Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I try to find things to do in Athens that don’t include bar hopping or spending my dwindling supply of money. In my opinion, fall is the most beautiful time of year and the most wonderful time to be outside. There’s something about the way the leaves are changing, the weather is perfect and the temperature is just right to spend the entire afternoon roaming around the great outdoors. This week, I set out on a small adventure on my own: to travel around the Athens area in search of the most fun (and mostly free) outdoor excursions.
Sandy Creek Nature Reserve
Sandy Creek Nature Reserve is the perfect place for anyone—and I mean anyone-to just get outside and get your blood flowing. With its shady, wood-planked trails, its great for hiking, jogging, and even mountain biking. The best thing about Sandy Creek is that it offers a wide variety of trails for every type of adventurer. Throughout your hike, you will be sure to see immense amount of wildlife. Be on the lookout for warblers, orioles, deer, falcons and even the occasional turkeys that are common to this area. I was jogging Cook’s Trail, a 4.1 mile wooded pathway that stretches from Sandy Creek Nature Center to Sandy Creek Park, when I had to stop because I was so distracted by the simple beauty of the trail. Tall pines, weeping willows and birches line the sides of the path and keep the sun from inducing heat stroke upon runners and walkers alike. A creek trickles by on my left, densely wooded areas seem to stretch for miles on my right. I despise running, so keep that in mind when I say that I enjoyed jogging through this diverse trail.
Athens Local Farmer's Market
Fresh produce? Check. Healthy, paleo and vegan snacks? Check. Live music and good company? Check. Every Wednesday through November 4th, Creature Comforts Brewery hosts the Athens Local Farmer’s Market. Here I found the best paleo cranberry white chocolate chunk cookies in the entire world. Seriously, the obsession is real. The cookie literally¬—and I really mean literally—melts in your mouth. Each bite is jam packed with chocolaty cranberry deliciousness, making it an experience within itself. The aroma wafting up from these fresh baked goodies forces you to wander over and examine the inventory. If cookies aren’t your thing, the King of Pops popsicle stand is a short walk up the street. With flavors like watermelon basil, afternoon delight (cantaloupe, coconut milk and habanero peppers—YUM!), raspberry lime and chocolate sea salt, each pop is truly unique! Whether you’re a freshman in the dorms, or a senior in a little house of your own, I highly recommend making the trek here. Located on the corner of West Hancock and Pulaski Street, Creature Comforts Brewing Co. is housed in a beautiful historic warehouse. Don’t have any money to spare? That’s fine, there is free live music by local Athens bands. It’s a great way to wind down after a long and stressful week.
My personal favorite excursion is Redneck Beach; located a short walk from Athens Ridge, this quaint little waterhole is the perfect place to lounge around and soak up the last few rays of summer. First off, the area around Redneck Beach is an adventure within itself. Nestled in the overgrowth are abandoned, crumbling buildings that are just begging to be explored. I had the pleasure of roaming and climbing through what seems to be some type of old mill. Afterwards, I followed the small trail down to the actual Redneck Beach. A nice sandy shore meets with a river with its own little waterfall. The sand is actually quite soft, perfect for stretching out on a towel and getting your tan on. Tall trees with low hanging branches encompass the perimeter and provide not only shade but also a perfect place to hang up an Eno hammock. Trying to cool off? The water is nice and cool; it’s shallow enough in some places to just hang out and it is deep enough in other places to safely jump off the surrounding rocks and waterfalls. Although the waterfall isn’t particularly huge, it is still a sight to see. It is a nice alternative to the usual hustle and bustle of a college campus. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, there is a rope swing which I saw quite a few people perform backflips off of (I was not one of them). Redneck Beach is the perfect lazy day spot. I have to admit, I got a great tan from just lounging around there all afternoon.
*This article has been updated. The Athens Local Farmer's Market is held on Wednesday's - not Thursday's as previously listed.
Only a little over a year old, Seabear Oyster Bar has been making waves in Athens’s culinary scene since serving up their first plate. While it’s not the only restaurant in Athens that serves oysters, it is the only one that focuses almost exclusively on the delicacy. As with most seafood, however, freshness makes all the difference in a diner’s experience. So how does Seabear keep an eye on its prized cuisine that comes from the Atlantic Ocean, over 230 miles away?
The WHO: Three leaders from Athens’s infamous and now-sister restaurant, The National, came together to create this new aquarium of foodie opportunity. Peter Dale and Chris Luken, head chef and bar/business manager at The National, respectively, still work at both restaurants, according to a profile done by the Athens Banner-Herald. But Patrick Stubbers, once a sous-chef at The National, now devotes his time entirely to Seabear as co-owner and head chef. Athens’s eaters are not easily satisfied, but together the three have combined years of experience to cook up a new experience – one that makes you feel as if you are sitting on a dock off the Georgia coast shucking oysters you just caught.
The WHEN: Open since June 2014, the restaurant is open seven days a week from 3 p.m. to midnight, perfect for late lunches, dinners, and those late night oyster cravings; and happy hour is from 3-6 p.m. every day, too, making it a compelling post-work hangout.
The WHERE: Seabear is located in the old Coca-Cola bottling plant (a.k.a. the Bottleworks, built in the 1800s!) on Prince Avenue, directly across from Hendershot’s Coffee. It’s only a short walk from downtown, but there is ample space for free parking.
The WHY: Several restaurants in Athens do seafood well – think Square 1 Fish Co. or Marker Seven Coastal Grill. Yet only one so prominently projects its feelings about fresh and sustainable seafood. With oysters, especially, taste and experience can be severely diminished if not freshly caught, quickly transported and properly prepared. According to their website, Seabear’s leaders wanted to give Athens diners the ability to experience tasty, fresh oysters without having to drive the four-plus hours to the Georgia coast. With that motivation, and the desire to keep their impact on the Atlantic’s ecosystem as low as possible, Seabear was born.
The HOW: First, Seabear partnered with Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to ensure their oysters were grown sustainably. Then, they chose select oyster farms that met their criteria. “We hope to encourage the oyster industry, and we want to do this conscientiously,” their website says. Currently they serve seafood from farms in the Pacific Northwest, New England, and Virginia; a complete list of their oyster providers can be found on their website. Because of pollution, over-harvesting and over-development that has destroyed oyster habitats and depleted their population, Georgia oysters are not yet able to be served at Seabear. However, with the work of marine scientists from the University of Georgia and the Department of Natural Resources, as well as experienced fisherman and oyster enthusiasts, Georgia oysters are making a comeback. Until then, fresh and sustainably raised and harvested seafood travels upstream by way of the Altamaha River, then up the Oconee River to Athens.
And, finally, the MENU: Last, but certainly not least, are the oysters themselves. Seabear exclusively serves raw oysters on the half shell which changes selection daily. A plate of a dozen oysters could come from over six different farms; and each variety tastes and looks unique, too! For anyone who has never tried an oyster, fried or raw, imagine being able to taste something so fresh you can almost taste the salty ocean. Not everyone is a fan of the texture of raw oysters alone, but on top of a salty cracker with all the fixings - horseradish, cocktail sauce, hot sauce and more - you’ll experience an enlightening combination of flavors. And before you know it, you’ll have eaten a dozen or more. But don’t worry, oysters are chock full of nutrients (well, the raw ones at least) so you don’t have to regret asking the waitress to bring you another dozen. While there is an option for a fried oyster po’ boy sandwich, you’ll have to stick with raw if you want oysters alone. Classic seafood favorites with Seabear’s signature twist can be found in shrimp ‘n grits, crab and shrimp cakes, steamed PEI mussels, mini lobster rolls as an appetizer and much more, which can be found on Seabear’s website. But in order to find the fresh catch being served today, it’s best to go in and find out for yourself.