Southern Lady Magazine

Southern College Towns: Athens and the University of Georgia

From campus camaraderie to a spirited downtown, Athens entices visitors with its New and Old World charm. 

A walk along the streets of downtown Athens wouldn’t be complete without a bulldog siting.

From the red brick halls of higher learning at the University of Georgia to the city’s recent arrival on the modern food scene, the name “Athens” has come to represent so much more than the ancient pillar of learning and culture this college town was named after.

Whether or not you love the Bulldogs, the university and the community that grew up around it broke new ground in American education in 1785 when Georgia incorporated it as the country’s first state university. We think that’s worth celebrating across the South. Take a closer look at all its historical and modern charm.

Stroll the streets of this north Georgia city, and it becomes clear that this is no “sleepy college town.” Athens thrums to a tune all its own partly because of its musical heritage that encompasses country, bluegrass, and rock. 

Relax at the State Botanical Gardens for a dose of floral inspiration.

In fact, the town’s penchant for launching chart-topping bands like R.E.M. and the B-52s has earned it the nickname “Liverpool of the South.”

EAT: During the past decade or so, Athens has attracted a new legion of fans: foodies. Its pedestrian-friendly downtown is simmering with restaurants that have put it squarely on culinary maps. If wandering through downtown Athens has you hungry, stop by Five & Ten, the flagship restaurant of James Beard Award-winning Chef Hugh Acheson. A sampling of the fare reveals Acheson’s reinvention of Southern flavors as he blends them with Italian and French influences.

Stop in at the Big City Bread Cafe where organically grown food fills a menu that covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner with plenty of tasty options. Visitors can even take tours that hit the hot spots among the Boulevard, Downtown, and Five Points eateries.

The window full of adorable clothes is just a taste of trend-setting finds inside the Red Dress Boutique.

SHOP & EXPLORE: Shopping options abound, from fashions to artisan crafts to upscale home décor. Of course, the university and its breathtaking campus are at the heart of this Southern town. Most fall weekends are reserved for cheering on the beloved Bulldogs “between the hedges” of Sanford Stadium. On one side of the campus stands a circa-1856 structure known simply as The Arch. Tradition holds that a student may pass under it only after receiving his or her diploma. Look down, and you’ll see that the stone steps are worn from years of graduating seniors—diplomas in hand—taking final pictures as they walk through The Arch and into the big world beyond.

If you love English and Country French antiques, then include Appointments at Five on your agenda, where the owners have two houses’ worth of wares for sale. Or stop in at Frontier, a treasure trove of unique goods, including work by local artists.

The striking pink T.R.R. Cobb House spent two decades at Stone Mountain. Now, the historical home of the man considered Athen’s “first citizen” stands two blocks from its original downtown location.

While venturing through the school’s east campus, stop by the Georgia Museum of Art. What began in UGA’s old library as a collection of 100 paintings, now boasts more than 8,000 objects housed in a fresh, modern building.

Text by Karen Callaway
Photos by John O’Hagan 

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