Check out this Georgia college town for fantastic food, intriguing shops, a laid-back atmosphere, and some of the best live music anywhere.
Combining the energy and diversity of a college community with plenty of sophistication is the secret to this small-town jewel. Athens, Georgia's much-touted music scene continues to thrive, while great restaurants, shops, and galleries flourish alongside the clubs. This month, students say good-bye for the season, and the city readies for summer fun. (Graduation takes place Saturday, May 14, so you might want to avoid that weekend.)
The Foundry Park Inn and Spa with its updated boutique rooms remains our favorite lodging (295 East Dougherty Street,  549-7020 or www.foundrypark inn.com; rates $109-$130). Situated on the north edge of the business district, it's built around the 1850s foundry that forged The University of Georgia's famous Arch. Or select from other hotel chains that are closer to the college. The Holiday Inn Athens serves as a long-standing option for visiting parents (197 East Broad Street,  549-4433 or www.hi-athens.com; rates $79-$110) as does the newer Athens Courtyard by Marriott (166 North Finley Street,  369-7000; rates $72-$99). Both offer comfy rooms at low rates.
Go to the Athens Steam Company Pub at the Foundry Park Inn for music and dinner tonight. Start with an order of spinach-artichoke dip with tortilla chips ($6.95), and then choose from a burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese ($7.50) or a Brat Sandwich--a thick stack of grilled bratwursts and beer-braised onions on marbled rye ($7.50). Afterward, listen to the sounds of a jazz or bluegrass band. It's one of the best early-evening club scenes.
If you're feeling like a late night, slip into one of the lively spots for legendary music.
For breakfast, select from one of Athens's coffeehouses. We prefer the local Jittery Joe's on Milledge Avenue in Five Points for a tasty pastry and excellent coffee.
Spend the rest of your morning exploring the shops around town. Dress like a co-ed with fancy threads from Heery's on College Avenue and Fortsons Clothing on Clayton Street. Elsewhere on Clayton, find Georgia Bulldog paraphernalia at The Red Zone. Go to Helix for great gifts; the shop specializes in handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and handmade note cards.
When your appetite requires attention, walk over to DePalma's Italian Cafe on Broad Street. Go for the light Pasta Margherita ($7), with a tomato, basil, red onion, garlic, and mozzarella sauce over al dente rigatoni.
Walk off the after-lunch yawns with a stroll around the campus. Or seek out a few of Athens's art galleries such as Agora, The Gallery at 166, Clayton Street Gallery, and Mercury Art Works. Before calling it a day, be sure to explore the Georgia Museum of Art on campus at Carlton Street.
Venture out tonight to The Grit (199 Prince Avenue). Yes, it's a vegetarian restaurant, but we promise you'll love the price and the food. Begin your healthful feast with either hummus and pita points ($3.95) or chickpea-and-crumbled- feta salad ($3.50). Then move on to the stir-fry--veggies in a teriyaki sauce over brown rice or noodles ($5.95) or The Grit Staple--pinto beans, brown rice, onions, and cheese with assorted vegetables ($5.90).
Whether or not you plan to go to the clubs (they generally get going after 11 p.m.), do walk through the business district for window shopping.
Today, skip breakfast, and opt for brunch at Five and Ten, one of the very best restaurants in Georgia. On Sundays, chef Hugh Acheson's creations delight the locals, who fill the small restaurant. At brunch, there's always a version of the Five & Ten Benedict. On different occasions, we've had it with poached eggs plus apple bacon and crisp potato cake, as well as with salmon and fried green tomatoes ($9).
Before leaving town, drive out to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, about 10 minutes from campus. It offers 5 miles of hiking trails plus many cultivated gardens full of take-home ideas.
The Sounds of Athens
This is the town that spawned the rocking sounds of the B-52s, R.E.M., and Widespread Panic. They all came from local clubs. For information on who's playing where, go to www.flagpole.com, or pick up a Flagpole paper when you get to town. Here's a short list of the don't-miss clubs: 40 Watt Club on Washington Street, Georgia Bar on Clayton Street, Georgia Theatre on Lumpkin Street, and Flicker Theatre & Bar on Washington Street.
You may want to return during June 23-26 for the ninth annual AthFest, when more than 100 bands play on outdoor stages and in the clubs. There's an art show and KidsFest at the same time. Visit www.athfest.com for details.
For more information contact the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau, 300 North Thomas Street, Athens, GA 30601; (706) 357-4430, 1-800-653-0603, or www.visitathensga.com.
This article is from the May 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.