-weekly Flagpole. Gen Xers will be glad to know both tours stop at the railroad trestle featured on the back cover of R.E.M.’s Murmur. Like any college town, downtown Athens also boasts a fine collection of bookstores and boutiques.

Photograph by Jim Diffly