Atlanta Essentials

Take a look at Atlanta's top spots -- from restaurants to entertainment -- for locals and tourists.
By: Corey Dade
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Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to ...


Dekalb Farmers Market, 3000 E. Ponce De Leon Ave., Decatur
You can find your staples from the four food groups in any chain supermarket, or hunt for ethnic and exotic specialties, from goat to organic granola to pomegranates, in the seemingly endless aisles of this 140,000-square-foot warehouse. The produce is the freshest anywhere because it comes directly from growers, keeping the prices competitively lower than traditional retail grocers. Free samples abound, so pour yourself a cup of delicious coconut juice while you shop. Grab some of the hot food for lunch. Avoid Saturday and Sunday afternoons if you can — it gets very crowded, but that makes for fun people-watching.


Thumbs Up Diner, 573 Edgewood Ave. SE
If you can stand the wait, due to a small dining area, the food won’t disappoint. Go down-home with catfish and eggs or healthy with grilled tofu. The best is the Sassy Scramble. Two tips: Food is cooked to order, so save time by perusing the menu before sitting; and avoid Sunday brunch time, when churchgoers file in after services and push wait times to more than an hour.


Landmark Diner, 60 Luckie St NW or 3652 Roswell Road NW
Open 24 hours. The Luckie Street location is closer to the nightclubs near downtown and midtown. Standard fare of burgers and sandwiches and an impressive menu of entree salads.

Cafe Intermezzo, 1845 Peachtree Rd NE
A classier option, modeled after a 19th-century, Eastern European coffee shop, with a huge, delicious assortment of desserts prepared on site.


Joe’s East Atlanta Coffee Shop, 510 Flat Shoals Ave.
In East Atlanta Village, the staff is fast and friendly. Many locals work from their laptops all day, thanks to the comfy second-hand couches and recliners and free Wi-Fi.


Son's Place, 100 Hurt St. NE
Classic meat-and-three (meal of one meat and three sides, typically veggies) restaurant on Dekalb Avenue that serves up Southern favorites cafeteria-style, where you point and pick out your food. Lunch hours only.  


Six Feet Under, 437 Memorial Drive SE
The restaurant, with views of the historic Oakland Cemetery across the street, is a reference to the dead — but the food couldn’t be more lively. Amazing selection of seafood with a Southern twist. Try the whole fried okra as a side.


Calypso Cafe and Grill, 58 Walton St. NW
Locals rave about this downtown lunch spot that serves up Caribbean favorites like jerk chicken, jerk tofu, fried plantains and coco bread at great prices. Expect slower service during busy times. 

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to ...


Wednesday WindDown at Centennial Olympic Park, Centennial Olympic Park Drive in downtown Atlanta
The evening jazz concert series runs every week from April to September, as it has for more than 10 years, and draws local acts and acclaimed recording artists. The lush grounds sit at the center of downtown’s hot tourist triangle formed by the CNN Center, Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola.

Piedmont Park, Midtown (bordered by 10th Street, Monroe Avenue and Piedmont Avenue)
Fitness and outdoor junkies delight in this nearly 190-acre, picturesque version of Central Park in the heart of the city, designed by the sons of legendary architect Frederick Law Olmstead. What can you find here? Winding paths for walkers, joggers, cyclists and skaters. Tennis courts. Fields for pick-up soccer and volleyball games. Playgrounds. Picnic areas. Even a dog park.

Lenox Square Mall, 3393 Peachtree Road NE
The people-watching at the region’s signature shopping mall, in the tony Buckhead district, is so fun that owner Simon Property Group should charge for the privilege. Mannequins in the windows of Burberry, Louis Vuitton or Kate Spade have nothing on the customers. The 2003 NBA All-Star Game here drew 75,000 mall visitors that weekend, forcing it to close early due to safety concerns. Grab a seat at Starbucks on the first floor and don’t be surprised to see celebrity hip-hop artists or athletes parading the halls.


Virginia Highland district, Intersection of North Highland and Virginia avenues
Atlanta’s busiest strip of restaurants and small retailers offers many options, but two stand out as hot spots: Hand in Hand and Neighbor’s Pub, side by side at 752 and 752-C N. Highland Avenue. Hand in Hand is a traditional English pub with wood-paneled walls and a busy weekend bar scene celebrated — and sometimes derided — as a meat market for singles. Next door, Neighbor’s is known for its huge patio and indoor fireplace and also has 17 brews on tap and free Wi-Fi. Try the homemade chips and the creme brulee for dessert.   

Piedmont Park
The region’s premier park ranks high again for its pick-up volleyball matches on Sunday afternoons. Nothing like a game of bump, set and spike to acquaint friendly strangers looking to beat the Georgia heat.


Vino Libro, 933 Garrett Street Southeast
A sleek, chic lounge on one side and a specialty book store on the other, which sometimes converts to a party room (the site of a memorable blowout New Year’s bash this year), Vino Libro has quickly become a favorite among young urban professionals. A quality wine list and tasty tapas are signatures. Live jazz on weekends and never a cover charge. Don’t miss Bottomless Mondays — sip any wine in stock, as much as you want, for 20 bucks. Just the thing to ease Monday blues.


The Children’s Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1345 Piedmont Ave. NE
Great year-round. In the summer, bring swimsuits and towels for the kids to splash beneath a giant flower-shaped sprinkler at the entrance of the fun and educational Children’s Garden. Then visit the butterfly garden, which presents the life stages of a caterpillar. They will love pretending to run through Mr. McGregor’s garden as naughty Peter did in the setting from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. They can dig for dinosaur bones and explore a bee hive, Native American garden and a classic Southern farmhouse garden — all before getting to the frog pond and treehouse. After a few hours, they won’t realize they actually learned a thing or two.


Manuel’s Tavern, 602 N. Highland Ave NE
The classic pub with local lore. Founded in 1956 by the late Manuel Maloof, one of the most influential local politicians for 20 years, the bar continues to be the preferred watering hole for politicos and journalists who gather in the back room nearly every Tuesday night. Ideal for watching the big game and, naturally, candidates’ debates and election returns.

Taco Mac, 240 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur
Don’t let the name fool you. The cuisine isn’t Mexican. Upon opening in 1979, the owners could afford only to renovate the kitchen or change the sign of the former taco dive. Guess what they decided? But the beer selection is truly divine: Enjoy 108 brews on tap. And there are plenty of large, flat-screen TVs for watching games.  


Loca Luna, 550 Amsterdam Avenue NE
Salsa, samba and merengue. A live band. Euro-house music between sets. Enough said. Work up a sweat and quench your thirst with a mojito, one of the few authentic mixtures in town.


Little Five Points, Intersection of Moreland and Euclid avenues
The website for this business district bills L5P as “the coolest spot on the map between Greenwich Village and the French Quarter.” Surprise -- it’s true. Look for the storefront at 464 Moreland Avenue adorned with gigantic tattoo-like artwork, and you have arrived. Inside is the landmark clothing store Junkman’s Daughter, whose funk-and-punk-rock fashions have drawn legendary funksters and rockers themselves, from the late Rick James to Steven Tyler. Speaking of music, stop by Moods Music, at 1130 Euclid Avenue, which has the best collection of reggae mixes, mainstream and underground hip-hop and neo-soul CDs anywhere.

Outdoors Essentials: Best Places to ...


Chastain Park Amphitheater
Nestled in the trees of a north Atlanta neighborhood, the venue books many of the best concerts from spring to early fall. Pack a picnic and enjoy a concert under the stars.


Arabia Mountain Park
Escape urban chaos and drive 21 miles east of Atlanta to natural serenity. Explore the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, 2,000 acres of granite outcrop, wetlands, streams and pine and oak forests. Hike or ride your bike on the trail, watch the sunrise or sit by the lake.  


ParkGrounds, 142 Flat Shoals Ave. SE
In the historic Reynoldstown neighborhood, it’s a coffee shop with a free off-leash, fenced-in dog park out back, just beyond the patio. Free Wi-Fi, excellent coffee and tasty breakfast sandwiches and desserts — even homemade gourmet doggie treats. Sip a latte, read your paper or surf the Web while Fido plays with other canines. Warning: The cafe is bohemian quaint but outdoors is all dog, so wear shoes suitable for stepping in the occasional pile of, well, stuff.


Verve Lounge, 511 Peachtree St. NE
One of the hottest nightclubs also offers a stunning scene from the rooftop deck. While you party three stories above Atlanta’s busiest street, you are surrounded by the skyline, from downtown to your left to Midtown skycrapers extending to your right.

Intersection of Freedom Parkway and Boulevard
Nothing about this crossing stands out except its topography: It sits on a hill that overlooks an interstate ramp and a panoramic vista of arguably the widest skyline in the South.  

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