72 hours in Atlanta
By HEATHER SKYLER | The Orange County Register | Published: April 27, 2017
I never had a yearning to visit Atlanta. It just wasn’t a city on my radar. I’d flown through it a few times on my way to other cities, but hadn’t ever considered it as a travel destination. But when my mother, sister and I were trying to decide where to meet for our annual girls’ weekend, we decided, why not try Atlanta? Flights to the city are cheap from Los Angeles and New York, our respective towns, and in February the weather was perfect for a visit.
Much like Los Angeles, Atlanta is a sprawling metropolis. There’s not really one area where you can stay and walk to see the attractions, so our first challenge was finding a good location for our hotel. A friend in Georgia suggested Decatur, a charming suburb. We booked a room at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Decatur, a nice hotel for less than $200 a night within walking distance of the town square, restaurants, shops and Atlanta’s public transportation system, MARTA. There are three MARTA rail stations in Decatur alone, making it easy to hop aboard and get to many other spots of interest.
Decatur is delightful. It has an old-time charm complete with historic brick buildings and lots of the lush greenery you find everywhere in Georgia. Even in late February, trees were beginning to flower.
The afternoon of our arrival, we wandered the square, poking in a variety of shops, then had local beers paired with chips and guacamole at a place on the square called Raging Burrito and Taco. After more lazy wandering, then resting up and fancying up back at the hotel, we had dinner at the Brick Store Pub, which had been recommended by several locals. The interior is full of wood and cozy corners and the atmosphere was lively. Local beer is the star here and our dinner was very high end for pub fare. I had pan-seared rainbow trout on a bed of spaghetti squash for $17, and I have to say it was one of the best restaurant meals I’ve had in a long time. My sister tried the pan-seared duck for $22 and our mother went traditional with fish and chips ($13), which were crisped to perfection.
After the meal, we caught an Uber to the historic Fox Theatre in midtown Atlanta, which was about a 115-minute jaunt in the car.
There, we saw the Alvin Ailey dance company, which was gorgeous and moving, but it’s worth a trip just to see the theater itself. Built in 1929, the Fox has a Moorish design and feels like a strange and beautiful old castle complete with artificial starry sky. The theater hosts a variety of shows, ballets and acts, from Chris Rock to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and was the site of Prince’s final concert.
Midtown is filled with bars, restaurants and swank hotels, and many visitors often stay in the area to see a show or shows, and dine. We, however, were tired and full and decided to take the MARTA back to the hotel. Cheaper than an Uber, but a bit more time-consuming, MARTA is fairly clean, safe and inexpensive. It delivered us safely.
The highlight of our trip was a bike tour we took on Saturday through several Atlanta neighborhoods, hosted by a great little company called Bicycle Tours of Atlanta. Founded by a former building inspector named Robyn Elliot, this company puts on three tours. We chose “Fall in Love with Atlanta,” a three-hour, 8-mile adventure for $65 per person. This jaunt took us and six others of varying ages through historic neighborhoods including the Atlanta BeltLine, Inman Park (giant old mansions, including the home formerly owned by Coca Cola’s founder), Little Five Points (the arts district), the Old Fourth Ward (Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home is here) and Cabbagetown (a funky neighborhood with murals and condos built in the glorious brick ruins of an old cotton mill). We also biked through the historic Oakland Cemetery, rode by the Jimmy Carter Center and the King Historic District, stopped at a bakery for treats, learned lots of fun facts about the city, and held a photo shoot on the overpass looking toward downtown, where several iconic scenes from the TV show “The Walking Dead” were filmed.
I can’t say enough good things about this tour. February was a great time to take it because it was in the high 60s and sunny. Our guides, Robyn Elliot and Tim Cordier, kept us safe, told great stories and had electric bike options for cyclists not quite ready for some of the city’s hills. It was a really fun way to see neighborhoods and homes I would’ve missed by car, and it actually did make me fall in love with Atlanta.
After turning in our bikes, we walked down to the Krog Street Market area and had beers, margaritas and Tex-Mex at Superica, a very hip place with great music and atmosphere but not the most amazing food. It was decent though, and worth it for the atmosphere.
Our last day in Atlanta, we drove to Cabbagetown and dined at the Carroll Street Cafe, an eclectic spot with giant windows and funky decor that our biking guide had recommended. The waffles were amazing, as was the lazy, conversational vibe.
On our way back to the airport, we had time to stop at Atlantic Station, an outdoor shopping and dining area on the northwestern edge of midtown with stores such as Ann Taylor, American Apparel and Dillard’s.
As you can likely tell, the highlights of the city for us were bikes and food. But there was so much we didn’t have time to see. On a second trip, I’d actually go inside the King and Carter centers; tour the botanical gardens, which are supposed to be amazing; and check out the aquarium. A tour of the Coca Cola factory is also supposed to be fairly entertaining. From now on, Atlanta is definitely on my radar.
The author's sister, Jennifer Stillman, Heather Skyler and the author's mom, Juliet Roberts, in the Krog Street Tunnel in Atlanta, Ga., famous for its street art. The tunnel links the Cabbagetown and Inman Park neighborhoods and is very popular among graffiti artists and tourists. People drive through with spray cans and get out during a red light to legally add their own art to the tunnel.
HEATHER SKYLER/ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/TNS