Atlanta, my hometown, is best known for its role in the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and Coca-Cola. Many sports fans follow the Braves (aka America’s Team), and many people get their news from Atlanta-based CNN. The Art and Culture, while less known, still has an important presence in the United States’ ninth-largest metropolitan area. Here is a very brief tour:
City Segway Tours is the single best way to get an overview of the city. I say this not only because I used to be a tour guide with the company, but also as a native. Based in Downtown, CST will train you to ride the groovy Segway scooters and lead you on a three-hour tour all over the downtown area. Some of the sites include: the state capitol, the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site, Centennial Olympic Park, CNN Center, and the kitchy World of Coca-Cola.
Going up Peachtree Street to Midtown, you can see The Fox Theatre. Originally a movie house built with Moorish decor, it how hosts a variety of events, such as the Atlanta Ballet and touring Broadway shows. It also houses the Mighty Mo, a rare type of organ known as a “theater organ” that contains pipes like a church organ, but also a variety of percussive instruments.
Further up Peachtree Street is a treat for literature fans – the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum. This was formerly the Crescent Apartments, which Mitchell called “The Dump,” and is where she lived while she wrote the majority of Gone With the Wind. (Note: the premiere of the film took place at Loew’s Grand Theatre, which has been destroyed and replaced by the Georgia Pacific Building – you can see this on your Segway tour!)
Continuing up Peachtree Street you will find The High Museum of Art, the largest art museum in Atlanta. The building itself is a wonderful open, white, modern structure designed by Richard Meier (and, I must note, used as the psych ward holding Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann’s Manhunter!). It houses a good collection from the 19th century to the present, and features touring exhibits on the top floor.
The High is part of the Woodruff Arts Center, which also houses the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Alliance Theatre. The ASO has been under the baton of Robert Spano since 2001; Spano has been instrumental in championing contemporary composers during his tenure. These composers have been dubbed “The Atlanta School,” despite their different styles and lack of personal connection to the city. Some of these composers include Osvaldo Golijov, Christopher Theofanidis, and Jennifer Higdon.
Two blocks west of the Woodruff/High complex is the unique Center for Puppetry Arts. The Center has a museum with puppets from all over the world, including some Muppets! They have many puppetry shows, as well, ranging from children-friendly fare to the 18-and-up-only Xperimental Puppetry Theater. See video below.
A little bit east of Peachtree Street are two of the city’s best places to catch arthouse and foreign films: the Plaza and the Midtown Art. The Plaza, on Ponce De Leon Ave at North Highland, is an institution, and billed as the oldest continually-runing cinema in Atlanta. Now run as a non-profit, its two screens show art films and slightly-off-mainstream films (Inglourious Basterds is playing now, for example). Midtown Art on Monroe Ave was once a very run-down second-run theatre, but Landmark Theatres took it over and it’s now very well-done, complete with midnight showings of classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark. (PS – Rocky Horror is at the Plaza).
These theaters are both nearby Atlanta’s Virginia Highlands (centered around North Highland Ave) and Little Five Points (centered around Moreland Ave) neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are the best areas for finding a variety of hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars. Some, like the Red Light Café and the Five Spot, even feature film screenings and showcase local painters for multidisciplinary good times. Little Five Points is home to some great underground playhouses, the most well-known of which are Dad’s Garage and 7 Stages.
Between downtown and Little Five Points sits Eyedrum, the best-known experimental gallery/venue. Eyedrum hosts shows by visual artists, and concerts including a monthly free improv night and contemporary music ensembles like Bent Frequency.
In summary, I would like to propose a loose itenerary for a weekend in Hotlanta:
Arrive in the afternoon, hang out in downtown. See Centennial Olympic Park, maybe take in the Georgia Aquarium or (if you’re in the mood for such a thing), the World of Coke. Grab a bison burger at Ted’s (in Ted Turner's building - he lives in the penthouse), then see a concert at the Tabernacle (rock) or the Rialto (classical/jazz).
Take the AM City Segway Tour and learn a ton about Atlanta history.
Drive up Peachtree to see the Fox, Mitchell house, and the High.
Catch the Symphony or a show at the Center for Puppetry Arts.
Head over to Virginia Highlands or Little Five Points for some bar hopping and/or live music.
Go to something you read about in “the Loaf” or just…
Wander around Little Five – check out the crazies, shop at Junkman’s Daughter (fun retro clothes), thumb through the vinyl at Wax n Facts or Criminal Records, browse around at A Capella Books. Have a late lunch at El Myr (split a pitcher of some great sangria, have a Hazeadilla [a great, hearty vegan quesodilla]) or The Vortex (awesome beer list, award-winning burgers).
Wish you were still in Atlanta.