Ahhhh, Atlanta, Georgia…the capital of the south. The land of peaches and Coca Cola. Home of Delta airlines and Waffle House. The mecca of Southern U.S. culture and influence. When visiting Atlanta, there are tons of things to see and do which make for whittling down your itinerary a daunting task.
As a native ATLien, the following spots are my favorites. These points of interest are places I have visited time and time again on my own and with visitors in tow. If you’re a real mover and shaker you can pack all of these into one long, fun-filled day.
If you like to take your time, split these locales up between two days and pepper in a few places you found on your own that tickle your fancy. I hope you enjoy my top Atlanta picks as much as my native self does. Have a great time, y’all!
Atlanta History Center
A fantastic place to start your visit, this well curated museum sits on a whopping 33 acres and details the evolution of Atlanta (formerly dubbed Terminus and then Marthasville before becoming Atlanta) over the years. If you’re a real history buff, you can easily spend an entire day at the Atlanta History Center.
Exhibitions include The Civil War (don’t miss the Cyclorama), Atlanta’s expansion from farm to city, Southern Folk Art, Civil Rights, the evolution of the railroad through Atlanta, the Centennial Olympic games, and more. The gardens include several historic structures including an antebellum farmhouse, Swan House (featured in the Hunger Games as the Governor’s mansion), and a log cabin depicting North Georgia settler life. After you’ve soaked in a heap of history and many steps, pop into the Swan Coach House for high tea (reservations recommended).
The Fox Theatre
Constructed in the 1920’s and located on Peachtree Street (we Atlantans really love peaches!), this stunning example of Moorish inspired design is an iconic Atlanta landmark that originally served as the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque. It’s an absolute feast for the eyes. The auditorium itself mimics an Arabian courtyard, while other interior sections of The Fabulous Fox reflect Egyptian and Islamic architectural influences. During the 1940’s The Egyptian Ballroom was Atlanta’s most popular public dance hall. They hosted big bands as well as country and western bands.
Hands down my favorite Atlanta performance venue, The Fox hosts operas, ballets, Broadway shows, concerts, comedians, and movies. The summer movie series is a real treat with Mighty Mo’ organ singalongs! If your schedule permits, I highly suggest taking in a show at The Fox while in town. If you’re more of an architecture buff, book a tour to take in the theater’s grand splendor in extensive detail.
The Fox Theatre is easily accessible by MARTA (Atlanta’s public transportation system).
The High Museum of Art
Get high on culture at the largest museum for visual arts in the Southeastern US. The High is also located on Peachtree Street and is easily accessible via MARTA. Founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Arts Association, this expansive museum is home to more than 18,000 permanent collection works of art along with a robust rotation of international and national exhibits. In 1926, the High family donated their family home to house the growing art collection.
African, American, European, Folk, Modern, and Contemporary art along with photography are all on display in abundance at this massive museum.
Southern minister Howard Finster’s folk art is on permanent display and definitely deserves a look. A vision from the Lord inspired Finster to paint sacred art for the people. With more than 10,000 works under his belt, Finster created a wild, colorful array of pieces featuring pop culture figures, religious images, and bible verses. This simple southern man’s works inspired by a message from God include works for The Library of Congress and a Talking Heads album cover and impressively, some of his work is displayed at The Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Whatever genre of art strikes your fancy, you’ll find something to tantalize your senses at The High. One could easily spend most of a day at The High Museum but even a visit of a few hours is a real treat for the eyes and the soul.
Visit The High Museum of Art’s website for a schedule of temporary exhibitions and to plan your visit.
Mary Mac’s Tea Room
While not the normal point of interest, this long standing, belly-filling eatery is a great spot to fuel up after all your southern sightseein’! Located within walking distance of The Fox Theatre, Mary Mac’s is an Atlanta institution and the last remaining tea room of the sixteen tea rooms that once existed in Atlanta in the 1940’s. Be sure to tell your waiter if it’s your first visit to Mary Mac’s! First timers are treated to a complimentary cup of pot likker and cornbread – a Southerner’s favorite treat!
If you’ve never indulged in Southern food, by golly this is one of the most popular place to go. Mary Mac’s has it all. Brunswick stew, shrimp and grits, deviled eggs, fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, banana pudding, peach cobbler, and southern table wine (sweet tea) are all served here. If you plan to visit on the weekend, plan ahead. If visiting on a weekday, you likely won’t have to wait long to feast.
Hands down my favorite spot in Atlanta, I’m always baffled at how many residents have never been to this incredible landmark despite its prominent location. This gorgeous cemetery consists of 48 acres, one of the largest green spaces in the city. I define Oakland as a New Orleans cemetery and Central Park mash-up and it’s well worth the visit. Grab a coffee and a pastry and stroll about the grounds in the morning. I discover something new with every visit.
Oakland is home to many notable figures including Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, famed author Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind), Carrie Steele Logan who founded the oldest black orphanage in the US, esteemed golfer and lawyer Bobby Jones, Rev. Frank Quarles, the founder of the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (precursor to HBCU Spelman College) Country legend Kenny Rogers, Four Roses Bourbon founder Rufus. M. Rose (what a great name!). Take note of the incredible monuments and mausoleum throughout the cemetery along with the different sections…Jewish, African American, etc.
There are a number of excellent events at Oakland throughout the year, be sure to check before your visit. My fave event is Capturing the Spirit of Oakland. This annual fall event features actors playing various cemetery inhabitants telling tales of their colorful lives as visitors walk about the premises a la candlelight (with wine/beer for purchase).
If you’d like to delve further into the history and significance of Oakland Cemetery during your visit, be sure to visit the beautiful Bell Tower where many books covering a wide range of subjects all centered on Oakland are available for purchase.
Pro Tip: Stick around for sunset! The views of Atlanta’s painted sky at sunset are unbeatable at Oakland. Several great rooftop bars offering superb cemetery views are just across the street on Memorial Drive and are great spots to visit before or after your visit. The aptly named Six Feet Under bar and restaurant is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
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