48 Hours to Fall in Love with Atlanta, Georgia
I sometimes run into a problem, er, a habit whenever I go to a new city for a short amount of time, where I get stuck within the confines of the ‘concrete jungle.’ In so many cities, it’s so easy to hang out downtown, isn’t it? Most places you need to know about are walking distance, and there’s always something interesting buzzing around at all hours of the day. Sometimes, this is perfectly fine. But if you ever find yourself in Atlanta, you’ll quickly figure out that the things worth seeing, doing, and experiencing extend far and wide outside what would typically be considered the city center of Georgia’s capital. That’s what I learned after my weekend romping around the infamous ATL, and thanks to some great recommendations from coworkers, friends, and the internet, I was able to see several parts of the city and surrounds in a pretty short amount of time.
But first, let’s backtrack for a second so I can set the scene for you. If you’ve been following the blog or the Instagram for a while (heyyyyy!!! TYSM), you might already know that last year I made a conscious decision to stop overlooking domestic (USA) travel. For the majority of my life, for whatever reason, I was avoidant of any and all things US, besides the usual suspects like New York and San Francisco, opting instead to prioritize far-off destinations with names I couldn’t pronounce in countries that would reward me with passport stamps. I changed that up in 2018 once I remembered just how many incredible things there were to see and experience right here at home, and that I needed to put an end to my bias, STAT. So when Jacob (my boyfriend) told me he was going to be heading to Atlanta for a conference (the #Menfluential menswear conference, to be exact), I jumped at the chance to add state number 13 to my newly-growing list. I know, I have a long, long way to go.
So, with just about 2 full days in Atlanta to myself to explore, and despite flying solo most of the time while Jacob networked his heart (and his voice, which was sadly lost on day #1, leading to some funny memories playing charades at a busy restaurant to figure out what we wanted to order) away, I was able to cover a ton of ground. And while I didn’t hit any of the ‘touristy’ spots (you won’t see Coca Cola anywhere in this blog post, sorry), I did fill up my 48 hours with incredible food, diverse neighborhoods, and cocktails and beer so good that you’d think Southern hospitality could be bottled and sold.
Here’s how to spend an incredible 48 hours in Atlanta, Georgia
10 am - Explore Downtown Decatur
I started my weekend outside of the city, in a seemingly sleepy neighborhood just a few miles outside of Atlanta’s central business district, on a recommendation from a coworker. Decatur is a charming place to get your bearings because the neighborhood consists primarily of old (like, 100-200 year-old old) mansions and historic brick homes, giant trees, and large, grand lawns that do not exist in LA but are a trademark of the south. In around 1-2 hours, you can grab a cup of coffee (try Dancing Goat’s Coffee Bar), walk around the area, and pop into some of the town’s eclectic shops.
Because of how far it was from downtown, I was especially curious about Decatur because I often find the further I get from a city center, the closer I get to knowing the people and the culture, and that was definitely the case here. In the short 2 hours I Spent in Decatur, I listened to old men debate coffee culture as Atlanta begins to ‘hipsterize,’ I watched optimistic kids make games out of the colorful crosswalks and town squares despite the miserable weather, I pieced together signs along sidewalks that explained Decatur’s significance in Georgia’s history, and I had a random conversation with a brazen and extremely talkative 61 year-old born-and-bred Georgian gentleman who explained Atlantan pronunciations of words I was botching (like Decatur, pronounced locally as Deh-Kay-Tur), and held his umbrella for me until the minute my Uber arrived to transport me back to the city.
12 pm - Check out Ponce City Market
Once I had my fill of conversation and coffee in Decatur, I was starving, and I had my sights set on Ponce City Market. Not really knowing what to expect, my eyes lit up when I saw the tall red-brick facade, the giant and oh-so-photographable market signs, and the well-manicured areas for sitting with friends and lazing the day away. Ponce City Market is a beautiful space that offers everything from name-brand and boutique shopping to a number of different restaurants, coffee shops, and watering holes. If you’re hungry and looking to get a tasty introduction to Atlanta’s food scene, Ponce City Market is a great place to start.
I grabbed coffee from Spiller Park Coffee, a spicy chicken sandwich from Hop’s Chicken, and a beer from The Tap on Ponce. I ate fried chicken 2 or 3 times over the course of the weekend, and this was my favorite bite out of them all, hands down.
3 pm - Walk (or Rent a Scooter or Bike) up the Beltline to Piedmont Park
After exploring the Ponce City Market, I knew I wanted to check out the Beltline – Atlanta’s answer to encouraging safe pedestrian and bike / scooter transit around the city center. The Beltline is actually a full ‘urban hiking trail’ loop around the entire city that has something to offer at pretty much every turn. I knew I wanted to walk the Beltline at some point during my weekend, but I didn’t know that Ponce City Market was literally right off the Beltline until I saw signs leading me upstairs while I was eating my chicken sandwich! I finished eating, headed upstairs and through a tunnel, and found myself smack in the middle of a flurry of scooters, bikers, walkers, runners, dog walkers (and dogs!!) all sharing a wide sidewalk swirling through the city. It was honestly surprising how such a simple landmark (a sidewalk, after all) was such a fun experience to witness, and despite the cold I was pretty excited about it!
I rented a scooter and wizzed my way up towards Piedmont Park, about 1 mile north up the Beltline from Ponce City Market. The cool thing about the Beltline, at least in this part of the city, is that there are so many cool stops lining the sidewalk along your journey, from breweries and ice cream shops to markets, restaurants, and street art. I had to force myself not to stop at each place, having just stuffed my face with chicken and beer. Within 10 minutes, I was at the base of Piedmont Park.
Piedmont Park is to Atlanta what Central Park is to Manhattan. It’s gigantic, spanning several city blocks in Midtown, and various paved pathways, sidewalks, and lounge areas throughout make it easy for urban exploring. Walk along the pond and hang out on a swing next to some ducks in the middle of town. This is where I spent my sunset on day 1 of my 2 days in Atlanta (totally accidentally) and it could not have been a more perfect way to do it.
8 pm - Grab A Bite and a Sip in Inman Park
At night, I synched up with Jacob to grab dinner in another central neighborhood, Inman Park. We ate at Barcelona Wine Bar, and while it’s not the quintessential Southern joint you’re probably looking for while in this part of the country, it was some of the BEST and most unique Spanish tapas I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Afterwards, we crossed the street and hit up Little Spirit, a cute–and packed–cocktail bar with some really delicious drinks. The one I ordered had peach liqueur, bourbon, mint, and lemon, and Jacob said that “it tasted like it was saying ‘thank you’” with each sip. I think that was a compliment, because the drink was damn good.
1 am - Have a Late Night at the Waffle House
It’s funny how when I’m back home in LA, you’ll almost never find me noshing on fast food in the early hours of the morning. At least, not since college. But in different cities, I feel like to do so is simply a cultural experience. And who can say no to delicious but absolutely not-good-for-you food when it’s past midnight and you’ve had 2 or 3 ‘thank you’ cocktails? We wandered into Waffle House right before the post-2 am bar crowd arrived and snagged one of the last tables, and we each got chocolate chip waffles and hash browns smothered in gravy.
9 am - Grab Coffee
Those two guys in Decatur talking about the buzzing coffee scene in Atlanta were not wrong – there are lots of good places to choose from, each with its own unique ambiance. In addition to the coffee shop at Ponce City Market, I also liked Condesa Coffee on Auburn Ave, which is a perfect starting point for another day spent east of downtown.
10 am - Snap a Photo at the Jackson Street Bridge
I actually didn’t know about Jackson Street Bridge until I looked at Google Maps while at Condesa Coffee to see where I was, and noticed a camera icon on Maps not too far from me (I’m a curious sucker for that camera icon). After some quick research, I found out that this bridge is a famous angle for photographing the city. So famous, in fact, that The Walking Dead has even used this bridge as an epic setting for the show. Of course, we had to stop here for a photo.
11 am - Walk in MLK’s Footsteps in Sweet Auburn
Straight down Jackson Street just a couple of blocks from the bridge, you’ll find yourself in Sweet Auburn, the childhood stomping grounds of Martin Luther King Jr.. While a stroll through Sweet Auburn isn’t necessarily extremely eventful (unless you reserve a free tour of the MLK residence in advance), it is still fascinating to walk in the footsteps of the MLK family. We explored the MLK house (which dates back to 1895), the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the MLK Visitor Center, where the tombs of MLK Jr and Coretta are located.
12 pm - Check out Krog Street Market
Just over a half mile away from Sweet Auburn and back near the east Beltline, you’ll find Krog Street Market, another, smaller version of Ponce City Market that offers a number of food vendors and boutiques. We walked around, grabbed ice cream around the corner at Jake’s Ice Cream (thin mint ice cream!), and headed up the Beltline for a restaurant that couldn’t be found at either market but that was extremely highly recommended by several people I talked to about Atlanta when I was researching for this trip.
1 pm - Have Brunch at Ladybird Mess Hall
Located right on the Beltline, Ladybird dubs itself the ‘base camp for the urban explorer,’ and that storyline is evident in the restaurant’s menu, decor, and overall vibe. A popular brunch and lunch spot, there was a 45 minute wait when we got here at 1 pm on a Sunday, but we weren’t even mad about it, because the restaurant actually has a pretty spacious beer garden right out front where people can grab a beer (or a cocktail) and hang out while waiting to be seated. Why don’t more restaurants do this?
The ambiance of this restaurant was a true 10/10, but after my fried chicken experience at Ponce City Market the day before, the chicken biscuit at Ladybird kind of missed the mark. However, the drinks were tasty, the mac and cheese was good, and the experience was one I would absolutely seek out again the next time I’m in Atlanta, so I definitely recommend a visit (but maybe order something other than the chicken biscuit).
4 pm - Check Out a Brewery
I’m a sucker for a good brewery, and there are several to choose from in Atlanta. Because I have a penchant for sour beer, we chose to go to Orpheus Brewing, located at the northern end of Piedmont Park. With a gorgeous little outdoor seating area overlooking the park, this felt like a little secret oasis far removed from the city, and made for the perfect ending on day 2 of my 48 hours in Atlanta.
6 pm - Grab One Last Bite
Depending on what time your flight home is, you might have time to grab one last proper southern meal for dinner before you go. If you do, definitely head to Mary Mac’s Tea Room. I got so many recommendations about this place when I told my friends I was going to Atlanta, and when we showed up, the restaurant was packed with what looked like locals and tourists alike. Unfortunately, the restaurant was so popular that the wait was long, so we couldn’t go without risking missing our flight (though, for an amazing plate of food, I probably would have... It’s a good thing Jacob is more practical than I am).
Have you ever been to Atlanta? If it wasn’t on your radar, I hope this post helps change your mind! Tell me what you think in the comments below!