Atlanta is a medium-sized city of about 4 million people located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia. It is the largest city in the southeast and is generally regarded as both the cultural and commercial capital of the South.
Atlanta has a number of sites of historical interest. The city was the home base of the civil rights movement and has a National Historic Site devoted to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to the late Dr. King, Atlanta is home to a second Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former president Jimmy Carter, who maintains his presidential library and international human rights organization just east of Downtown.
Atlanta boasts a vibrant arts scene as evidenced by a host of contemporary galleries and the High Museum, as well as a healthy music scene (home to bands such as Outkast, Drive-by Truckers and many lesser-known local acts).
The city is roughly divided into two areas: inside and outside the perimeter (referred to locally as ITP or OTP). OTP areas are mainly suburban and low-density residential neighborhoods. ITP is home to the majority of the interesting historical or cultural attractions. There is an interactive map on this site of inside the perimeter areas (flash plug-in is required for viewing). Use the buttons to zoom in and out and navigate around the map. Many of the important neighborhoods are listed and their geographic location may be seen by clicking on the buttons. Below is a brief description of each part of town and its attractions and general character. The city of Atlanta recently passed a new law requiring all bars to stop serving at 2:30 and close by 3:00 a.m. A few areas such as the Underground in Downtown as well as areas outside of the city (such as Decatur) are exempt from this rule. It is yet to be seen what affect this law will have on the city's nightlife.
Getting Downtown from the airport could not be easier. Just get on MARTA and head north (that's the only direction it goes from the airport and it does not matter which line you take as they don't split until after downtown). It costs $1.75 and will take about twenty minutes. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta has an indoor connection to the Peachtree Center MARTA station. Cabs are also readily available at the airport.
Downtown mainly consists of commercial and government offices as well as many large hotels and convention centers (including the site of the AAAR conference). During the day, it is a very busy area, but at night, the few restaurants and entertainment establishments in this part of town cater almost exclusively to tourists and conventioneers and are consequently rather ordinary. Practically no locals hang out downtown after dark. The good news is that the interesting parts of the city are just a short walk, cab, or train ride away.
Midtown is just north of downtown, beginning at about Ponce de Leon Ave. and continuing north to around the area of the High Museum. Southern parts of Midtown (around 3rd Street) are about a ten minute walk from the Hyatt Regency, or may be reached by MARTA using the North Avenue station. The Tenth and Piedmont area (home to the Midtown Flying Biscuit, Nickiemoto's Sushi, Zocolo's Mexican restaurant as well as Piedmont Park) may be easily reached using the Midtown MARTA station. Apres Diem, a very popular restaurant/bar/cafe, is a couple of blocks east on Monroe on the other side of the park. The Crescent Avenue area of Midtown (home to Front Page News and quite a few bars and clubs such as the Velvet Room and the 1150) can be reached either by cab or also by the Midtown station and a walk around the Treasury building between Tenth and Eleventh Streets.
The Westside is an up-and-coming part of town west of Midtown on the other side of Georgia Tech's campus. Several restaurants consistently ranked as the best in the city (such as Bacchanalia and a few places in the King Plow Arts Center) are located here. A couple of old-school dives like the Northside Tavern and several galleries such as The Contemporary, are also found here. The only practical way to reach this area is by car (or cab).
Buckhead is probably the most famous part of Atlanta. It is located on Peachtree about three miles north of Downtown and may be reached by MARTA using the Buckhead station, although a cab is probably better (the Buckhead station is next to the shopping district, to reach Buckhead village, walk south on Peachtree about six or seven blocks or take the #23 bus). Buckhead has a reputation of being rowdy and obnoxious, but there are also quite a few authentic and/or exceptional establishments here. The recent early-closing law was enacted to curb shenanigans in Buckhead, although it applies to the whole city.
Castleberry Hill and West End are two areas southeast of Downtown. Castleberry Hill has lots of galleries and a few restaurants (such as Slice on Peters Street). West End is just south of Atlanta University center (home of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University). Both areas may be reached by MARTA (using the Garnett station for Castleberry Hill or the West End station for West End), but a cab is probably quicker.
The Highlands is a long area paralleling North Highland Avenue to the Northeast of Downtown. The area north of Ponce de Leon Ave. is known as the Virginia-Highlands (after Virginia Avenue) while the area south of Ponce is called Poncey-Highlands. Va-Hghlds is more upscale. There are more good restaurants than can be briefly mentioned within two blocks of the intersection of Virginia and North Highland as well as several of the more popular drinking establishments (Dark Horse Tavern, Limerick Junction, Atkins Park). Poncey-Highlands is frequented by a younger crowd than V.H. and provides a more unique glimpse of the true city of Atlanta. There are several good restaurants near Ponce and Highland (such as Muse) and bars (such as the Righteous Room). The Clermont Lounge on Ponce is absolutely legendary in Atlanta. The less said about it the better, but many people have declared it a positively must-see. Don't go before midnight. MJQ on Ponce is considered by most hipsters to be Atlanta's best club. It doesn't advertise and is literally underground, but this is where the best DJ's for all styles of music spin. The Local on Ponce is the local hang-out for an eclectic bunch including aspiring Atlanta author Hollis Gillespie. Java Jive on Ponce is a favorite breakfast restaurant. A cab will be required to get to the Highlands from Downtown, but it is well worth the fare.
Little Five Points is the intersection of Euclid, Moreland and McClendon Avenues (not to be confused with Five Points downtown). This is the home of good eats and drinks, and during the day good shops. The Variety Playhouse is one of the best places around to see a live band, and its worth a trip to the Star Bar just to see the Elvis vault. L5P can be reached by cab or by taking the east MARTA line to the Inman Park/Reynoldstown station and then walking north on Moreland for three blocks.
Candler Park is just up McClendon Avenue from L5P. There are several restaurants here, but Candler Park is best known for being home to the original Flying Biscuit, one of the favorite breakfast joints in the city.
Grant Park is the home of the Cyclorama (museum of the Battle of Atlanta) and the Atlanta zoo. Not much happens here after dark.
East Atlanta is the the intersection of Glenwood and Flat Shoals. There are several good restaurants and bars here such as the Heaping Bowl, the E.A.R.L., the Gravity Pub and the Echo Lounge. The E.A.R.L. and the Echo Lounge are also excellent places to see local live bands. East Atlanta is not easily reached by MARTA, but is just a couple of minutes from Downtown by cab.
Decatur is a separate city about three or four miles east of Downtown. The Decatur station on the east MARTA line is right in the square. Many, many restaurants and bars in this area.
Buford Highway is a road heading northeast out of the city. The area around where Buford Highway crosses the perimeter is the home to much of Atlanta'a Asian immigrant population, particularly Korean and Chinese. There are seriously more restaurants here than can be mentioned and nearly all of them are 100% authentic and very good. The one drawback is that it is hard to get here from Downtown without a car. The Chamblee and Doraville MARTA stations are in this area, but 10-20 minutes of walking may still be involved. A cab ride is still affordable if several people share the fare.
Roswell Road is also home to a large immigrant population, in this case, many Mexicans and Persians. The best Persian restaurants in the city are all within a mile of where Roswell Road crosses the perimeter. A cab is pretty much the only way to get to this area from downtown.
In addition, there are a few notable establishments that are not found in a readily defined neighborhood. The best Ethiopian restaurant close to downtown is Meskerem in the Tara shopping center at the intersection of LaVista and Cheshire Bridge Road (need a cab). Udipi Cafe on Scott Blvd. in Decatur is one of the best Indian restaurants in the city (there are many more Indian places in this area). Right next door is Cafe Istanbul, one of the better Turkish restaurants. This area is a bit far (about five miles east of downtown).