Atlanta, Georgia: a cosmopolitan juggernaut full of delectable restaurants, bohemian neighborhoods, trendy bars and world-class cultural attractions. Here’s how to play, eat and drink like the locals (and sleep like a tourist) over a weekend in the sass of the South.
Start at the thriving epicenter of this booming metropolis, Centennial Olympic Park: home to two of Atlanta’s most entertaining attractions, the nothing-short-of-awesome Georgia Aquarium (the world’s largest, by gallon count) and the World of Coca-Cola, where you can drink yourself silly on 60 sodas from around the world.
Continue your tour just east across the Peters St Bridge to Castleberry Hill. Atlanta’s latest gentrified historic district is home to numerous art galleries and has almost singlehandedly put Atlanta on the art radar as the latest place for creative talent to see and be seen. Sleeping in this area most certainly means the Glenn, one of Atlanta’s few fashion-forward boutique hotels - its rooftop bar is teeming with Beautiful People.
After lunch, move north to Midtown, the inner-city area that kicked off the city’s urban renewal. If you are towing offspring, stop at the Center for Puppetry Arts. You can browse exhibits that jar your childhood memories - Jim Henson, for instance - while your kids run around digging all the elaborate puppets. If you are towing a significant other, spend some time in the whitewashed multilevel High Museum of Art, taking in eye-catching late-19th-century furniture, and countless European and American artists.
Watch the sun go down with a microbrew in hand on the outdoor patio at Park Tavern, a wildly popular microbrewery on the edge of Atlanta’s beautiful urban grassland, Piedmont Park, Midtown’s ode to Central Park. It’s packed all day on weekends.
Back on the east side of the city, there’s Virginia-Highland, a historic district that has always been home to Atlanta’s more bohemian side. Arrive early enough to browse all the kitschy boutiques along N Highland Ave between Ponce de Leon and Morningside Dr, then dive headfirst into the city’s best concentration of bars. N Highland is lined with old-school taverns, outdoor patios and live music options – and is home to Manuel’s Tavern, which also packs in the hungover set on weekend mornings.
If you dig this area of town, Highland Inn is one of Atlanta’s best-value hotels, walking distance from everything on both sides of Ponce. The area is also home to Atlanta’s only true traveler-friendly budget option, Atlanta International Hostel.
Widen the circle out to the east a bit and check out Decatur, once a run-of-the-mill suburb until the vaguely bohemian and vaguely gay communities joined forces in the area to turn its small-time downtown area into a quaint little hipsterati commune. Cute boutiques and simple restaurants and coffeehouses now line Ponce de Leon Ave, including Indigo Girl Emily Salier’s excellent casual Southern Watershed, housed inside a former mechanic’s garage. It’s a favorite with Decatur lesbians, Diana Ross, Peter Gabriel and pretty much anyone in between.
For everything in Atlanta that is shiny and new, there’s a past to the city that is less than sparkly. But the bright spot in Atlanta’s role in the Civil Rights struggle is Martin Luther King, Jr, who was born and is buried here. Head to Sweet Auburn to see the Martin Luther King, Jr Visitors Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the King Center.
From Sweet Auburn, it’s just a quick skip west back to Centennial Park - start all over again, or stock up on sodas for your trip home.