Atlanta can be very hot, but it’s outdoor attractions are pretty cool. Here’s our pick of the city’s best parks, scenic walks and architectural high points
There are paths here for running, walking and biking, lawns for game-playing and grassy knolls for picnicking and lounging. The rolling hills of Atlanta’s central park, in the heart of Midtown, encompass the peaceful Lake Clara Meer – which had a cameo in the final scenes of the 2011 movie The Change-Up – as well as a public pool, dog park, and 30 acres of botanical gardens. The park holds a Saturday farmers’ market, and has hosted outdoor movie nights, concerts (including a performance by Ludacris) and marquee musical festivals, such as the recently revived Music Midtown, which takes place in the autumn.
• Piedmont Avenue and 12th Street. +1 404 875 7275, piedmontpark.org. Open daily 6am-11pm, admission free
The Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change
Few people have had as powerful an impact on civil rights around the world as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who was born and raised, preached in and laid to rest in Atlanta. His legacy of nonviolent social change is memorialised at the King Center, where you can view his Nobel peace prize and Bible, among other pieces of memorabilia. King’s tomb is in the outdoor plaza at the centre of a meditation pool. Pause for a moment to enjoy the beautiful and fragrant World Peace Rose Garden before walking a few blocks on Auburn Avenue to King’s birthplace and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.
• 449 Auburn Avenue, +1 404 526 8900, thekingcenter.org. Open daily 9am-5pm, admission free
The Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail
An award-winning smart growth project, the Atlanta Beltline is an in-progress 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit network that is helping make Atlantans a little less car-obsessed. The Eastside Trail opened in 2012, and since then locals have swarmed the 2¼-mile paved path that stretches from Midtown’s Piedmont Park to the residential neighbourhood of Inman Park. Walkers, runners, bikers, and the occasional rollerblader weave in and out on the just-wide-enough path that skirts the Historic Fourth Ward Park, a separate skate park, and connects with the Freedom Parkway Path, which will take you all the way to Stone Mountain if you’re up for a workout.
• Access the Eastside Trail at Monroe Avenue and 10th Street, beltline.org
The Goat Farm Art Center
This former cotton gin mill turned arts compound is an industrial warren of lofts, artist studios and residencies, as well as venue for touring bands, local art exhibitions and performances … and The Hunger Games shoots. On the Westside, the city’s de facto art and design district, you can stop by the Goat Farm any time to grab a drink at the Warhorse Coffee Shop (it serves beer, too), or a quick lunch at the soup cart: a hand-painted Indonesian cart that offers a new menu every Wednesday in the courtyard in front of the Warhorse.
• 1200 Foster Street. facebook.com/TheGoatFarmArtsCenter. Admission free
Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel and Sundial restaurant-bar
A curved glass anomaly on Atlanta’s skyline, the Westin Peachtree Plaza was designed by John Portman, the world-famous Atlanta architect equally loved and loathed for the anti-street aesthetic he brought to downtown. But the Westin is a bit different: where most of Portman’s designs forgo the cityscape’s exterior bustle to focus on elaborate interior atriums, this skyscraper has its elevators on the outside to take in the glorious views as it ascends 73 storeys in 85 seconds. Get off at the observatory’s View Level to see 360-degree panoramas of the city, which you can enjoy from the comfort of the Sundial, a rotating restaurant and bar.
• 210 Peachtree Street NE, +1 404 589 7506, sundialrestaurant.com. Admission to View Level observatory $8 adults, $4 kids 6-12 years, free for under-6s; open daily from 10am-till closing
Constructed in the early 20th century as a romantic tribute to Moorish-Egyptian design, this movie palace indulges in rich jewel tones, intricate architectural details and trompe-l’oeils. When the Fox Theatre first opened, the local newspaper described it as having, “a picturesque and almost disturbing grandeur beyond imagination”. While it’s impressive from the outside, do yourself a favour and take the behind-the scenes tour (Mon, Thurs, Sat, adults $18, kids under 10 free). The most spectacular trompe-l’oeil is the main theatre’s ceiling: a faux sky with twinkling stars and floating clouds. It is still one of Atlanta’s premiere performance venues, hosting touring Broadway shows, A-list comedians and popular bands.
• 660 Peachtree Street, +1 404 881 2100, foxtheatre.org. Check website for event details
Historic Oakland Cemetery
Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, golf great Bobby Jones, former Atlanta mayors Maynard Jackson and Ivan Allen Jr are among the notable local figures are buried in this stunning Victorian-era cemetery. Wander the brick pathways that twist and turn between beautiful mausoleums and gardens. It’s the perfect place for a picnic while taking in some Atlanta history. There’s an arboretum, the confederate memorial and burial grounds, as well as Potter’s Field, a lush meadow that serves as the resting place for approximately 7,500 of Atlanta’s indigent population laid to rest before 1900.
• 248 Oakland Avenue, +1 404 688 2107, oaklandcemetery.com. Open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat-Sun 9am-dusk, admission free
Summers in landlocked Atlanta are hot – super hot. Luckily, the city has the Chattahoochee river, a national recreation area surrounded by hiking and biking trails that are accessible at different entry points around the city. When it gets unbearably steamy, locals flock to the river to “shoot the hooch“: basically a lazy summer afternoon spent drifting down the river in an inner tube, canoe, or kayak.
• nps.gov/chat, parking fee $3
This walkable couple of blocks in one of the oldest parts of the city is home to a number of wallet-friendly restaurants and cafes, including local favourite Dua Vietnamese Noodle Soup. Grab some pho, a slice of pizza, a sandwich, or some coffee, and enjoy it at one of the many tables set up along the street. It’s the perfect place to people watch and take in some of downtown’s historic architecture: Broad Street is bordered on one side by Atlanta’s Flatiron building, which actually predates New York City’s by five years. There’s more seating across Peachtree Street at Woodruff Park, with views of a large, picturesque fountain and a cool playground. The best time to visit is during the working week; the street clears out once city employees have left.
• Intersection of Broad Street and Peachtree Street, atlantadowntown.com
The High Museum of Art
Set on a hill on Peachtree Street in Midtown, the bright white facade of the south-east’s premier art museum makes it hard to miss. Renowned architects Richard Meier (1983 expansion) and Renzo Piano (2005 addition) are responsible for the art institution’s striking exterior. Inside, the High is home to an enormous permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century American artwork, African-American art, and an outstanding cache of contemporary photography. The building wraps around the Sifly Piazza where you can pause for some refreshments and take in the outside installations.
• 1280 Peachtree Street, +1 404 733 4444, high.org. Open Tues-Wed and Fri-Sat 10am-5pm, Thurs 10am-8pm (half-price after 4pm), Sun midday-5pm, admission adults $19.50, kids 6-17 $12, under 5s free
Debbie Michaud is editor-in-chief of Creative Loafing Atlanta, the US south-east’s largest alt-weekly
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