story & photos by Joey Amato

Everyone knows that I am a sucker for small-city charm, so I decided to venture about an hour and a half outside of Atlanta to Athens, Georgia, home of rock bands R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and of course, the B-52’s. As soon as I drove into the college town, I knew I was in for a treat. I love exploring these destinations as they tend to offer tons of local restaurants and boutiques which ooze with character.

Athens is a thriving college town located in the northeastern part of Georgia. It is home to the University of Georgia, which is the state’s flagship university, as well as the Athens Institute of Technology and Piedmont College. Athens is a vibrant city that offers a unique blend of Southern charm and culture.

Athens has a rich history that dates back to the early 1800s when it was founded as the seat of Clarke County. The city was first settled in 1801 and was named after Athens, Greece, the birthplace of democracy. In the years following the Civil War, Athens became a center of higher education, with the founding of the University of Georgia.

The city soon became the center of politics and commerce in the region. The University of Georgia is the largest employer in Athens, and its presence has shaped the city’s culture and economy. The university is home to the Georgia Bulldogs, the school’s football team, and a number of other athletic teams. It also hosts numerous music, art, and theater events throughout the year.

Athens is also known for its distinctive neighborhoods. Five Points is the city’s oldest and most popular area, and is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and bars.

Rainbow Crosswalk in downtown Athens

After checking into my room at Hotel Indigo, I walked to the center of town, which was lined with a large selection of restaurants and live music venues. Given the musical heritage of Athens, live music is still at the heart of their nightlife scene. Some venues worth checking out include 40 Watt Club, The Warehouse, and the Georgia Theatre.

To my surprise, located in the center of downtown is a fabulous four-way rainbow crosswalk. Sometimes when I visit smaller destinations, I wonder if the community is welcoming to LGBTQ individuals, but I quickly realized that Athens most definitely is. Having the university present in the city adds to its progressive stance. If you are in town on a Friday evening, swing by Athens Showgirl Cabaret’s Fabulous Fridays at Hendershot’s, located in the Bottleworks development. A coffee shop during the day and bar in the evening, Hendershot’s is the perfect place to mingle among LGBTQ locals. After the drag show, head to Sister Louisa’s Church, about a 10-minute walk from Hendershot’s. The quirky establishment features a bar, patio, and club area and is the hub of LGBTQ nightlife in Athens.

After a restful night’s sleep, head to Mama’s Boy for breakfast. A short drive from the hotel, the restaurant is a local institution, serving up a hearty breakfast that won’t break the budget. The morning is a great time to head to The State Botanical Garden of Georgia. I spent about two hours strolling around the gardens and taking in the sights and smells of my surroundings. Be sure to visit the Discovery and Inspiration Garden as well as the Hummingbird Trail.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, head to 1000 Faces Coffee, a cute coffee shop and roaster in town or check out Condor Chocolates and sample some delicious chocolate truffles.

The Georgia Museum of Art is located on the University of Georgia campus and definitely walkable from Hotel Indigo, although I would recommend bringing a bottle of water along for the journey. The museum contains a lovely sculpture garden as well as various exhibition halls which feature a vast collection of fine art. Currently on exhibition is Power & Piety: Seventeenth-Century Spanish Art. Admission is free to both the Museum of Art as well as the botanical gardens, making Athens a budget-friendly getaway.

Speaking of art, beautiful murals can be found all over town, depicting the city’s rich musical heritage, but my favorite was the “Greetings from Athens” mural located on the side of a building in a narrow alley. It can easily be missed if you don’t know where you are going.

The city is home to numerous festivals, including the AthFest Music and Arts Festival, the Athens Film Festival, and the Athens International Film & Video Festival, so it may be a good idea to plan your visit around one of those events.

If you are in the mood to do some shopping, I recommend wandering through Wuxtry Records, one of a few independently owned record stores left in the country. I could spend hours going through their endless aisles of records but only had two days in the city, so I had to move on. I stumbled upon Community, a hub for locally-made products including candles and handcrafted soaps.

Athens, Georgia is a small city with a lot to offer. Its vibrant music scene, thriving culinary scene, and abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities make it a perfect destination for a solo trip or a vacation with friends. If you are looking for a hip weekend adventure, I would give Athens a try.