Destination Athens: A Walk Through History
Got wanderlust? If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling the urge to travel right about now. The past year and a half of restrictions and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced us to hit the pause button on adventuring, but now that things are opening up a bit it’s a good time to plan a getaway. There’s no better destination than my hometown, Athens, Georgia.
Athens sits at the head of Georgia’s Antebellum Trail and is all the things you’ve heard about it, sleepy, off the beaten path and steeped in history –– but the place is also a secret blast with a quirky vibe that stays with you long after you leave. Here are five things to do in Athens that you just can’t do anywhere else.
Go on a walking tour of Athens musical history
Athens plays a crucial role in American music across multiple genres. Although widely known as the birthplace of The B-52s, R.E.M. and Widespread Panic, the city’s claim to musical history took root in the early 1900s with the Morton Theater, one of the first, and the oldest surviving vaudeville theatres in the United States. The Morton regularly featured Cab Calloway, Blind Willie McTell, Bessie Smith and others.
Athens’s robust musical history makes it the perfect place for a walking tour. Starting out at Downtown’s The Classic Center, the tour takes you to scores of places such as Wuxtry Records, where a young Peter Buck was working when he met Michael Stipe and the band we know as R.E.M. was formed, Uptown Lounge, where Widespread Panic started, and the must-see Morton. Keep your eye out for The Last Resort, the Clayton Street bar and music club which dates back to 1966 and was located down the street from three finance companies. The rumor was, if you were turned away from all three places, the bar was your last resort. Steve Martin performed there! There’s so much musical history to pack in, so plan on making it a day and be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Take in the beauty of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia
This Athens wonder was established by the University of Georgia in 1968. The gardens are the perfect place to immerse yourself in the beauty of your surroundings. More than 300 acres and five miles of walking trails, this place is designed for studying nature and is focused on restoring the area’s floodplain region and protecting native plants.
Check out the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden while you’re there, if you’re into edible landscapes and hands-on educational gardening programs.
Visit The Georgia Museum of Art
It gets hot in Athens. The perfect place to beat the heat is the Georgia Museum of Art, where you’ll find notable American paintings and more. What began in 1948 in the basement of the University of Georgia library with a small collection of 100 works has grown into a wonder sprawling nearly 80,000 square feet! Show your brain some love and learn something new, and when you get hungry, the museum has a beautiful little cafe with delicious pastries.
Meet the residents of the Bear Hollow Zoo
Bear Hollow Zoo is a sweet place and home to a variety of wildlife. The animals who reside at Bear Hollow have physical or behavioral challenges that would make them vulnerable in the wild, so they’re living their best lives at the zoo and offer visitors a remarkable way to learn about wildlife and conservation. This free zoo houses some fascinating animals like the North American river otter, a great horned owl, white-tailed deer and the American black bear. Bear Hollow Zoo is located within Memorial Park.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Hodgson’s Pharmacy
This is important. The Five Points neighborhood is essential to the Athens experience. A mainly residential area near the University of Georgia, Five Points is also home to some gems in dining and shopping. Want the quintessential Athens experience? Look no further than Hodgson’s Pharmacy. An actual working pharmacy and mainstay of Athens, this is where you go when you want an authentic vanilla Coke or scoop of ice cream. Hodgson’s is a time machine and you just can’t pass it up if you’re in town.
Bulldog pride bonus round
While you’re out and about in Athens, see if you notice the bulldog sculptures. The We Let The Dogs Out art exhibit is scattered around town and makes for prime photo opportunities. The exhibit was started by the Athens-Oconee Junior Women’s Club in the early 2000s and features dozens of cool bulldogs painted by local artists.
About The Author
After thirty years of practicing law in Georgia, Howard T. Scott pivoted from the courtroom to writing fiction inspired by anecdotes from the southern storytelling tradition he’s immersed in. He’s one of the founding partners of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise—the world’s only fully chartered blues cruise—and a lover of live music, fitness, nature, historic preservation and travel. Scott splits his time between the dryland of Athens, Georgia and the high seas of the Atlantic and the Caribbean aboard Capricho. Rascal on the Run is his first novel. Visit Howard T. Scott’s website here.