You’ll see it. On government buildings, police uniforms, on manhole covers, and on official stationery: the seal of the City of Atlanta. It’s round crest with a picture of a phoenix, rising from a fire—a nod to Atlanta’s rebirth after the devastation of the Civil War. As far as city seals go, it’s pretty hard core.
Much like Atlanta itself, the story of Downtown is one of renewal, and rebirth. You’ll see it a lot in Downtown Atlanta, especially. This is the part of town where they keep City Hall, the courthouses, the utilities agencies, and the like. It's the part of town that became famous back in the mid-90s, when it was home base for the 1996 Olympics. It’s where CNN has its studios, it’s where one of the world’s largest aquariums calls home, and it’s where a vibrant business community cuts deals in buildings that touch the sky.
But only a few blocks away from the sheen and bustle, it’s a different story. Until recently, Downtown was a neighborhood that, simply, wasn’t doing very well. The same can be said for a lot of the Intown neighborhoods, which have benefitted only in the last decade from the trend of urban revitalization; it just took a long time to reach the heart of the city.
That’s why, for the sentimental among us at least, there’s a romantic element to the phoenix on the seal of Atlanta. One by one, the abandoned factories, defunct warehouses, and threadbare street fronts have been given a new life as a diverse class of young professionals have played their own parts in revitalizing the forgotten parts of Downtown. The process is ongoing, but with each new loft space, trendy eatery, and patched sidewalk, it becomes apparent—rising from the ashes is part of Downtown’s essence.
An energetic, urban environment
Getting in on the ground floor in one of Atlanta’s fastest-developing neighborhoods
Really reasonable real estate prices (for now)
A trendy loft space
Walkable amenities, like dining and entertainment venues
Easy MARTA access that goes north/south, and east/west
A diverse population
Proximity to some of the city’s largest employers
Along with neighboring Midtown, Downtown is, for all intents and purposes, the historic, commercial, cultural, financial, governmental, and touristic center of Atlanta. It’s located in the very center of the Perimeter, and is lined by I-20 to the south, I-85 to the east, and Northside Drive to the west.
Architecture buffs should set aside a couple of hours for a self-guided “John Portman Walking Tour.” From the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s, this renowned architect was the singular force responsible for creating the Atlanta skyline as we know it today, with a particular brand of neo-futuristic styling that continues to dominate an eight-square-block footprint in the heart of Downtown. Highlights include the Atlanta Westin, Peachtree Center, the Atlanta Hyatt Regency Hotel, and Suntrust Plaza.
Take a day, early on, and just do the “tourist thing” (no matter which part of the city you end up settling in). It’s amazing how many five-year residents of Atlanta still haven’t checked out the Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, CNN Studios, etc. And unlike a bunch of big cities’ tourist attractions, these fixtures are actually pretty cool.
New to Atlanta?
Whether you’ve already slated your move to Atlanta, or are just considering this city as your new home, you’re likely going to be doing a lot of research. Every city has nuances, history, quirks, and jargon that can be confusing for newcomers, and Atlanta is no different. We’ve taken the liberty of providing a few basics with our Atlanta Beginner’s Guide. Check it out, and you’ll be feeling like a local in no time.
All roads lead to Downtown. But the main streets that will get you in and out are North Avenue and DeKalb Avenue (from the east), and Peachtree Street, Spring Street, and Marietta Street (from the north). In Downtown, the main thoroughfares are Decatur Street, which runs through the middle, and is flanked by a gridded network of commercial and residential streets.
Both I-20 and the Connector are located directly against Downtown, so commuting is easy.
There are actually a half-dozen MARTA rail stops located in Downtown Atlanta. The most important, however, is Five Points station: this stop is the only rail stop in the entire system that offers both north/south and east/west transportation.
As the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, this enormous facility contains tens of thousands of freshwater and marine animals in more than 10 million gallons of water. Highlights include Beluga whales, whale sharks, and even the chance to scuba dive in one of the largest single aquariums in the world. 225 Baker St. NW, (404) 581-4000, georgiaaquarium.org
Yeah, we invented Coke (go ahead, try to find a Pepsi in this city). The World of Coca-Cola is a museum that tells the 125+ year history of this global brand, through entertainment areas, rotating attractions, and a sampling room with every Coca-Cola brand from across the world on tap. 121 Baker St. NW, (404) 676-5151, worldofcoca-cola.com
They laughed when Atlanta was chosen to host the 1996 Olympic Summer Games (the ‘Bubba Games’ was thrown around as a nickname). But the city pulled off the event with flying colors, the attention Atlanta garnered was game-changing, and many of the venues built for the games have been successfully and responsibly repurposed. Centennial Olympic Park was built in the center of Downtown for the games, and today, serves as a hub for tourism and local events. 265 Park Ave. W NW.
Every city has that big, classic standard that’s been around forever. In Atlanta, it’s The Varsity, a burger and hotdog stand that serves American comfort food with a totally old-school sense of charm and kitsch. 61 North Ave. NW, (404) 881-1706, thevarsity.com
Mexican fare receives an inventive twist at this stylish, Latin-infused eatery, which has been chosen as one of the top 10 Mexican restaurants in the country by USA Today. 191 Peachtree St. NE, (404) 968-9662, alma-atlanta.com
Flanked by airy, floor-to-ceiling windows and reclaimed hardwoods, this unexpected Downtown eatery serves farm-fresh New American fare alongside an imaginative bar that’s reason enough to visit all by itself. 270 Peachtree St. NW, (404) 524-7200, whiteoakkitchen.com