Essential Atlanta: fun, food, and funkiness in the heart of the South

October 16, 2015                 6m read time
Nicole Wiegand


Climb a tree, hike a mountain, or explore a tunnel filled with street art: There's so much to do in the "city too busy to hate."

Atlanta is known as a transportation and industry hub, but there's more to this city than just the world's busiest airport and the Coca-Cola headquarters. With thriving art and culinary scenes, a rich civil-rights history, and nearby parks and mountains, Atlanta is a mix of quirky character and traditional Southern charm. Whether you want to swim with sharks or relax with a beer, we've pulled together all the elements for your ultimate Atlanta to-do list.

1.  Unearth the city's secrets on a scavenger hunt

Woman on the phone with a map michael spring

Woman on the phone with a map

michael spring

 

Think you know Atlanta inside and out? Grab some friends for an Amazing Scavenger Hunt Adventure, and discover offbeat spots and hidden secrets that you won't find on a typical tour. Start the quest at Centennial Olympic Park, and follow a trail that brings together elements of Olympic history, the spirit of the civil-rights movement, and a splash of Coca-Cola. The day-long adventure will have your group completing challenges that take you all over the city. Don't feel bad about taking a leisurely lunch break: You play the game on your own timeline.

2.  Check out what's on tap at Eventide

Inside Eventide Brewing Company in Atlanta Eventide Brewing Company

Inside Eventide Brewing Company in Atlanta

Eventide Brewing Company

 

Atlanta has a fast-growing brewing community, and the Eventide Brewing Company is a leader in the city's craft-beer movement. The founders of Eventide don't just make their own beer, they made everything in the entire brewery by hand except their giant tanks.  You don't have to be a beer geek to appreciate this place; the micro-brewery's location in a residential neighborhood gives it a relaxed, local-hangout vibe. Try their tour and find out how their revolutionary brewing process landed them in an engineering magazine. After you sample their Red Headed Haley and other beers in their tasting room, you’ll leave with a souvenir pint glass and 36 ounces of your favorite Eventide brew. 

3.  Discover the ever changing culture of the Beltline

Bikers ride past the graffiti walls on the Beltline in Atlanta, Georgia BluIz60

Bikers ride past the graffiti walls on the Beltline in Atlanta, Georgia

BluIz60

 

Forming a loop that goes around and through the city, the Atlanta Beltline is an amazing outdoor space similar to New York City's High Line. There are plenty of ways to get active: Walk, run, or bike on miles of trails. Bring your skateboard and drop in at the skatepark. Or join in on one of the aerobics classes, boot camps, or hiking-meets-downward-dog “trail yoga” classes held here almost every day. The Beltline is very pet-friendly, so bring your furry buddy to get some exercise too. After you've worked up an appetite, grab a bite next door at one of the award-winning restaurants, such as Kevin Rathbun Steak for a true Atlanta steakhouse experience. For a lighter snack, try local favorite King of Pops, where you can pick up popsicles in quirky flavors like creamy avocado, cereal milk, and blueberry lemongrass.

4.  Dive deep with whale sharks

Visitors outside the whale shark tank in the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta f11photo

Visitors outside the whale shark tank in the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta

f11photo

 

It's always Shark Week at the Georgia Aquarium: the only place in the world where you're guaranteed to swim with whale sharks. Located near Centennial Olympic Park, the aquarium offers visitors the option of snorkeling at the surface or scuba diving. These massive creatures are the largest fish in the world, reaching around 40 feet long with mouths more than three feet wide. But don’t worry, they usually just eat plankton.

The friendly sharks are the stars of the show, but you'll also find yourself swimming among sawfish, leopard whiprays, mantas, and thousands of other fish. No need to bring snorkel or scuba gear—all you need is your swimsuit.

5.  Sample wine and play golf (hopefully at the same time)

Habersham Vineyards in Atlanta, Georgia Habersham Winery

Habersham Vineyards in Atlanta, Georgia

Habersham Winery

 

What could be better than a day of golf with some good friends? There's only one possibility: A day of golf that includes wine tastings. Round up some of your favorite putting partners for this golf-and-wine adventure with Wine Tasting Journeys, and head to one of two golf courses just outside of Atlanta: Highland Walk Golf Course, a resort-like public course in Victoria Bryant State Park, or Rabun County Golf Club, a small, challenging course in Clayton. Check out the gorgeous views as you and your friends relax with a picnic lunch. After a full round on the links, you'll visit either Tiger, Sautee, or Habersham winery, where you can sample wines made from the area’s famous Muscadine grapes.

6.  Cast Away On a fly fishing excursion

A fly fisherman fishing for Atlantic Salmon Cindy Creighton

A fly fisherman fishing for Atlantic Salmon

Cindy Creighton

 

The Chattahoochee River is an incredible trout fishery that runs right through Atlanta. If you've never tried fly fishing before, there's no better place to begin. Try an introductory fly fishing class with River Through Atlanta to learn everything you'll need to get started. Your guide, who knows the ins and outs of the river will let you know what to wear, which trout to eat, and proper fishing etiquette. The six-hour beginner's class covers casting and fly presentation techniques. An intermediate full-day class is also available for people who already know the fundamentals. You'll be ready to hit the Hooch in no time! (While waiting for a bite, keep an eye out for otters swimming in the clear, slow-moving water.)

7.  Art lovers, rejoice. Krog Tunnel is the true MoMa.

Inside Krog Tunnel in Atlanta, Georgia Jon Bilous

Inside Krog Tunnel in Atlanta, Georgia

Jon Bilous

 

Connecting the Inman Park and Cabbagetown neighborhoods, the Krog Tunnel acts as a massive canvas for an ever-changing display of street art. You’ll see anything from clever graffiti messages to huge murals. Grab your camera and find the perfect spot for a photo op. Want the latest buzz on live music gigs, festivals, and races? Skip the newspaper. The Tunnel acts as local bulletin board with the most up-to-date information on area events.

8.  Get Vertical at a Tree and Canopy Climbing Session

Climbers practicing in the trees in Atlanta, Georgia, with Tree Top Excursions Visit Henry County Georgia

Climbers practicing in the trees in Atlanta, Georgia, with Tree Top Excursions

Visit Henry County Georgia

 

You might have shimmied up a tree or two in your childhood, but Tree Top Excursions takes tree-climbing to a whole new level (literally). Located in Panola Mountain State Park, this climbing adventure allows participants to scale a 100-foot Southern Red Oak tree named Naomi Ruth with the help of a rope and harness. Not only will you pick up the basics of climbing, but you'll also be treated to some epic views of the surrounding green groves and fishing lakes at the same time. No experience is necessary. Just bring your sense of adventure. 

9.  Be invigorated on an Arabia Mountain trek

The rocky granite terrain of Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area in Atlanta, Georgia Sean Pavone

The rocky granite terrain of Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area in Atlanta, Georgia

Sean Pavone

 

Only 25 minutes east of downtown Atlanta, the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area provides countless ways to explore the outdoors. More than 2,000 acres are filled with three lakes and two monadnocks (isolated granite mountains rising high over flat, green plains). Hike to the top of Arabia Mountain, about 1,000 feet above sea level. The summit is dotted with granite craters filled with water and offers 360-degree views of the lakes and dense forest all around you. Not a hiker? You can bike the Arabia Mountain PATH, part of a 180-mile trail system. Or, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and paddle around Alexander Lake

10.  Drop the hammer in a NASCAR race car

Raceway in the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Georgia Race Car Atlanta Speedway

Raceway in the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Georgia

Race Car Atlanta Speedway

 

Live out your NASCAR fantasies at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, where legends such as Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon have raced. The day starts with some basic training and safety tips. Then the fun begins. You'll strap into an actual NASCAR race car and start roaring around the track. You can choose among 8, 18, 30, or even 50-lap experiences. If you're not keen on driving the car yourself, you can do a ride-along and feel those G-forces from the comfort of the passenger seat.

 

11. Hold Steady: Learn the art of the Bow and Arrow

Young woman training with a bow  kravka

Young woman training with a bow 

kravka

 

Ever wanted to take aim like Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” or Daryl Dixon of the “The Walking Dead”? Substantial parts of both series were filmed in and near the city. Given all the dramatic inspiration, there’s no better place to try nocking arrows and drawing back that bowstring. Learn archery basics and improve your accuracy at Atlanta’s Panola State Park Archery Range, where they’ve got a static range and one with realistic 3-D targets. 

After target practice, visit such “Catching Fire” locations as the site of the reaping, The Goat Farm Arts Center, or the Swan House, a landmark 1920’s estate that serves as President Snow’s lavish mansion. Or make like a herd of zombies and shuffle over to a few “Walking Dead” film sites, such as the CDC (really the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center) or Bellwood Quarry, the survivor’s camp from season one.

Nicole Wiegand

Nicole Wiegand is a native New Yorker who writes about everything from travel to technology. She loves exploring the city, hiking with her family, knitting, and cooking.

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