One of the biggest misconceptions people have about Atlanta is that it doesn’t get cold in the winter. Blame the antiquated “Hotlanta” moniker for some of the naiveté, but whatever you do, don’t blame us if you get caught on Peachtree Street in mid-January without a jacket.
Of course, right now, falling temperatures are the last things on football fans’ minds. With Alabama readying to battle Washington in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Georgia Dome, December 31) for the right to play in the national title game on January 9, the city, understandably, has sports on its collective brain.
But as we’ve discovered while venturing across the ATL recently, there are other things going on around town centering on the holidays, good eating and having a great time. So, if you find yourself in Atlanta for football, fun or for work, take joy in knowing that the local calendar is so hot with activity over the next few months that we’d almost suggest coming out without a coat. Almost.
“I think the overriding factor that makes Atlanta so [special] is the Southern hospitality,” says Gary Stokan, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president and CEO. “I’m personally from Pittsburgh, but when I came down here, [I noticed] a different perspective of people willing and having a desire to host people. If you start with that culture as the underlying factor, then everything builds upon that foundation.”
The city will proudly showcase these traits around high-profile sporting events over the next few years, specifically with the 2018 NCAA national football championship, the 2019 Super Bowl and 2020 men’s Final Four.
At this year’s Peach Bowl, Stokan’s team has put together a can’t-miss game plan filled with fan days at the College Football Hall of Fame (December 29 to January 1), an interactive FanFest (December 31), a downtown parade (December 31) and all the pageantry you’d expect for a game that will have more than 15 million television viewers.
“For us to achieve the level of success now that we’re mentioned in the same sentence as the Rose, Sugar and Cotton bowls, [makes us] kind of like the little train that could,” Stokan says of the 48-year-old Peach Bowl. “It’s taken a lot of people a lot of hours and a lot of work, but for me to see them enjoy the success is real payback.”
When you do tire of the pigskin excitement near the Dome, neighboring attractions have plenty to keep you occupied. Through the holidays, glide on over to Centennial Olympic Park’s ice rink or stop by World of Coca-Cola, where Gingerbread Coke and Chocolate Cherry Coke will flow in the Taste It! Beverage Lounge and Haddon Sundblom’s art will show in a festive exhibit.
Atlanta Botanical Garden may be a 15-minute drive from the park, but its sixth annual Holiday Nights light spectacle (through January 7) is well worth the trip. If, for some reason, you miss the luminescent fun, the garden invites you out for the return of its wildly lauded “Orchid Daze” exhibit from February 11 to April 9.
While places like San Francisco and New York City remain the standards for culinary excellence in this country, Atlanta has more than worked its way into the “great foodie cities” conversation. And if you’re visiting anytime soon, you can sample from the figurative harvest that local legends like Anne Quatrano (Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Bacchanalia), Linton Hopkins (Four-Star Restaurant Eugene, Linton’s at the Atlanta Botanical Garden) and Ford Fry (The Optimist, King + Duke) began planting across the city years ago.
Downtown’s Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta is the home to chef Josh Fryer. Though his name may not carry the oomph of some of his skillet-wielding brethren yet, his skills are impeccable.
Fryer leads the kitchen at the hotel’s newly re-imagined AG restaurant. He and his crew are responsible for a fascinating menu of Southern classics done with a wink (see: barbecue chicken salad, Southern fried chicken doughnut).
Because of a partnership with free-spirited Vermont whiskey distillery Whistlepig, the restaurant does some fun things with cocktails, too.
Krog Street Market, a popular mixed-use space in Atlanta’s Old 4th Ward, has become somewhat of a hot spot for restaurant openings over the past few months, with the debuts of places like Richards’ Southern Fried in July and Suzy Siu’s Baos in November.
Some established spots, like Midtown’s four-year-old The Lawrence, are deserving of your time as well. Here, new American dishes are presented with a global slant, so expect your halibut glazed with tamarind and your corn served with a side of jalapeño mayo.
Over on the Westside, amid the shadows of culinary pillars such as Bacchanalia and Miller Union, patrons are noticing a smattering of new eateries. While Cooks & Soldiers may be the most heralded newcomer, we’re confident you’ll love Eight Sushi Lounge this season. The one-year-old restaurant in The Brady (right behind The Optimist) looks like a hip bistro in Soho (light woods, eclectic light fixtures) but its Shinobi rolls and miso salmon taste like something in Kyoto.
You may not be able to find a spot at the six-seat bar, but if you can somehow get your hands on a My Neighbor’s Garden (vodka, cucumber, lime, tarragon and absinthe mist), you’ll be in for quite the warm winter night.
Though Serenbe has gotten accolades for more than a decade, some Atlantans still don’t realize what they have right in their own backyard — even though the almost-fanciful village of style and sustainability sits a mere 25 miles south of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Part inn, part innovative farming community, Serenbe (pronounced “Se-ren-be”) is the brainchild of Steve Nygren and his wife, Marie. In the early 1990s, the couple bought the Chattahoochee Hills land thinking it would be a great place for family and friends. It certainly was, only the Nygrens didn’t realize how many “friends” they really had.
So, over the past decade, the property has grown in land (1,000 acres), luxuriousness (27 rooms) and permanent residences, but the owners’ message of living at one with nature still resonates.
When you check into the restored, early 1900s farmhouse, you’ll find your modern conveniences, like flat-screen TVs and glass-enclosed showers, but they’ll be paired with Mother Nature-approved bath products and recycling bins. The same thoughtfulness was put into cottages so serene you almost feel yourself falling off into a nap before you hit the front porch.
While Serenbe would have been well within its rights to consider a family pool, lake and miles of Georgia greenery enough to keep visitors busy during their stay, the Atlanta getaway instead stuffs its amenity list with kids’ interests (a petting zoo), Broadway-worthy theatrical productions (The Snow Queen through December 30), holiday festivities (New Year’s Eve party) and cute boutiques.
Mealtime at Serenbe feels like an event, too. With a 25-acre certified organic farm yielding more than 300 types of produce, flowers and fruit, the onsite dining options have a seemingly endless supply of deliciousness at their disposal.
Blue Eyed Daisy sells amazing sandwiches and irresistible baked goods.
The Hil on the Hill is the reservations-suggested, pluck-to-plate restaurant that’s worthy of the drive from downtown, even if you aren’t staying the night. The smashed potatoes with crème fraîche, braised lamb and blackened grouper are just that good.
Thanks to a daily-changing menu that often includes stone-ground grits, and biscuits with hot pepper jelly, even the country breakfast at The Farmhouse is a morning treat.
Serenbe is hoping the communal vibe its visitors and full-time residents feel will only grow once the campus expands over the next few years with Mado. This ambitious new neighborhood is expected to have a medical center, schools, spa, a boutique hotel and hundreds of Earthcraft-certified dwellings.
In other words, Atlanta’s premier pastoral escape will have plenty more to lure you away from the city.