- Where the Locals Go
Elizabeth Jarrett has a special love for the city of Atlanta and the people who live there. Deeply entrenched in the Georgia capital’s creative class, Elizabeth is a founding member of the Collective Project theater company, hosts the Natural Selection variety show, works as a gallery curator, and runs Common Ground, an organization focused on strengthening communities through the arts. Her passion earned her a ticket across America with the Millennial Trains Project in 2014, where she studied public art in city stopovers along the way.
Atlanta “has a small-town feel with the heart of a big city,” the born-and-bred native says. “There’s nothing better than a hot Georgia day on the porch, sweet tea in hand. That’s true Southern living.” Here are a few of Elizabeth’s favorite things about the city she’s proud to call home.
Atlanta Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is the Goat Farm Arts Center. This collection of late 19th-century industrial buildings has been converted into one of the most interesting creative spaces in the United States, hosting a multitude of events ranging from concerts and theater performances to gallery showings.
Spring or fall is the best time to visit my city because the weather is perfect and everyone spends a lot of time outdoors. A favorite lounging spot: Grant Park.
You can see my city best from the Jackson Street Bridge in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. If you’re not afraid of heights, take the glass-enclosed elevator up as far as it will go at the Westin Peachtree Plaza. The restaurant at the top spins 360 degrees over the course of an hour, ensuring you won’t miss any part of the view.
Locals know to skip downtown tourist attractions like the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, and the CNN Studio and check out the smaller, more culturally diverse neighborhoods around the city, such as Poncey-Highland, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, and East Atlanta Village, instead.
Young Blood Boutique and Crafted Westside are the places to buy authentic, local souvenirs.
In the past, notable people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Sir Elton John, and Ted Turner have called my city home.
My city’s best museum (and the largest visual arts museum in Atlanta) is the High Museum of Art because it houses an impressive and wide-ranging permanent collection, offers a steady lineup of programming and exhibits, and makes a point of giving local artists opportunities to perform and show their work.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that public transportation is not incredibly accessible. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, more commonly known by the acronym MARTA, is a great way to explore, but the train doesn’t provide access to several areas of town. The new streetcar is wonderful, but only if you’re downtown. Public transportation is something Atlanta is working on, but, for the time being at least, most people get around by car.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is at the many parks scattered around Atlanta. They don’t call us the City of Trees for nothing. Piedmont Park, located in Midtown, is our largest park and nestled in the heart of the city. For something a little more low key, pay a visit to Grant Park near Zoo Atlanta or take a stroll through Oakland Cemetery, where a number of Civil War soldiers and influential Atlantans are buried.
My city really knows how to celebrate open-mindedness and individuality; Atlanta hosts the biggest pride event in the American Southeast.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they pride themselves on living ITP (inside the perimeter) and up turn their nose at OTP (outside the perimeter) living. The perimeter referenced is Interstate 285, which circles Atlanta. If you live inside the perimeter, you’re a true Atlanta local. Though finding a true native is like discovering a unicorn; most people are transplanted.
For a fancy night out, I treat myself to dinner at the Kimball House or The Optimist, followed by some outstanding improv at Dad’s Garage.
Just outside my city (about 20 miles east of Atlanta), you can visit Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area. The granite monadnocks (isolated hills that rise up from flat plains) that characterize the region make a trek there feel like walking on the moon. Plus, you can relish the experience without the crowds you’ll find at larger Stone Mountain Park.
My city is known for having bad traffic and staggering urban sprawl, but it’s really a city that is growing and rebuilding at an exponential rate.
The best outdoor market in my city is the weekend Grant Park Farmers Market. It can get very crowded, so it’s a good idea to arrive early to survey the vast array of produce and local goods on offer.
Ria’s Bluebird or Homegrown are my favorite places to grab breakfast, and Octopus Bar and R. Thomas Deluxe Grill are the spots for late-night eats.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, check out the weekly event listings on the Deer Bear Wolf website or pick up a copy of Creative Loafing at a local coffee shop (like Octane).
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I see if there’s a free show at one of the music venues I frequent. Monday nights are always free at 529 in East Atlanta and Star Bar offers free shows on Thursdays. If it’s a weeknight, I’ll get a bunch of friends together to go to the Starlight Six Drive-In. It’s only $7 for two movies and you can bring in your own food and beverages.
To escape the crowds, I choose local bars like 97 Estoria in historic Cabbagetown and avoid Edgewood Avenue on the weekends. (Don’t bypass Edgewood completely, though. Some of the city’s coolest bars are there, like Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium, which hosts church-organ karaoke on Wednesdays.) Checking out a local gallery like MINT, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, or Mammal Gallery is also a good choice.
The dish that represents my city best is the “meat and three” (including local favorites fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and black-eyed peas), and sweet tea is my city’s signature drink. Sample them both at Mary Mac’s Tea Room.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The Earl is the best place to see live (local) music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out MJQ on a Wednesday night or The Basement on the third or fourth Saturday of the month for Keep on Movin’ dance parties.
Freaknik could only happen in my city.
In the spring you should take some allergy medicine and go outside! Pollen is pretty bad in Atlanta, but the lovely weather makes it impossible to stay indoors. Rent a bike and cruise down The Beltline. Make sure to take a stop for lunch at Krog Street Market and satiate that sweet tooth with an iced treat from King of Pops.
In the summer you should get wet. Summers are scorchers down here and chances are you’re going to want to find the closest body of water to immerse yourself in. If you have access to a car, I highly suggest taking a day trip to Helen (about 1.5 hours north of Atlanta) and floating down the Chattahoochee River in an inner tube. Spring for an extra tube and throw in a cooler and you’re all set. If you don’t want to leave the city, stop by Lottafruitta for some of the creamiest vegan ice cream around and take the streetcar to Centennial Olympic Park and run around the giant fountain in the shadow of the world’s largest aquarium.
In the fall you should attend a festival. It’s the best place to see a variety of neighborhoods, meet plenty of locals, eat great food, and shop locally. September and October are prime times for communal celebrating, with something fun on the schedule each weekend. Some of my favorite festivals include Chomp & Stomp, East Atlanta Strut, Phoenix Festival, and Elevate. If you’ll be in town near Halloween, don’t miss the Little 5 Points parade (and don’t be the lame person who doesn’t wear a costume).
In the winter you should check out the impressive light show at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, one of the most underrated places in town. Atlantans may not do well in the snow, but we still know how to have a good time. Check out cozy bars like Argosy and The Book House Pub (it’s Twin Peaks themed) to keep you warm.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Center for Puppetry Arts. They have really amazing programming for children and adults alike and are in the process of expanding their museum to make room for a permanent exhibit devoted to the works of Jim Henson.
The best book about my city is Gone With the Wind. You can even visit Margaret Mitchell’s house on the corner of 10th and Peachtree streets. While this is a classic story, it does represent the South’s darker past. Atlanta has a lot of fascinating history that a lot of people are unaware of, from its days as a transportation hub called Terminus, to General Sherman’s infamous march, to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement. As an Atlanta native, this is a history that I embrace, respecting the dark and finding inspiration in how far we’ve come.