Arts & Culture Getaway in Athens
1Get your first taste of Athens at neighborhood hangout Normal Bar (1365 Prince Avenue, (706) 548-6186) with signature cocktails made with freshly squeezed juice, boiled peanuts for $1 a bowl, and a laid-back ambiance that's perfect for easing in the weekend. Grab a spot at the cozy bar, which is made from reclaimed wood, or enjoy your libations (the American Mule, made with ginger beer, vodka, and lime and grapefruit juices is excellent) al fresco on the back patio.
2Although The National is the less famous sibling of 5&10, a must-do dining experience to save for tomorrow, this more casual Mediterranean-infused restaurant stands on its own. The kitchen serves up cucumber gazpacho, prosciutto-wrapped grilled figs, and grilled hangar steak, all using local ingredients. It also offers a prix fixe "dinner and a movie" deal with the cinema next door. (232 W. Hancock Ave.,Athens, GA 30601)
3For an iconic way to experience Athens' legendary live music scene, take in a show at the Georgia Theatre. The building, which has been around since the late 1800s, was nearly destroyed by a fire in 2009, but it's returned to its former glory (though scars from the fire can still be seen on some of the brick walls). If you're in the mood for lounging instead, grab a drink on the beautiful rooftop bar.
1Start your day at a popular farm-to-table restaurant, the Branded Butcher, which works its specialty — charcuterie — into its creative yet unpretentious brunch menu in dishes like eggs Benedict with pastrami. If you're leaning toward lunch, other recent menu items have included a pulled pork sandwich and a corndog.
2A hidden gem in Georgia that will delight art enthusiasts, the Georgia Museum of Art is a remarkable venue for a city of Athens' size. A $20 million, 30,000-square-foot expansion was unveiled in 2011, adding more space for permanent collections, which concentrate on American paintings and include works of such icons as Georgia O'Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth. Another plus? The suggested donation is a mere $3.
3For a mid-morning caffeine break, pop into Athens' most popular coffee shop, Jittery Joe's, which has earned a cult following in the South. Their coffee makes a great gift too, so stock up while you're in the spacious tasting room.
4Lunch today is at the Last Resort Grill, a former music venue from the 1960s where famous names like Jimmy Buffet, Leon Redbone, and Townes Van Zandt once performed. Fried green tomatoes is the signature dish on this Southern-centric menu, which also includes Low Country mussels, salmon and grits, and pecan-crusted blue trout.
5Kick off your afternoon with an independent film at Athens Cine, a historic building that dates back to the 1940s. Have a glass of wine in the bar before taking in an indie flick or a classic film like Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, a recent screening.
6Just like locally brewed coffee, Athens loves its locally brewed beer, namely Terrapin, whose brewery is open for tours from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Saturdays. You'll learn about the brewing process, taste some brews and, most likely, see some live music, too.
7Dinner is at 5&10, helmed by Athens' most celebrated chef, Hugh Acheson (he's a Fodor's Travel Tastemaker), and considered by foodies as one of the top restaurants in the South. Start with a "snackie" such as pimento cheese and candied bacon on crostini, or oysters on the half shell, before moving onto sumptuous entrees that include Low Country stew and 5&10 Pasta, with San Marzano tomatoes, housemade ricotta, basil, arugula, and prosciutto. The three-course prix fixe menu, available on limited reservations daily, is one of the best deals in town at $30.
1An Athens staple for years, Big City Bread Café is the ideal spot for a lazy Sunday brunch, with a cheerful, tree-shaded outdoor patio and a friendly crowd. Tuck into mouth-watering French toast or a choose-your-cheese omelet, or simply add fixins' to one of the heavenly biscuits.
2Fueled from brunch, you'll head next to Agora Vintage, a quirky shop that stocks a hodgepodge of antique and vintage clothes, jewelry, furniture, and, of course, music memorabilia. Pick up a couple of old-school albums for some unique wall art—the perfect souvenir from your trip.
3For one last dose of art before heading home, check out the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art, or ATHICA, which hosts regular exhibitions and events that celebrate contemporary art. The large warehouse space is located in the Chase Park Warehouse District, an emerging urban arts hub of recording studios and artists' studios, just about a mile from downtown.