New York, Los Angeles, Chicago… Atlanta? The Capital of the South deserves its due as one of the largest, most cosmopolitan cities in the country. While Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport holds the crown as the undisputed busiest airport in the world, shuffling over 101 million passengers through in 2015, the city of Atlanta is much more than just a layover spot.
The 'City Too Busy to Hate', (a moniker bestowed upon the city during a PR campaign amidst the civil unrest in the 1960s) features the former home of Martin Luther King, Jr, the headquarters of Coca-Cola, CNN, Delta, UPS and Home Depot, and one of the hottest culinary hubs in the country today. A-town, ATL, Hotlanta, The City in a Forest, The Capital of the South – whatever you call it, Atlanta is one to watch.
For history hounds
One of the most celebrated and revered Atlantans is Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, whose wife, Coretta Scott King, opened the King Center in honor of her late husband in 1968. Now a National Historic Site, it sees over a million visitors a year. Nearby is the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, which honors the state’s only native president, and the Margaret Mitchell House, which outlines the life of Gone with the Wind’s beloved, feisty author in the home where she wrote much of the tome. You can opt for admission to both the Margaret Mitchell House and the Atlanta History Center, whose neighboring Swan House served as President Snow’s House in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Mitchell is buried with many of Atlanta’s elite at Oakland Cemetery (oaklandcemetery.com), including Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor.
A new piece of Atlanta’s history is the Atlanta BeltLine (beltline.org). Similar to New York City’s HighLine, it is one of the largest redevelopment projects in the country, eventually connecting 45 of Atlanta’s neighborhoods. It repurposes a 22-mile long railroad corridor around the city; the first phases have proven to be immensely popular and a major game-changer towards green living in this car-centric city.
There’s also a large, tourist-friendly corridor downtown as well that includes the World of Coca-Cola, CNN (edition.cnn.com/tour), Centennial Olympic Park, the College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, all of which are kid-friendly.
For the culturally curious
The in-town neighborhoods of Atlanta are seeing a renaissance as more and more urban professionals choose to stay within city limits rather than move to the suburbs, and there’s plenty of culture to satisfy both permanent residents and visitors. The Fox Theatre (foxtheatre.org) is great for both musical acts and Broadway; it was originally home for Atlanta’s Shriners and was built with an ornate design in 1928, pulling from Egyptian, Spanish and other exotic sources (there’s a twinkling 'sky', ornate gilt work and more). Alternatively, there’s also the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Ballet, the country’s first regional ballet company.
Museums include Smithsonian affiliate MODA (museumofdesign.org), The High Museum of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design’s Museum of Art (scadmoa.org) and the unique fun of the Center for Puppetry Arts. The city is also home to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and its museum (cdc.gov/museum), the Fernbank Museum of Natural History (fernbankmuseum.org) and the 30-acre Atlanta Botanical Garden, which includes the country’s only orchid center.
Come to Atlanta hungry – the city boasts some of the best dining in the country, including Bon Apetit’s 2016 “Best New Restaurant in America,” Staplehouse (staplehouse.com). The menu is inventive New American, and the restaurant has a charitable component associated with The Giving Kitchen (thegivingkitchen.org) that will make the food that much more delicious. Atlanta, which was formed at the intersection of two railroad tracks and has always been a city of transition, has a large immigrant population, some of whom have set up delicious shops on Buford Highway. You can find everything from Vietnamese and Cantonese to Mexican and Bangladeshi.
Two relatively new mixed-use complexes have become the epicenter of “new” Atlanta. There’s Ponce City Market (poncecitymarket.com), in the old Sears, Roebuck & Co. building in Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, where almost 30 restaurants and food shops come together with office spaces, residences and even a rooftop entertainment center. There’s also the smaller Krog Street Market (krogstreetmarket.com) in Inman Park, where Atlanta superstar chef Ford Fry has his Mexican crown jewel, Superica (superica.com).
For a slice of traditional southern, head to The Colonnade (colonnadeatlanta.com), open since 1927; menu highlights include chicken fried chicken, celery dressing and tomato aspic. There’s also Mary Mac’s Tea Room (marymacs.com) and Home Grown GA (homegrownga.com), both of which are similar in their traditional southern fare.