Countless first-time visitors to Atlanta never venture beyond Downtown, which is home to CNN Center (190 Marietta St. NW, 404/827-2300, www.cnn.com/studiotour , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.), the Georgia Aquarium (225 Baker St., 404/581-4000, www.georgiaaquarium.org , Sun.–Fri. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., $26 adult, $19.50 child, $21.50 senior), the King Center (450 Auburn Ave., 404/331-5190, www.nps.gov/malu , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., until 6 p.m. June–Aug., free), and a nexus of other attractions. Downtown also features some of the city’s largest hotels. As the heart of Atlanta’s business district, Downtown can feel deserted after 6 p.m. Look to nearby Castleberry Hill, an up-and-coming arts enclave, or eclectic Cabbagetown for excitement after dark.
Midtown is often called Atlanta’s home of the arts, thanks to institutions like the High Museum of Art (1280 Peachtree St., 404/733-4400, www.high.org , Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (Thurs. until 8 p.m.), Sun. noon–5 p.m., $18 adult, $11 child, $15 senior), Symphony Hall (1280 Peachtree St., 404/733-5000, www.atlantasymphony.org ), and Alliance Theatre (1280 Peachtree St., 404/733-5000, www.alliancetheatre.org ). It’s also a desirable residential neighborhood with a vibrant blend of restaurants, shops, and nightlife. The area around Piedmont Park (10th St. and Piedmont Ave., www.piedmontpark.org , daily 6 a.m.–11 p.m.) was once known as the city’s main gayborhood, but an influx of newcomers has made Midtown anything but homogenous. Across the interstate, West Midtown is a white-hot pocket of new growth, including the brand-new Atlantic Station (171 17th Street, www.atlanticstation.com ) shopping district.
Conventional wisdom used to say that Buckhead was the place where old money lives and new money parties, but the area’s rep as a nightclub destination has all but dried up. What remains is a genteel, upscale neighborhood filled with resplendent Southern mansions, high-end boutiques, and some of the city’s most elite restaurants. The Atlanta History Center (130 W. Paces Ferry Rd., 404/814-4000, www.atlantahistorycenter.com , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. noon–5:30 p.m., $15 adult, $10 child, $12 senior) keeps Atlantans in touch with their roots, while Lenox Square Mall (3393 Peachtree Rd., 404/233-6767, www.lenoxsquare.com , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. noon–6 p.m.) and Phipps Plaza (3500 Peachtree Rd., 404/262-0992, www.phippsplaza.com , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. noon–5:30 p.m.) tend to their shopping needs.
The tree-lined avenues of Virginia-Highland are certainly quaint and homey, but the clusters of shops along North Highland Avenue are the jewels in the neighborhood’s crown. It’s a busy blend of amiable restaurants, yuppie watering holes, chic clothing shops, and home-accessory stores. Nearby Emory University features the prestigious Michael C. Carlos Museum (571 S. Kilgo Circle, 404/727-4282, www.carlos.emory.edu , Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., $7), though more visitors flock to Fernbank Museum of Natural History (767 Clifton Rd., 404/929-6300, www.fernbankmuseum.org , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., $15 adult, $13 child, $14 senior), home to dinosaur skeletons and the city’s only IMAX theater.
Little Five Points has long been Atlanta’s default stomping ground for all things alternative—a funky crossroads where pink mohawks mix with tie-dye and tattoo parlors thrive alongside thrift stores. Next door, the more elegant neighborhood of Inman Park (Euclid Ave. at Elizabeth St., 770/242-4895, www.inmanparkfestival.org ) has seen a burst of new life, with a rash of trendy restaurants popping up along Highland Avenue. Farther south, East Atlanta has also undergone a dramatic renaissance. The area now has a lively mix of cute shops and grungy bars.
The city of Decatur is technically older than Atlanta, but it proudly defends its character as a cozy and compact bedroom community. Located 15 minutes east of Downtown and with a population of only 18,000, Decatur is best known for its gorgeous town square, which features dozens of great restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and bars. Eddie’s Attic (515-B N. McDonough Rd., Decatur, 404/377-4976, www.eddiesattic.com , Mon.–Thurs. 4 p.m.–12:30 a.m., Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–2 a.m.), one of the most well-respected acoustic music venues in the Southeast, is also here.