Ponce de Leon Avenue (or “Ponce,” as the locals call it) is a road you’ll very quickly become familiar with if you plan on spending, well, anytime at all in or around the core of Atlanta.
Pull out a map of the city, and track down The Fabulous Fox Theatre in Midtown (one of the grandest old showhouses in the American South). That should serve as a good starting point. From there, trace your finger to the east, until you hit Decatur: that’s Ponce.
Needless to say, commuters in the eastern neighborhoods rely heavily on this avenue to get from point A to point B, especially if they’re aiming for the I-75/I-85 Connector, located only a few blocks away from Ponce’s western terminus. That being said, plan your schedule accordingly: rush hour can render certain stretches of Ponce pretty congested during the weekdays. Savvy commuters who rely on this route, and who happen to live south of Ponce, can find some workarounds, however, in the forms of DeKalb Avenue and Memorial Drive. This road, however, is about way more than access. From shopping meccas to quiet neighborhood eateries, to some of Atlanta’s most historic sites, Ponce de Leon Avenue will more than likely become a frequent destination. Here’s a side note: the six-mile stretch we just mentioned is what most people think of when they think of Ponce. But, it’s worth mentioning that technically, that’s just West Ponce de Leon. Starting in Decatur and heading eastward for almost 12 miles is East Ponce de Leon, which continues outside of the city, ending in Stone Mountain, Ga.
Ponce has long been a commuter route — even since before the automobile was invented. More than a century ago, the electrified streetcar was the travel option of choice, and many who lived in the neighborhoods that now comprise east Atlanta would take the famous “Nine-Mile Circle” to get to where they were going. Ponce was a big part of that circuit. And before electricity came along, this street was a horsecar line.
W. Ponce de Leon Avenue:
Midtown – Old Fourth Ward – Poncey-Highland – Virginia-Highland - Druid Hills – Decatur
E. Ponce de Leon Avenue:
Decatur – Scottdale – Clarkston – Tucker - Stone Mountain
A mainstay from the old days of Vaudeville, the “Fabulous” Fox does some great stage performances from local and traveling companies alike, but check back often for their regular movie nights (the architecture of the building, which evokes an evening in Marrakesh, is worth the price of admission all by itself).
The big mamma of converted urband development: Ponce City Market was once a 2.2 million-square-foot Sears distribution center. Today, it’s a mixed used space that includes dozens of restaurants, shops, boutiques, offices, cultural hubs, living space… you name it. And it’s pretty new — keep an eye on it as it explodes in the coming years.
At the intersection of Ponce and North Highland, Atlanta’s history comes crashing together. There’s the Majestic Diner and The Plaza movie theater, just to name the oldest hangouts, but heading a little to the north or south can be a day-long activity, too: Virginia-Highland and Poncey-Highland, respectively, with their Victorian homes and fun dining spots, is more than worth a lazy Saturday stroll.
A string of beautifully manicured parks were once at the doorsteps of some of Atlanta’s historically elite families. Today, not much has changed — except for the fact that this region of the city also serves as the site of the CDC and Emory University, two of Atlanta’s largest employers.
In a town with more than its fair share of museums, the Fernbank often goes unnoticed, which is a bit of a bummer — this facility has full-scale dinosaur skeletons and an IMAX screen, and on Fridays throughout the year, they throw the doors open for a prolonged cocktail hour that’s a must-visit for new Atlantans to get their feet wet.
Atlanta’s “city-within-a-city,” Decatur exudes small-town charm alongside a list of activities that are perfect for visitors and residents alike: great restaurants, charming boutiques, and a full calendar of cultural events are open to all, and with easy access (there’s a MARTA stop just under the town square), it’s never too far away.
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