I’ve been itching to visit Atlanta for years. Ever since the city hosted the 1996 Olympics, I’ve been fascinated by the city. The city has been at the forefront for a few of the 20th century’s most important cultural movements—ranging from the civil rights movement to hip-hop, and of course the headquarters for the world’s most popular soda.
SPONSORED — Atlanta is a bit of a bubble in the south, but at the same time it’s also generally referred to as the “Capital of the South.” It’s Southern, with all its southern cuteness & hospitality, but also very cosmopolitan.
With a thriving culture over the past decade thanks to the city’s affordability and job market (including a growing film industry), there’s an increasingly diverse community of people calling Atlanta home.
Use this guide to discover some of the coolest spots in Atlanta today.
7 of the Coolest Things to Do in Atlanta
BeltLine & the Ponce City Market
The BeltLine is a trail that runs through the Old Fourth Ward along an old railway track, but today it’s a great place for a Sunday stroll. You’ll find lots of beer gardens, street art, cool shops, and great people-watching along the route, including the Ponce City Market shopping center and food hall.
Many of the buildings along the trail route are still under development, but the restaurants and bars you’ll find along the way today can get crowded on weekends. Keep an eye out for the street art along the route. And if or when it gets too hot, just pop into the large Ponce City Market. The building was a former Sears, Roebuck & Co warehouse and showroom, and an amusement park before that.
In the basement of the Ponce City Market, you’ll find a large food hall with great budget dining options. While the shops inside range from the traditional to the funky, but the real highlight of the place is the rooftop where you’ll find a large entertainment space and great views over Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. The rooftop space also hosts regular special events and festivals, especially around the holidays.
Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium
One of the most unique bars in Atlanta, Sister Louisa’s is a funky space with queer vibes. Very much a hipster dive, the second floor of the bar has a ping pong table where weekly tournaments are hosted.
At first glance in the bar, what stands out the most is the wacky and fun décor. Framed portraits, bizarre signs, and other bric-a-brac hang from the ceiling and line every space of wall. Any wall space that’s not covered up with some unique (and weird) art, is painted with poetry and graffiti.
Most of the art is predictably church-related, and there’s even a Wednesday night church organ karaoke. Drinks at the bar are cheap, the crowds are fun and friendly, and the vibe is one-of-a-kind.
Old Fourth Distillery & The Locker Club
Located on Edgewood Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta’s local Old Fourth Distillery was the city’s first distillery to open in nearly 100 years. Started by two brothers, they use a hyper-local approach to make their vodka, gin, and whiskey.
The distillery offers tours during the day, but on weekends (Thursday to Saturday), the distillery opens up as a speakeasy cocktail club, called The Locker Club. In the early 1900s, during the time of Prohibition, Locker clubs were private clubs where alcohol was kept locked away and only served to club members—a unique Atlanta experience.
Drinks at the cocktail bar are high quality, imaginative, and also use local ingredients, keeping with the company ethos.
Atlanta Movie Tours
Atlanta’s pop culture renaissance has been caused by a number of reasons, but the city’s location in thousands of films & TV series (whether obviously or not) has certainly helped to build up the city’s international reputation.
Since the 1970s, Georgia has actively sought for film & TV shows to be produced in the state, and the city regularly features prominently in those. Not to mention the celebrities that flock to the city for work! Atlanta Movie Tours offers a unique way to experience Atlanta through a cinematic lens. Their tours (and they have many!) take visitors to behind-the-scenes spots in the greater Atlanta region, plus include personal stories from the guides about life in the film industry.
Some of the highlights of the tour include spots from movies & shows: Ant-Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Captain America: Civil War, The Vampire Diaries, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Sully, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay parts 1 & 2, and The Walking Dead.
Cocktails at Atlanta Botanical Garden
Located in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Garden includes 30 acres of curated plant exhibitions and collections. Open since the 1970s, the sprawling destination offers a romantic and enjoyable way to experience nature in the city.
Through the summer, every Thursday the Atlanta Botanical Garden stays open late for “Cocktails in the Garden”—a night of live music performances and cocktail bars throughout the grounds. It’s an especially romantic way to enjoy the gardens during the early evening. A current exhibition featuring giant topiary-like plant sculptures inspired by Alice in Wonderland is both beautiful and impressive.
EAT & DRINK
Downtown Atlanta is where most tourist sites are located, and because it’s also the business district, evenings may seem quiet in the area. But show up to Trader Vic’s on a Thursday night and you’ll be met with a bustling crowd.
The spacious bar and restaurant is located in the basement of the Hilton Atlanta property. With plenty of space for visitors and a large bar area (with a wood-fire stove!), Trader Vic’s is a fun and lively location for friends to meet up. The small chain restaurant & bar claims its fame from being the home of the original Mai Tai drink. Operating as a global restaurant since the 1930s, the bar menu includes a number of rum tiki-style drinks, each in their own unique glasses.
In Atlanta, the restaurant looks and feels like a Pacific island. A palm-thatched ceiling, wooden pillars, and wicker chairs add to the ambiance—as does the giant wood-fire oven in the center of the bar area. Dishes at the restaurant are all international, inspired by the Pacific islands from which Trader Vic’s takes its style.
The American Hotel
This historic hotel in Atlanta’s Downtown is a fun & funky place to stay, that’s both convenient and cool. The American Hotel was Atlanta’s first modern hotel and the first in the downtown Atlanta to desegregate during the civil rights movement. As such an important location, the hotel has hosted important visitors throughout history.
Recently renovated, the hotel is designed with a mid-century modern aesthetic. In the quiet backyard of the hotel there’s an Airstream trailer (open on weekends) next to the swimming pool. And inside, 1960s artifacts and furniture make up the lobby and common spaces. Black-and-white photographs and letters from local civil rights leaders are scattered along the lobby walls.
Staying at The American Hotel is a bit like going back in time. It feels like the mid-century, but the amenities of the hotel are all very modern. Rooms are spacious, and those looking out on the pool have balconies—perfect for soaking up the sun!
Note: My trip to Atlanta was sponsored and supported by Hiltons of Atlanta. All opinions here, as always, are my own.