The 10 Best Things to Do in Atlanta From Travel Channel
This cosmopolitan Southern city offers something for everyone.
Atlanta is far from the sleepy Southern city I moved to in the '90s to attend graduate school. I used to lament that Atlanta was a drive-through city where my creative friends and colleagues would stop for a few years before jumping ship for New York or Los Angeles. It was always a struggle to entice my jaded New York friends to visit a city with beautiful homes and weather but without the big-city amenities of a Chicago or San Francisco or the tourist-enticing charm of a New Orleans or Charleston.
Centennial Olympic Park
Visit Centennial Olympic Park, which was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The 21-acre park hosts fun events such as Music at Noon, where local bands perform midday; Wednesday WindDown, featuring jazz during rush hour; and Fourth Saturday Family Fun Day, a free event with performers and children’s activities. Don’t miss the dancing water show harmonized with pop music, lights and sound effects at the Fountain of Rings.
What a difference a few decades make. Now people are flocking to Atlanta to live and to visit, enticed by the city's United Nations diversity (a wonderful post-1996 Olympics phenomenon) Civil Rights history, incredible restaurants, a hip-hop industry (and exploding film scene) with international status, thriving theater, indie music and art scenes and all the appeal of a cosmopolitan, bustling city but still boasting the friendliness and ease-of-living of the South. There are lots of things to love about Atlanta and plenty of well-known destinations like The World of Coke, Buckhead's tony shopping malls and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the local soccer heroes Atlanta United, but I've selected some of my personal favorite stops I think no visitor traveling to the city should miss.
1: The Atlanta BeltLine
New York has its High Line, but Atlanta has a little urban promenade magic of its own. This stretch of paths that will one day encircle the city started out as visionary Ryan Gravel's Georgia Tech master's thesis. Gravel proposed this former railway line as the perfect site for an urban park to connect Atlanta's diverse, rich and poor and black and white neighborhoods. Already a popular destination for runners, bikers and flaneurs just looking for a more interesting way to navigate the city's restaurants and neighborhoods, when the 22-mile BeltLine is completed it will far surpass the High Line in breadth and scope. While you're on the BeltLine's Eastside trail, stop in at the coolest, latest restaurant hot spot in town: Muchacho, a cheeky, Seventies-inspired coffee, cocktail and creative food spot. You can sample everything from Latin pastries for breakfast to poke for lunch to cocktails and delicious coffee brewed up any time of day. If the weather is nice, chill out on the patio which has a fun, colorful Mexico City-meets-Miami vibe. This is definitely a place for lingering.
The brainchild of Atlanta star chef Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow is basically a cooking show come-to-life. Modeled on the Asian dim-sum concept, the restaurant features an open kitchen where diners can take in the entertainment of Kevin and a host of visiting chefs, "Hired Guns" in the Gunshow parlance, cooking up eclectic small bites that they promenade around to tables on rolling carts and trays to entice diners. Pork is a favorite Gillespie ingredient (he did, after all, write the book on it), but all manner of Southern and international ingredients and inventive flavors and preparations make this into some pretty delicious dinner theater.
3: Whitespace Gallery
They're not always on the radar of non-art folk, but Atlanta boasts a great network of local galleries featuring both regional and national artists. One of the most idiosyncratic and interesting occupies a carriage house in the backyard of a gracious Inman Park Victorian home. Run by retired ad-woman Susan Bridges, there is always something interesting on view including work by talented local visual artists as well as a roster of out-of-towners. And if you are in town for one of the gallery's openings, by all means, stop by; specialty cocktails, food trucks and music are often on the menu.
4: High Museum of Art
For some time the High was in thrall to the blockbuster exhibition, enticing school buses of kids and out-of-towners with masterworks by Monet, Picasso and Duchamp. But in recent years the High has really upped its contemporary art game, hosting impressive, thought-provoking exhibitions by the likes of Vik Muniz, Jean-Michel Basquiat and photographer Paul Graham and memorable shows devoted to African design and sneakers. The High's location in Midtown has become more and more walkable as Atlanta has grown, so you could make a day of it with a trip to the High and the Museum of Design Atlanta across the street, a coffee at Octane on the Woodruff Arts Center campus and then an amble down Peachtree Street, for some shopping and lunch or dinner (and a round of bocce) at chef Hugh Acheson's inventive Southern-food-for-the-21st century resto Empire State South. Through May 2018 check out the incredible survey of up-and-coming Dutch designer Joris Laarman, who takes 3D printing technology to new heights in his furniture, wearable art and architectural creations.
Recently remodeled and more spectacular than ever, this 1967-circa revolving bar at the top of the fabulous local neo-futurist starchitect John Portman-designed 22-story Hyatt Regency (the renowned architect's first, most iconic hotel), the Polaris is the best view in town if you want to sip a creative cocktail and gloat over all of those poor suckers stuck in Atlanta traffic down below. If it's a special occasion (and you're in a rotating restaurant, so how could it not be), you'll want to order the miniature Polaris Blue Dome chocolate mousse dessert, an adorable replica of that iconic blue dome. Want to see more of Portman's incredible imprint on Atlanta? Book a stay at the newest Hotel Indigo Downtown Atlanta redesigned by Portman featuring an incredible glass and steel staircase worthy of a postmod Cinderella and some surprisingly good eats in its lobby restaurant. Portman's paintings decorate the lobby and his artworks are even recreated on guest room rugs.
6: Atlanta Botanical Garden
A green paradise in the middle of a metropolis where rose bushes and rare conifers are flanked by Midtown skyscrapers, this gorgeous oasis boasts plenty to keep both adults and children occupied. There's a children's garden with plenty of fun activities, the Fuqua Conservatory featuring displays of poisonous frogs, orchids and quail that periodically dash across the pathways to small children's delight. The garden features visiting art exhibits by internationally known artists from Dale Chihuly to Henry Moore, summertime Concerts in the Garden and a not-to-be-missed wintertime festival of lights, Garden Lights, Holiday nights.
7: Octane Coffee, Grant Park and Westside
Though it's recently been acquired by Birmingham's Revelator Coffee, we're hoping the cult coffee destination retains its street cred. A longtime gathering spot for the city's hipster class and a delicious cup of Joe to boot, there are several ways to get a cup of some of the city's best coffee and eavesdrop on the city's creative class at work and play. Octane's Grant Park location in a funky, gentrifying neighborhood distinguished by renovated bungalows and Victorians offers the in-house Little Tart bakery and plenty of sweets to complement your chai or cocktail. On the Westside, Octane is a favorite of the city's techies, with its location close to Georgia Tech making it a go-to for students, faculty and entrepreneurs. If you're apt to linger more on Atlanta's booming Westside, there's also a local 5 Seasons Brewery, a great craft beer nirvana, Hop City, sprawling art complex the Atlanta Contemporary, the contemporary art gallery Sandler Hudson, and a number of notable restaurants including the buzzy seafood destination The Optimist and the beautifully atmospheric Vietnamese brasserie Le Fat to extend your day into evening.
8: Oakland Cemetery
Sounds sort of morbid, huh? In fact, this historic cemetery wedged between the boho-cool Grant Park and Cabbagetown neighborhoods is much more than the final resting place of Gone With the Wind writer Margaret Mitchell and golf legend Bobby Jones. Oakland is a wonderfully preserved window into the past with gorgeous mausoleums, trees and landscaping and an increasingly popular destination for any number of events including historic picnics, Halloween festivities and even music festivals held on the grounds.
9: The Fabulous Fox Theatre
This stunning 1929 movie palace was almost turned into a parking lot before concerned Atlantans jumped in to save this architectural gem from the wrecking ball in a crowd-sourced style "Save the Fox" campaign in the 1970s. The 4,665-seat venue boasts summer film screenings, touring Broadway shows and has hosted musical acts from Liberace to Prince (who played his final concert there before his death) to Madonna, and everything mainstream and avant-garde in between. Inspired by Moorish design, the jaw-droppingly beautiful space is an opportunity to see what the storied movie houses of Hollywood's Golden Age offered their audiences. Boasting the largest Moller organ in the world, a ceiling night sky of thousands of twinkling stars (actually 96 embedded crystals) and a projection of clouds that pass across the sky.
10: Buford Highway
New York and San Francisco have their Chinatown and Seattle has its Chinatown and Japantown. But Atlanta boasts an epic 7-mile ribbon of mind-blowing foodie delights from every conceivable global spot. For some foodie souvenirs, or just to grab a quick bite, don't miss the Buford Highway Farmers Market whose aisles are devoted to themed cuisine from Asia, Eastern Europe, Germany, Italy and every country in-between. More than 1000 immigrant-owned businesses, from restaurants, to bakeries to retail shops define this corridor passing through three Atlanta counties. Canton House is a local favorite for its excellent dim sum, for Vietnamese, Nam Phuong is pho paradise and you shouldn't miss the flavor-packed spice and heat intensity of the Szechuan-centric Masterpiece.