22 Things to Do in Athens Ohio (Including Hidden Gems!)

Athens Ohio may be most well-known as the home of Ohio University, but this buzzing little city is much more than a college town. For anyone looking to enjoy nature, art, culture and history, Athens Ohio is the perfect destination.

Outdoorsy Activities

Athens Ohio offers its residents and visitors some truly amazing outdoor recreation. Take a look at these popular outdoor activities:

1. Hocking Hills State Park

Just a short drive from Athens is the Hocking Hills State Park, where you can visit Old Man’s Cave, hop in a canoe at Lake Hope, or explore the over 25 miles of hiking trails around the park.

This nature preserve is perfect for birdwatching, geocaching, ziplining, horseback riding, or simply being out in nature. One of the most popular times of year to visit Hocking Hills State Park is autumn when fall foliage is sure to be stunning. 

2. Burr Oak State Park

Just a half-hour drive north of Athens is another must-visit state park, the woodsy and beautiful Burr Oak State Park. You can rent a pontoon boat on the lake, throw out a fishing line, explore hiking trails, and more in this scenic and quiet setting.

3. Athens Skate Park

Known locally as “the Rec Center,” the Athens Skate Park is a state-of-the-art 18,000 square foot facility located in Athens Ohio. One of the defining features of this unique skatepark is the full pipe with a capsule, the first of its kind when it was constructed.

In the past, the Athens Skate Park has hosted a number of famous pro skateboarders, including Tony Hawk, and is still well-known as one of the best skateparks in Ohio.

Historical Landmarks

Athens Ohio is brimming with history, and history buffs are well cared for with an array of landmarks and museums!

4. Take a stroll down Athens Downtown Historic District

If there’s one thing that sets Athens apart, it’s the historical significance of its downtown district. This collection of 88 recognized historical buildings along Court Street, Congress Street, and College Street will transport you back in time.

Keep an eye out for the distinguishing architectural features, which give Athens Ohio its charm.

5. Southeast Ohio History Center

The Southeast Ohio History Center is more than just a museum. Although they do have an impressive record and artifact collection within the center, the real appeal for visitors is their programming.

The Southeast Ohio History Center offers architecture tours, history chats at local breweries, and special panels where you can meet some of Ohio’s most influential historical figures in person! 

One of their most popular attractions is the tour of the Ridges, formerly known as the Athens Asylum for the Insane, which operated between 1874 and 1993. On the tour, you’ll learn the complete morbid history of one of Athens most important establishments and get a chance to see the three surrounding cemeteries.

6. Athena Cinema

It’s not everyday that you can enjoy a movie in a theatre that is over 100 years old! So, when in Athens Ohio, make sure that you make time for a show at the Athena Cinema.

The Athena Cinema is a non-profit theatre dedicated to showcasing independent films, documentaries, classics and local films. Not only will you love whatever film you see, but you’ll also appreciate taking part in a true Athens community experience.

The art scene

From art museums to studios to galleries, Athens Ohio is known for its bustling art scene. In fact, don’t be surprised if the end of your trip to Athens Ohio includes trying to figure out how to transport your newly purchased art pieces home! The many galleries and art shows in Athens Ohio are a gold mine for art collectors or anyone looking for unique mementos.

7. Dairy Barn Arts Center

Over its history, the Dairy Barn Arts Center has been many things: the barn for the Ridges, a state hospital, and—you guessed it—a working dairy farm. Today, it’s a hub for local and traveling artists, and you’re bound to find a fun exhibition or event whenever you’re in town.

The longest-running annual art show is the Quilt National, which has been held in the Dairy Barn Arts Center every summer since 1979. Entries come from all over the world, from textile artists in Japan, Australia, Uruguay, and more.

8. The Art Market at the Athens Farmers Market

The Art Market is a weekly gathering of local artists and artisans organized by the non-profit, Athens Art Guild. Throughout the year, it’s held on the same grounds as the Athens Farmers Market, and you can catch these special vendors every Saturday morning.

9. Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University

With the help of OU staff members and a passionate group of students, the Kennedy Museum of Art has been a gem of Ohio University for over 20 years. In addition to the new temporary exhibitions and learning opportunities throughout the year, you can always enjoy their permanent collection, which features an amazing collection of Southwest Native American art and textiles. 

Like the Dairy Barn Art Center, the Kennedy Museum of Art is also located on the old grounds of the Ridges. 

10. Random House

There are treasures to be found in the well-loved thrift and antique store, Random House. It’s an experience simply to take a look around at their overwhelming collection of furniture, books, jewelry, and art, and the owners are some of the friendliest locals around!.

Must-Do’s For Kids & Families

Athens Ohio is a popular destination for families, and you’ll find that most activities are already pretty kid-friendly. Here are a few extra events and activities that are especially popular among families:

11. Sells Park

The great thing about Sells Park in the city of Athens is that you can have a family-friendly day in nature without the half hour trip out to a state park. Load up the family and a picnic and enjoy this relaxed, beautiful park within Athens city limits. 

There’s a number of short trails within Sells Park, and if you’re looking for a bit of a longer trek, there are also connections to the Strouds Run State Park Trail System.

12. Putt People First Miniature Golf Course at Dairy Lane

It’s been called one of America’s most unique mini golf courses, with each of its 18 holes representing one slice of the Athens Ohio community. It’s a real Who’s Who of Southeast Ohio, with holes sponsored by local establishments like Donkey Coffee and Espresso, the local radio station Power 105.5 and more.

The Putts People First Mini-Golf Course is located within the Dairy Lane Park, so it fits right into a fun family afternoon in one of Athen’s many green spaces.

13. Hockhocking Adena Bikeway

This 20.4 mile stretch of paved bikeway running from Athens to neighboring Nelsonville is well-known in the cycling community. Beautifully maintained and mostly flat, this bikeway is ideal for all cycling levels.

You can find parking for the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway in Athens, as well as facilities and restaurants along the Athens side of the bikeway.

Didn’t bring the family bikes? Not to worry! There are plenty of bike rentals in Athens that will set you up for your Hockhocking Adena Bikeway adventure! Insider tip: Black Diamond Bicycles & Rental is perfectly located so that you can start off on the western end of the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway and enjoy the entire Athens portion of the ride.

14. Hocking Valley Scenic Railway

If you’re looking for family activities that don’t include hiking boots or bike helmets, make sure to book a ride with the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway.

There are both indoor and open-air cars on this historic train, and you’ll be able to enjoy a leisurely ride with a half hour stop at Pioneer Log Village.

In the summer, there’s a special bonus: the “Ohio’s Friendliest Train Robbery” adventure. It’s a family-friendly train robbery reenactment that is sure to make your trip to Athens Ohio exciting and memorable.

Where to Eat in Athens Ohio

Between traveling back in time on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway and chatting with vendors at the Art Market, you’re going to want to try out these delicious local eateries!

15. Miller’s Chicken

Ask any OU alum about the best fried chicken in town, and you’ll undoubtedly hear about Miller’s Chicken. This cozy little place has been around for over 60 years, making it one of Athen’s longest running restaurants. And with mouth-watering sides true to tradition, it’s easy to see why this place has such a loyal following. 

16. Casa Nueva

Another Athens Ohio staple, this Mexican restaurant has been serving margaritas and tacos since 1985. 

And a look at their history will tell you that Casa Nueva is a true pillar of the community. Having started as a worker-owned co-op, Casa Nueva has always been an aspirational project. Today, they pride themselves on providing local, sustainable food. 

17. Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery

Lots of visitors ask, but no, the Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery wasn’t named after the First Lady! Actually, it’s more of an Athens hometown story, since the name comes from a mash-up of the previous establishment, an Irish Pub called O’Hooley’s, and the founder’s mother, Jackie. 

Jackie O’s beer is born and brewed in Athens Ohio, but you can find it in stores across the US. So, for beer lovers, stopping in at the taproom is a definite must.

Dog-Friendly Athens Destinations

With so much green space and dog-friendly businesses, Athens Ohio is a great place to bring your furry family member. If Fido is in tow, add these establishments to your list:

18. Athens West State Dog Park

Not only will your pup love the chance to enjoy Athens’ best state-of-the-art dog-friendly facilities, but you’re going to love the friendly crew of dog owners at the Athens West State Dog Park, too! 

Remember to keep all the gates closed and clean up after your pet so that everyone can enjoy this amazing dog park.

19. Urban Grille at the Hocking Hills Golf Club

The Urban Grille restaurant is a picturesque golf course restaurant serving up some of the best brisket, burgers and BLTs in Athens Ohio. And, their patio is pet-friendly, so you can enjoy your great meal taking in the golf course views.

Seasonal Athens Ohio Activities

Athens Ohio is a tourist destination throughout the year. But, if you’re stumped about which season to plan your trip to this Southeast Ohio gem, consider lining up your travel dates with these fun seasonal festivals.

20. Athens County Fair

Every August, residents from Athens and surrounding towns come together for the annual Athens County Fair, which has been around for over 168 years. 

It’s a quintessential fair experience, complete with carnival games and rides, livestock shows, races, contests, and all the fried food you can eat. You won’t want to miss the special events, such as a demolition derby and truck tractor pull!

21. Pawpaw Fest at Lake Snowden

Not sure what a Pawpaw is? Don’t worry, it’s kind of a Southern Ohio secret. The Pawpaw is a native fruit tree— the largest in North America—with a surprisingly tasty, creamy fruit. And if you’ve never seen one in person, the Pawpaw Festival in Lake Snowden is the perfect opportunity.

Learn all about the history of the Pawpaw and maybe even join in a Pawpaw eating contest at the annual Ohio Pappaw Fest just outside of Athens Ohio. Every September, this family-friendly event draws large crowds for one of the most unique festivals in Southeastern Ohio.

22. Boogie on the Bricks

Boogie on the Bricks is an annual free music and art festival that takes place right on the beautiful brick roads of downtown Athens Ohio. OU students, locals, and tourists flock to this laid-back event every August to enjoy local bands, an artisan marketplace, and plenty of tasty food, beer, cider, and wine.

Athens Ohio has something for everyone!

Athens Ohio may be widely known for its impressive higher education institution, but as you can see, there’s something special for everyone in Athens.

From a number of nearby state parks to a historical downtown district to a truly unique former asylum, Athens isn’t like any other place you’ve ever been to. Still, with all the charm and hospitality that Athens has to offer, you’ll feel like home every time you visit!