Atlanta's neighborhoods are as distinct as individual towns and showcase the many unique aspects of this sprawling Southern metropolis. It all starts at the center with Downtown, the city's bustling historic heart, home to most of Atlanta's business and civic buildings and some of its biggest tourist attractions. Following famed Peachtree Street to the northeast will take you into the cultured Midtown district. Follow it even further north and you'll come to the elegant Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. Bordering Downtown on its southeast is the historic African-American area, Sweet Auburn, due south of which you'll find Grant Park, home of Zoo Atlanta. Westside is west of Midtown, while to its east is the eclectic Virginia-Highland; just south of that are the even more eclectic Poncey-Highland and Little Five Points.
Like its fancier northern neighbor Virginia-Highland, Poncey-Highland got part of its name from Highland Avenue. The other part came from Ponce de Leon Avenue. The biggest mainstream attraction is the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum but it’s also the home of the Clermont Lounge, Atlanta's oldest strip club and a Playboy-rated top ten dive bar. Freedom Park is the largest public green space designated as such in a U.S. city in the last hundred years. That distinction, however, came at a cost: 500 homes were demolished to make room for a freeway project that was never completed. Turning it into a park was a face-saving move by the city.
Downtown Atlanta was born in the late 1830s as the town of Terminus adopting the name Atlanta in 1845. Today the Georgia State Capitol is here along with most of the city's tallest buildings and a good number of its most popular attractions including the Georgia Aquarium, CNN Center and the World of Coca Cola. Downtown includes many smaller sub-sections of Atlanta neighborhoods, such as the industrial-artsy Castleberry Hill and SoNo (South of North Avenue) where you'll find the Atlanta Civic Center.
Getting its name from the intersection of Virginia and Highland Avenues, this Atlanta neighborhood began as a residential and commercial area in the 1920s and remained prosperous until city residents began heading for the suburbs in the 1960s. The 1980s brought urban renewal and today Virginia-Highland is a popular walking and shopping area, its main streets lined with trendy restaurants, coffeehouses, bars and boutiques. Every June, Virginia-Highland hosts Summerfest, an arts and food fiesta. In 2008, it was proclaimed the country's first carbon-neutral retail zone.
Thick with restaurants, clubs and shopping, Midtown is also the home of beautiful Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the city's arts district. This is where the diverse currents that make up modern Atlanta meet and mix: It serves as Atlanta's de facto GLBT neighborhood and is the city's secondary financial center. You’re as likely to see a same-sex couple out for a stroll as you are to see a pant-suited bankers on their way to power lunch. Atlantic Station, a massive urban redevelopment project that opened in 2005, is now a thriving shopping and residential city-within-a-city. Since 2006, efforts have been under way to turn a 14-block stretch of Peachtree Street (a.k.a. the Midtown Mile) into an ultra-high-end shopping district.
Buckhead's sometimes called "the Beverly Hills of the East," and the comparison is easy to understand. Both are basically cities unto themselves within larger cities; both have grand homes, upscale shopping, divine dining and raucous nightlife. Both are conspicuously wealth, with Buckhead zip code 30327 being pegged by Forbes magazine as the ninth richest in the nation. Covering a large swath of Atlanta's north side, Buckhead has its own urban center and high rises. Buckhead’s retail stores reportedly rake in more than $1 billion annually. Even if you’re not planning to drop next month’s mortgage on a dinner or buy out the displays at a top-end boutique, it’s a fun place to window shop and have drinks and appetizers before heading for more monetarily moderate surroundings.
As a main hub of African-American life in Atlanta during the segregation era, Auburn Avenue was hailed as "the richest black street in America." It's now home to the wonderful Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and the Rucker Building, Atlanta's first black-owned office building. The city's first black-owned newspaper, the Atlanta Daily World, debuted here in 1928. This entire Atlanta neighborhood was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 though neglect has sadly put it on several "endangered places" lists in recent years. It can be a little dicey for walking late at night, but it’s convenient to the Georgia State University campus and to restaurants and nightlife.
Little Five Points
Step into Southern-style Bohemia in this eclectic enclave known for its progressive arts community and offbeat shopping. Sometimes abbreviated L5P or LFP, the neighborhood got its name for the five-pronged intersection that was once its center (only the four prongs of Moreland and Euclid Avenues remain). While tourists have discovered L5P (some would say they've overrun it), independence is still the order of the day. This Atlanta neighborhood is home to indie radio station WRFG and you’re going to see a lot of tattoos and piercings if you people watch long enough. Halloween is huge in L5P, a weekend-long festival of bands, booths and a wild parade that's quirky even by Halloween standards.
Still known to many as Home Park, the recently renamed neighborhood of Westside is so new that the jury's still out on the spelling. Located in Atlanta's northwest, Westside has garnered local buzz as “the next big area,” stealing the thunder from up-and-comers like East Atlanta Village and Castleberry Hill. Already a number of art galleries have swooped into Westside occupying former industrial spaces. The great restaurants that were already here (like Bacchanalia) have been joined by a slew of exciting newcomers such as FLIP Burger Boutique. The New York Times Travel section has already done a piece on Westside. Can a Whole Foods be far behind?