WHEN OUT-OF-TOWNERS think of Atlanta, they might picture our downtown skyline, The Varsity drive-in, maybe the Braves’ Turner Field. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a city with distinct neighborhoods that reach far beyond the well-known central destinations.
A second look shows us that Atlanta has made itself a music hub — after all, this is the home of André 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast, T.I., Speech of Arrested Development, Killer Mike, HeaveN Beatbox, and CLAVVS. It’s made itself a movie hub that’s rivaling Hollywood. And yet despite its big-city identity, Atlanta manages to stay friendly, creative, and welcoming to travelers in all of its eclectic neighborhoods. Somehow Southern hospitality is alive and well in the communities within city limits, and you’ll get a sense of this Southern-meets-metro combo when you visit. Here’s where to start.
East Atlanta Village
East Atlanta is the part of town you’ve heard Gucci Mane referring to as “Zone 6.” Head over to Flat Shoals Avenue to experience this highly creative, music-driven crowd and elaborate bar scene. You’ll see billboards sporting PBR artwork and shops decorated with classical tattoo art. The creativity here makes even the sidewalks photo-worthy.
If you have a weekend to spend, start your Saturday night off with dinner at The Midway Pub for bar fare and local beer with great vegetarian options and a laid-back-yet-eclectic atmosphere. Try the collard greens as a side for that Southern dining experience. From here, you can walk over to The Earl for a $10-$15 rock or punk concert, or the 529 Bar to see local bands perform six nights a week. End the night at The Graveyard Tavern (definitely a local hangout) for a late-night snack or a nightcap.
For brunch, Argosy is the place to be on Sunday morning for a locally sourced Bloody Mary and huevos rancheros. Stop in at Joe’s East Atlanta Coffee Shop for a caffeine boost, a chance to see art from this area of town, and fuel for the rest of your day wandering the shops and galleries.
Little Five Points
Atlanta’s most famous liberal neighborhood is centered on the intersection of Euclid and Moreland Avenues. Incense-filled shops like Junkman’s Daughter and Psycho Sisters line Moreland, and it’s here you can pick up some platform shoes or a bright wig for your next costume party. At the end of the strip, Rag-O-Rama is the hippest thrift store you’ll ever step foot in, and you’ll have a good chance of snagging your new favorite vintage tee here. Browse Criminal Records to round out your music collection.
Dining options are immense in this part of town. Try a Quadruple Coronary Bypass Burger with a side of tater tots covered in “Cheesy-Cheese Goo” at The Vortex if you’re feeling up to the task. Otherwise, a signature sandwich or burger with a side of funnel cake fries or fried plantains will do. Sports fans, especially of the soccer and rugby variety, flock to Brewhouse Cafe to watch games and eat on the outdoor patio. Or to keep it quick and simple, grab a slice and a salad at neighborhood favorite Little 5 Pizza.
Need a cold beer? Check out The Porter Beer Bar or Wrecking Bar Brewpub. Porter has over 300 beers to be tried and they’re a James Beard semifinalist — meaning they do some amazingly sophisticated pub grub, too. Wrecking Bar is housed in an old 20th-century Victorian home that also used to be a church — and now it’s an old church that brews its own specialty suds on a constant rotation. Here, you’ll rarely find the same experience twice.
Old Fourth Ward
The Masquerade on North Avenue is/was the hippest draw to Old Fourth Ward. The concert venue is divided into three different areas for dancing and moshing. Catch a show in the downstairs Purgatory or Hell, or go upstairs and feel the Earth shake in Heaven. They even host shows in The Masquerade Music Park, an outdoor amphitheater located behind the venue.
All that said, The Masquerade is being turned into a $60-million project called North + Line that’ll be completed in 2018. There are still shows going on, but the classic scruffiness might be a bit harder to come by. If the new iteration isn’t your cup of tea, just down the road on Ponce de Leon is The Drunken Unicorn, another great spot for live music in the area.
During the day, go for a drive down Ponce de Leon Avenue for some great shopping, dining, and exploring. This part of town is locally fueled and expanding — the newish Ponce City Market has “endless possibilities” for food, shopping, and workshops in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building. You can take a calligraphy, pilates, or yoga class and then head to Anthropologie to pick up the final touches for your zen bedroom. Afterwards, visit King of Pops for a chocolate sea salt or banana pudding ice pop, or head straight to Venkman’s — an ex-soda bottling factory that does “creative comfort food” along with live music. And don’t forget City Winery to top off the night — they somehow manage to be a winery, a restaurant, a wine bar, and a music venue all at the same time.
If you’ve got time, take a street art bike tour or a stroll through Historic Fourth Ward Park. The park spans from Freedom Parkway to Ponce City Market and has paths around a large retention pond. This urban playground is a wonderful place to have a picnic and get outdoors between destinations. And as every outdoor adventure is made better with a smoothie, Lottafrutta is a great spot to visit for unique fruit blends like Andean blackberry juice.
Cabbagetown / Grant Park / Inman Park
Just a few minutes from downtown, Grant Park is home to Zoo Atlanta (if you happen to be in the area in late May, Brew at the Zoo is an epic event for beer and wine enthusiasts). Just a block or so away from the zoo are two local favorite eateries, Grant Central Pizza and Pasta and Dakota Blue. The latter serves an awesome array of tacos and burritos that you can amp up with house-made sauces and salsas.
Venturing a few blocks north to Memorial Drive, you can visit the Oakland Cemetery and actually overlook the gravestones while eating on the beautiful patio at Six Feet Under Pub and Fish House. If you’re in the area before 3pm, take the opportunity to scarf down the “world’s best pancakes” (according to none other than The New York Times) at Ria’s Bluebird.
Cabbagetown is about a block east and across Memorial Drive. This is an almost claustrophobic niche of Atlanta (right between Grant Park and Inman Park), hitting you on all sides with some incredible street art. Stop in at Carroll Street Cafe to admire local artwork between omelettes and sip cocktails before heading towards Inman Park. If you’re traveling with your dog, take a break at ParkGrounds dog park in nearby Reynoldstown, where you can have lunch and a drink while your dog gets some playtime.
Trekking north towards Dekalb Avenue, you’ll see Living Walls — artwork along the city streets. Some of the murals here are commissioned, but a walk through the constantly changing Krog Street Tunnel reveals walls decorated with layers of tags and local artwork. You can also find dates and times of shows and events posted throughout the tunnel.
After your art walk, head to Krog Street Market to wind down with a local beer or coffee. The market is a crowd-pleaser with local restaurants and retail shops, as well as Hop City Beer & Wine. If you’re headed west on Memorial towards downtown from any of these neighborhoods, a stop at Daddy D’z BBQ Joynt is imperative. You’ll want to get a true taste of Southern BBQ and sample a side or two of fried okra or black-eyed peas.
Sweet Auburn / Downtown
Sweet Auburn is a mile-and-a-half-long historic district on the edge of downtown (it’s also the birthplace of MLK, Jr.). If you’re taking the new trolley around the heart of the city, you’ll definitely want to hop off at Sweet Auburn Curb Market. It’s home to 11 of Atlanta’s most frequented restaurants, including Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Arepa Mia, and Sweet Auburn BBQ. You won’t be able to resist the amazing “Triple” popcorn at Miss D’s Pralines, either. Take some of this caramel, cheese, and butter popcorn home to share with your family and ruin their taste for normal popcorn forever. Then browse the shelves of Sisters Bookshop and pick up some reading material for a relaxing afternoon at Centennial Olympic Park, a short trolley ride away.
If you’re in town at the right time (which is surprisingly often), you could catch annual music festivals like 420 Fest, Shaky Knees, or Shaky Beats in the park. And head over to Poplar Street, just a block or so away, for a cocktail and cuban at Sidebar. Pro tip: This is a great place for dinner before a concert at The Tabernacle.
And then Edgewood Avenue is where you’ll find spots like The Sound Table — a live music venue that also happens to have a rotating roster of chefs, keeping their sophisticated Southern menu fresh (there’s ingenious cocktails, too). Just a couple blocks away is Dad’s Garage Theatre, with awesome live scripted and improvisational performances. Edgewood Pizza is an always-hopping (well, till 4am) spot that offers New York-style slices, and you’ll want to head there after spending the night in Church, a bar decorated in faux-religious pop art where there’s karaoke done in choir robes. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, and it’s actually run by one of Atlanta’s best bartenders. If you’re Googling it, yes, the full name is Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium. Remember when we said Atlanta was creative?
Moving north of downtown will land you in one of Atlanta’s most happening neighborhoods. The stomping grounds of students from Georgia Institute of Technology and Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Midtown is home to the Fox Theatre, the 185-acre Piedmont Park, the High Museum of Art, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Piedmont Park has a community pool and playgrounds and hosts a number of runs and walks throughout the year. The Botanical Garden changes exhibits often, so there’s always something new to see.
If you’re headed for the park in the morning and need a place to grab a bite to eat, look no further than the Flying Biscuit Cafe, just steps from the grassy fields. Their “Heavenly French Toast” is aptly named, served with a drizzle of raspberry sauce over the top. A little deeper into Midtown, you can venture down Juniper Street to find restaurant after restaurant with dining options for any palate.
Midtown is also the perfect spot to hop on the Atlanta BeltLine, which connects to other cool neighborhoods in all directions. The mostly paved trails stem out from Piedmont Park and provide pedestrians with an easy way to get around the city. There’s plenty of art displayed along the way, as well as walk-up access to restaurants and shops. Download a trail map and plan a day of exploring on foot or bicycle.
North of I-20, the Westside neighborhood is blossoming. This area is home to tons of musicians and has a totally unique vibe in comparison to the surrounding neighborhoods. Even beyond Atlantic Station (a shopping district / residential community), the Westside has plenty of shopping and dining options. For breakfast or brunch, West Egg Cafe serves up omelets, benedicts, and banana bread french toast. And you should definitely hit up one of the many breweries in the area (yes, 3pm is a totally acceptable time to stop in). 5 Seasons Brewery and Restaurant is the place to go for a gourmet meal to pair with your beer. Monday Night Brewing, Red Brick Brewing Company, and Second Self Beer Company offer tastings and tours.
You can check out the Westside Cultural Arts Center for events like Salsa, Art & Tequila (every First Friday of the month) and art exhibits. Go north to Howell Mill Road and the Atlanta Food Truck Park, open weekends. A variety of cuisines are offered up street-style at this special venue.
And the list goes on…
Much of north-central Atlanta falls within the borders of Buckhead, the “Beverly Hills of the East.” Think tree-lined streets veiling the entrances to mansions, hotels like the Mandarin Oriental and St. Regis, and storefronts like Hermes and Jimmy Choo at Phipps Plaza and The Shops Buckhead Atlanta (hosts of the new fashion week event Style South). Havana Club, generally known as Atlanta’s best nightclub, is where locals head when they want a memorable night out. For dinner, try 1Kept; it’s dark, sophisticated, and modern, but still holds onto that unique Southern-meets-Atlanta flair. Or hit Seven Lamps while shopping around Lenox Square for their epic craft drinks (including coffee like you’ve never tasted), tapas, and handmade pasta.
Just northeast of downtown, Virginia-Highland is a wonderful place to park the car, stroll the shops, and order a pitcher at Moe’s and Joe’s Tavern or a burger at George’s. Have brunch at Murphy’s bakery and wine bar, enjoy lunch at YEAH! Burger, or sample local brews at the very first Taco Mac. If you’re feeling super fancy, venture into Cacao Cafe for some sipping chocolate.
This list is by no means comprehensive. What other hidden spots and neighborhoods will you uncover on your visit?