Athens, GA is a Great Family-Friendly Destination You Haven’t Heard Of

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Have you considered Athens, GA for a family getaway? Athens, GA is a small city that packs quite the punch for budget-conscious families looking to enjoy something new.

If your family is looking for a fun place to go for a getaway that is budget-friendly, fun, and entertaining for the whole family, let me introduce you to Athens, Georgia. There are a lot of reasons to love Athens – which I’ll tell you all about – but especially for families looking to stretch their dollars while on vacation, this is absolutely a fantastic destination. 

Thank you to Visit Athens GA for hosting us. 

This article includes:
About Athens. GA
Where to Stay in Athens, GA
Things to Do in Athens, GA
Where to Eat in Athens, GA
Dessert in Athens, GA
Pools and Splashpads in Athens, GA

Fun in Athens, GA

About Athens, GA

Athens, Georgia is the state’s smallest county but it packs a punch even so. It’s home to the University of Georgia and the Dawgs but also is rife with culture, art, food, gardens, awesome playgrounds, and places for kids of all ages to enjoy themselves. 

Athens is under two hours from the Upstate, an hour north of Atlanta, and a little over an hour from Helen, Georgia. While it is a city, it’s by no means anywhere near as large as the Atlanta metro area yet has an astounding number of things to do, tasty places to eat, and an array of activities for families. 

The arts are a big part of Athens and I was amazed to find so many free things to do to really enjoy that culture in the city. 

Where to Stay in Athens, AG

We stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton in Athens, a beautiful hotel with one and two-bedroom suites. All of them have kitchens!

Homewood Suites in Athens, GA

We stayed in a spacious one-bedroom suite that had comfortable queen beds, a living area with a pullout couch, and a small kitchen. It was perfect for my two kids and I and would certainly work for a larger family as well. The hotel can accommodate adjoining rooms and is pet-friendly.

The hotel is centrally located to restaurants and entertainment. We walked to almost every place we ate at and we didn’t drive more than 15 minutes to any place we ventured off to. The hotel is within walking distance of the University of Georgia campus and stadium.

You can play shuffleboard or pool in the game room and there is a full bar area downstairs to have an adult beverage. Coffee and tea are served for free in the lobby all day and the hotel offers free breakfast every morning from 6-9 am on weekdays and 7-10 am on weekends. They had a large variety of breakfast foods like yogurt, cereal, bagels, English muffins, eggs, bacon, grits, and fruit. My kids really loved it. 

Your stay includes free wifi and a Wednesday social. Parking is an extra fee of $18/night. You can either self-park or use their valet service. 

750 E Broad Street, Athens, GA

What to do in Athens

Georgia Museum of Art 

I’m an art lover. When I lived in Washington, DC, I spent so much time at the National Gallery of Art and loved every second. This museum of art in Georgia on the campus of the University of Georgia is seriously on par with the one in DC, just smaller. It is so beautiful in design but also has more than 20 galleries that consist of all kinds of art like oil paintings, sculptures, and even silver spoons and trays and armor and medals. So neat. 

Georgia Museum of Art

I was totally blown away. They have all varieties of art also like impressionist art, modern art, Renannaise art, everything. All the staff were so helpful and kind. One tipped off my daughter that she could open one of the drawers under an exhibit of armor and swords to find medals from royalty. It was so cool! 

They also have Backpack Tours for kids, which can be checked out at the front desk. These include activity cards, touring tips, and some goodies. While the museum is free, they do ask that you reserve tickets online for a time slot. Parking is free as well. We spent about an hour and 15 minutes there.

90 Carlton St, Athens, GA
Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm, Thursday from 10 am – 9 pm, and Sunday from 1-5 pm. Closed on Mondays.

Bear Hollow Zoo & Memorial Park 

A free zoo with bears, owls, gators, and snakes? It exists and it’s at the Bear Hollow Zoo in Athens, GA. This zoo is small, perfect for little legs, although we only saw adults when we went on a Friday afternoon! The zoo houses rescued animals and is nice and shaded. 

They have black bears, river otters, a bald eagle, turkeys, snakes, and other native animals. My kids and I really loved the owls – the Screech Owl was seriously the cutest little thing but the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl were beautiful as well.

You probably won’t need more than an hour here but if your kids love to go slowly in zoos and spend time hanging out with their favorite animals, you may be there longer. There is also a small play area and lake with ducks you can feed.  Over the summer, you can swim at Memorial Park Pool, located right next to the zoo where the restrooms are. See below for details on hours. 

293 Gran Ellen Drive, Athens, GA
Open daily 9 am – 5 pm

World of Wonder Playground 

This enormous playground has ten slides, including a three-story one (which I totally tried out myself) plus several climbing apparatuses and a spinning rope tower. 

World of Wonders Playground

There are several swings, including ones where the parent/big sibling can swing facing a baby. Those are cool. There is also a handicap swing as well as a ramp to provide access to the elevated parts of the playground geared for smaller kids plus ADA access to one of the spinning things on the playground for bigger kids. 

Some kids brought small bikes and scooters to ride around the paved trail that circles the enclosed playground. For more adventurous families, there are a few trails, one that is nice and shaded, in the park. 

One thing I really appreciated was the many areas of shade over the playground equipment and over the seating areas for parents. It was much appreciated since the day we went, the temperature had already climbed to the 80s in the morning. 

There are bathrooms at the park and admission is free. 

325 Whit Davis Road, Athens, GA
Monday-Friday 8 am – sunset
Saturday-Sunday 9 am – sunset 

The State Botanical Gardens of Georgia 

As a garden, flower, and plant lover, I was excited to check out the Botanical Gardens. I’ve somehow managed to convince my kids that botany is cool so they were also excited to see what was in store for us there. Turns out, there were a lot of neat things to explore here. There were hidden gems – even hidden playgrounds – all over the gardens. I wrote a full review of the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia because there’s a lot to say about it!

Georgia Botanical Gardens in Athens, GA

There is no admission fee to the Botanical Gardens. 

2450 S Milledge Ave, Athens, GA 
Open daily 8 am – 7 pm 

Sandy Creek Park 

Sandy Creek Park has it all: a playground, shaded picnic areas, a lake with boat rentals, 28,000 square feet of sandy beach, and trails. It’s a great spot to cool off during the summer and walk the trails during the cooler months. It’s only 15 minutes outside of downtown Athens. There is a $2/person fee for daily entry. 

400 Bob Holman Rd, Athens, GA
Hours are Tuesday – Sunday from 7 am – 8:30 pm and closed on Mondays.

Sandy Creek Park

Where to Eat in Athens

The Rook & Pawn

If you love board games, you will never want to leave the Rook and Pawn in Athens, GA. The cafe is counter service only with several options for sandwiches, salads, coffee, and drinks. I got the Monte Cristo sandwich ($12) while my kids got the grilled cheese with carrots and ranch ($6) and the pita pizza with bacon ($6). Everything was delicious but I think the real fun was in the huge wall of board games to choose from. We ended up playing a road trip geography game that was appropriate for my kids’ ages and had so much fun. 

To play the games, adults ages 13+ are charged $7. Kids are free as long as they are with a paying adult. 

294 W Washington Street, Suite 300, Athens, GA
Sunday-Thursday 11 am – 11 pm
Friday-Saturday 11 am – 1 am

Mama’s Boy 

Mama’s Boy is known for its made-from-scratch breakfast meals like Biscuits & Gravy, Georgia Peach French Toast, and Strawberry Lemonade. Don’t miss the Strawberry Lemonade. I got it for my kids and was really bummed I hadn’t ordered one for myself after trying theirs! My kids both had the biscuit sandwich with egg and cheese and I had a roasted garden vegetable bowl over grits with poached eggs that were perfectly cooked. It was delicious. The biscuits are soft and fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. 

They serve breakfast all day as well as lunch and are counter-service only so they don’t take reservations. They have two locations. Highly recommend! 

197 Oak Street, Athens, GA
8851 Macon Hwy, Suite 403, Athens, GA
Open daily 7 am – 2:30 pm, closed major holidays

Cali ‘n Titos

Cali ‘n Titos was my favorite place that we ate at for a few reasons: the food was amazing, they have an outdoor play area for kids, and the music and decor were just really fun. 

The food is full of Latin flavors like cilantro, lime, and some spicy elements if you want them. We ordered the chips & queso, which was devoured pretty fast given how my kids and I probably could have just eaten the queso with a spoon because it was so good. We had the veggie quesadilla (huge), fish tacos, and fried yuca. The quesadilla and yuca were our favorites next to the chips and queso. A fellow diner suggested the empanadas but we had already ordered too much food by then! 

Play area at Cali N  Titos

The play area is perfect – it has a slide, a boat kids can climb in, and there is sand everywhere for them to dig in. You order at the counter and then choose a picnic table anywhere you want and servers bring out the food to you. It’s very casual and fun and would be my first choice if we were to go back to Athens!

1427 S Lumpkin Street, Athens, GA
1245 Cedar Shoals Drive, Athens, GA 

Where to Get Treats

Alumni Cookie Dough | 480 N Thomas Street, Athens, GA
Amazing edible cookie dough plus milkshakes and cookie dough/ice cream combos. They offer keto, vegan, and gluten-free cookie dough as well. They also have a really cool angel wing mural in the shop where you can take a photo, post to social media, and get 10% off your bill.

Vampire Penguin | 115 Hickory Street, Athens, GA
Deliciously light and tasty shaved snow ice with lots of options for flavors and toppings. We got cookies & cream and coconut ice with white chocolate and strawberries. It is nothing like anything we’ve had before. The flavors were really good and the texture light and airy.

Condor Chocolates | 1658 S Lumpkin Street, Athens, GA
We really wanted to try this place but we got there after they closed at 6 pm. Next time! They have bean-to-bar chocolates, truffles, gelato, and hot chocolate. 

Bubble Cafe | 247 E Broad St, Athens, GA 
Bubble tea is definitely a thing in Athens and we passed several places before I finally gave into my curiosity and tried one. I had to ask the very kind employee to explain it all to me and for suggestions of what to order. I ended up with taro tea and strawberry bobas (little balls of strawberry goodness). It was amazing. I gave my kids a taste and they had seriously too much fun trying to get the bobas with the straw. Bubble Cafe also offers poke bowls, rice bowls, and udon soup plus several other kinds of tea.

Where to Cool Off

No pools or splash pads were open when we visited Athens, Georgia but during the summer months, from Memorial Day to the end of July and some weekends after, they are all open. All pools and splash pads are closed on Mondays for maintenance. Admission is $1/per person per visit or get a summer pass for $20/person or $40/family of four and swim/splash all summer long.

Walker Park Splash Pad
200 Trail Creek Street, Athens, GA
Open Tuesdays-Sundays 10 am – 5:30 pm

Bishop Park Pool
705 Sunset Drive, Athens, GA
Closed for repairs during 2023 season

Heard Park Pool
400 McKinley Drive, Athens, GA
Open Tuesdays – Fridays and Sundays from 1-5:30 pm and Saturdays Noon – 5:30 pm 

Lay Park Pool
297 Hoyt Street, Athens, GA
Open Tuesdays – Fridays and Sundays from 1-5:30 pm and Saturdays Noon – 5:30 pm 

Memorial Park Pool
293 Gran Ellen Drive, Athens, GA
Open Tuesdays – Fridays and Sundays from 1-5:30 pm and Saturdays Noon – 5:30 pm 

Rocksprings Park Pool and Splash Pad
291 Henderson Extension, Athens, GA
Open Tuesdays – Fridays and Sundays from 1-5:30 pm and Saturdays Noon – 5:30 pm

Will you be visiting Athens, GA anytime soon?

About the Author
Kristina Hernandez is a mom of two girls, freelance writer and photographer. Originally from New Jersey, she is in love with the Upstate and could not imagine raising her kids anywhere else. She enjoys hiking to waterfalls, kayaking, camping, cooking, and exploring all that Greenville has to offer. And she really loves baby goats. Follow her on Instagram at @scadventurer.

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