Atlanta is a tiny blue anomaly in the otherwise red sea of the Southeast. Its most famous import, rap music, has colored the city in a truly unique way, reinforcing its nickname of “city in a forest.” For as many towering pecan and magnolia trees, there’s just as many breathtaking murals (make a point to stroll the Forward Warrior! works along Wylie Street, in addition to everything else). To save you a couple exhausting decisions, we built a super fun, super ambitious day to maximize Atlanta’s awesome. So tune your rental car’s radio to Streetz 94.5 and get ready to blaze through this secret gem of a Southern locale.
Java Cat Cafe
Make a reservation in advance for $10 a pop to surround yourself with a frenzy of kitties while sipping drip coffee or loose-leaf tea (one or the other is included with the entry fee). Grab a pastry, while you’re at it. Get your pet on and hey, if you’re looking for a new furry friend, you’re in luck; JCC partnered with no-kill shelter PAWS Atlanta to staff their in-cafe cats. So, yes, they’re all up for adoption.
Historic Oakland Cemetery
Just across the street from the cafe, explore the opulent, celebrated resting place of Gone With The Wind author Margaret Mitchell and Atlanta’s first African-American mayor Maynard Jackson. The cemetery is ideal for wandering without an agenda; between the dreamy oak trees and the winding paths, you never get lost—just rerouted.
Maybe this is hitting the nail too directly on the head, but that’s for a reason: cruising on a moving sidewalk through a tunnel of vibrant sea life is kinda as good as it gets. What you’re about to experience is otherworldly. Plus, get in early to skip crowds and soak up the majesty of the aquarium’s whale sharks. After all, they’re the only ones in captivity in the whole dang world.
Your DeKalb Farmers Market
Ever wish you could globetrot without leaving a single, enormous warehouse? Boom, baby. YDFM, as locals affectionately call it, stocks all sorts of produce—dozens of apple varieties as well as exotic fruit like jackfruit—as well as spices in bulk and on the cheap. Bring cash and hit the hot food bar (which also has a selection of killer fresh juices available for purchase). Scoop generously—prices here are mega low. And we know you’ll show up hungry. Don’t skip the cheese aisle but do know it’s not for the faint of heart.
South down Moreland Avenue and right by Constitution Lake, a folk-art trail lined with disembodied dolls’ heads. Back in the day, Carpenter Joel Slaton started exploring land off the beaten path, stumbling upon found objects (yep, including various doll appendages) along the way. There, he started adding more to the developing combination nature trail and public art installation, furthering along what he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he considers “an air of mischief and mystery.” The best part is, despite repeat visits, on Doll’s-Head Trail, you’ll always find something new.
Listen, if you’re not about that social napping life, you’re doing it wrong. Inside H Massage, it’s dim and mellow, tricked out with glitzy gold and jade decor accents. Slowly drain a styrofoam cup of hot tea and melt into the reclining chairs designated for foot massages. Let the team of talented massage therapists guide your chariot to total relaxation. An hour is just $30.
El Rey Del Taco
Now that you’re all soupy, add some spicy sustenance just down Buford Highway. El Rey has super loud, technicolor vibes. Its walls range from magenta to lime green, roomy booths lining the windows. It’s easy enough to disappear into a back booth and treat the chips and queso like a trough. Or, opt for some ceviche and feign some class. (But we know the truth.)
You likely missed the early screening at this drive-in that boasts double features every night of the week, so shoot for the second one, usually falling around 9 or 10 pm. It almost doesn’t matter what’s playing. Fear not—there’s a concessions stand in the center of all the screens shelling delicious treats like nachos. (Okay. Maybe they’re not exactly delicious but they’ll do the trick).
Less of a strip club and more of a dive bar where there just so happens to be mature topless women dancing by the taps, Clermont is an Atlanta institution. Not the best if you’re asthmatic, but quite the novelty if cigarette smoke doesn’t bug you. Come with cash, obviously, and, if you’re coming on a Saturday—when funkmaster DJ Romeo Cologne controls the 1s and 2s, making those deep Jackson 5 cuts drop hard as hell. Come ready to dance, too.
1AM Secret Show
With a revolving door of uproarious talent, the 1AM has become a late-night staple of both local and touring comedians. The line-up change all the time, but the high (get it?) quality never budges. Past performers include Maria Bamford, Aparna Nancherla, and Marc Maron.
Known more for consistency than quality, WaHo will always be there for you. Not much pairs with the end of an adventurous day quite like a pile of smothered, capped hash browns. Plus, it’d be a true disservice to visit the real capital of the Southeast without paying homage to Jermaine Dupri’s command: “After the party, it’s the Waffle House.” The mandatory ending to a day sailing and well spent in the A.
Beca is an Atlanta-based writer. Follow her on Twitter as @becagrimm