By Alexandra Shimalla
Allow us to let you in on a little-known secret: You don’t have to plan an extravagant vacation to some faraway island in order to have an enjoyable day (or two) off. Pick a few activities from our suggestions on the following pages to create the perfect summer staycation in the Classic City!
Georgia Museum of Art
Did you know that Athens is home to the state museum? Although the Georgia Museum of Art is located on the University of Georgia’s campus, the institution is free and open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. Summer weather in the South can be quite fickle (not to mention hot and humid!), so if you’re looking for a way to spend the day indoors, a trip to the GMOA is in order. Their tours, events, and exhibitions are always changing, so it’s best to consult their website to figure out what will be happening on the day of your visit.
Steffen Thomas Museum of Art
The Steffen Thomas Museum of Art is in Buckhead, Ga., about 45 minutes from Athens. We’re not talking about Buckhead in Atlanta; we’re talking about rural Ga., just outside of Madison. This museum honors the legacy and artwork of Steffen Thomas. At the age of 19, Thomas emigrated from Germany and landed in Atlanta. He spent his life creating art and became quite well known in the city. The museum is dedicated to his artwork, and Thomas created a lot during his lifetime, so the institution is able to switch out the galleries more often than a traditional museum. You’ll find works of art constructed out of every medium possible and ranging in size from the minuscule to the monstrous, all with impeccable detail. From paintings to pottery and just about everything in between, the artwork will leave you speechless (or it will be the only thing you talk about for days!). Visit the museum then head into town for lunch and some shopping. You won’t regret a trip out to the cow pastures of Buckhead.
If you’ve been in Athens for any length of time, then you’ve definitely heard of AthFest, the annual three-day arts and music festival hosted in the Classic City in late June. The festival takes over downtown Athens with music and vendors selling their crafts and jewelry. During the day, check out the outdoor schedule to see which bands are playing on one of the multiple stages. Once the day festivities end, the festival continues inside by taking over various bars throughout downtown. There’s something for all ages at AthFest, as they also have KidsFest. This kid-friendly atmosphere has a stage, free arts and craft areas, and a bouncy house. The festival also brings awareness to AthFest Educates, a nonprofit focused on providing funding to support music and arts education for youth.
Catch a Show
For the musically minded, try catching a show at one of the countless venues in Athens. Whatever your favorite music might be, there’s definitely a bar in Athens hosting a band with something you’ll enjoy. The Georgia Theatre is one of the more well-known venues in town; it has an indoor stage area as well as the rooftop bar (which has a live band or DJ on the weekends). For the movie lovers, catch a show at Ciné, the movie theatre in town. This cinema has two large screening rooms, a bar, and the options to watch new releases or indie films. According to Ciné’s website, it’s the only independently run, nonprofit, community-based, mission-driven art house movie theatre in the region.
State Botanical Garden of Georgia
Spend the day strolling through beautiful blooming flowers and foliage. The State Botanical Garden divides its plants into separate gardens and greenhouses, such as the Heritage Garden, which features bits and pieces of Georgia agriculture and history, including plants native to the state. The International Garden is broken down into sections based on the geographic and historical origin of the plant. You can hike around the property on one of the seven colored trails (the colors depict the difficulty level and length). Spot wildlife and take in views of babbling brooks, funky bridges, and the Middle Oconee River. The botanical garden also recently installed the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden, an interactive learning exhibit filled with plenty of things to play with and explore.
Memorial Park and Bear Hollow Zoo
Did you know that Athens has its own zoo? Located in the Five Points area of town is Memorial Park. This 72-acre property is home to a swimming pool (for those extra hot days!), a hiking trail, a lake, and Bear Hollow Zoo. This might be one of the more obscure and best kept secrets of Athens. The zoo has become a home for non-releasable wildlife; these are animals that have experienced some challenge that prevents them from being able to survive in their natural habitat. The mission of the zoo is to educate the public on these animals as well as provide an opportunity for guests to view wildlife native to the state. The zoo is open seven days a week and includes a reptile house. Memorial Park is also home to the Athens Creative Theatre, which hosts a range of productions throughout the year, including comedies, musicals, and dramas.
Sandy Creek Park
Another all-day outdoor adventure awaits at Sandy Creek Park. You can hike or lay on the shore of Lake Chapman. You can boat or kayak or canoe. You can play volleyball or basketball or baseball or disc golf. Bring a fishing rod and get to work, or bring your favorite four-legged friend and let it enjoy the dog park. Pack a picnic and watch your children play—it’s a great way to spend the day!
For the more adventurous souls, set aside a day to kayak the Middle Oconee River with Big Dogs on the River.
Berry Picking at Washington Farms
Peak strawberry season is upon us, and there’s something magical about being able to say “I picked that!” when cutting up strawberries to adorn a delicious dessert or salad. Head to Washington Farms in Watkinsville, just a short drive from Athens, and pick your own strawberries!