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Atlanta has been thoroughly divided and subdivided into a complex
network of districts and neighborhoods. In some areas, every other
block or so seems to claim distinction as its own unique neighborhood
with its own specific nickname, which can get rather confusing for
visitor and native alike.
The nice thing about the neighborhoods in this town, however, is
that despite the influences of time, gentrification, urban renewal
and shifting demographics, most neighborhoods have managed to retain
their charm and flavor. Another pleasant surprise is that unlike
some cities, the attractions and amenities of Atlanta are fairly
evenly distributed among the various neighborhoods.
Whatever you might be looking for, from high-end shopping in Buckhead
to fine dining in Virginia-Highland to ultra-cool clubbing in Little
Five Points, each of the city's districts has much to offer. As
more and more residents and tourists flock to this capital of the
New South, Atlanta's diverse neighborhoods stand as a fitting parallel
to the rich melting pot that the city has become over the years.
As in many cities, Atlanta's downtown serves as the center of most
business, financial, and government doings. But, unlike many cities,
it cannot be considered the hub of the town's social, cultural,
or entertainment scene. Atlanta's downtown is business-focused,
and other than for fine dining or professional sports events, pretty
much shuts down after business hours.
The ever-changing downtown skyline is dominated by skyscraper hotels
and office buildings, perhaps none more impressive than Peachtree
Center, which serves the business community in both capacities.
Most major chain hotels are represented, including the Ritz-Carlton,
the Atlanta Hilton & Towers, the dramatically-sloping Marriott
Marquis, and the Westin at Peachtree Plaza, which features the aptly-named,
revolving Sun Dial restaurant on the 71st floor.
Many of Atlanta's most prestigious business addresses, such as the
world headquarters of Coca-Cola, are downtown. The Georgia World
Congress Center, one of the world's largest convention facilities,
plays host to a never-ending string of trade shows and business
Nestled in the southern corner of downtown you'll find the golden-domed
Georgia State Capitol Building. Built in 1889, its Corinthian columns
are closely guarded by many court and government offices. Also peppered
about this neighborhood are buildings housing various departments
of Georgia State University.
Nearby, take a stroll through Underground Atlanta. Opened in 1989,
this enclosed mall of shops, restaurants, and attractions also houses
the most comprehensive division of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors
Bureau, which offers information on activities and events throughout
the city. Standing near the entrance to Underground Atlanta is the
World of Coca-Cola, the soft-drink giant's popular interactive museum,
where you can relive the history of the world's favorite beverage
and sample Coke products as they are prepared in the four corners
of the globe.
A short cab ride to the south will bring you to Turner Field. Built
as a multi-use facility for the 1996 Olympics, it is now home to
the high-powered Atlanta Braves. If you're lucky enough to visit
Atlanta during baseball season, stop by; a large allotment of standing-room
tickets are made available for each home game at the low price of
Baseball's not the only game in town, however. On the west side
of downtown, you'll find the 71,000-seat Georgia Dome, home of the
Atlanta Falcons and host of the annual Southeast Conference Championship
football game each fall. The Georgia Dome is also the site of the
annual Peach Bowl, and was chosen in 1994 to host Super Bowl XXVIII.
The much-anticipated Phillips Arena opened its doors in 1999, and
now features Atlanta Hawks basketball and the National Hockey League's
newest franchise, the Atlanta Thrashers.
Across the street from Phillips Arena, visit the massive CNN Center,
home to cable television's first 24-hour news network. Tours of
the studios are conducted hourly, and free seating is always available
for CNN's live current affairs program, "Talk-Back Live."
And, just across the street, be sure to visit Centennial Olympic
Park, a 21-acre expanse of green commemorating the 1996 Olympics.
Atlanta's downtown area is a bustling commercial district by day,
with a wealth of restaurants, department stores and tourist attractions.
After dark, however, there are better, and safer, neighborhoods
The line between Downtown and Midtown has never been distinctly
drawn, but a safe choice for the demarcation is busy Ponce de Leon
Avenue. This vibrant and diverse neighborhood stretches from the
Georgia Tech campus on its western edge, north several miles toward
Buckhead, and dissipates slowly to the east into the Virginia-Highland
Midtown's skyline rivals downtown. Mighty hotels such as the Four
Seasons and Sheraton Colony Square stand side-by-side with the regional
headquarters of such giants as IBM and BellSouth. The Georgian Terrace
Hotel, which hosted the cast party for the premiere of Gone With
the Wind in 1939, still stands proudly on Peachtree Road in
the heart of Midtown.
Across the street from the hotel is the theater where the premiere
took place: the recently restored Fabulous Fox Theater, which now
features Broadway plays, opera, rock concerts, and movies. And just
a few steps down Peachtree is the Margaret Mitchell Home and Museum,
dedicated to the woman who wrote the Civil War epic.
Also on Peachtree, you'll find the Woodruff Arts Center, home to
the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, as well as the High Museum of Art,
which recently featured the traveling exhibits of such notables
as Pablo Picasso and Norman Rockwell.
Known for its diversity, Midtown has long been home to a large segment
of Atlanta's gay community. You'll see plenty of rainbow flags fluttering
from porches of the beautifully restored Victorians between Ponce
and 10th Street. Gay-owned and oriented businesses abound and flourish,
such as the Outwrite Bookstore near Piedmont Park, and such infamous
gay bars as Burkhart's and My Sister's Room. If you're game, buy
a one-night membership to Backstreet, the gender-bending, all-nighter,
gay/straight/other club where America's favorite drag queen, RuPaul,
first strutted her stuff.
Clubbing is the word that best fits the nightlife in Midtown, and
dress codes are often strictly enforced. Now and again, you'll even
spot a velvet cordon snaking its conspicuous way onto the sidewalk,
evidence of certain clubs' propensity to emulate the chic nightspots
of New York. High profile spots like the Crescent Room and Innuendo
play to the 20- and 30-something rave-techno crowd, while lower-key
joints like the fashionably retro Leopard Lounge offer a break from
such image-conscious posturing. A nice smattering of smaller and
casual neighborhood bars are spread throughout the area, and most
of the big hotel bars keep up a respectable pace.
The economic range of Midtown denizens runs the full gamut. From
the mansion dwellers in Ansley Park along the northern reaches of
the district to the seedy elements that haunt the liquor stores
and fast-food joints of Ponce de Leon to the grungy-cum-preppy types
that prevail around the campus of Georgia Tech, a broad cross-section
of Atlanta natives will greet you on the sidewalk. You'll find yuppies
from all over the city taking their lunch on benches across from
Piedmont Park, watched at a casual distance by a small group of
the homeless being passed by a highly-coifed septuagenarian on her
way to the exclusive Piedmont Driving Club. Notched into a northeast
corner of Piedmont Park, membership in this exclusive group is said
to be among the most coveted and elusive in the New South. It is
said, though not confirmed, that Margaret Mitchell was once denied
a membership, a bit too nouvelle for their taste.
Stuck in among the many churches, restored and condo-ized warehouses,
and pleasant tree-lined residential neighborhoods you'll find some
of the best dining that Atlanta has to offer. South American fusion
is the new rave at Loca Luna, while distinctly different Southern
American is the specialty of South City Kitchen on Crescent Avenue.
Running parallel to Peachtree, quieter Juniper Street is host to
a long string of casual, open-air restaurants that draw big numbers
for both dinner and happy hour.
The unquestioned social center of Midtown is Piedmont Park, a 180-acre
expanse of green bordered by Monroe, 10th, and Piedmont Avenues.
Featuring lakes, tennis courts, and numerous athletic fields, this
is also where a great majority of in-town Atlantan turn out to walk
their canine companions. Any given day will find literally hundreds
of dogs and their fashionable leash-mates patrolling the grounds,
and this is a great opportunity to see a wonderful cross-section
of the area's population and the admirable harmony in which they
generally co-exist. While you're there, stop by the Atlanta Botanical
Gardens on the north side of the park; its forests and greenhouses
provide even further haven for plant- and nature-lovers.
An address in Buckhead--be it for home or business--is a mixed blessing.
Certainly some of the ritziest but also some of the bawdiest and
most rowdy elements call this area just north of Midtown home. Still,
through the years, Buckhead has held onto its claim as the most
renowned and fashionable of all Atlanta neighborhoods.
The legends of how Buckhead came upon its unusual moniker are varied,
but most center around the killing of a large deer by a local hunter
in the early 19th Century, and the subsequent mounting of said animal's
noggin over a popular public house. While taste and public health
ordinances have made such sights less common in recent years, the
wild tavern tradition of the area is still in full swing, and most
nights of the week find the bars of Peachtree and Bolling Way doing
a brisk business. The pace on Friday and Saturday nights escalates
to such a degree that the streets of downtown Buckhead become all
but impassable, and several roads are routinely shut down to allow
for the safe passage of the stumbling masses.
Despite the regular disorder brought on by the drinking crowd, Buckhead's
downtown area, generally demarked as the intersection of Peachtree
and Paces Ferry Roads, remains clean and safe, and is home to many
fine shops, restaurants and day spas. Arguably, both the city's
best steak and finest seafood are to be found within a literal stone's
throw of each other, the former lodged on the ground floor of the
tallest building on Peachtree (Chops), and the latter set off by
a four-story, cast-bronze salmon (some say trout) that towers over
Pharr Road (Atlanta Fish Market).
As you move away from the bars and shops of ground zero Buckhead,
a growing battalion of high-rise luxury apartments and condos attracts
the city's most prosperous up-and-comers. Gradually, small skyscrapers
are beginning to dot the landscape of Buckhead's perimeter commercial
area, as office and condo space is sold at an astronomical premium.
Some things resist change more strongly than others, however, and
the tree-lined neighborhoods west of Peachtree, especially along
Paces Ferry Road, live on as exquisite enclaves of old Atlanta money.
Just a mile down this awe-inspiring stretch of road from the rollicking,
disco-themed Have A Nice Day Cafe sits the august Georgia Governor's
Mansion. Many local celebrities and the families of early Atlantans
make their homes in the wooded estates scattered hereabouts. A casual
driving tour through these gently winding backstreets has a tendency
to make one feel like a rolling prop in a pictorial out of Southern
Living or Architectural Digest. The paradoxical proximity
of these bucolic streets to crowded and hectic Peachtree Road is
at the heart of contemporary Buckhead, and is perhaps what gives
the neighborhood such wide, energetic appeal.
If you're not in a strictly business rush (and your wallet doesn't
mind), the central location and frenetic activity of Buckhead make
it an ideal spot to stay. World-class hotels like the Ritz-Carlton
and Hotel Nikko stand just steps away from the city's most elegant
shopping venues in Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square Mall. And if the
restaurants, shopping, and nightlife aren't enough for you, never
fear. The Atlanta History Museum sits at the center of it all on
West Paces Ferry Road, watching the progression, keeping careful
records of Buckhead's latest transformation.
Perhaps the city's most quietly-hip and sought-after address, the
largely residential Virginia-Highland area has been called Atlanta's
answer to New York's SoHo and Los Angeles' Melrose Avenue. Built
up in the 1920s as a lower-middle income neighborhood, the two-bedroom
bungalows that pepper this tree-lined corner of the near east side
now fetch a quarter-of-a-million dollars and more.
Virginia-Highland, more commonly referred to as "the Highlands,"
centers on the intersection of its namesake avenues, Virginia and
North Highland, and concentrates its activity around three main
hubs. Other than the few square blocks directly surrounding North
Highland's intersections with Virginia, Amsterdam (a half-mile to
the north), and Ponce de Leon (a half-mile south), the neighborhood
has remained entirely residential. The Highlands' borders are pretty
well defined as Ponce de Leon Avenue on the south, Briarcliff Road
on the east, East Rock Springs on the north, and Monroe Avenue on
the west. Most points are within easy walking distance of the Jimmy
Carter Center in Inman Park, Emory University in Druid Hills, and
Piedmont Park in Midtown.
Over the past 50 years, the prevailing atmosphere has gone from
staunch middle class to economically-depressed to an avant-garde
reclamation phase to a solid enclave of the in-town upwardly-mobile.
Today, young professional couples live alongside the older entrenched
crowd that smartly held onto their now-slumping, now-booming property
over the years, with a strong gay showing thrown in the mix. Although
not quite as extreme as the rarefied mansions of nearby Druid Hills
(where the movie Driving Miss Daisy was filmed), the Highlands
have assumed a certain snob appeal, and at least a modicum of the
stern protectivism that goes along with it.
High rents have banished the starving artist crowd to less demanding
landlords downtown, and in their place have come a number of galleries,
representing the city's best mix of modern and folk art in such
establishments as the Eclectic Electric Gallery and Modern Primitive
on Highland near Morningside. Although not as glitzy as Buckhead
or Midtown, and thankfully so, shopping is a casual pleasure, and
quirky boutiques like Metropolitan Deluxe, the Common Pond, and
Providence Antiques draw a heavy window-gazing crowd throughout
the week. Near the Virginia Avenue intersection, the dusty and deliberately
quaint Highland Hardware is a familiar reminder of simpler days.
Young and middle-aged professionals mix easily with a mild influx
of students from the nearby university in the Highlands' bars and
restaurants. Again, much quieter and more casual than the scene
in Buckhead and Midtown, a vibrant nightlife thrums through the
laid back atmosphere at such taverns as Manuel's, a political relic
from the days when City Hall was located nearby on Ponce, Dark Horse
Tavern, whose three-story deck provides a nightly microcosm of the
drinking crowd's let-it-be attitude, and the newly-arrived Geko
Lounge, a smart tequila bar that, despite itself, can't quite manage
to force its Buckhead-ish, satin-shirt concept on Highland denizens,
but peaceably persists nonetheless. A few blocks north of Ponce,
Blind Willie's Tavern showcases some of the city's best blues acts
in an intimate cabaret setting, while, next door, stout-mad revelers
pound out rousing Irish folk tunes on the wooden benches of Limerick
Reservations are a must most nights at local restaurants, and even
on a Monday you're liable to have to wait for a table on the patio
at Dish, the area's hippest fusion joint. Almost universally small
and intimate, Highland eateries seem to set tables for two with
greater frequency than for four. Your options are quite diverse,
however, as highbrow places like seafood favorite Indigo Grill and
contemporary Southern-influenced Harvest rub amicable shoulders
with popular beer and brazier joints such as Taco Mac, Neighbors,
and Moe's & Joe's.
Given the largely-residential nature of the Highlands, there's not
a whole lot to see and do outside of rubbing elbows with some of
the friendliest diners and shoppers in town. One standout exception,
however, is the Fernbank Natural History Museum. Just off Ponce
de Leon on Clifton Road, this world-class museum features displays
that chronicle the geographical and natural evolution of the Southeast,
many hands-on exhibits for kids, an observatory, and an IMAX theater.
The Highlands would be a great place to set up camp during any visit
to Atlanta--for business or pleasure except for the dearth of public
lodgings. Unless you can secure a spot at one of the neighborhood's
scarce but universally charming bed and breakfasts, your best bet
for greatest proximity is at one of the towering megaliths of nearby
Midtown, or try the reasonable motels that surround Emory University
a mile or so to the east.
Little Five Points
A few blocks to the south and east of the far southern reaches of
the Highlands lies a neighborhood with more attitude per square
acre than perhaps the rest of the city combined. Geographically
dubbed Little Five Points, this conglomeration of second-hand shops,
piercing parlors, funky bars and music venues sprang up around the
corner from where Euclid and McLendon Avenues converge on busy Moreland
Avenue. Since the designation "Five Points" was long-ago
granted to the downtown train station where the five main MARTA
lines come together, the five points formed by this busy east-side
intersection assumed the moniker Little Five Points, or more tersely,
Touching on the old neighborhoods of Inman Park and Candler Park,
much of the real estate in L5P is--somewhat ironically if not surprisingly--priced
well beyond the range of the young rebels that flock to its commercial
district. Many nicely-restored bungalows and even post-Civil War
era homes line the peaceful streets nearby, including a good number
of respectable bed-and-breakfasts.
Meanwhile, droves of what can best be summed up as the "alternative"
crowd guard the sidewalks and street corners of the busy commercial
area. Unchallenged headquarters of the local scowl crowd, you'll
see a healthy cross-section of the young, rebellious, and rock-and-roll
youth that Atlanta and her suburbs has to offer. Nose rings and
tattoos are the rule rather than the exception, but don't be too
fooled--or too intimidated--by the image. Although drugs and some
of the city's seedier elements do show up, the majority of L5P's
grungy crowd are students, wanna-be musicians and artists, and generally-employed
residents of east side neighborhoods with a taste for loud music.
An annual summer street festival brings out in crowds from all over,
as natives and neighbors come out to be reminded why they prefer
the more tranquil annual street festivals hosted by both Inman Park
and Candler Park. Music venues like the Star Community Bar present
some of the best and most promising local bands, while the Variety
Playhouse puts out a consistently strong line-up that covers the
full spectrum of musical acts, from jazz to folk to hard rock and
back again, including such well-known performers as blues legend
Taj Mahal and the locally-favorite Indigo Girls.
You won't find much in the way of lodgings, and honestly, there's
not much reason to spend the night. Similarly, good eats are plentiful
in L5P, but fine dining has thus far eluded the rough-edged neighborhood.
You can always grab a very good burger at the Vortex (which transforms
after dark into L5P's loudest and most renowned tavern), or pull
up a stool at the old-style lunch counter at the Little Five Points
Pharmacy. Here and there, you'll find a few ethnic joints that are
worth their salt, but the best grub within reach is at the Flying
Biscuit Cafe, six or seven blocks to the east in Candler Park, where
the masses line up outside on Saturdays and Sundays, waiting for
a shot at the Caf?'s famous omelets and brunch plates.
Other than some funky shopping options and a glimpse into the counter-culture,
the most notable attraction in Little Five stands at the neighborhood's
far northwest corner: the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center and Library.
It sits on several hilltop acres of gardens and ponds, the site
of the camp from which Sherman observed the burning of Atlanta in
Climbing out of a long period of steady decline, this is the latest
addition to a growing list of gentrified Atlanta neighborhoods.
As elsewhere, the process in East Atlanta is a slow one, and even
as a solid collection of shops and restaurants gains a foothold
in the blocks around the intersection of Flat Shoals and Glenwood
Avenues, most of the surrounding area continues to struggle. Visitors
to the area should not stray too far from the central business district,
although it's relatively safe and continually improving as more
and more youngsters who can't stomach the price tags in Inman Park
or Little Five Points buy up the area's modest housing.
Your shopping options are nice, if limited, representing an interesting
mix of the commercial images of Little Five Points and Virginia-Highland.
You'll find a few rag-tag vintage stores interspersed with such
refined outlets as Verdio House for artistic pieces and Village
Wear for funky fashions. The unabashedly gay Mary's is a diminutive
send-up of the thriving alternative clubs of Midtown, and seems
oddly out of place. The Fountainhead, similarly, seems mislocated
amid its earthy surroundings, yet draws a consistent poseur crowd.
Generally, East Atlanta's watering holes lean toward the local,
blue collar crowd, best typified in the long-standing and unchanged
Flatiron Bar. As the area continues to attract young money, dining
options will certainly expand, but for now the best choices are
the Heaping Bowl & Brew, an organic-minded mixed bag of regional
delights, and the popular local eatery/hangout Grant Central Pizza.
In marked contrast to the funky, developing neighborhoods of urban
renewal in the general vicinity of downtown, this trendy area has
re-invented itself over past few years to become a rather enviable
and affluent address. Sitting proudly at the far northwest corner
of the city, just touching on Cobb County, the Vinings is largely
home to folks who want to live in the city but really don't.
Condominiums, apartments, and plush home sites are going up at a
remarkable rate, almost keeping pace with the soaring prices. Still,
the four miles that separate this pleasant area from Buckhead are
enough to keep expenses a bit more practical. New hotels are being
built as well, but for the most part, visitors are still relegated
to the luxury accommodations around nearby Cumberland Mall and the
big-business hotels of Smyrna and Marietta.
Following the money, great new restaurants like Canoe are gaining
widespread praise as they take their place alongside such re-invented
local favorites as the Vinings Inn. Shopping, however, still draws
the majority of traffic, mostly to Cumberland Mall at I-75 and Windy
Hill Road, but also to the Vinings Jubilee center, a collection
of shops and boutiques developed to resemble a town square.
You don't really club here. You may work here, shop here, and more
and more, eat here. But the Vinings will always be more suburban
than city, in both appearance and attitude, which, it seems, is
pretty much what they've been shooting for.