The Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola are great attractions for the first time visitor to Atlanta, but locals have likely already been there and done that. To vacation in the city like a local, visit one of the unique Atlanta neighborhoods.
Explore Atlanta's Neighborhoods Like a Local
Time, gentrification, urban renewal and shifting demographics have created a patchwork of Atlanta neighborhoods, each with a distinct personality. Most tourists know the downtown area of Atlanta with its concentration of tourist attractions, but there are lots of other neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor. Here are seven Atlanta area neighborhoods worthy of exploration.
Explore the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood
Recognized as a federal historic district, and a City of Atlanta Landmark District, Castleberry Hill was once a factory-warehouse area but is now best known for its growing arts scene, restaurants and loft residences. The community sponsors the 2nd Friday Art Stroll that includes numerous galleries, restaurants and retail events. This event was the readers pick for best neighborhood art walk by Creative Loafing, the city’s alternative newspaper. Our visit to the art stroll made me feel like I was in a totally different city than my hometown. After viewing some interesting galleries, we grabbed a bite at No Mas! Cantina. The night we went, there was a women reading tarot cards as folks waited for their seats.
Voted one of America’s Best Secret Neighborhoods by Travel + Leisure in 2012, Cabbagetown is an up and coming star of Atlanta neighborhoods. It was originally built for the blue-collar factory workers at the nearby Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill. An unlikely attraction here is Historic Oakland Cemetery, a garden cemetery that is the final resting place of many of Atlanta’s movers and shakers, including golfer Bobby Jones and author Margaret Mitchell. Oakland is one of the liveliest places in Atlanta with frequent historic and specialty tours, as well as family friendly festivals like Sunday in the Park, Halloween tours and Tunes from the Tombs.
Explore Atlanta's Buckhead Neighborhood
This area north of downtown is known as one of the most affluent communities in the south. Take a drive by the stately southern homes and gardens along West Paces Ferry and Habersham Roads. Habersham is especially beautiful in late March early April when the dogwoods and azaleas are in full bloom. Shop at some of the city’s trendiest boutiques, as well as upscale shopping mall Phipps Plaza, and Lenox Square mall. The newly opened Buckhead Atlanta shopping district includes a 70,000 square foot, 6-story Restoration Hardware design gallery. Even if you don’t want to shop, take the elevator to the 8,000 square foot rooftop conservatory with a formal estate garden, reflecting pool and some killer views of the city. Across the street are high-end boutiques like Christian Louboutin, Hermes, Jimmy Choo, and Tods. There are also several upscale eatries, but the line you see is likely for a burger, fries and concrete at Atlanta’s first Shake Shack location.
Explore the Sweet Auburn Historic District
The Sweet Auburn Historic District is a mile and half stretch along Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta. At the turn of the century, this area was one of the wealthiest African American streets in the world. During the 1960’s it was the center of the civil rights movement and home to Rev. Martin Luther King. After a period of decline, Sweet Auburn is experiencing a resurrection. The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a great place to go for lunch or dinner. Experience cuisine from around the world, my favorite is Venezuelan Arepas from Arepa Mia. A must stop attraction in this area of town is the MLK National Historic site. Get there early if you want to tour MLK’s birth home. They only have a limited number of spaces and they go on a first come-first served basis.
Explore Downtown Decatur
The Decatur Square is a destination for families, couples and friends and is adjacent to a MARTA rail stop, making it a destination even if you don't have a car in the city. The old county courthouse anchors the area and an outdoor pavilion hosts concerts Saturday evenings in May and September and numerous community festivals. The walkable downtown area has an array of local shops and restaurants. Kids will especially enjoy the local book store, Little Shop of Stories. My favorite way to explore Decatur is with a Cluetown Book scavenger hunt, where you have to solve puzzles to unlock your next destination.
Explore Midtown Atlanta
Midtown is the heart of Atlanta’s arts scene with the High Museum, Woodruff Arts Center, Alliance Theatre, Fox Theatre and Center for Puppetry Arts. This is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Atlanta with a mix of high-rise condos and trendy restaurants along Peachtree Street and older bungalow homes and pocket parks on the side streets. Midtown is also home to Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, which offers various forms of recreation and community festivals. For a bit of fantasy, take an Atlanta Movie Tour. My son and I did the Victory tour and had a great time visiting the actual movie locations from the Hunger Games. My favorite spot is the Goat Farm, an industrial site turned arts center in Midtown's west side. You'll see it in the movies as District 12.
Explore Little Five Points
Little Five Points is one of Atlanta’s oldest and most unique commercial districts. Known as L5P, this neighborhood has an alternative feel with several independently owned and one-of-a-kind shops. Junkman’s Daughter carries a variety of items and has attracted costume designers from Atlanta’s burgeoning movie scene. Criminal Records offers old school vinyl, as well as CDs and hard to find comics. L5P has a vibrant music scene with several live venues and funky bars like Star Bar with its shrine to Elvis. You have to be over 18 to visit The Vortex restaurant, but anyone can marvel at the giant skull entryway. The edgy L5P Halloween Parade in October is a must see event for all ages.