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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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Piedmont Park is a great place to enjoy a sunset.
Piedmont Park is a great place to enjoy a sunset.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Atlanta

Piedmont Park is a great place to enjoy a sunset.
Piedmont Park is a great place to enjoy a sunset.
  • By Nneka M. Okona
  • Photos by Kevin Liles
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Atlanta has come a long way in its status as an overlooked and underrated city of the South. The film and TV industries have tapped into its particular splendor — there’s been a wild uptick in things shot here — and the tech industry has jumped on the nation’s little special secret.

African American history is woven into the city’s story as much as Southern food and Coca-Cola. It’s the hometown and burial place of Martin Luther King Jr. and was a pivotal place for the civil rights movement. But we implore you to go deeper than what you think you know. Experience Atlanta through its eclectic neighborhoods — some kitschy and some hipster, some suited for shopping and discovering local music, and some quaint, perfect for sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a cup of coffee. All these mix to ensure that once you leave, Georgia will always be on your mind.

Meet Nneka Okona

Nneka has lived in Atlanta since 2016 — this go-round. She’s from Atlanta, by way of Stone Mountain, and returned after living in Madrid and Washington, D.C. She considers herself a true Georgia peach and can’t give up sweet tea and skillet cornbread.

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IN THE ACTION
Inman Park
Inman Park borders the BeltLine Eastside Trail, a network of multi-use trails throughout the city and perfect for those who want to bike, walk or skate to and from spots during their visit. The neighborhood is known for its thriving beer and cocktail scene; this is the site of many Atlantans’ favorite bars. Choose from hotels or bed-and-breakfasts, or go the Airbnb route when staying here. Find this location.
LOW-KEY
Downtown Decatur
Decatur is a suburb east of the city limits, but only by five miles, so it’s easy to get in and out. The Square has a range of restaurants — Iberian Pig, with Spanish-style tapas and cocktails; Raging Burrito for a twist on Mexican eats; and French bistro Cafe Lily — as well as locally owned shops to keep you busy while breaking from the city. You’ll find hotels within walking distance from the Square as well as short-term rentals. Find this location.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
West Egg Cafe
West Egg Cafe is a popular spot for weekend brunches, but this Westside spot also makes good grab-and-go options — especially the build-your-own-biscuits and the tofu scramble that can be tucked in a tortilla. For a true Southern experience, go for the pimento cheese grits, with all ingredients made in-house and to the precise texture (this is key).
BTW: Expect at least an hour wait for brunch on the weekends — or call ahead for an order to go.
West Egg Cafe, 1100 Howell Mill Rd., Atlanta, Ga. 30318
BREAKFAST
Thumbs Up Diner
How do Southerners do breakfast? The way Thumbs Up, a family-owned greasy spoon, does it late into the afternoon. Think favorites like buttermilk biscuits elevated with a dab of butter or marmalade; grits and gravy — lots of gravy; quesadillas, burgers and sandwiches; and even vegan options. There’s truly something for everyone here, whether first thing in the morning or when you crave breakfast well into the day.
BTW: Bring cash. Thumbs Up doesn’t accept credit cards.
Thumbs Up Diner, 826 Marietta St., Atlanta, Ga. 30318
LUNCH
Yasin’s Homestyle Seafood
Fried fish without the frills is what you’ll get at Yasin’s. Walk up to the counter and pick from whiting, tilapia and catfish, and get a side, which is sometimes the best part. The mac and cheese is a prized accompaniment, as are the coleslaw and green beans. Do as Southerners do: Grab a slice of white bread or a hunk of cornbread to enjoy with fish hot from the grease.
BTW: The hush puppies are a must. Most combo meals come with them, but order extra.
Yasin’s Homestyle Seafood, 1080 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., Atlanta, Ga. 30310
LUNCH
Le Petit Marche
Head to the Kirkwood neighborhood to Le Petit Marche, a French-bistro-inspired spot with sandwiches, salads, soups and fresh-baked goods. The meal to order isn’t very French, but it’s the best: the grits stack, a large bowl that’s topped with bacon, scrambled eggs, shrimp and oozing cheese. Originally opened as a market in 2008, the restaurant was saved during the pandemic by new ownership.
BTW: No reservations are taken, and the lunch hour can get busy.
Le Petit Marche, 1984 Hosea L. Williams Dr. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30317
Temporarily closed
DINNER
Atlanta Food Truck Park
Rather than tracking and chasing some of Atlanta’s best food trucks as they move around town, head to the park where a collection of roving vendors gather on the weekends. On an average week, more than 40 food trucks set up shop, including Sweet Auburn Barbecue, Pressed for Time Paninis and the Fry Guy. The trucks vary from week to week and can be previewed online before visiting.
BTW: It’s open only on Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday, and cash is preferred.
Atlanta Food Truck Park, 1850 Howell Mill Rd. NW, Atlanta, Ga. 30318
DINNER
Busy Bee Cafe
Busy Bee Cafe is special for a few reasons: the smothered chicken, Southern-style meatloaf, fried catfish and candied yams. But Busy Bee Cafe is also one of the few original African American-owned restaurants in Atlanta that is still thriving. The restaurant opened in 1947 during a time period when many restaurants were segregated. It remains one of the must-eat places in the city for quintessential soul food.
BTW: You can check wait times for tables online.
Busy Bee Cafe, 810 MLK Jr. Dr. SW, Atlanta, Ga. 30314
LATE-NIGHT
Ticonderoga Club
An Inman Park watering hole, Ticonderoga Club takes colonial-era style and turns it on its head. Named after an 18th-century fort, the ambiance is created by dim lighting in an intimate, basement-like space. Food here is always a surprise — the menu changes often — but expect plenty of seafood. The libations are so good, they even have a national nod: In 2019, the bar was nominated for a James Beard Award.
BTW: This bar is inside of Krog Street Market and is closed Wednesdays.
Ticonderoga Club, 99 Krog St. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30307
LATE-NIGHT
Cafe Intermezzo
Cafe Intermezzo feels as though you’ve stepped into an Old World coffeehouse. And that is precisely what the owners want at this quaint cafe, with pastries, cakes and pies by the slice. Taking a cue from cafes in 1950s Vienna, the lighting is subdued and the walls are dark wood, with bistro-style tables. The coffee is good, the desserts are even better and other menu items, like sandwiches and salads, aren’t half bad, either.
BTW: Parking is a challenge here. Use ride hailing and save yourself the headache.
Cafe Intermezzo, 1065 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30309
(Atlanta illustrator Neil Secretario for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Don’t walk around calling the city “Hotlanta.” No one has called it that since the 1990s. “ATL” is fine if you must use a nickname.
  2. Atlanta is the official birthplace of Coca-Cola. Don’t even think about ordering a Pepsi in this town.
  3. Southern hospitality is real. Locals’ love for their city is tangible in the friendly smiles from strangers, kind hellos and general warmth.
(Atlanta illustrator Neil Secretario for The Washington Post)

Do

Oakland Cemetery
Pay your respects to late Atlantans at Oakland Cemetery, the city’s oldest public park. Throughout the 48-acre cemetery, you’ll discover sculptures, gardens, magnolia trees and famous past residents among the 70,000 in their final resting place. Of note are the separate sections for African American and Jewish graves, referred to specifically as the African American Grounds, Jewish Hill and Jewish Flats. Check out Original Six Acres, which include the first plots from 1850, or hop on one of the 90-minute walking tours every Saturday and Sunday.
BTW: Besides its standard tours, on weekends the cemetery has hosted events such as scavenger hunts and tours with beer.
Oakland Cemetery, 248 Oakland Ave. SE, Atlanta, Ga. 30312
Piedmont Park
Piedmont is a favorite among locals, and for good reason. More than just a gigantic park in Midtown, it has a pool for the warmer summer months, sports fields and several dog parks, and it routinely hosts arts and music festivals. The Green Market, where vendors sell foods such as kombucha and biscuits, operates Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It sets up at the 12th Street and Piedmont Avenue gate.
BTW: You’ll want to snap photos of the Atlanta skyline at this park at sunrise or sunset.
Piedmont Park, 400 Park Dr. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30306
Little Five street art
One of the most hip parts of the city, Little Five Points (often referred to as Little Five) is cool personified. Walk through this charming district, most of it along Moreland Avenue, north from Euclid, and you’ll breeze past vibrant murals and street art. Highlights range from praying hands (above the label “Pray for ATL”) to portraiture of famed African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry and musician Paul Robeson. Use the online Street Art Map as a guide.
BTW: Ride hailing to the neighborhood is highly recommended. Congestion on the weekends and evenings can make finding parking a logistical nightmare.
Little Five street art, Colquitt Avenue NE and Euclid Avenue NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30307
Buford Highway Farmers Market
A 100,000-square-foot grocery store along Buford Highway, this farmers market that opened in 1974 is a gold mine for otherwise hard-to-find international foods, representing the large immigrant population across the metropolitan area. Browse the aisles for oils, vegetables and seasonings from the greater Asian, African, Caribbean and Latin American diasporas, echoing the clusters of restaurants in strip malls along Buford Highway. Given the enormity, this hall is best taken in slowly, using all of your senses.
BTW: It’s open seven days a week, but weekend afternoons get crowded. If you must go on the weekends, arrive no later than noon.
Buford Highway Farmers Market, 5600 Buford Hwy. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30340
Alliance Theatre
A Tony Award-winning theater, the Alliance is a reservoir of stage talent and a favorite of famed playwrights such as Pearl Cleage, a Spelman College drama professor and the theater’s playwright in residence, who often chooses it for premiering new works. In addition to performances, Alliance also holds events and classes with local and national artists, playwrights and other writers. Its long-anticipated Coca-Cola Stage opened in 2019.
BTW: The Alliance Theatre is just one component of the Woodruff Arts Center. Visit the High Museum of Art while you’re over here.
Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. NE. Atlanta, Ga. 30309
Tabernacle
The Tabernacle is a piece of local music history, hosting classic acts through the years like Guns N’ Roses and Prince. Originally opened as a church in 1910 by Leonard Gaston Broughton, a pastor and physician, this building’s sacred feeling is still present, with its red-brick facade, white columns and stained-glass windows. But the place knows how to rock: Rolling Stone has named it one of the best music venues in the country. Today it hosts a mix of older music giants such as Bob Dylan and Guns N’ Roses and newer acts like Kendrick Lamar, Carly Rae Jepsen and Lizzo.
BTW: Check out the Room for a VIP concert experience.
Tabernacle, 152 Luckie St. NW. Atlanta, Ga. 30303
Reopening in July 2021
Nneka M. Okona
Nneka has lived in Atlanta since 2016 — this go-round. She’s from Atlanta, by way of Stone Mountain, and returned after living in Madrid and Washington, D.C. She considers herself a true Georgia peach and can’t give up sweet tea and skillet cornbread.
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afrosypaella
Kevin Liles
Kevin is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Atlanta. Though he’s from a small Georgia town, Atlanta still feels like home for Kevin, who says the city has the perfect mix of small-town feel and big-city attractions (like amazing restaurants). One of his favorite spots is Candler Park, a small neighborhood a few miles east of downtown that has a quaint and vibrant vibe with a couple of restaurant gems — the original Flying Biscuit and Candler Park Market Deli.
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CITY GUIDES