If you’ve never lived in Atlanta and only know it from sleepy layovers at Hartsfield, Southern Living magazine or the photo posts on Pinterest and Instagram, you may still think of it as the capital of the South.
But believe me, the ATL moved on long ago.
Piedmont Park today looks more like Woody Allen’s Manhattan than the site of a famous Civil War battle. You’re far more likely to hear the latest beats from ATL rappers like Johnny Cinco and Reese on the street than the banjo duel from Deliverance. And when traffic backs up on Peachtree, Ponce de Leon or Roswell roads, which it will, you run a far greater chance of being rear-ended by a Tesla than the General Lee.
Which is not to imply that Southern charm and character has entirely fled to Fayetteville; it just runs deeper and deeper underground as this super fast, super chic, super busy Southeastern hub perpetually reinvents itself, weaving the best parts of its proud past into a more resilient international future.
So fold the top down on the rental, ice down a six-pack of locally-grown Coca-Cola, and prepare to enjoy these 10 iconic Atlanta destinations:
Margaret Mitchell House & Museum: What better place to pick up a major thread of old Atlanta than the historic home turned museum of the author of Gone with the Wind? The three-story brick home in Midtown features the movie mockup of Tara’s front door and even an oversize GWTW poster with head cutouts for the photo convenience of Scarlett and Rhett wannabes.
High Museum of Art: Half a mile from the Mitchell home, this wonderful modern art complex designed by master architect Richard Meier features the best collection of 19th century French masters in the Southeast. There’s not a better place in town to spend a rainy day, unless it’s…
Manuel’s Tavern: Some would argue that you haven’t really met Atlanta until you’ve raised a cold one at Manuel’s. Its lively mix of regulars, a hodgepodge of journalists, doctors, lawyers and politicians, keep the place packed with opinions, laughter and bonhomme.
Buckhead: If you’re a shopper, you will doubtless make a beeline to Buckhead, known internationally as Beverly Hills East. While Buckhead also boasts the Governor’s Mansion, Atlanta History Center and numerous restaurants and nightclubs, its chief claim to fame is its two high-end shopping Meccas, Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza.
The Varsity Drive-In: Wait, wait; hear me out on this; you have to visit the Varsity or you’ll kick yourself later. Opened in 1928, this crazy-busy, two-acre drive-up accommodates 600 vehicles and 800 junk food gourmands inside, where their trademark counter chant, “What’ll ya have?” will echo in your ears for days. Come on, you want to say you ate at a place that makes two miles of hotdogs, 2,500 pounds of French fries and 300 gallons of chili a day, right?
Stone Mountain Park: While the Confederacy may have fallen out of favor lately, this mountainside Civil War memorial carving that depicts Confederate President Jefferson Davis with Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson endures as the Mount Rushmore of the South.
The Fox Theater: Opened in 1929 as a movie theater, the opulent, Moor-inspired Fox ranks as the premier concert venue in the ATL. The “Mighty Mo,” the theater’s 4,000-pipe pipe organ, cranks up before Broadway shows and the Atlanta Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker.
Centennial Olympic Park: Built for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, this 21-acre urban park has since become the center for outdoor concerts, family fun and charity runs in the ATL.
Atlanta Beltline: Street art meets outdoor fun along this 22-mile former rail corridor. Similar to New York’s High Line, the Beltline will eventually encircle Atlanta with 33 miles of multiuse trails. The funky Krog Street Market, with its produce stalls, food stalls and brewery, is just a taste of the urban hipness to come.
Lake Lanier: If you have a day or two to burn, a multitude of waterborne pleasures awaits just 50 miles north at Lake Lanier. Whether you prefer a campsite, cabin, bed & breakfast or a legacy villa at Lanier Islands Resort, the natural beauty of the Georgia Piedmont is sure to inspire a return visit.
Photo credits: Atlanta Skyline (Shutterstock); Centennial Park at night (Shutterstock); High Museum of Art (f11photo / Shutterstock.com); Stone Mountain State Park at dusk (Shutterstock); Fox Theater (f11photo / Shutterstock.com).