Atlanta is a city that’s on the rise. Known for many things—hip-hop, the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, and the birthplace of hot senators, among others—it has flown a bit under the radar as a travel destination.
Atlanta has always been cool, but now people around the country are catching on. In recent years it’s had a boom of new places to play, eat, and stay. Sure, traffic can be rough (yes, the rumors are true), but if you stay in a centrally located part of town, such as Midtown or Old Fourth Ward, you can easily conquer a lot of the city by foot or catch a quick Uber ride. Who knows, along the way you might meet a cool local or two that make the city so special.
One such local is Annie Jiang, the stylish content creator behind the travel blog Go Annie Where. Jiang can be seen on her Instagram traveling the world from Paris to Thailand. Her specialty, though, is bringing lesser-known spots to a wider audience. “I love sharing the lesser visited destinations and going to places where people don’t flock to,” says Jiang. “And I love sharing tips about that. So that’s something I’m very, very passionate about.”
This became more of a priority of Jiang’s during the pandemic when she used the time to explore more domestic destinations. “I started falling in love with the beauty of the US,” she says. “I lived in Arkansas for a month, just road-tripping around Arkansas.” Her blog post about the southern state became one of her most popular. “That’s what I’m really passionate about. Just showcasing places, the hidden gems of every spot, and showcasing also in the US there are so many beautiful places that you don’t have to travel internationally to,” says Jiang. “Because for some people it’s not feasible with vacation days or international travel costs.”
When she’s not exploring the world, she’s exploring her own backyard of Atlanta. It’s a great city, she says, because it’s actually made up of so many cool neighborhoods. “I think that’s what makes Atlanta Atlanta. It’s not one just distinct area,” Jiang adds. Atlanta is underrated, says Jiang. “There are different art things, the food halls, our parks,” she adds. Outside the city is worth exploring, too, she says, with quaint small towns and beautiful hikes. Here, a local’s guide to Atlanta, from where you should stay, eat, shop, and explore.
There is no shortage of chic boutique hotels in Atlanta. The most iconic of the bunch is the Hotel Clermont which was revived after living many lives as a roadside hotel and apartment building since the 1920s. Located in Poncey-Highland, a stone’s throw away from Ponce City Market, it’s been modernized with playful eclectic decor — think rattan tables, velvet accent chairs, and splashy wallpaper — and comfy rooms. Don’t miss the famed lounge in the basement, the rooftop with a killer view, and the hotel’s take on a French bistro, Tiny Lou’s.
A little bit further north in Buckhead, you’ll find the Kimpton Sylvan Hotel. Once an apartment building in the ‘50s, the property located in a residential area was reimagined as a charming hotel with retro flair and opened last year. It offers respite from the hubbub of Atlanta in the form of a colorful rooftop bar, Julep, and a soothing garden patio bar, Willow. If you’re up for a perfectly crafted martini head to the hotel’s restaurant and bar, The Betty, which has an upscale, old school supper club feel.
Other spots you might want to consider include the cozy-yet-tasteful Wylie Hotel, the glamorous Candler Hotel located downtown, the Thompson Buckhead, and the Bellyard Hotel with its own garden oasis in the West Midtown neighborhood.
Atlanta is home to plenty of shopping destinations for fashion and design lovers. Options here run the gamut from trinkets to the world class and splurge-worthy — have no fear, there is something for any budget.
Those looking to do some casual souvenir shopping should head to Ponce City Market, the massive former train depot turned food hall and shopping center in the Old Fourth Ward. There you’ll find boutiques like Modern Mystic (crystals and tarot galore) and the Village, a collective that sells Black-owned lifestyle brands such as accessories and home decor. To get something really unique, head to Kudzu in Decatur which has myriad vintage and antique offerings.
Need to treat yourself? Visit Ann Mashburn’s boutique located in the Westside Provisions Development. Or, head to Abbey Glass, owned by the eponymous Atlanta-based designer, in the Buckhead Village shopping district, where you’ll find dreamy dresses. There are other high-end options there, too, such as Billy Reid, Hermes, and Christian Louboutin.
When it comes to Instagrammability, it’s a choose-your-vibe situation in Atanta—there are plenty of vibes to choose from. If you’re feeling artsy and like working with lots of angles, the High Museum of Art (one of the largest art hubs in the southeast) is beautiful inside and out and is photograph-friendly. Or, go to the BeltLine’s Eastside trail which is frenetic (watch out for the bikers) but has gorgeous skyline views and cool public art on display.
Don’t overlook Atlanta’s pocket neighborhoods, either, which have charming historic homes ranging from Craftsman to Queen Anne cottages. Park on the street (where legal — keep an eye out for no parking signs), go for a stroll, and snap away. In Summerhill, a neighborhood adjacent to downtown, and nearby Cabbagetown there are a host of vibrant murals. Oakland Cemetery can be found in Grant Park and is one of the most sneakily beautiful places to snap photos in all of Atlanta. In Midtown is Piedmont Park which has iconic skyline views (though not as iconic as the Jackson Street bridge) and plenty of benches to take in the scenery. The Atlanta Botanical Gardens is adjacent to the park, and the $25 fee is totally worth it to spend a few hours among the photogenic blooms.
Atlanta’s food scene is a gem that keeps getting noticed at a national level year after year. Many of the restaurants are seasonally-driven, serving dishes with locally-grown produce as much as possible, and have killer cocktail and wine programs. They also take their design seriously, so expect to feast in a place where the decor’s beauty matches the dishes served.
One of the standouts in both the design and food categories is Lucian, perfectly situated at the busy corner of Peachtree and Pharr Roads. Part bookstore, part wine bar, it’s a sophisticated spot to sip a glass of wine and people-watch on a Friday night. For a veggie-forward meal in a dreamy soft blue-hued dining room, there’s Redbird in West Midtown. Don’t worry, Redbird serves things like steak and chicken, too, but it’s the veggie dishes like crispy fried mushrooms in chickpea batter and roasted garlic hummus. In the lobby of the recently opened Kimpton Shane Hotel in Midtown is its restaurant, Hartley, which has creative bites and craft cocktails in a grand atmosphere and a fun vibe.
To really get to know Atlanta, head a little north of the city to Buford Highway, a busy stretch of road lined with international restaurants. Everything from Lee’s Bakery, a Vietnamese spot specializing in banh mi, to Northern China Eatery with dumplings galore, and La Pastorcita with delicious tacos can be found.