For those of you that have never been to Atlanta (and no, the airport doesn’t count), you’re missing out. The unofficial Capital of the South has been making a lot of changes recently that easily put it within the top 10 must-see cities in America. Get a taste for Nouvelle Southern food (or not, Atlanta has a diverse range of cuisines), bike the BeltLine, and more in our three-day weekend guide to the ATL.
Day 1 // Friday
We don’t always advocate for visiting a city’s top tourist destination but the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site is definitely worth your time (plus, it’s free). While learning about the history of the larger civil rights movement, you can also get a glimpse into the life of MLK Jr himself by touring his birth home and the church where both he and his father preached. Within the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change (founded by Coretta Scott King in 1968) you’ll be able to view the tombs of both Dr. & Mrs. King as well as exhibits dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks.
Craving even more history? The Oakland Cemetery is just a 5-minute drive away. Spend your time looking for the graves of notable locals, such as Margaret Mitchell (author of Gone with the Wind) or time your visit with their annual summer music festival Tunes from the Tombs (June 10).
For a casual lunch drive up to Antico Pizza. Many claim this fresh-made Italian-style pizza is the best they’ve ever had (we’ll leave that judgement up to you). Order a Margherita DOP or San Gennaro pizza, bring a bottle of red wine (it’s BYOB), and find a friendly neighbor to sit next to (the whole restaurant has shared seating). Need your sugar fix? Just down the block lies Sublime Doughnuts. Sublime’s regular flavors alone would be enough of a draw to this local favorite (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and Strawberries & Cream are two faves). But it’s the “burgers” that set Sublime apart: fresh ice cream nestled between two doughnuts. Sinfully good.
After lunch, drive over to nearby Piedmont Park. One of Atlanta’s best parks (many call it the Central Park of Atlanta), Piedmont has plenty for both locals and out-of-towners to do. We suggest finding your way to the lake to catch gorgeous views of the city skyline.
While at Piedmont, check out the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. The Canopy Walk (a 600-ft long suspended bridge through the city’s last urban forest) and the orchids inside the greenhouses are both must-sees.
With a number of access points, Piedmont is also the perfect place to get onto the BeltLine. The BeltLine is a former railway corridor surrounding Atlanta’s core that is being turned into 22 miles of multi-use trails. To see more of the trail, bike it. Grab a rental from Mountain High Outfitters and head onto the Eastside trail. There are plenty of places you’ll likely want to stop to explore on the way so it’s good to know a three-hour rental is only $15. And if you’re a biking enthusiast, you can register for the free Saturday morning bike tours but just know, they fill up and you’ll need to be able to bike 10+ miles comfortably.
Close out your day with some comfort food and a laugh. Vortex Bar & Grill in Midtown has a comedy club, Laughing Skull, in the back so you can grab a bite to eat before the show starts (best to buy your show tickets in advance). Vortex is a classic burger joint with a bit of sass (Hot Tip: it’s strictly 21+). Expect to see Food Network favorites on the menu such as the Coronary BypassTM (two bacon grilled cheese sandwich “buns” surrounding a ½ lb burger, 10 slices of cheese, a fried egg, & 9 strips of bacon—and no substitutions allowed). And Laughing Stock has been voted the best comedy club in Atlanta so you’re sure to burn off all those calories by laughing all night—that is how that works, right?
Day 2 // Saturday
If Southern food doesn’t conjure up images of drool-worthy brunch, then we don’t know what does. For your first brunch of the weekend, head to Home Grown. This unassuming restaurant is a little way off the main drag so you’ll be able to eat your budget-friendly brunch with less of a wait (note, there will still be a wait). Everything is good but there’s a reason the Comfy Chicken Biscuit & the Friend Pork Chops are favorites. Delicious!
If your visit is in the warm season, then it’s time to Shoot the Hooch. This gear rental company will rent you rafts, canoes, kayaks, tubes, or SUPs so you can float on down the Chattahoochee River (less than an hour outside Downtown). Reserve your gear in advance and show up ready to raft (bathing suits & any beverages you might want to bring are advised). There are a few different routes you can take so timing can be anywhere from 1 to 7 hours.
Alternate option: Fans of the Walking Dead are in luck because much of the show was filmed in Senoia, a town just an hour outside Atlanta. Georgia Mercantile Company holds daily two-hour long walking tours where in just 2 miles, you can see everything from Woodbury to Alexandria. For those looking to amp up the excitement, they also have a 6-hour option that puts you right in the story—goal: survive the ride.
For an afternoon pick-me-up try Octane Coffee (if you can make it to the Westside location, go there). You can get an awesome single-origin French Press (or opt for the more interesting Americola—espresso on ice mixed with a bottle of Mexican Coke) and the food is pretty great. Alternatively, if you’re not the DD, stop by one of Atlanta’s many craft breweries. Red Brick Brewing is the city’s oldest (for a good reason) but Sweetwater Brewing is another one of our faves (check out one of their daily facility tours).
Once you’ve cleaned up (or not—we won’t judge you if you go to dinner in your bathing suit), head to Empire State South to get a taste of chef Hugh Acheson’s take on nouvelle Southern cuisine. Don’t miss out on his signature “ESS Farm Egg” served with crunchy rice. Sit outside, have a cocktail, and maybe even play a game of bocce ball on their outdoor court.
Finally, if you can find a get tickets, head down the block to the iconic Fox Theater (built in 1929) for a performance (the theater holds everything from concerts to Broadway musicals). If that’s not enough nostalgia for you, there’s always the Starlight Drive-In, where you actually drive up, park, and watch a movie in your car. Just like the good ol’ days.
Alternate option: Want to see the city at night? You have a few good options. Whiskey Blue in trendy Buckhead is a swanky lounge with a rooftop overlooking both Buckhead & Downtown Atlanta. Or, you could go to Downtown itself to ride the SkyView Ferris wheel in Centennial Park. Touristy? Yes. But you’re really going to enjoy that view.
Day 3 // Sunday
Last day of the weekend means one more chance for brunch. Hit up Two Urban Licks on the BeltLine for a bougie brunch. Live music, an extensive menu, and a great view. All the food is great but don’t miss out on the cheddar biscuits.
Just a quick drive out of the city sits Stone Mountain Park. The name is deceiving, but Stone Mountain is actually a monadrock (basically, a massive hardened blob of lava). You can climb the 1 mile trail to the top for an awesome view (possibly the best in the city), hike the surrounding trails, or pay for entry into all of the park’s attractions (including a railroad and multiple rides).
Once back in the city head over to Ponce City Market. Located in the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building, Ponce City Market is an upscale market with tons of food & shopping options. There are a ton of food options so deciding what you want for lunch may be dizzying. Try H&F Burger for a classic—you guessed it—burger or Botiwalla for street-style Indian food. And once you’ve eaten head to the roof to visit Skyline Park, a rooftop carnival with activities (like putt-putt) & some bomb frosé. Plus, the view of the city skyline is not to be missed.
You still have a little time left so live up being a tourist and head to Centennial Olympic Park again to take your pick of all the attractions. Surrounding the park, you’ll find the Georgia Aquarium (swim with the whale sharks), College Football Hall of Fame (try the interactive exhibits like the augmented reality booth where you can experience great moments in sports history), CNN Center (take a tour of their studios), and the Center for Civil & Human Rights (see exhibits that tell the story of the civil rights movement in a visceral & powerful way).
And finally, if you still have time before you make the trek home, catch a Sunday Supper at JCT Kitchen. The menu varies week to week but for $26 a head, you’ll receive warm biscuits with jam, deviled eggs, a “farm stand” salad, one entrée per person, three sides to share, and dessert. Now that’s how you finish out a weekend in the South.
Where to Stay
Many of Atlanta’s neighborhoods are great for visitors but we would particularly recommend these three for their convenience and number of attractions.
- Little Five Points (L5P) – artsy & eclectic
- Buckhead – ritzy area with lots of shopping
- Midtown – cultural center with great restaurants & shopping
- Loews Atlanta – excellent customer service, great rooms and great location in the heart of midtown
- Hyatt House Atlanta Downtown – new hotel in heart of downtown that is affordable and directly across from all of the attractions around Centennial Park.
Cars are the easiest mode of transportation so if you don’t have your own, consider renting one. Be warned though, you’ll want to check the parking options for your destinations first as some are limited. Using Uber or Lyft can be a good backup. Don’t write off the MARTA though; the public transportation option can be a good way to get around the city’s core.
Best time to visit:
Spring and Fall are the best times to take advantage of all Atlanta’s outdoor activities while avoiding the summer humidity. But you’ll still find plenty to do in both Summer & Winter.
- Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site
- King Center for Nonviolent Social Change
- Oakland Cemetery
- Piedmont Park
- Atlanta Botanical Gardens
- The BeltLine
- Laughing Skull Comedy Club
- Shoot the Hooch
- Walking Dead tour with Georgia Mercantile Company
- Fox Theater
- Starlight Drive-In
- SkyView Ferris wheel
- Stone Mountain Park
- Skyline Park
- Centennial Olympic Park
- Georgia Aquarium
- College Football Hall of Fame
- CNN Center
- Center for Civil & Human Rights
- Antico Pizza
- Vortex Bar & Grill
- Home Grown
- Empire State South
- Two Urban Licks
- Ponce City Market
- JCT Kitchen