Atlanta or Madison would be good day trips from Athens. Atlanta rush hours are not something you'd want to experience. If you timed your arrival and departure, you could avoid them. Not sure about what you want to do in Atlanta once you are here...there is a lot of information here on TripAdvisor to help you plan. The Aquarium is outstanding. Madison is a beautiful Southern City worth a visit.
I would check the UGA student newspaper for food deals. If you have a GPS it would be helpful as well.
I agree, Atlanta and Madison would both be great. I suggest timing your arrival in Atlanta for 9:30 or 10 a.m. and staying in town for dinner - that way you should miss the bad traffic. Check the Atlanta forum for restaurant ideas. You definitely will want your GPS. I'm an Atlanta native and I still get lost there.
As for early bird specials, etc.: Since Athens is home to the University of Georgia, it's geared toward students on a budget. So you should be able to find reasonably priced food and drinks regardless...just choose restaurants and bars carefully to avoid getting trampled by students. :-) For dinner, try Five and Ten, which stacks up to the best restaurants anywhere. Other good choices are The Grit (vegetarian), Farm 255 (locally sourced), and La Dolce Vita (Italian). For drinks, The Globe tends to draw fewer college kids and more adults. Or try the bar at the Hotel Indigo - new, sleek and sophisticated. And if you're looking for a good breakfast, Mama's Boy is fantastic.
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