Atlanta has about six million local experts and each and every one is eager to share their thoughts on this city. Some will want to rave about our food and art and music. Others might gripe about our infrastructure. A couple will point out where major moments in The Walking Dead took place. If you’re an Atlanta local, you’ve got an opinion on all of these things.
I have lived here for 30 years. I rode The Pink Pig as a young lad then again as a wiseacre high schooler. I remember Screen on the Green and Music Midtown at the Civic Center and fellow Atlantan Marquis Grissom catching the final out of the 1995 World Series. I even vaguely remember seeing a big giant party called Freaknik.
Today I share with you some of my tips and tricks for visiting our massive, sprawling city. You don’t have to use them but you also can’t complain when you find yourself in 5 o’clock traffic.
Download all the apps
The first thing you need to know about Atlanta… there’s a bit of traffic. Atlanta is the ninth largest metro area in the country and almost everyone commutes by car. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic the whole time you’re here so you’ll need to get creative. Marta (our bus and rail transit) is great for going North to South or East to West in Atlanta but you’ll need to fill in some gaps. We think you should use the city bike share, Relay Bikes or a scooter company like Bird (or Lyft… or Lime… or Uber). Of course, if you want to have a drink or two while you’re out and about please use a rideshare app like the aforementioned Lyft. And make sure to skip the lines at the Marta stations by preloading your ride card at Breezecard.com.
There’s more to The Beltline than just the Eastside Trail
If you’re searching for good food, art, beer, or exercise, someone has probably told you about The Beltline already. The Beltline is an ongoing project to connect Atlanta’s neighborhoods by converting unused railway beds into multi-use trails. But when someone says, “The Beltline” they’re generally referring to the Eastside Trail which runs from the Old Fourth Ward to Piedmont Park in Midtown. We’re guilty of it too but we also can’t recommend the other portions enough. The Westside Beltline is home to some of Atlanta’s best eating and drinking stops and the Northside trail is a great, quiet place to run off those calories.
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Friday was a night to remember – even though #atlcyclingfest is done for the year, there are still incredible rides happening all over the city, almost everyday. Thanks to @anotherloudperson, we had the pleasure of riding on the almost complete SW #beltline trail. Get out there and explore on two wheels! #bikeatl #atl #bikeallday
Some of Atlanta’s best restaurants are cash only
Atlanta is a capital f, capital t, Food Town. You can find a whole world of flavors and experiences here but that also means you need to be prepared for anything. Some local favorite restaurants are cash only like Quoc Hong on Buford Highway, Java Jive in Poncey-Highland, and all locations of Thumbs Up Diner. Usually those spots have an ATM inside the business, but you just can’t take that chance. A good rule to adhere to is that if the restaurant doesn’t have a social media presence, play it safe and bring some cash.
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Vermicelli love at at Quoc Huong on @welovebuhi !!! Tons of BBQ pork made my day ❤️ When you want some tasty Vietnamese fast food, this is the place to go! #quochuong #welovebuhi #vietnamesefood #banhmi #fastfood #vermicelli #pork #brunch #breakfast #atl #atleats #atlanta #atlantaeats #atlfoodie #eatl #eatlanta #eeeeeats #eateratl #foodie #weloveatl #foodies #foodpics #weloveatl @atlantaeatstv @yelpatlanta @eatingthroughatlanta @atl_bucketlist @bestfoodatlanta @atlantafoodporn @atladventurer @atlantarestaurants @atlantaxplrr @discoveratlanta @diningoutatl @eatyourheartoutatl @eathereatl @eatlfoodie @atlfoodie @igotfoodsinatlanta
We all love a rooftop bar or mountain hike but some of the best views of this city are found out and about in the city. Locals generally like to keep these spots a hush hush but we don’t mind sharing a few (seeing as there are plenty of examples on Instagram already). The parking deck on the SCAD campus has a stunning view of Midtown, as does both Tower Street and 17th Street in Atlantic Station. If you prefer an air-conditioned view, take the elevator to the top of the Hilton downtown. That one is a business though so be cool and buy a drink at Trader Vic’s downstairs after you get your picture. You won’t regret it.
Keep an eye out for tiny artwork
Atlanta is covered in great artwork. Projects like Living Walls and Forward Warrior have turned blank walls into destinations for locals and tourists alike. We have statues and monuments for city leaders and conceptual commentaries on the city itself. But some of the best public art to look out for is small. Real small. Southern Weekend favorites Tiny Doors ATL spreads mini moments of whimsy with each of their minuscule installations. Other tiny art can be found on the #FAFATL hashtag. Artists’ petite pieces are meant to be collected. Artists tweet where they dropped their latest work and then the race is on. Think of it as a very small souvenir to being back home.
There are chicken bones everywhere
This has been well covered by local publications but, yea, Atlanta is covered in discarded chicken wing bones. The Wings of Atlanta Instagram even tracks them for you. You’ll see them when you’re here and it’s nothing to worry about. Just keep walking.
Get a free history lesson
Atlanta has tons of amazing museums to visit but hitting them all in one weekend could get expensive. Thankfully, some of the city’s best historical sites are completely free to visit. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and Ebenezer Baptist Church are must-sees for visitors and locals alike. And Oakland Cemetery tells the story of early Atlanta through Civil War era graves and beautiful gardens and monuments. Plus, Oakland Cemetery has a great view of the downtown skyline. It’s kind of like the last shot of Gangs of New York but, you know, real.
Sit at the counter
Thanks to Atlanta’s traffic situation, locals are used to long waits. That can be problematic at brunch time with weekend food lines lasting for multiple hours. The real trick to a hearty weekend breakfast is to sit at the counter. Places like Homegrown and Gato always seem to have an open seat at the bar. Other great spots like Sean’s Harvest Market and Le Petite Marche let you order at the counter then get you on your way quickly. I mean, c’mon, it’s the morning. You don’t need talk to anyone.
One of Atlanta’s best clubs is in the basement of a Mexican restaurant
OK so you’ve made it to Atlanta, you got some good photos, ate some good food… now what? Well, every local knows that one of the best clubs in the city sits underneath a Mexican restaurant with a cartoon chili for a logo. The club is El Bar. It’s crowded, it’s dark, it’s loud, and it’s perfect. Just remember, the easiest way to look like a tourist is to make a song request at the DJ booth. Instead, go for their shot and a beer special and enjoy the ride.
Skip the lines at airport security by going to the international terminal
This is my single best Atlanta tip so all of you have to promise not to abuse it. Seriously. Be cool. If you’re worried about long lines at the domestic terminal you can go through security at the international terminal then take the train back to the domestic gates. You’ll need to enter the international terminal from I-75 instead of I-85 or Camp Creek Parkway but the detour is can be worth it at peak travel times. And if you decide to walk you’ll pass some great food options and cool artwork like the jungle instillation in concourse B.