3 Simple Waysto see (almost) everything worth seeing in Atlanta during the Super Bowl
Need to escape the NFL frenzy of Downtown and take a little break to relax, recharge or just shift gears and get a glimpse of the local scene, without having to fight traffic? It may sound impossible even to some who actually live here (insider tip: Cobb County is not Atlanta), but I can tell you as a real in town Atlanta local who doesn’t own a car, if you’re in Downtown, the possibilities for how much you can see and experience are truly endless. All you need is a little insider info, and as the founder & organizer of the largest street photography meetup groupin the city, I know just where you can go, and how to get there!
1. The Atlanta Streetcar
Many of my personal top 10 things to do in Atlantaare accessible right from the Atlanta Streetcar, where you can hop on at Centennial Olympic Park for just $1 a ride (or $3 for a day pass), and be far enough away from the crowds to enjoy yourself, but not so far that you can’t easily be back within minutes. Here’s my list of the most notable Atlanta Streetcar stops, in chronological order, after departing from Centennial Olympic Park:
Sweet Auburn Curb Market Streetcar Stop: The Original local food hall & market
Sure Ponce City Market & Krog Street Market get all the media buzz, but as a result, they have kind of turned into the Disneyland of ATL, filled mostly with tourists & suburbanites. Sweet Auburn Curb Marketremains to be truly representative of the culture and soul of the city of Atlanta. Find anything from soul food, bbq, burritos or burgers to fish poke, green juice, pies and arepas, there is a little something here for everyone. They are pretty much a lunch destination though, with an early closing time of 5:00p or 6:00p (depending on the day).
Edgewood at Hilliard Streetcar Stop: Best Bars & Restaurants
If you haven’t already heard, some of the best bars, restaurants & nightlife in Atlanta are on Edgewood Avenue. Some local faves are Noni’s, Harold’s Chicken & Ice, Hungry Ghost, Joystick Game Bar, Music Room, The Sound Table, Mother, Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (Church), The BQE, Georgia Beer Garden, just to name a few. Google it, and pick your poison!
King Historic District Streetcar Stop: Not to be Missed
Visit the original Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, tour Dr. King’s birth home, and pay your respects to Dr. King & Corretta at the Eternal Flame and their resting place on the Reflecting Pool at the Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
THE obligatory detour, before heading back Downtown: From Auburn Avenue (King District Streetcar Stop), you can also take a short walk down Jackson Street and in about 5 minutes be at the most famous Atlanta skyline view (thanks to The Walking Dead) on Jackson Street Bridge. This is “THE spot” where you will take the quintessential “Atlanta selfie”, like everyone else who has ever come before you, or will come to follow. The allure of this location is irresistible, and almost guarantees you will encounter at least one or more of the following: a news, television or film crew, music video entourage, tour group, engagement, wedding party or other special occasion photo shoot, discarded chicken bones (seriously, it’s a real thing).
Woodruff Park (and/or) Peachtree Center Streetcar Stops: Atlanta’s Architectural Epicenter
Once you’re headed back towards Downtown, you might want to hop off at either Woodruff Park or Peachtree Center, especially if you’re a movie buff or just really into architecture. I personally like to get off at Woodruff Park, right across from the Flatiron Building, and walk along Peachtree Street headed towards Peachtree Center on foot. If you enjoy walking in city centers, I would recommend this approach, as this short stretch of Peachtree Street is where you will see some of the best “looking up” vantage points in the city. If you don’t care about staring straight up the sides of tall buildings, just skip Woodruff Park and hop of at Peachtree Center. Once you make it to Peachtree Center, you can keep strolling along Peachtree Street, under the famous tunnels and high risesdesigned by the late, great John Portman, and into some of Atlanta’s most famous filming locations. Most notable is probably the The Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel (The Hunger Games, Spiderman). Just walk into the lobby, and look straight up. After you’ve seen Peachtree Center, you can easily walk back towards Centennial Olympic Park, or just hop back on the Atlanta Streetcar and ride back into the Super Bowl center.
2. The Atlanta Beltline: Eastside Trail vs. Westside Trail
Want to see the real in town neighborhoods of Atlanta? Two great ways to see the heart and soul, and ever-changing cityscape of Atlanta from very different perspectives would be to explore the Atlanta Beltline, which is a walking trail that follows old train tracks encircling the entire city, connecting neighborhoods and communities for miles and miles. Still under construction in many areas, these 2 popular trails have the most to offer in how they represent the city of Atlanta. You need only to decide what version of Atlanta you most want to experience, the “before” or “after” big money comes to town.
The Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail will take you through some of the most recently popular and iconic neighborhoods and attractions of in town Atlanta. Be on the look out for amazing artists murals & graffiti, and don’t forget to look down for @TinyDoorsAtl. Enter at Edgewood Avenue or Irwin Street in Old Fourth Ward (O4W), snake thru Inman Park, check out the O4W Skate Park designed by Tony Hawk, drop in at Ponce City Market, then on to explore the eccentricities of Paris On Ponce (my personal favorite stop AND favorite Tiny Door). If you’ve come this far, you might as well keep going, towards Piedmont Park in Midtown. It might seem as though I breezed thru those destinations pretty quickly, but there are so many bars, restaurants and shops along this route, you can easily spend an entire day soaking up the Atlanta scene. You will be worn-slap-out tho, so better take an Uber or Lyft back to your hotel.
The more recently developed West Side Trail offers a more urban and authentic “Atlanta” experience, and is still pretty under-the-radar. This section of the Beltline gives you a deeper look into the real allure of the version of “Atlanta” that inspired Donald Glover’s Netflix original series, before big developers have been able to fully change the face (and character) of the neighborhood. If cosmopolitan, big-money gentrification gets under your skin, you will want to see the Westside Trail now, before it’s forever changed. And trust me, as a long time resident of Atlanta’s Eastside (pre-Beltline development), that change comes too quickly, and once it occurs, the neighborhood you knew and loved so much, and the people in it, will never again be the same. As for access, West End MARTA Station will get you kinda close, but’s a tricky walk. I would just take a short Uber or Lyft from Downtown to the intersection of Catherine St SW & Allene Ave SW, and access the Westside Trail from there. You will also likely want to Uber/Lyft back Downtown, but if you have some more walking left in you, the Ashby MARTA Station is near the end of the Westside trail, a couple of blocks east on Lena St. NW.
3. MARTA: It may not be perfect, but it’s what we have to work with
It’s true that Atlanta is a city designed for cars, not pedestrians or public transit, but the City of Atlanta (proper) does have some excellent destinations that are (somewhat) connected and accessible by train (MARTA). Here are some highlights for quick & easy day trips accessible via MARTA, from FIVE POINTS station in Downtown, direct with no transfers!
North Ave (Red or Gold Line, Northbound)
If fast food and nostalgia are your achilles heal, North Avenue is your stop. Walk to the Varsity for chili dogs, tour the Fabulous Fox Theatre, get some southern fried soul food at Mary Mac’s, and then enjoy a “Hot Now” fresh glazed Krispy Creme donutat the famous franchise owned and operated by Shaquille O’Neal, then chill out and recover from your food coma over drinks at the Georgian Terrace Hotel bar, just across the street from the glittering lightsof the Fabulous Fox. For me personally, I don’t love southern food as much, so I would skip Mary Mac’s in favor of Bon Ton (Cajun/Korean Fusion) or Papi’s (Cuban/Caribean), but that’s all a matter of taste.
Midtown (Red or Gold Line, Northbound)
MARTA has stops all along Peachtree Street from Downtown to Midtown, and as a result, a lot people can’t tell the difference between Downtown & Midtown. In short, Downtown is more of a business/financial and tourism district, and Midtown is more established as an entertainment, dining & nightlife district. The high-rises in Midtown are ultra modern towers of steel and glass, and house vibrantly occupied residential condominiums on top, with top-notch restaurants, bars, cafes & shoppes along the street level, giving Midtown a little warmer and softer appeal. Midtown station is also only short walk to Piedmont Park, (Atlanta’s version of Central Park in the south), via the controversial and beloved rainbow crossing that marks the long standing LGBTQ history of the famous intersection of Piedmont Ave. & 10th St.
Buckhead, via Lenox (Gold Line, Northbound) or Buckhead Station (Red Line, Northbound)
You will want to have a destination in mind before choosing your stop (Red Line or Gold Line), but Buckheadis pretty much Atlanta’s old-money retail shopping district, with some swank hotels and bourgeoisie restaurants. Take Lenox Station (Gold Line) to Lenox Mall, if you like absolutely need to go to Macy’s or the Apple Store (lol), or I would personally recommend Buckhead Station (Red Line), where you can walk along Peachtree Road in search of something yummy. Again, you probably should Google best things to do in Buckhead, or maybe you already have something in mind. If your desired destination in the Buckhead area isn’t exactly walking distance of a MARTA station, just order an Uber or Lyft and you’ll be there in no time. Just remember you’ll have to grab another Uber/Lyft back to MARTA, or take your chances with traffic heading back Downtown.
Downtown Decatur (Blue Line, Eastbound)
If you want to escape downtown and be transported to a small town atmosphere that feels just a tinge more pedestrian-friendly, Decatur might be just what you’re looking for. The MARTA station sits right underneath the city’s center, and as soon as you emerge from the station, you will be surrounded on all sides by adorable storefronts and hipster eateries. You could spend the day exploring and indulging. Ice cream or fro-yo? Coffee or craft beer? Sushi or charcuterie? So many tough decisions! Then you can hop back on MARTA and be back in Super Bowl city in a jiffy.
Hopefully, this list will help you get around, and make some insightful decisions about where you would really want to go and spend your free time once you get here. Of course there is tons more to see, eat, drink, and explore, but if you’re only in town for a short stay, anything on this list will give you an authentically “Atlanta” experience. Let me know in the comments if you like these ideas, think they’re awful, have a question, or if I left something out. Have fun in ATL, and I hope your team wins! 🙂
Join me on a street photography walk sometime with my meetup group Atlanta Urban Photo Walkers! If you want to see more of my Atlanta cityscape & street photography, I post a curated collection of images consistently on my Instagram feed, or you can find even more of my professional photography on Flickr.