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We love day tripping and exploring local cities. Our most recent trip was to Athens, Georgia which is about an hour and 15 minutes from our home. We arrived at about 10:00 am and explored until about 7:00 pm. The best part about the trip is that everything we did was FREE! Athens has been on our radar for several years, but every time we headed out there we had car problems, but not this time! I am so happy we finally got to explore and we will definitely be visiting again soon!
Athens is a vibrant, restored Victorian-era town that is full of art galleries, trendy shops world-renowned nightclubs and distinctive dining. But that's not all! Athens is also home to the University of Georgia, which was chartered as America's first state college in 1785. And Athens is teeming with historic buildings which have made it onto the National Register of Historic places, beautiful gardens and natural oasis's. This amazing town offers something for everyone with its unique blend of traditional heritage and trend-setting southern culture!
If you are looking to spend a day in Athens and spend a very small amount of money I have the perfect itinerary for you!
1) Georgia State Botanical Gardens - This stop takes about 1-2 hrs. Admission is FREE.
This 313 acre botanical garden on the Middle Oconee River is a fabulous cultural, educational and recreational facility and one of Athens' most visited attractions. There are several themed display gardens including a Flower Garden, International Garden, Heritage Garden, Shade Garden, Herb Garden (a huge hit with the kids), Rhododendron Collection and more. There is also a fantastic conservatory with tropical plants from around the world. In the conservatory kids can learn about the various plants that provide them their favorite foods and snacks while getting a whiff of some of them too. The garden has great information placards throughout to help you learn more about the flowers, plants and trees. You can opt to pick up some self guided resources at the visitor check in like the Hummingbird Trail guide. For educators and homeschool parents call ahead to reserve one of the fabulous education packs for $20. Every week the gardens also offer events and activities. After browsing through the garden you can check out the 5 miles of nature trails that extend far into the reaches of the Garden and natural areas typical of the habitats and plan communities found in the Georgia Piedmont.
2) Memorial Park and Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail - This stop takes about 1 hr. Admission is FREE.
This little zoo is a great place to learn about Georgia's native wildlife. There is a paved trail that winds through the woods and leads you to viewing decks where you can see black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, owls, and many other species of wild, free-living animals (all animals are non-releasable). There is also a reptile/amphibian house on site with snakes, turtles and frogs. Bear Hollow also offers a variety of family programs and events.
3) Georgia Museum of Natural History - This stop takes about 20-30 minutes. Admission is FREE.
This little museum is only about the size of our living room and dining room combined, but it is a lot of fun and really educational. The museum offers visitors a chance to observe samples from the over 6 million objects in the museum's collection, including 1.5 million insects and more than 100 whale skeletons. The sections of the museum cover the 6 departments at the University of Georgia: Anthropology, Botany, Entomology, Geography, Geology and Plant Pathology. There were even several interactive sections where the kids got to touch animals pelts and skulls. The museum can offer behind-the-scenes tours for groups of up to 20 at no charge and we were lucky enough to get such a tour while we were there. A nice retired entomologist overhear us in the museum and asked if the kids would like to see the insect collection. Of course we said yes, so he led us upstairs to the entomology department where all of the insects are cataloged and stored. It was an amazing experience for the kids and we got to see some of the largest bugs in the world. During our visit there were signs up indicating that they are in the process of currently updating some of the exhibits, however there was still a lot to see and learn about.
4) Athens Welcome Center and Church-Waddel-Brumby House Museum - This stop takes about 15-20 minutes. Admission is FREE.
The Church-Waddel-Brumby House is a Federal-style house and is believed to be the Athens' oldest surviving residents. This is a great place to start your guided or self guided tour of Athens, because you can grab maps, brochures, tour tickets and get expert local information. There is even a small gift shop too with Athens souvenirs, books and more.
5) Double Barrel Canon - This stop takes about 15 minutes. Admission is FREE.
Stop by to admire a piece of failed history. The cannon sits right outside of City Hall and faces north (just in case). You will need to pay for street parking (we put in 50 cents). The one-of-a-kind cannon was built at a local foundry in 1863 to ward off any attacks by invading Northern armies during the Civil War. It is one of the most unusual relics preserved from the Civil War and the concept was to load the cannon with two balls connected by a chain several feet in length. When the cannon was fired, the balls and chain would whirl out and cut down the unfortunate enemy soldiers caught in the path. But according to legend when it was test-fired a field of unfortunate cows became the only victims of this new cannon design. This spectacular, historical failure is now a successful, cherished landmark of Athens.
6) The Tree That Owns Itself - This stop takes about 15 minutes. Admission is FREE.
Before we visited this landmark we read a great book called, "The Tree That Owns Itself and Other Adventure Tales From Out Of The Past." Well after reading the book the kids were really excited to meet this famous tree. The tree is located at the top of a steep cobblestone road (which is lots of fun to ride over) where Dearing and Finley Streets intersect and is probably the most unusual property holders in the world. The tree pays no taxes, is protected by the community and rests secure in its own enclosed garden-type lot. The tree even was featured on Ripley's "Believe it or Not" and is quite famous around the world receiving attention in newspapers and magazines.
But is this trees Legend real and accurate? The legends says that the land where the tree's roots are planted was originally owned by Col. William H. Jackson a professor at UGA. The legend says that in the early 1800's the professor out of love for the great oak deeded to the tree ownership of itself and the land within eight fee on all sides. The marker at the foot of the tree reads as follows: "For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection, for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides." But the original deed has never been located, but the Athens community has recognized the tree's title to the surrounding land and has taken measures to protect the tree. Philantrhopist George Foster Peabody paid to install the enclosure surrounding the tree. But if you read the book you will find that this legend is about Jackson is a fake. The legend of "the tree that owns itself" is just like most legends part truth and part fake all mixed together.
But wait there is more to this bizarre story. The original tree became diseased and fell down on October 9th, 1942, so the current tree is actually one of the original trees offspring. The Junior Ladies Garden Club grew a sapling from one of the tree's acorns and planted it on the same spot on October 9, 1946 and so the legend lived on. To this day no one has ever questioned the property rights of the tree! Crazy and cool right?
7) Sandy Creek Nature Center - This stop takes about 1-2 hours. Admission is FREE
We have found the BEST nature center in Georgia. The Sandy Creek Nature Center is a 225 acre woodland and wetland that offers families an amazing outdoor exploration experience. There are more than 4 miles of trails, an ADA interpretive trail with connections to the North Oconee River Greenway and Cook's Trial and a SPLOST-funded education and visitor center. The education center was so amazing and my kids could have spent several hours there exploring. The center is broken into several learning sections including wetlands, coastal, woodlands, agricultural and urban environments of Northeast Georgia. Each learning section has hands on activities where kids get to utilize their senses to learn about nature and wildlife. Some of the activities included viewing reptiles, amphibians, and marine and freshwater life in their natural habitats, puzzles, sent bottles, a hydroponics demonstration, food chain inter actives and more. There is also a great resource library and planetarium. Before heading out on a trail the nature center has bags, binoculars and other resources you may want to grab. Also on the centers property there is a circa 1815 Log House and several wildlife observation areas. Before you leave be sure to hit up the awesome gift shop too...they have some great deals on nature resources. We had some time to hit up one trail and it was beautiful. We grabbed a geocache, took photos inside the spooky tree and then headed to our next destination!
8) T.R.R Cobb House - You don't even have to get out of the car for this one. As you drive to the next stop make sure you pass the T.R.R Cobb House to check out the unique octagonal wings and distinctive color! This home is the newest house museum in Athens and was owned by T.R.R Cobb a UGA Graduate and co-founder of its school of law, Confederate General, and principal author of the Confederate Constitution. Admission is FREE. If you wish to make a stop they do offer tours, $2 for adults and free for children and students.
9) Taylor-Grady House - You don't even have to get out of the car for this one. As you drive to the next stop make sure you pass the Taylor-Grady House to check out the Greek Revival architecture! The house was the collegiate home of acclaimed newspaper editor Henry W. Grady, credited with establishing the view of the New South after the Civil War. Admission is FREE. If you wish to make a stop they do offer tours for $3 per person.
10) Dudley Park - This stop takes about 1-2 hours. Admission is FREE.
We specifically stopped at this park to grab a geocache and see the "Murmur” trestle. If you are an R.E.M fan or train history buff you will really appreciate the trestle, read more about it here. Dudley Parks is a 24 acre park nestled in between Trail Creek and the North Oconee River. It is close to downtown Athens and the University of Georgia. The park has majestic hardwoods, open fields, picnic tables, a playground and a bike/walking trail.
If time allows or you end up making your visit to Athens more than 1 day are some other places you might want to check out (all FREE): Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall Sports Museum, Georgia Museum of Art, Oconee Hill Cemetery, Trail Creek Park with splash pad, Southeast Clark Park with World of Wonder Community Playground and Skatepark, Lamar Dodd School of Art Galleries, And just a little South of Athens you might want to check out Heritage Park, Elder's Mill Covered Bridge and Oconee National Forest and Scull Shoals Experimental Forest.
At and in between all your stops be sure to grab a few geocaches too, there are quite a few around Athens.
And there you have it, how to spend a day in Athens and experience history, culture, science and more without breaking the bank. For a family of 4 this trip itinerary will be FREE (not including gas and food).