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The best attractions in Atlanta

Explore the best of Atlanta, from historic districts to contemporary art museums and southern fried everything

Photograph: Andrew Steele

You probably know that Atlanta is a mecca for hip hop music, home to a burgeoning movie scene, ground zero for chaotic traffic (we're looking at you, snow storm of 2014), and the U.S. capitol of unparalleled heat. But what you may not know is that Atlanta is a highlight reel of the best parts of the American South, and that’s where we’d like to enlighten you. So here’s a compilation of places that show off the city’s hospitality, southern fried tendencies and rich history. Explore the various restaurants, shops and attractions to visit that aren’t all dive spots, but are far enough off the beaten path to make you feel more like a local than a tourist.

The 20 best attractions in Atlanta

1

Home Grown

This southern breakfast haven is an eclectic mirror of the Reynoldstown neighborhood it calls home. Set snug between overgrown lots and a body shop, “Home Grown” isn’t just a name, the restaurant keeps their ingredients as close to “home” as possible by keeping them locally grown and even harvesting much of the produce that makes up their meals from their own backyard. If locally grown produce isn’t enough to get your attention, I have two words for you: comfy chicken. The restaurant's and, arguably, Atlanta’s most talked about breakfast dish consists of a made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuit topped with fried chicken and smothered in sausage gravy. Pair it with a strong cup of coffee and follow it up by taking a stroll through the restaurant's thrift shop located in the back.

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Poncey Highlands
2

High Museum of Art

Known fondly by locals as “The High,” this museum boasts a permanent collection of 16,000 works of art, ranging from modern contemporary to a growing collection of Southern and African American artwork. Plus, the museum is home to a revolving door of must-see exhibits. The High recently shared an exhibit of 250 Andy Warhol prints, and is set to host the infamous Infinity Mirrors exhibit by Yayoi Kusami in 2018. If you plan your visit on the third Friday of the month, you’ll get to enjoy live jazz for free in the High’s atrium. If that doesn't tempt you, there are multiple ongoing programs to choose from like open studios, tours and talks. The best part? Most of them are free with your museum admission.

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Midtown
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3

Criminal Records

Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood is a hub of counterculture equipped with music venues, vintage clothing stores and novelty shops. It's the perfect home for the 5,000 square-feet of vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and comic books that make up Criminal Records. The sprawling record shop has an unparalleled collection of music from new releases to local and obscure acts. It's no wonder Criminal Records is the city’s official location for Record Store Day. Little Five Points usually draws in tourists on the weekends, so I suggest going during the week so you can crate dig in peace.

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Little Five Points
4

Argosy

East Atlanta Village is full of off the beaten path spots to drink, eat, and chill and at the top of the list of best spots in the village is the oversized merchant vessel themed gastropub, Argosy. There’s a large angular bar with ample seating or if you’d rather find a cozier place to chat there are multiple tiers of booths, couches, and high top bar tables. They’re open until 2 am so you’ll have plenty of time to grab a local brew on draft and sit on the patio or come inside and try the “Boss Hog” a wood-fire made pizza with bacon, calabrese, onion, and goat cheese.

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Brownwood
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5

Little Trouble

Tucked away—speakeasy-style—underneath the restaurants and upscale retail shops of Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood’s White Provision complex, Little Trouble isn’t like any other bar you’ll find in Atlanta. Getting there is half the fun; you’ll take a stroll down a concrete hall that leads to a larger-than-life red neon sign drawing you in so you can partake in stiff drinks and tapas-style Asian street food (think steamed buns, ramen and fried dumplings). The retro lounge describes itself as “if Blade Runner was a bar,” and that’s not too far off. Go for the fresno honey pork rinds and stay for the signature cocktails like the bourbon, vermouth, amari drink by the name of “Big Mouth Strikes Again.”

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Bankhead
6

The Tabernacle

Known fondly as “The Tabby,” this 107-year-old Downtown Atlanta Baptist church turned concert hall can safely seat around 2,400 music lovers. From the outside, the red brick building with oversized white pillars looks more like a government building than a music venue, but on the inside, it finds a sweet spot between circus and sanctuary with four stories of stained glass windows and vibrantly painted ceilings and walls. One of the best parts of this venue is how great the view of the stage is from every seat and balcony. In fact, Thomas Mars of the band Phoenix once told Rolling Stone that the Tabernacle’s crowd surrounding the stage and watching you from every angle can be a little intimidating, noting “You don’t feel safe...in a good way.”

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Five Points
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7

Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium

Located on the cross street of Boulevard and Edgewood Avenue, Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium (commonly referred to as "church") is a bar made for those with unique sensibilities and is absolutely not for the easily offended. The entire bar is decorated with racy religious iconography. Imagine a painting of Jesus holding a beer beside a sign that leads you outside to grab a smoke. There are two stories to choose from in this sacrilegious saloon. I suggest hanging out on the top floor where you and your friends can sink into couches while people watching or playing ping-pong and sipping on "Spiritual Sangria."

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Butler Street
8

Zoo Atlanta

Zoo Atlanta is located in Atlanta’s historic Grant Park. Though it’s not as big as many city zoos, with more than 200 species, it’s definitely worth the visit. While you may be tempted to bring the kiddos along to see one of four existing Giant Panda exhibits in the U.S., there are also multiple adult-friendly events worth making plans around. There’s Brew at The Zoo, a favorite Memorial Day festival that’s been around for 10 years, featuring unlimited samplings of more than 70 beers and live music on stages throughout the property. Then there's Beastly Feast, an after-hours cocktail party, and Sippin' Safari, a wine-infused event where attendees can view wildlife, sample fine wines and listen to live music.

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Boulevard Heights
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9

Fox Theater

With its ornate and unique architecture of soaring domes and large archways, the Fox Theater looks like a far-east mosque that was plopped into the city's epicenter, then emblazoned with an oversized marquee sign. Each year, this Atlanta landmark hosts more than 250 shows, including Broadway musicals, concerts and cinema festivals. You can schedule a tour to view and learn the stories behind the intricate Egyptian-themed backstage dressing and powder rooms. But the best part of the Fox Theater comes free with a ticket to any show: the 46,000 seat amphitheater. The amphitheater replicates an Arabian courtyard decorated with a ceiling of 96 flickering stars and drifting clouds. There's nothing quite like hearing live music or enjoying a play under the facade of those stars.

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Centennial Place
10

Piedmont Park

Located in the Midtown neighborhood, this centrally located green space with postcard-worthy views of the skyline is often described as Atlanta's answers to New York City's Central Park. With 185 acres to choose from, it's the perfect meeting grounds for day drinkers, music lovers, festival attendees and people who want to get fit outdoors between dawn and dusk. The park hosts multiple annual events including Music Midtown and the annual Dogwood Festival. Plus, if you visit during the summer, you can access Atlanta's largest pool at the park's Aquatic Center from Monday to Friday from 3pm to 5pm without paying a fee.

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Hillside Cottages
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