Home An Insider’s Guide: Best Things to Do in Atlanta

An Insider’s Guide: Best Things to Do in Atlanta


 By Caroline Parsley, Jan Schroder, Leah Steinberg and Ted Langford

Atlanta skyline

Despite our continued rapid development, Atlanta maintains many of its gorgeous trees. We need the shade during our summers, and welcome how pretty they make our city. (Photo by Jan Schroder)

“What are the best things to do in Atlanta?” Not too long ago, we may have had to think a bit before answering that question. The two things that would spring to mind immediately was shopping and eating. But there’s so much more, with more restaurants, venues and shops opening every day.

Any fan of “Gone with the Wind” knows that most of Atlanta was burned during the Civil War. We’ve been rising up ever since, and residents joke the crane is our city bird as more buildings are being added to our skyline and tucked into our tree-lined streets every day.

Our population continues to grow as people move here to enjoy big-city amenities, the mild climate and access to the world’s busiest airport. The film industry is thriving here, adding another layer of diversity to our bustling economy. We’ve got city hustle with small town charm – a winning combination to those of us who live and visit here.

And people like to visit. More than 50 million came in 2016. They come to take in our growing list of impressive attractions like the world-class Georgia Aquarium, The Center for Civil and Human Rights and a new baseball stadium. They come to walk in the steps of film and TV stars – especially the enthusiastic fans of “Walking Dead and “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” They come for our delicious restaurants, wide range of shopping opportunities and hotels of every price range.

 On our 100 Companies staff, we have several Atlanta natives. Our publisher and founder, Chris Schroder is 5th generation, and related to a good percentage of the population. Many of us have lived here all our lives and we all love the city we call home. Enjoy our look at Atlanta ­– its people, places and personality – along with several insider tips.

The Best Things to Do in Atlanta: Best Restaurants 

Varsity drive-in, Atlanta

Atlanta has the world’s largest drive-in, The Varsity, where you’ll find our beloved onion rings, hot dogs, hamburgers and frosted oranges.

In the past decade, Atlanta has become a foodie city with dozens of critically acclaimed restaurants and new ones opening weekly. The city has its share of James Beard Award nominees and winners every year.

For authentic ethnic food, we head down Buford Highway, particularly for Mexican and Asian dishes. One favorite is the Bangladeshi restaurant Panahar. Be sure and get the baked yogurt for dessert.

And a visit to Atlanta isn’t complete without a trip to The Varsity, our beloved institution where they speak their own lingo with code names for the onion rings, fries and frozen orange drinks. It also serves more Coca-Cola than anywhere else in the world. Be sure to know what you want when you walk up to the counter as you’ll be asked, “What’ll have?”  Take your red plastic tray and sit in any of the many rooms and have a true Atlanta experience.

If an authentic sit-down Southern dining experience is what you’re looking for, the kind with bee-hived waitresses who call you honey, head to The Colonnade, where the drinks are strong and the food is Southern fried. If you are only passing through the airport, you can still get a taste of the South at these restaurants in the airport.

Food halls have become popular in the past few years. Ponce City Market and Krog Street are must-sees when you visit. You’ll have plenty of restaurants at either location to choose from, with Ponce City Market being by far the larger of the two. For a fun outing, park your car at either one, then walk on the BeltLine to the other. Be sure to go up on the roof of Ponce City Market to Skyline Park for killer views and our city’s version of a Coney Island experience with games and concessions.

Staff Favorites
Murphy's Restaurant, Atlanta

New restaurants open in Atlanta weekly, but Murphy’s remains a favorite.

Some of our staff favorites include classics like Murphy’s, Morningside Kitchen, South City Kitchen, Alon’s, Miller Union, Eight Sushi Lounge, Souper Jenny, The Optimist, JCT Kitchen, Superica and any restaurant with Buckhead Life Restaurant Group.

Others include:

  • Il Giallo Osteria & Bar. Try the lasagna with beef short ribs. – Ted Langford
  • We like Heirloom Market BBQ, General Muir, Gunshow, Taqueria del Sol, Antico (and Gio’s Chicken), Umi, Hankook Taqueria, Holeman and Finch, Superica. And Willy’s. The kids love Willy’s. – Leah Steinberg
  • Antico Napolitano (my favorite pizza is the Pomodorini) and Chai Pani (my favorite is the thali special, which is a family-style platter of different dishes). No. 246 in Decatur is my top choice. Most of the menu rotates so it’s hard to pick a favorite dish, but I’d probably say mine is the squid ink spaghetti with shrimp. – Caroline Parsley
  • OK Cafe’s Chicken Pot Pie, and more recently, Southbound’s Fried Chicken, are favorites of mine – Chris Butsch
  • The jars at Empire State South. – Tom Barnes
  • Honestar Tropical Restaurant in Lawrenceville. It’s a small little mom-and-pop restaurant in downtown Lawrenceville and the decor isn’t all that great. But they have THE BEST African food in Atlanta for sure. Their food has this homemade feel that takes you back to Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia with every bite. – Whitney Osei
  • One of my favorite restaurants would have to be Intermezzo Cafe! The atmosphere is just so cozy and it’s the perfect place to grab a cup of coffee or dinner and dessert. Also, Agave is great choice for Southwestern cuisine. – Alex Offor

Keep up to date on openings and restaurant news with our Restaurant column in The Atlanta 100.

Jan Schroder

The Best Places to Go Shopping in Atlanta

Lenox Square, Atlanta

Opened in 1959, Lenox Square is one of the most popular shopping malls in the South.

Atlanta has it all when it comes to shopping. We’ve got our version of Rodeo Drive at Shops Buckhead Atlanta, where you’ll find Hermes, Tom Ford and Christian Louboutin. Just down Peachtree a bit (remember, everything is Peachtree here) are two huge shopping malls just across the street from each other. Lenox Square is the oldest shopping mall in the Southeast, and has Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and lots of other shops and restaurants. The smaller Phipps Plaza has a few more upscale stores like Tiffany and Saks. (Fun fact: Lenox Square used to be an open-air mall with 60 stores. Now it has more 250 stores on four levels with more than 1.5 million square feet.)

Atlantic Station is an outdoor mall with a movie theater and restaurants, along with a Central Park area. The Westside has dozens of smaller, independent stores and outside the city is Avalon, a newer mixed-use development that’s been hugely popular.

Atlanta has dozens of boutiques, from affordable to high end. Popular shops include Fab’rik, Sandpiper, Ginger Howard and Tulipano. If you share my passion for consignment shopping, try Labels, Alexis Suitcase, B. Chic and DoubleTake.

— Jan Schroder

Where to Get Your Brew On: Best Breweries in Atlanta

Red Brick Brewery

Red Brick Brewery is one of several breweries in Atlanta, with more planned for this year.

Atlanta may be the home of Coke, but we are also the home to Sweetwater Brewing Company, founded in 1997. Sweetwater offers tours Wednesday through Sunday. Other popular breweries include Monday Night Brewing, Red Brick Brewing, Second Self Beer Company, Wild Heaven, 5 Seasons and Red Hare.

While breweries have not been allowed to sell their beer, guests have been able to pay for tours and get tastings. However, that law is changing soon and visitors can take home some of their favorites brews.

For the latest in brewery news, visit the Beer Babe section of The Atlanta 100, and the blog of our buddy, Ale Sharpton.

Jan Schroder

Best Farmers Markets in Atlanta

Your DeKalb Farmers Market

Insiders’ tips for the DeKalb Farmers Market: take a jacket to keep you warm, be patient with the crowds and stock up at the hot bar. (Photo courtesy of DeKalb CVB)

Atlanta has dozens of farmers markets, some running year-round in churches and other locations, and some with permanent locations. Those include the 40-year-old Your DeKalb Farmers Market, which has a devoted clientele and is the place to get foods from around the world.  A friend told me they bought their home to be within a short distance of it.

Sweet Auburn Curb Market celebrates its 100th birthday next year, and sadly its name reflects the fact it was built during segregation. Black people were only allowed to shop from stalls that lined the curb. Today everyone eats and shops together from individual vendors.

Other popular markets include Peachtree Road Farmers Market, The Green Market, Morningside Farmers Market, Ponce City Farmers Market and East Atlanta Village Farmers Market.

— Jan Schroder

Festivals and Events in Atlanta

Google “Atlanta festivals and events” and you’ll find a list as long as “Atlanta streets named Peachtree.” Here are a few festival highlights in the following categories: art, film, music and food.

Art Festivals
artist booths

More than 250 artists from around the country exhibit their art at the Dogwood Festival. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Dogwood Festival)

In case you need another reason to visit Piedmont Park during the spring, Atlanta’s oldest fine arts festival is held there every April to celebrate the blooming of our city’s dogwood trees. The Atlanta Dogwood Festival has every type of art you can imagine –  sculpture, paintings, pottery, jewelry, photography, etc. – as well as live music, food booths and activities for kids, including a 24-foot rock climbing wall. You can even watch the top Frisbee dogs in the nation compete with the U.S. Disc Dog Southern Nationals. And admission is free! In January – during the festival off-season – painters, photographers, sculptors, metalwork, glass artists, jewelers and other artists gather for the Callanwolde Arts Festival. This indoor festival “for artists by artists” features artist demonstrations, live acoustic music, food trucks, and music and dance performances.

Film Festivals
Director Cheryl Nichols

Director Cheryl Nichols speaks about her movie “Cortez.” (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Film Festival)

The Atlanta Film Festival hosts screenings, workshops and other programs year-round, but the big event takes place every spring, when over 25,000 attendees come to see the 150-250 independent, international, animated, documentary and short films chosen from 3,000-plus submissions. The festival is also only one of two dozen Academy Award-qualifying festivals in the country. Atlanta is also home of the world’s largest Jewish film festival – the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which has been exploring themes of Jewish identity, history and culture through cinematic storytelling since 2000.

Music Festivals

Music Midtown is Atlanta’s largest music festival, drawing up to 300,000 attendees each year to see over 30 of the biggest names in the music industry across a wide range of genres – rock, pop, rap, etc. The three-day festival takes place every September in Piedmont Park. Past headliners have included John Mayer, Drake, Coldplay and The Avett Brothers. SweetWater 420 Fest – presented by SweetWater Brewing Company – is more than a weekend of beer and live music. Held on the weekend closest to Earth Day each year, the event also focuses on environmental awareness by hosting charities, non-profits and environmental workshops.

Shaky Knees Festival

(Photo courtesy of Shaky Knees Festival)

To fill the need for an indie music festival in the city, Shaky Knees Music Festival was started in 2013 and has been growing in size and popularity since. Currently held in Downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park, the festival has featured artists such as Wilco, Alabama Shakes, Ryan Adams and My Morning Jacket. Shaky Knees’ founders have since launched two sister festivals: Shaky Boots and Shaky Beats Music Festivals. Another popular (and free!) music festival here is the Atlanta Jazz Festival, which was founded by Mayor Maynard Jackson in 1978. The annual festival begins in April, with free jazz events all over the city – even MARTA stations and city parks – and culminates in an outdoor festival in Piedmont Park over Memorial Day weekend.

Food Festivals

Foodies – especially fans of Southern cuisine – won’t want to miss the annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival held each June in Midtown. Masterclasses, dinners, tasting tents and learning experiences focused on Southern cuisine are some of the events you’ll find at the four-day festival. And just a few months later in October, there’s the popular Taste of Atlanta, now held in the Historic Fourth Ward Park. The festival showcases the city’s best restaurants, chefs and bartenders through live demo stages, competitions and – of course – plenty of tastings.

Visit here for more on festivals, film and music.

– Caroline Parsley

A(tlanta) Is for Arts

The Atlanta Arts scene is packed with wonderful, well-known companies showcasing the city’s diverse history and support of artistic endeavors, including dance, theater, film, museums and performing arts. However, Atlanta’s arts scene goes deeper than you think and includes unusual, surprising jewels that shouldn’t be missed.

Dance in Atlanta
Black Swan

Dancers perform “Black Swan” (Photo courtesy of Charlie McCullers)

At first glance, the Atlanta dance community may seem relatively small, but there’s more happening than many people realize. Any discussion of dance in the city starts with the Atlanta Ballet. But, I’ll admit to being one of the many Atlantans who know the ballet for one thing: “Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker.” However, seeing these remarkable dancers one time each year is a serious oversight! Under the leadership of Gennadi Nedvigin, the company is being rebuilt with a renewed focus on classical and neoclassical traditions showcasing the grace, skill and artistry of its dancers.

Full Radius Dance

(Photo courtesy of Full Radius Dance)

Power, grace and skill are combined in Full Radius Dance, a physically integrated modern dance company, featuring dancers with and without physical disabilities. The dancers perform with a distinctive style and technique that’s celebrated for its beauty and inclusiveness. Each year, the company hosts The Modern Atlanta Dance (MAD) Festival, which recognizes excellence and diversity in the Atlanta dance scene.

Theater in Atlanta

Actors perform in “The Prom.” (Photo courtesy of Greg Mooney, the Alliance Theatre)

Theatrical options abound in Atlanta with choices from the traditional to the magical.

With its high artistic standards, the Alliance Theatre produces world-class performances for more than 165,000 people each year. The theater has premiered over 100 original works, including “The Color Purple” and “Aida,” in addition to American musicals, such as “Tuck Everlasting” and “Sister Act: The Musical.”

For something a bit more mysterious, head to the The Atlanta Magic Theater, featuring magician Peter Morrison and his world-class magic and comedy routine. Guests can participate in the interactive show and see amazing sleights of hand and feats of mentalism, while enjoying Morrison’s wit and humor.

Atlanta has many other theaters to explore, including The Fabulous Fox Theatre for Broadway shows in Atlanta and Horizon Theatre Company, offering free summer shows in Piedmont Park. Great acting can also been seen onstage at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Rialto Center for The Arts at Georgia State University, Theatrical Outfit, Actor’s Express, 7 Stages Theatre and Village Theatre.

Insider’s Tip: Theatre Atlanta partnered with the discount provider Goldstar, Check the site for discounts.

Film in Atlanta

Movie buffs who relish Atlanta’s role as “Hollywood of the South,” have plenty to see at locations used in both historical and modern films.

Swan House

The Swan House (Photo courtesy of the Atlanta History Center)

The Margaret Mitchell House, located in Midtown, is where the home’s namesake wrote one of the South’s most enduring literary classics: “Gone With The Wind.” Mitchell, known to her friends as Peggy Marsh, called her first-floor apartment “The Dump.” Tour the home for insights into Mitchell’s life before and after publishing her Pulitzer Prize winner and learn about her philanthropic efforts and her notorious reputation.

The odds will be ever in your favor when visiting the Swan House on the grounds of the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead. The Swan House stood in as President

Snow’s mansion in the blockbuster “Hunger Games” series. Eagle-eyed visitors to the elegant 1928 estate might spot the famous swan console tables, which are believed to be the inspiration for the home’s recurring swan motif and its name. (See the section on Tours for some fabulous movie tours you can take.)

Museums in Atlanta

Who hasn’t heard of the High Museum of Art? The premier art museum in the Southeast, the High is renowned for its collection of classic and contemporary art. With more than 15,000 pieces of art in its permanent collection, the high features works from European paintings to a growing collection of African American art. The museum also supports and collects works by Southern artists. Insider’s Tip: Museum admission is free every second Sunday of the month as part of Family Fun at the Woodruff Arts Center. 

A trip to the High puts you right in the Midtown Arts District, located along Peachtree Street  from 14th Street to 17th Street. There you can also stop in at the Museum of Design Atlanta, the only museum in the region dedicated to all things design. It’s a small museum and easily viewable before or after a trip to the High.

indigenous American textile

An example of an indigenous American textile (Photo courtesy of the Michael C. Carlos Museum)

For a more academic experience, go to the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University. The Carlos Museum is a premier ancient art museum with collections of art objects from ancient Egypt, Nubia, Near East, Greece, Rome, ancient Americas, Africa and Asia.

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is more of a museum and less like a library, with a “Day in the Life” presentation and a replica of the Oval Office. Insider’s Tip: Be sure to save time to stroll through the beautiful two grounds with two lakes and 30 acres of park land.


(Photo courtesy of SCAD FASH)

Other museums in Atlanta are dedicated to a number of different points of view. For contemporary art, visit Atlanta Contemporary or the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, which collects contemporary works by artists living and working in Georgia. If you’re especially interested in state history and culture, head to The Millennium Gate Museum, which preserves and interprets Georgia’s history, art, culture and philanthropic heritage.

At the intersection of fashion and film, you’ll find SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film. SCAD FASH, located on the campus of SCAD Atlanta, views fashion and film as societal lenses through we which gain common experience and create identity. The two-year-old teaching museum serves as a creative resource for students and focuses on presenting diverse exhibitions from textiles and jewelry to photography and film. (See more museums in the Family Activities section)

Performing Arts in Atlanta

(Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is one of the country’s leading orchestras, featuring live performances, guest performers and educational initiatives. The orchestra, now in its 72nd season, performs more than 200 concerts each year for an audience of over 500,000 people. The orchestra and chorus have recorded 100 albums and have won 27 Grammy Awards, including Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, Best Choral Performance and Best Opera Performance.

The Abduction From the Seraglio

A scene from Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio” (Photo courtesy of Michael Rollands)

For music lovers who desire a little aria with their orchestra, The Atlanta Opera hits the right note. The 38-year-old company performs just inside the perimeter at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. The Opera features world-renowned singers, conductors, directors and designers who enhance the art form for a modern, sophisticated audience. Look for information on the acclaimed Discovery series, which takes opera on the road for performances in unusual and exciting spaces like the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Le Maison Rouge on the Atlanta BeltLine.  Insider’s Tip: We love this venue as the tiered seats ensure there isn’t a bad seat.

Atlanta is a city rich in history, diversity, culture and art. Here, dance, orchestra, art, film, fashion and more come together to create a vibrant, exciting arts scene steeped in the South.

Leah Steinberg

Family Activities in Atlanta

Kidlanta: Where Family Fun Rules

Atlanta is a town of a thousand nicknames: The ATL, A-Town, Hollywood of the South, Hotlanta (enough of that one already!). But, I have a new one to add to the list: Kidlanta, because this city is made for family fun!

First, what kind of family are you? Are you an outdoorsy, adventure-seeking group? Do you love art, history and culture? Are you enamored with animals? Do like unusual educational experiences? Are you fans of flora and digging in the dirt? No matter what you choose, there’s a family-friendly activity perfect for your crew.

For Fun Outdoors
Old Fourth Ward skate park

The skate park in the Old Fourth Ward (Photo courtesy of Atlanta BeltLine)

Outdoor-loving families will find their happy place walking or riding along the Atlanta BeltLine, which eventually will cover 22 miles and connect 45 neighborhoods. Now, you can bike or walk along portions of the BeltLine. There a tons of easy access points to the Eastside Trail, but we like to hop on at Ponce City Market, where parking is abundant.

My family and I always enjoy the public art, people watching and gorgeous views of the skyline. And because our family adventures always include food, we love the Central Food Hall in Ponce City Market, where everyone can enjoy exactly what they like. My daughter, a borderline vegetarian, always chooses Farm to Ladle, while my dyed-in-the-wool carnivore of a son asks for H&F Burger. My husband and I try new things each time we go, from Hop’s Chicken to Simply Seoul Kitchen.

If you’re looking for outdoor fun with an indoor climate, try rock climbing at Stone Summit Climbing & Fitness Center. There are climbs for everyone, from beginners to advanced climbers. With no minimum age to climb, it’s perfect for the whole family. There are areas specifically for beginners and staff to help, though a mandatory safety orientation is required before climbing. Insiders’ Tip: You can make reservations for staff assistance, if you’re interested in access to additional climbing terrain. If you’re bitten by the climbing bug, Stone Summit also has a number of fitness and climbing classes to expand your skills.

My daughter has climbed a number of times and can’t get enough of scaling the mountain like Spider-Man on the way up and soaring through the air like Superman on the way down. Heights aren’t really my thing, so I’m glad to let her mountaineer for all of us.

Art, History and Culture with the Kids

Families who like to expand their horizons through art, history and cultural activities have virtually countless options to explore, with popular ones including the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Center for Puppetry Arts and Atlanta History Center.

(Photo courtesy of the Fernbank Museum)

The Children’s Museum of Atlanta is the only venue of its kind in the city, presenting educational opportunities for children from birth through age eight. The museum features engaging, hands-on exhibits designed to promote problem solving, creative thinking and artistic expression. The museum, visited by more than 200,000 people each year, recently underwent a large-scale renovation with expanded areas focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). Permanent exhibits include Fundamentally Food, where little ones can shop in a grocery story and enjoy a pretend meal in a kid-sized diner, and Gateway to the World, which takes kids on a tour of the continents and allows them to climb through the Earth’s layers.

For a more traditional museum experience, my family and I head to the Fernbank Museum. It’s a museum of size and scale, featuring the world’s largest dinosaurs, Atlanta’s biggest movie screen and one of the biggest examples of urban Piedmont forest in the country. We stand in awe, dwarfed by the towering dinosaurs and walk through the geologic history of Georgia and our planet.

My kids always enjoy strolling through Fernbank Forest, but now, there’s new outdoor space that further taps into my kids’ inner naturalists called WildWoods. WildWoods and Fernbank Forest have combined to create 75 acres of scenic trails, educational programming and hands-on exhibits. Kids can explore the natural world through bird’s-eye tree pods, enormous old-growth trees and boardwalks.

Kermit the Frog

Kermit the Frog (Courtesy of the Center for Puppetry Arts)

A popular destination for both families and school field trips is the Center for Puppetry Arts, the country’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to puppetry theater. The center offers a self-guided museum tour featuring iconic puppets like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy and also has a collection of puppets from around the world. The center’s company presents adaptations of classic stories, such as “Mother Goose” and “Charlotte’s Web” and new works, including “Rainforest Adventures” and “Cinderella Della Circus.” Insiders’ Tip: I recommend buying tickets in advance, because shows often sell out.

The Atlanta History Center is a historical and cultural gold mine. Situated on 33 acres in Buckhead, the center has gardens, interactive activities, exhibits, exhibitions and historic houses. The Goizueta Gardens highlight the region’s horticultural history with gardens, woodlands and trails. One of the many different gardens to explore is The Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden, which has one of the state’s most comprehensive collections of native plants, many of which are rare or endangered. The garden sprang up in a long-forgotten granite quarry, which was rediscovered in 1972. The quarry pit, 25 feet deep and 3 acres in size, is the largest artifact at the Atlanta History Center. Indoor exhibits at the Atlanta History Center explore the Civil War, Southern folk art and stories of Atlanta, to name a few.

Fiction and film families will delight in a tour of the Margaret Mitchell House, where the author famously wrote “Gone With the Wind,” and the Swan House, prominently featured in several of the “Hunger Games” movies. My daughter tore through the “Hunger Games” books, binge-watched the movies and got a kick out of seeing the movie sets “IRL.

Waco 10 biplane

The rare Waco 10 biplane (Photo courtesy of the Delta Flight Museum)

For families who are looking for something a bit different and like their museums with healthy doses of education, two great options are the Delta Flight Museum and the David J. Sencer CDC Museum. For more than two decades, the Delta Flight Museum has celebrated aviation history, the story of Delta and the future of flight. The museum, located in a 1940s-era aircraft hangar, is designated a Historic Aerospace Site and features interactive exhibits like a restored 1940 Douglas DC-3 passenger plane and a Waco 125 biplane, the only one remaining in the world. But, the coolest thing is having a training session in the flight simulator – one of the only full-motion simulator in the country that is open to the public.

The Smithsonian Affiliate David J. Sencer CDC Museum educates visitors about the value of public health. With 90,000 visitors each year, the  is the only portion of CDC open to the public. The museum has a number of permanent exhibits tracing the history of CDC and its accomplishments, from eradicating polio to educating the public on a wide range of public health topics, including HIV/AIDS, obesity and Ebola.

For Animal Lovers
red panda

A red panda hangs out in the trees (Photo courtesy of Zoo Atlanta)

Animal aficionados will always be amazed with trips to Zoo Atlanta or the Georgia Aquarium. Zoo Atlanta has more than 1,000 animals, including giant pandas and North America’s largest zoological population of great apes. The Amphibian and Reptile Experience provides a peek into a slimy, scaly world where lizards shoot blood from their eyes to scare away predators and tiny black-legged poison dart frogs are toxic to touch.

Our visit to the zoo is never complete without seeing the Malayan sun bears with their long tongues and longer claws, and the red pandas, which are related to raccoons, not giant pandas, despite the name. In addition to animal experiences, Zoo Atlanta also has kid-friendly activities like a splash fountain, rock wall, canopy climber, zoo train, carousel and the Treetop Trail, an aerial playground.

For water-based wonders, check out the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. With 10 million gallons of water, the aquarium is home to several thousand species, including beluga whales, whale sharks, manta rays and more.

My family’s list of aquarium favorites is long and varied. My kids enjoy watching the playful sea otters, riding the moving sidewalk through the underwater tunnel, the Ocean Voyager, and playing penguin in the African penguin habitat. I find my moment of zen watching the belugas swim gracefully around the tank.

Get Back to the Earth
botanical gardens

(Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens)

If your family digs gardening and fawns over flora, head to Truly Living Well or the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Since 2006, Truly Living Well has been serving the Atlanta community on its sustainable, urban farm by using natural food production to create jobs and healthier communities. The farm produces nutritionally rich, fresh produce for residents through its community-supported agriculture program and provides agricultural education and urban farmer training programs.

Schedule tours through the website, volunteer or sign up for Gardening 101 classes to get hands-on instruction in all things garden-related, from composting and planting to harvesting and canning. My daughter went on a school field trip to Truly Living Well, where playing in the dirt was not only encouraged, it was expected. She walked the grounds, planted trees and learned about our unique growing season. She can’t wait to go back.

Another one of my family’s favorite destinations is the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, which is perfect any time of year. The 30-acre garden, adjacent to Piedmont Park, is composed of numerous smaller exhibits, from the formal gardens near the front to the children’s garden further back. The recently opened Skyline Garden showcases the diversity of plants grown in the Southeast while emphasizing its location in the heart of urban Midtown. Flora and fauna are installed at varying heights to reflect the Atlanta skyline in the distance.

I love to wander through the fragrant Fuqua Orchid Center, while my kids seek out the edible garden and prowl like giants on the Canopy Walk, a 600-foot-long elevated walkway soaring 40 feet over the trees. Of course, each winter we eagerly await being dazzled by the more than one million lights during Garden Lights, Holiday Nights.

From art and airplanes to zebras and zenobia, no matter what your family style interest, Atlanta’s got something for everyone. For more great family friendly activities, visit 365 Atlanta Family.

Leah Steinberg

Best Tours in Atlanta

Porsche Experience Center, Atlanta

Atlanta is HQ for Porsche. Learn your way around the track or just enjoy a meal at the Porsche Experience Center, right by the airport. (Photo courtesy of Porsche Experience Center)

I’m a big fan of tours, and even love those double-decker buses that scream out “I’m a tourist!” While Atlanta doesn’t have those double-decker buses – probably because of our towering trees — we have plenty of other tours you can take. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Atlanta Movie Tours
    I’ve taken several of these bus tours and love them. You get squired around on a comfortable bus while knowledgeable guides point out filming locations. There are four, count them, FOUR zombie-related tours. There’s a Best of Atlanta Tour and my favorite, the “Gone with the Wind” tour led by Margaret Mitchell herself. Well, you’d think this impersonator was Margaret Mitchell. She’s hilariously irreverent as she points our highlights like where she is buried and where she wrote “Gone with the Wind.”
  • Atlanta Food Walks
    I learned a lot about my own city I didn’t know while making stops for delicious food on this tour. I went on the Downtown Southern Food Walk, which included tastings at seven delicious restaurants, from soul food to Creole, along with stories about the civil rights movement in Atlanta.
  • BeltLine Tours
    Years ago, my husband and I took a bus tour of the BeltLine, which was in its early stages. He became enamored of a neighborhood called Capital View Manor and has since invested in property there, convinced that the coming proximity of that portion of the BeltLine means he has made a good investment.We’ve also taken a free bike tour on the southwest portion of the BeltLine, one of two free bike tours given weekly. Insider tip: Sign up in advance for these popular tours. If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one for the tour.
  • Porsche Experience Center
    Take a spin, literally, at Porsche’s home in North America, located right by Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Go to driving school, or just dine in Restaurant 365 or Carrera Café with views of the track.We also have Segway tours, CNN tours, wine and beer tours, and even hot air balloon tours. You can also tour our city from the air by helicopter or biplane.

Here’s a list of the top 10 tours in Atlanta from TripAdvisor.

Jan Schroder

Accommodations in Atlanta

Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway Hotel

If you need to be close to the airport, stay at the new Renaissance Atlanta Airport Parkway Hotel. (Photo by Jan Schroder)

Atlanta has close to 100,000 hotel rooms. Our city is adding 2,100 in 2017 alone. People like to visit here, and we have a thriving convention business. If you need to stick close to the airport, the new uber hip Renaissance Atlanta Airport Gateway is easily accessible by the Sky Train directly the airport.

Atlanta is a big city, however, so before you book accommodations, decide what part of town you’d like to be in for most of your activities. Most attractions are in Midtown or Downtown, but if you want some night life, Midtown is your best bet.

Of course, we have dozens of chain hotels at all price points. We also have lots of cute bed and breakfasts, and hundreds of Airbnb listings, including two treehouses inside the city limits of Atlanta! One is on a 2.5-acre farm with alpacas and llamas while the other was the #1 wished-for listing on Airbnb in 2016.

As residents, we rarely look for accommodations, but I had a lovely staycation one weekend at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown, within walking distance of The Varsity and The Fox Theatre. It’s a partner hotel with the Georgia Aquarium and within reasonable walking distance of the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere.

Staff Favorites

Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta

The historic Georgian Terrace is one of our staff favorites. Insiders’ tip: Stop here before or after a performance at The Fox Theatre; it’s right across the street.

Hotel Indigo and the Georgian Terrace in Midtown are two of our favorites. While the rooms at Hotel Indigo are on the smaller side, the location in Midtown is prime.

The Georgian Terrace is one of our most historic hotels (remember that burning city thing). It’s where the cast of “Gone with the Wind” stayed for the movie premier and other guests include Walt Disney, Charles Lindbergh, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a few presidents.

It’s also where I met the woman who taught the Real Housewives of Atlanta to pole dance. I was at a reopening party, and met this woman, told me the pole dancing class she taught them was featured in an episode.  Apparently, as I don’t watch the show. But for those who do …

Jan Schroder

Where the Real Housewives of Atlanta Go

Junkman's Daughter, Atlanta

You may not find what you’re looking for but you won’t leave empty-handed at Junkman’s Daughter, about 10 minutes from downtown.

I can’t claim to be a fan, as I haven’t seen the show. But it’s a top-rated cable show and ever since October 2008, fans can’t get enough of the cat fights, messy marriages, messier divorces and crazy antics of those wacky women. After looking at the list of where they like to go, I’ll admit they have good taste.

Here are a few of their favorite places to visit:

• Junkman’s Daughter. This 35-year-old shop is the place to be bedazzled and bedecked in alternative clothing.

• Southern Art Bourbon Bar. Located in the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead, this place is elegant and upscale while having the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had.

• Imperial Fez. Take a seat on the floor and prepare to eat with your hands, as you enjoy belly dancing and a five-course meal.

• Mary Mac’s Tea Room. A favorite of those looking for their Southern food fix, the 70-year-old restaurant continues to be popular.

• Cypress Street Pint + Plate. Here’s your spot for upscale bar food, including the Sublime Doughnut, a burger with bacon and cheese served on a doughnut.

– Jan Schroder

Best Spots for Celebrity Spotting in Atlanta

Colin Firth

Colin Firth

As Georgia has become a top spot for film and TV spotting, celebrities are spending more time here. I’ve only had two celebrity spottings. I saw Jake Gyllenhaal in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s in Buckhead. And I saw Colin Firth at Watershed restaurant, where my friend declared she had “a moment” with him.

A-listers often rent homes in Buckhead and have been spotted at Peachtree Road Farmers Market on Saturdays and several local restaurants including Antico Pizza Napolitano ( a favorite of Usher) , South City Kitchen, the food hall at Ponce City Market and STK. The bars at St. Regis and Four Seasons are popular spots as well.

Jan Schroder

Atlanta Neighborhoods and Real Estate

There are 242 official neighborhoods in Atlanta. (And that’s not even counting OTP ones!) The huge number of distinct neighborhoods gives the city a small-town charm, but makes knowing all of them nearly impossible. (Fun fact: the smallest neighborhood, “Just Us,” consists of just two streets and a handful of people.) Here are some of the most well-known neighborhoods.

buckhead mansion

Buckhead is where you’ll find some of the city’s most luxurious mansions (Photo courtesy of tedcruze.us)

• Buckhead: Sometimes referred to as “the Beverly Hill of the East,” Buckhead is where you’ll find Atlanta’s most affluent homes, high-rise office buildings, Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, and many of the city’s top private schools. The Buckhead neighborhoods occupy roughly the northern fifth of the city and comprises 43 neighborhoods – including West Paces Ferry, Chastain Park and Peachtree Hills.

• West Midtown: Also called “the Westside,” West Midtown has transformed from a largely industrial area to a culinary and cultural destination in recent years. The trendy neighborhood is full of high-end restaurants and retail stores, contemporary art galleries and a popular music venue, Terminal West.

• Midtown earns its reputation as Atlanta’s “heart of the arts” with Piedmont Park, the Fox Theatre, High Museum of Art, Woodruff Arts Center and other cultural centers all within walking distance. Midtown has an authentic urban feel and no shortage of restaurants and bars, shops and businesses.

• Virginia-Highland: Located around the intersection of Virginia and Highland avenues, Virginia-Highland (sometimes called “the Highlands”) is just east of Midtown. The walkable neighborhood is famous for its bungalows and historic houses and mix of restaurants and bars in the neighborhood’s center, including Murphy’s Restaurant, Atkins Park and Moe’s and Joe’s.

victorian home

Inman Park’s Victorian homes once belonged to well-known business leaders like Asa Candler, co-founder of Coca-Cola. (Photo courtesy of Old Georgia Homes)

• Inman Park was the first planned residential suburb, developed in Atlanta in the late 1880s, and many of the historic Victorian mansions are still standing today. The neighborhood is also a major restaurant destination, home to more than 13 restaurants and pubs, as well as Krog Street Market.

• Downtown is the city’s central business district and home to the city’s tallest buildings, Georgia State University and famous attractions like the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and Centennial Olympic Park, which was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

• Cabbagetown (where the name came from is still hotly debated) was originally built as a 19th-century mill town where the nearby cotton mill’s workers lived. The neighborhood is filled with shotgun and cottage-style houses, and its narrow streets are characteristic of mill towns. It’s also known for the Krog Street Tunnel, which is famous for its street art and connects the area and Inman Park.

• Old Fourth Ward: One of Atlanta’s oldest and most desirable neighborhoods, Old Fourth Ward is where you’ll find the Historic Fourth Ward Park, the most popular section of the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, Ponce City Market, the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site and Jackson Street Bridge (one of the best views of the Downtown skyline).

• Little Five Points is Atlanta’s most bohemian neighborhood and is known for its eclectic thrift stores, secondhand record stores and bookstores, three theaters, music venue Variety Playhouse and its annual Halloween festival.

west end home

Home in West End (Photo by Chris Schroder)

• East Atlanta (“East Atlanta Village” refers to its commercial district) is one of Atlanta’s most socially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods (3.5% of the households are same sex couples). Most of the houses are single-family homes, and at the intersection of Glenwood and Flat Shoals you’ll find locally owned shops, live music venues and a vibrant restaurant and bar scene.

• Grant Park is named after and located around Atlanta’s oldest – and fourth-largest – city park. It includes Zoo Atlanta – once named the Grant Park Zoo – and, together with Inman Park, the largest remaining area of Victorian architecture.

• West End: This historic neighborhood in south Atlanta has been recently experiencing a revitalization, thanks in part to being a pioneer neighborhood for the BeltLine project. Named after the theater in London, West End is a popular spot for artists and hub for Atlanta’s Afrocentric community, with sites like Soul Vegetarian South, the Shrine of the Black Madonna church, Hammonds House Museum and the African Djeli.

– Caroline Parsley

Weather in Atlanta

snowmaggedon in Atlanta

Atlanta was mocked on national news when our city shut down over a minor amount of snow. Well, we only have eight snow plows and a billion drivers, who all tried to leave at once. But our good side came out in the midst of our transportation breakdown. A woman started a Facebook group for stranded people, and residents took strangers into their homes, offered their businesses as places to stay and delivered sandwiches to those stuck in their cars.

A common question in Atlanta is, “Where are you from?” Many of our population in the metro area of 5 million+ are transplants. More than a few times when I told someone I was a native, they said, “I’ve never met one of you before.”

When I learn someone is from somewhere else, I like to ask them what brought them to the city. The top three answers? A romantic partner, a job or the weather.

Our summers do tend to be hot and muggy, but our winter months are relatively short and mild. Yes, it does get below freezing here on occasion, but the average on the coldest day of the year is 35. We rarely get snow, and are more prone to ice storms. Those can wreak havoc on the city as our power lines can be knocked down by ice-laden trees.

Many people from colder climates may be transferred here for jobs, and many stay for the mild winters and our glorious springs, which come much earlier here than they are used to. My guess is they suffer a bit through hot summers, like the rest of us.

— Jan Schroder


Airport and Transportation in Atlanta

MARTA, Atlanta

Atlanta’s public transportation consists of trains and buses on the MARTA system. The train is by far the easiest way to get to the airport as it lets you off right outside the terminal.

When I travel, I get the sense people don’t always believe me when I tell them Atlanta has the busiest airport in the world. (I picture them Googling this later, and feel a small sense of satisfaction knowing they discover I’m right.) The Airports Council International (ACI) compiles data from 1,179 airports around the world, and once again, Hartsfield-Jackson International came in first. More than 104 million passengers passed through its busy gates in 2016.

The ACI credits our city’s strategic location, being the hub for Delta Air Lines and the fact we are a two-hour plane ride from 80 percent of the US population.

For public transportation, we have MARTA, a system of trains and buses. That’s my choice to get to the airport, as you don’t have to stress about traffic. And yes, we have a lot of that as well. We have Uber and Lyft and these ride services are allowed to pick up at the airport, for a small surcharge.

Atlanta bike trail

While the streets are a bit of a challenge to navigate by bike, Atlanta has plenty of bike trails, including this one along the BeltLine

Atlanta also has a streetcar downtown that runs a 2.7-mile loop with 12 stops. With the construction of dozens of multi-family properties and the Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta has become a much more walkable city, particularly in Midtown. We also have a bike share program. Look for stations with the pretty blue bikes from Relay Bike Share. With our curvy, hilly streets, Atlanta can be a challenge to bike through. But the addition of several bike lanes on busy streets, more bike trails and the growth of the BeltLine have helped the city become more bikeable.

Navigating the city on your own? Be sure to get a GPS. Our city has no grid system, and really no system whatsoever for our streets. Just don’t type in “Peachtree.” We have dozens of streets with the word Peachtree in it. I’ve heard estimates of over 100. Confusing? Yes. Make sure to get the full name of the street when you venture out in Atlanta.

Jan Schroder

Atlanta’s History

Swan House, Atlanta History Center

Tour The Swan Coach House at the Atlanta History Center, aka President Snows mansion for film fans.

Atlanta owes its existence to the railroad when a location for the terminus of a line of the U.S. Midwest was chosen here and the first stake was set in 1837. The original name of Atlanta was Terminus for that reason. More rail lines came here and the city grew up around them, as Atlanta became a transportation hub for the Southeast.

Most of the city, other than churches and hospitals, were destroyed during the Civil War during Sherman’s March to the Sea. But the city quickly rebuilt after the war.

With the founding of several colleges for African-Americans, a successful black middle class developed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born here, and Atlanta became a cradle of the civil rights movement. It has become known as a black mecca, with African-Americans making up approximately 54% of the population, with whites at around 39%.

The city opened the Georgia World Congress Center in 1976, drawing conventions from all over the world, and in 1998 our airport became the busiest in the world. With no geographic boundaries to growth, the metro area continues to grow with an estimated population of 5.7 million, the ninth largest in the country. The population within the city limits is less than 500,000.

Visit the Atlanta History Center to tour revolving exhibitions, gardens, a replica of an 1840s farmhouse, a Creek Indian log cabin, and the beautiful mansion, the Swan House, familiar to fans of “Mockingjay – Part 2” as President Snow’s mansion.  (Insiders Tip: For casual dining, enjoy fresh soups and salads at Souper Jenny. To dine on chicken salad like Atlanta ladies have been doing for decades, have lunch at the Swan Coach House.

Our history column in The Atlanta 100 is one of our most popular, as we provide short histories of neighborhoods, restaurants, parks, events, buildings, streets and even a cow named Rosebud, beloved and milked by thousands of Atlanta children.

Atlanta History: A Wildly Abbreviated Timeline

logo, Atlanta Olympic Games

  • In 1843, the town was known as Marthasville. That name lasted only two years and the city became Atlanta in 1845.
  • In 1850, the population was 2,572.
  • Atlanta University, the first black college in the city, was founded in 1865.
  • Atlanta becomes the state capital in 1868.
  • The population in 1880 is 37,409, making it the largest city in Georgia.
  • Coca-Cola was introduced in 1886.
  • In 1887, the Piedmont Exposition was held in Piedmont Park. About 200,000 people attended the 13-day event, launching Atlanta as a place to visit and do business.
  • In 1900, the population was 89,872 with 419,375 in the metro area.
  • Fire hit Atlanta once again in 1917, destroying 3,400 buildings.
  • WSB becomes the first radio station in the South. Some say the letters stand for Welcome South, Brother.
  • “Gone with the Wind” premiered in 1939.
  • In 1950 the population was 331,314, while the metro area is close to 1 million.
  • Lenox Square mall opens and Atlanta’s population tops a million.
  • Maynard Jackson becomes the first black mayor of Atlanta in 1973. Every mayor since then has been black.
  • The Democratic National Convention is held here in 1988.
  • The summer Olympics are held in Atlanta in 1996.
  • In 2014, the National Center for Human Rights opens

Only in Atlanta 

Baton Bob

Baton Bob lightens spirits of Atlantans passing by as he twirls himself and a baton on the streets. (Photo courtesy of Baton Bob’s website)

• We are polite and friendly. Strangers may call you baby, sweetie or honey. Until we get in our cars. Then we may call you something else. Atlanta drivers are not sweet and patient. Maybe it’s because we do have bad traffic and one of the worst commutes in the country. Sorry.
• We use the terms OTP and ITP. These refer to “outside the perimeter” and “inside the perimeter.” The perimeter, also known at I-285 is a 64-mile highway that circles Atlanta. In 1982, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves got lost on it on his way to the game and circled it several times.
• Our city hosted the Olympics in 1996. The best place to see the legacy of the Olympic Games is Centennial Olympic Park downtown.
• You may see a grown man dressed up in tutus and other blinged-out outfits and twirling a baton on street corners. That’s Baton Bob, a local icon known as the Ambassador of Mirth.
• On New Year’s Eve, we have a Peach Drop in Underground Atlanta
• We don’t like the nickname Hotlanta.
• We go ballistic if snow is forecast and buy out bread and milk at every store. Then we all stay home and make French toast while staying glued to weather forecasts. (Maybe not French toast, but we’ve never figured out what everyone is doing with all that bread and milk.)
• We have one of the largest ski clubs in the country.
• We like to volunteer, giving our time to organizations like the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Hands on Atlanta, Habitat for Humanity and Trees Atlanta.
• Waffle House was founded here, as was Chick-fil-A. You’re welcome, world.


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