If you’ve got the time and inclination, one of Georgia’s most enjoyable destinations is just a slight veer to the east off our route: Athens, the coolest college town in the South. Famed for its lively music scene, which gave the world the alternative-rock bands B-52s and R.E.M., Athens is the home of the University of Georgia, whose Greek Revival campus sits at the center of town, bordered on the north by a half dozen blocks of cafés, bars, and book and record stores. Besides the dozens of super-sized Bulldogs (the UGA mascot) around town, Athens also holds a classic road trip destination: “The Tree That Owns Itself,” a second-generation mighty oak tree standing on a small circle of land at the corner of Finley and Dearing Streets west of campus, whose legal autonomy earned it a place in Ripley’s Believe or Not!
The main music venue is the 40 Watt Club (285 W. Washington St., 706/549-7871), where R.E.M. played their second gig. Good, cheap food is available on the east side of town at Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods (1016 E. Broad St., 706/353-7797), whose enigmatic slogan “Automatic for the People” was enshrined as an R.E.M. album title. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe owns the building in which you can find the gourmet meat-free restaurant The Grit (199 Prince Ave., 706/543-6592). The best restaurant in Athens, and one of the top 10 in the USA according to Food & Wine Magazine, is the Five & Ten (1073 S. Milledge Ave., 706/546-7300, Mon.-Sat. dinner, Sun. brunch and dinner), two miles southwest of downtown. The Five & Ten serves a range of Southern favorites enlivened by inventive, international touches. (Fried catfish and grits with lemon and arugula, anyone?)