Bikabout's City Guide for Atlanta - recommendations for travel, lodging, eats, drinks, sights and routes curated by locals
We've just returned from a trip to bike Atlanta and Athens, Georgia. It's a bit of a homecoming -- I was born and raised in the suburbs below Atlanta, and Megan moved there in high school. We both stayed through college before moving to the midwest and then Boston, so neither of us has lived down south for 15 years now, but we can still find our way around. I don't have much of a southern accent anymore, unless I'm on the phone with my dad. We really haven't biked in Atlanta Proper much in the interrim, either, so this biking-only trip was a real eye-opener for us.
My grandmother attended Agnes Scott College in Decatur in the 1930s. In order to make the finances work, her mother moved them to a house around the corner from the college, and took in boarders. This, in combination with seamstress work, paid the bills as my grandmother got her education. As I biked alongside the college, I found myself wondering what it would be like to see my grandmother walking past as a young woman headed to class, and how many of the houses looked much the same in 1933 as they do now. I think she'd be thrilled to see what has become of the neighborhood these last 5 or 10 years, given the way it declined after her time there. The character survived.
The Atlanta I remember driving around as a teenager (usually to go to guitar stores, or concerts at Center Stage and the Fox) didn't have bike lanes. It didn't have people biking, either, unless they were too poor to afford a car. It didn't have any sort of visible bike culture. And the inner-most neighborhoods were gutted shadows of their former selves, ransacked of the middle class family bases who all bought 2.1 cars and moved their 2.1 kids to the suburbs, trading bigger back yards and illusions of security for lost time with their families as they sat alone behind a wheel for 2 to 3 hours a day. Retail in those neighborhoods suffered. Culture suffered. What point is there in opening a new restaurant in Kirkwood when your potential customers all split for Roswell, Marietta, and Kennesaw at 5pm?
The Atlanta we just visited, however, is exploding in the best way. I was shocked. There are bike lanes, cycle tracks, and off-street bike paths connecting all sorts of delicious and beautiful places. You don't have to be crazy or desperate to ride a bike in Atlanta anymore, you just have to hate sitting in a hot car in traffic. Riding a bike around town is becoming - dare I say it - hip. We saw almost every kind of cyclist you can imagine, many of them clearly going to or from work. Atlantans are beginning to turn their eyes inward again, looking to the classic inner neighborhoods for a more livable family existence that gets them out of their lengthy car commutes and into the easy lifestyle cadence of living and working in town. The best new restaurants: right around the corner. The hottest new breweries: right here in town. Krog Street Market, who have more good food and top-shelf microbrews than you know what to do with: it's right off the BeltLine trail in Inman Park, and they've got tons of bike parking. And there are more amazing new places popping up every month.
Atlanta had tons of them... on the empty sides of buildings, under bridges, everywhere. They make everything better. When we got back to Boston we both noticed we were experiencing "Mural Withdrawl."
The BeltLine is a set of former-rail corridors now in various states of completion as it becomes off-street bike path cutting through town in multiple directions. Additional dreamy infra includes protected bike lanes downtown on Peachtree Centre and Piedmont.
WORLD-CLASS CULTURAL HERITAGE CENTERS
The Center for Civil and Human Rights, the MLK Jr Memorial, and the Carter Center are bulwarks of common sense and kindness, set in beautiful surroundings.
PUBLIC SPACE ACTIVATION
The Centennial Olympic Park, Piedmont Park, and Historic Fourth Ward Park are all shining examples of large, green, public spaces that are enjoyed by everyone for free.
Neighborhoods are the soul of any city, and the rebirth of Cabbagetown, Fourth Ward, Kirkwood, Decatur, and Inman Park will pay cultural dividends for generations, if it can be maintained. These places are thriving again.
Coming off a somewhat disappointing Milwaukee visit a few months back, in which we saw virtually no infrastructure progress made since we last visited in 2010, we cannot help but think that Atlanta has now stolen Milwaukee's baseball team and its bicycle mojo. Atlanta is on fire (the metaphor is not lost on me).... and they're excited to show you what's changed.
Thanks for a great time, Atlanta. Send shipments of proper Brunswick stew north monthly, please. No one here knows what the hell it is.