I remember the first time my parents called. They were thrilled to be coming to Athens, Ga. for the weekend and couldn't wait to jump in on Athens' activities and all it has to offer. This was their very first visit, and I was a freshman student at University of Georgia barely settling into my new dorm, yet alone in my Athens community. Before I had time to even respond to my parents' news, my mom was already asking what we should do. Dad of course wanted to do "historical" things, attend a football game, or drink beer at a local Athens downtown bar. My mom wanted to eat and shop her way through "charming little Athens" that she knew very little about. While my parents were excited to see me, all I could notice on the phone with them was the harsh sound of my breathing and my heart beating out of my chest. The panic was setting in. How was I going to entertain my parents for a whole weekend?
If you're anything like me, you've asked yourself the same question... and probably more than once. Luckily, I am a junior at UGA and my knowledge of Athens has expanded. I've ventured off the beaten path, explored the mom & pop places, heard the local music, and tasted the local cuisine. Now, when my parents visit, I decide to let them live a slice of my life and experience Athens as I do with all its local flavors.
A typical weekend with my parents begins with them checking in at Hotel Indigo where I meet them. They are always impressed with the service, the rooms, and the convenient location of Hotel Indigo. From there, we venture into downtown by foot. We usually grab a coffee at Walker's Pub and talk about the weekend ahead, catch up on family news, and avoid my parents' questions about where I see myself in five years or whether or not I have met a nice young man here at school. I've learned how to handle these questions, or rather, how to dodge them. Usually, it has to do with placing a beer and food and front of them. Trust me, it works like a charm.
Who doesn't like food? Athens food, especially its local food, is incredible. Freshman year, I only ventured out to a few of Athens restaurants, but after learning and working for Athens Food Tours, now expanded to Georgia Food Tours, my knowledge and love for local food grew. My parents enjoy progressive dinners, and that is exactly what Georgia Food Tours is. Mary Charles Howard, owner of Georgia Food Tours, provides tours to local restaurants and breweries within the different areas of Athens, Atlanta, and St. Simon's Island. Each tour includes several different restaurants. While on a tour, you walk between each restaurant and try a few samples of food from each place. These tours are a great way to experience several different Athens' restaurant at one time for a good price. During the walking tour, Mary Charles explains the history behind the area, the restaurants, and different chefs. My dad, being the history buff that he is, loves this and never hesitates to quiz Mary Charles on what she knows. A UGA graduate and Athens resident herself, she knows a lot.
If we feel like doing our own progressive dinner for the night and don't mind spending more, we'll start off at Blue Sky or Trappeze Pub. Then, we'll head over to Speakeasy for appetizers/tapas and split a few among the three of us. For the entree portion of our progressive dinner, we'll go to The Rooftop by The Branded Butcher, Etienne, or East West Bistro. Dessert almost always ends up at Last Resort Grill, because my mom loves the white chocolate cheesecake! She eats a slice there, and then usually takes one home as well...
The best part of this night is that all restaurants are within walking distance. I love to stroll the streets with my parents and allow them to experience Athens as I do. While we are walking off our food, we may decide to pop in on a local music act at The Melting Point, the Georgia Theatre, or even Hendershot's Coffee Bar which is nearby. If we are feeling a bit full or tired and need a break, we'll stroll into Cine for a movie. These make for a great closure to the day.
My mom loves going to farmers' markets spots, so it is also crucial we attend the Athens Farmers' Market on Saturday morning at Bishop Park. Not only is it a great time taking in the local culture with music, food, and gifts, but my mom usually offers to pay for my groceries. I never object. The homemade granola, fresh bread, hearty cheeses, and delicious arugula pesto is always calling my name. Local is always better.
After we return from the farmers market, we are starving and ready for brunch. Many of Athens restaurants serve breakfast/lunch throughout the morning and afternoon. I love taking them to Big City Bread because of the diversity within the menu to accommodate all of our taste buds. It is so nice to sit outside on the patio under the twinkling hanging lights strung between shady trees.
Over brunch, I give them the rundown of their options. The afternoon is up to them. Does Dad want to go to Terrapin or Creature Comforts and try some new brew? Should mom and I do some downtown shopping at Community, Red Dress Boutique, Heery's, or shall we all head over to the State Botanical Gardens and take in the afternoon sun? If it's really hot and we want to have a more relaxing afternoon, we could even go to the Georgia Museum of Art and experience one of the new exhibits for free.
By Saturday evening, my parents are usually exhausted from the day's events, but we never miss the opportunity for a good meal. Where to eat is usually based on what type of food we want, and Athens has it all. If we are feeling cuban, mexican, spanish, or south american food, we will either go to Cali N Tito's, Viva! Argentine Cuisine, or Taqueria del Sol. If we want Italian (which I usually do), we will go to La Dolce Vita, A Tavola!, or Ted's Most Best. Dad loves his BBQ, so we will often go to White Tiger Gourmet or Pulaski Heights BBQ. If we are feeling truly American, we will go to what is my favorite burger place in town: Clocked. If my vegan friends decide to tag along for the evening (which is often the case), then we will go to The Grit. It can actually be difficult deciding where to eat for dinner. Most towns have this problem because of the lack of choices. For Athens, the problem arises from having too many choices. For any craving, there is always a place to fill that void. These restaurants are some of the best kept secrets in Athens.
My mom always said that Sundays in Athens are like a "number ten day." I don't exactly know what that means, but Sundays are always clear blue skies and sunshine in Athens. Before they leave town that afternoon, I will bring them to breakfast at Mama's Boy or Ike & Jane, depending on the mood. Both are my favorite breakfast places and you can't go wrong with either! Am I feeling Mama's Boy's vegetable scramble or a doughnut and Jalapeno, Bacon, Egg, and White Cheddar breakfast sandwich from Ike & Jane? Service may be a little crazy, and Mam's Boy is quite the experience! I've learned to be patient, and so have my parents over the years. The quirkier a place is, the more I like it!
Athens is an experience. From the food to its music, it is unique. That first weekend for my parents my freshman year was certainly a bit of a culture shock. They didn't know what to expect. Their perceptions of Athens were pretty basic: UGA Football, REM, Bars, etc. They saw it only as a college town. But, even by the end of that weekend and now over three years later, my parents love its eclectic charm. My parents are from Roswell, Ga.- a suburb of Atlanta. They enjoy escaping to Athens every now and then. Athens is a breath of fresh air. They still come here astonished by the amount of choices Athens has from local cuisine to the music and art scenes. I never hesitate to remind them that they're not in Roswell anymore. This is Athens. My Athens.
How will you make Athens your own?