I love to travel. I love to see new places. I love to explore, meet new people and take in the uniqueness of places that have their own personality. Athens, Georgia: whether you are just passing through, spending an amazing 4 years (or 5), or settling down- it is one of the most unique and memorable cities that exist. Although we have traveled tons of places spread over several continents, we always enjoy coming home. Where you live is one of the single most influential aspects of your entire life and one of the fundamental keys to lifestyle design. If you made a list of what you want in a city, what would it contain? Are you curious to know why anyone who has passed through loves Athens, Ga? What do you love about where you currently reside?
What Makes Athens Awesome?
Food – Honestly, food in Athens deserves its own article. But I’ll give it a go. Awesome food! Incredible diversity. Insanely inexpensive. I could make the argument that it has the best selection of any small non-tourist town. Every ethnic possibility, delicious farm to table and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Athens is home to several breweries, mircopubs, and even bike tours to local farms. Our favorite local restaurants include Last Resort, Copper Creek, Jittery Joe’s coffee, Mama’s Boy, Little Italy, Cali & Titos, Depalmas and 5 & 10.
Sports – You know your town has a problem with sports when your football stadium holds more people than the town’s population. I don’t know if there is anything better than an early morning on a cool fall Saturday in Athens, Ga. No really, football rules, but UGA is also known for its incredible tennis, golf, gymnastics and entertaining (but sometimes terrible) college basketball and baseball. Athens is also home to a plethora of high school, intramural and adult leagues for every sport imaginable. It even hosts one of the coolest downtown criterium bike races in the country. Twilight is a professional race with monster prizes, a wonderful accompanying festival and an awesome downtown atmosphere.
Nightlife – Woah, how many bars? There are how many bands playing tonight? UGA took the #1 spot in Princeton Reviews’ Party School rankings for a reason. Terrapin Breweries offers great early evening festivities and brewery tours. You can have dinner at one of the amazing gastropubs, and then go to one of the 80 local award winning bars- all in a single square mile. Oh, did I mention that cover charges are non-existent and even fancy beers rarely top $3. Some of the most popular and nationally recognized establishments are: The Globe, Georgia Theatre, Bourbon Street, Walkers and Trappeze.
Music – Athens is known for a few small bands like R.E.M., Widespread Panic, Neutral Milk Hotel and the B-52s. But what is surprising is simply the amount of local talent and the volume. Every night of the week there are tons of small bands and individuals playing for free at the 100 or so bars in the two square mile radius that makes up downtown/normaltown. For its size, the music scene (spotify playlist) is truly unparalleled. A few of the newer local bands like Drive-By-Truckers (or old), Elf Power and Brantley Gilbert are developing their national exposure.
Education & Smart People – Athens is the quintessential college town. And one of the greatest parts about that is the utter abundance of educational opportunities. One of several local colleges, UGA gives access to learn almost anything you want from some of the top researchers in the world. As an added benefit, if you are an employee of the college you can take any classes you want for free! Not only that, residents of Georgia with decent high school grades can attend any state college for free!
Arts, Theater & Culture – Performing arts often have an exaggerated presence in college towns. And Athens is no exception. Home to a wonderful performing arts center and excellent curation, Athens boasts big name performers from around the globe. Wonderful opera, museums, theater, and classical music are all available locally without any hassle or traffic of a big city!
Dense – A small town with big town amenities. For a southern town, Athens is surprisingly dense and everything radiates from the University and historic downtown. It is pretty easy to live your entire life in a three mile radius if you would like. Athens is one of the few bike-friendly towns in the entire Southeast and the ability to go car free is a welcomed change. Free public transportation is actually available for all college students and many of the largest employers.
Inexpensive – I mean really, where else can you buy a nice little brick house walking distance from downtown, fancy public parks, miles of greenway, 1/2 mile from the football stadium and near the largest employer for under 65k? Oh yeah, right here in A-Town. Rent in nice areas typically runs $250 to $450 for your own bedroom and bathroom. It is actually hard to find a place that doesn’t sell $1 beers, and even craft beers rarely top the $3 mark. Even the nicest restaurant entrées are rarely over $18.
Church, Schools and Hospitals – Athens is home to hundreds of churches and religious institutions. Athens Church is one of the most dynamic, engaging churches I’ve ever seen. There are tons of local schools, and Athens is unique in that one of the best local schools is adjacent to the intercity downtown area. The high schools are nationally ranked with International Baccalaureate programs and tons of AP options. Two of the states’ best hospitals call Athens home. I’m amazed what all is packed in such a small region.
Parks, Trails and Green Space – I love to run, bike, hunt and fish. Athens is packed with parks, trails and has miles of greenway that extend through downtown for walking and biking. Living near a public park is inevitable and if you want to retreat to nature, the Redlands public WMA is 37,500 acres of hunting, fishing, biking and camping all within twenty minutes from downtown.
Location, Location, Location
When designing your life and where you want to live, location is fundamental. Because of the unique culture, Athens has actually become a destination. But aside from that, it is quaintly located about an hour from Atlanta and one short shuttle from Hartsfield Jackson- the busiest airport in the world. In addition, Athens is close to several lakes for awesome water sports and minutes away from the mountains for hiking. If you are even more adventurous, you are welcome to take a short three hour drive to the Atlantic Ocean.
I didn’t even have time to touch on the fact that Athens is the state’s best local economy and the weather allows you to grow your own food year round. Athens is also one of the most diverse cities in the South with people and students from nations all over the world. It even has an impressive budding entrepreneurial and start-up tech scene. So, is Athens the best city in the world? For me, I think it is about as close as it gets. I love the idea of being intentional and designing the lifestyle of our dreams. And choosing where you live is an integral part of your experience. For kids, college students, young adults, families and retirees- Athens, GA fits the bill of a small town with big town access and charm. If you are ever heading over this way, feel free to contact me if you want to go bike the city, find out where to eat or learn about the amazing things my favorite town has to offer.
*Pictures from AJC & Dogwonderful