I moved to Georgia from Wisconsin after finishing undergraduate, now nearly ten years ago (!). The vast majority of my friends were recent graduates of the University of Georgia, so my weekends often consisted of making the 90 minute pilgrimage from Atlanta to the college town of Athens, Georgia where the university is located. If you didn’t know, Athens often tops the list of being ranked one of the best “party” and “college towns” in the country. Although I was a few months removed and wasn’t actually a college student, it sure was fun to act like one in Athens. Admittedly, at that time, my Athens weekends were typically jam-packed with bar-hopping and booze-fueled tailgates before cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs football team at Sanford stadium. Any class or culture that the city of Athens possessed was lost on me – I was too focused on trying to tie one on without breaking out more than a single $20 bill (which, by the way, isn’t too difficult in Athens, if that’s your mission).
My youthful glow may give you the impression that I’m still in my twenties, but I’m actually in my early 30’s – hard to believe, I know. (That’s sarcasm, by the way). I’m told that with age comes wisdom. Although I’m not certain about that, I can personally attest that with age comes hangovers… and the need for 8+ hours of sleep a night. Needless to say, my weekends aren’t nearly as exciting as they used to be (thank goodness).
While reminiscing about “the good old days,” I realized that it had been several years since I’ve spent time in Athens. So, off to Athens I went! During a weekend re-exploring the city, I came to the rather “adult realization” that Athens is not “just” a college town. The city has a lot to offer… even if you’re far removed from your college glory days.
Why head to Athens?
Athens Has a Great Scene for Foodies.
Ten years ago, my Athens “foodie experience” basically encompassed purchasing late night “street meat” from the hotdog vendor after stumbling out of a bar. But Athens has fantastic restaurants – even “fancy” ones – the type college kids can’t afford (or, at least the type I couldn’t afford when I was in college). While in Athens, I found myself at two such establishments – Seabear and The National. As the name suggests, Seabear is a new, hip oyster bar. Trendy without being pretentious, the Seabear seems to have the Athens upscale market figured out. The establishment serves several types of oysters from locations such as Prince Edward Island, Massachusetts and North Carolina, and has a carefully crafted cocktail list. I’d recommend stopping by the Seabear for pre-dinner drinks (and of course, oysters). When your stomach starts growling, head over to dinner at The National, the lovechild of Chefs Peter Dale and Hugh Acheson (who you may have caught on Bravo’s Top Chef). The restaurant’s atmosphere is purposefully casual and unintimidating, but the Mediterranean inspired dishes are top notch. Not surprisingly, everything we ordered was delicious.
Are you an art aficionado? Athens has you covered with art galleries, museums and exhibitions such as The Lyndon House Arts Center, ATHICA: Athens Institute for Contemporary Art and The Georgia Museum of Art. History or architecture buff? Athens is home to several 19th century historic homes that are now open to the public as museums. Fancy the performing arts? Despite being a small town, Athens boasts its own symphony orchestra and a handful of venues offering live theater, including one of the oldest vaudeville theaters in the United States. Prefer to bask in nature’s beauty? Stroll through the State Botanical Gardens.
Athens Has Spectacular Shopping.
Spattered between the bars and restaurants in the charming, walkable downtown area, you’ll find quirky shops and lux boutiques. Check out Aurum Studios for gorgeous handcrafted jewelry, Heery’s for upscale designer duds or Condor Chocolates for homemade “bean-to-bar” Ecuadorian chocolates.
Athens Has Craft Breweries.
Athens’ most well known brewery is Terrapin Brewery, which has been creating delicious brews like their Hopsecutioner IPA since 2002. While in Athens, I attended a tasting and enjoyed a witty and informational tour of the brewery. The Friday night tasting at Terrapin was filled with beer lovers of all ages and live music contributed to the lively atmosphere. If a visit to Terrapin leaves you wanting more, hop over to Creature Comforts Brewery to sample additional local brews.
Athens’ Nightlife Offers Something for Everyone (Regardless of Your Age).
If you don’t live in the Southeast, or if you’re not a college football fan, you may be familiar with Athens for another reason – its music scene. Several famous bands (including R.E.M. and the B-52s) hail from the tiny city of Athens. If you’re a music fan, I’d recommend that you catch a live show at The Georgia Theater, The 40 Watt Club or The Melting Point. The city also offers a handful of bars showcasing jazz or acoustic musicians, such as The Highwire Lounge.
The Athens’ Area Offers Exceptional Accommodation.
I chose to stay the weekend at Ashford Manor Bed and Breakfast located in downtown Watkinsville’s historic district. Only ten minutes from Athens, Watkinsville itself has plenty to offer, and the Manor is walking distance to farm-to-table food, antiques, and various historical landmarks. Upon entering the gorgeous 1893 Victorian home, I was immediately drawn to the unique and eclectic decor curated by the Manor’s owners, Dave and Mario. Each of the 7 rooms (including three deluxe suites) is decorated differently, and the B&B offers the same amenities found in a fine boutique hotel, including 24 hour service and a delicious breakfast (which you can choose to enjoy in the communal dining area or have brought up to your room). The proprietors share an obvious love and pride for their beautiful B&B and the community. They couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful, furnishing us with shopping and dining suggestions based on our interests. After spending the weekend at Ashford Manor, it was evident that Dave and Mario have the expertise and passion to create a luxurious and relaxing stay for each and every guest. (In fact, everything was so wonderful that I didn’t want to leave)!
Have you visited Athens, Georgia? What did you think?
Although I was a guest of Ashford Manor, my love for their historic Bed and Breakfast and exceptional service is all my own.
CC photo credits from Flickr: Georgia Theatre by codeman38. Header photo: 2012 Downtown Georgia photo contest entry by Terry Greene, Georgia Historic Preservation Division.