Because Atlanta has the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the city’s open-door policy sort of happens by default. But spending a two-hour layover in a terminal and actually engaging yourself in a place for two days are two very different things. If you’re in the latter party, read on for an itinerary that samples the Georgia capital’s strong cultural history and diverse culinary and entertainment scenes.
Though you couldn’t go wrong by starting Day 1 off at breakfast landmarks Thumbs Up or Silver Skillet, we suggest bucking morning tradition just a pinch and venturing to Radial Café, a friendly restaurant in East Atlanta that’s generous with the pancake portions (sweet specials can include flapjacks studded with brownie chunks) and takes it easy on the environment with its strong recycling and composting initiatives. After your meal, take a 12-minute drive to Midtown, where you can walk among the high-rises. Or go for green scenery with a stroll in Piedmont Park.
Then make your way to The High Museum of Art, one of the country’s more underrated art hubs. It welcomes “Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney” in October, making it well worth a visit. Now, when those hunger pains hit, greeters at the High might suggest a touristy dining stop like hot-dog haven The Varsity or Southern cooking fave Mary Mac’s. And while both have their place, try one of the city’s newer spots for mingling and munchies, Atlanta Food Truck Park. With outposts like Sweet Auburn Barbeque and Mighty Meatballs regularly parked in the lot, the place is a fun alternative slice of Atlanta food life.
By the time you finish eating, it’ll be midday. In most cities, that doesn’t mean much for traffic, but in the ATL, 2:30 p.m. is like rush hour. You’ll owe yourself some downtime at the hotel after weaving around I-75 congestion. When you recover, head to Decatur Square for dinner at chef Billy Allin’s raved-over modern American restaurant Cakes & Ale. The menu is a seasonal one, serving up plates such as potato gnocchi with duck and pork ragu, acorn squash and roasted grapes, or crispy quail with corn purée, muscadine-marinated kale, long beans and roasted onion. Only a short walk from the restaurant is Eddie’s Attic, a no-frills music venue that attracts local singer-songwriters and mellow national acts that will make you toe-tap the night away.
If Day 2 is a Sunday, your first stop should be The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead’s legendary brunch. It’s a lavish, 100-item spread your stomach will never forget (nosh on everything from Malpeque oysters to mushroom-truffle risotto). If it’s any other day, your taste buds are still in for a treat at West Egg Café, a modern, energetic spot serving up wicked waffles and pimento cheese and bacon omelets. After breakfast, head over to The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, a historic complex that also includes King’s birth home and the final resting place of the civil-rights icon and his wife, Coretta Scott King, on its grounds.
The Busy Bee Café, a soul-food staple in the city since 1947, is another can’t-miss destination. But know two things before going: 1. The restaurant is closed on Saturdays; 2. The tiny place is extremely busy every other day. But trust us, the fried chicken and turnip greens are well worth maneuvering around the cozy quarters.
Only a few minutes’ drive away is Centennial Park, a tourist hub with attractions at every turn — World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium and the CNN Center. All three options are great, but sometimes a people-watching stroll around the park is all you need. Before closing out the night, dive into the city’s underrated seafood scene. The Optimist made a tremendous splash into the category last year. Goin’ Coastal is another relatively new eatery making waves with its flavor-filled sustainable menu. You win with either choice. Much like you can’t do any wrong with 48 free hours in the Capital of the South.
Photos Courtesy of iStock/Jeremy Edwards