Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Atlanta! Some people think the South is an area bereft of culture. Nothing could be less true! In 24 Hours in Atlanta, you could see everything from an orchid show to a statue of perhaps the world’s most famous French basketball player. (In fact, we will see both today.)
You could dine alongside President Obama. You could even meet Atlanta’s most famous defense attorney, and this website’s mascot, Ben Matlock. (OK, that might be hard because tragically he is fictional.) Come with me for some upscale glass installations and some down-home cooking. What’ll ya have?
24 Hours in Atlanta
Where to Stay?
Atlanta’s a big city with many different spread-out neighborhoods. But I like staying in Downtown Atlanta because it’s easy to reach many of the most popular attractions right away. Also it’s near the subway system, aka MARTA. Everyone likes to rag on MARTA, but it’s still better than Atlanta traffic!
Anyway, that’s why I recommend Hyatt House Atlanta Downtown. The rooms are huge, there’s a free breakfast spread every morning with many options, and the staff has that friendly Southern charm. Also it’s in a great, safe location. You can’t do better in this price range.
24 Hours in Atlanta
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Georgia is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Atlanta
Morning: Atlanta Botanical Garden
Many people are unaware that Atlanta is sometimes called “the city in a forest”. It is jampacked with parks galore. In fact, it has the largest percentage of tree cover of any city in the United States. And the best place to get your tree hugging on is the Botanical Garden in Piedmont Park. The Garden has been in Atlanta since the 70s, so I assume that Jimmy Carter founded it. (Not going to look that up. Just go with it.)
I always have a wonderful time at the ABG, except for that one time I found this lost dog and couldn’t find his owner.
Hope you got home safe and sound, big guy!
The Botanical Garden often has special artistic installations to go along with its exuberant plant life. Of course, Atlanta has just about three seasons every year, so the plants will change along with the seasons. I was there in the summer, so if you go in fall/winter/whatever it never snows in Atlanta and if it does everyone freaks out, I can’t guarantee you’ll see the same plants. However I can guarantee you will learn.
Three fun facts: atlanta botanical garden edition
1) why so many trees?
Atlanta, Georgia is 36% tree. And at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, you can actually walk in the canopies of the trees. The garden has the largest tree-canopy walkway in the United States. You can make like a squirrel or an arboreal gnome and scurry from tree to tree with no one to stop you.
The tree canopy is located in Storza Woods, which used to belong to something called the Gentlemen’s Driving Club. Is that driving with cars or driving with golf clubs? It’s very hard to tell in Atlanta.
2) who built that orange phallus?
Glass-based artist Dale Chihuly has a special relationship with the ABG. He’s been exhibiting pieces here since 2004. Some, like the Saffron Tower Water Mirror Staircase pictured above, are permanent.
Some, like these red and yellow demon fingers, are more temporary in nature. But what happens to the glass exhibits when the exhibition is over? Does the glass get moved to a museum? Or does it get thrown away? That seems like a terrible waste of sand.
3) what are the prettiest flowers?
The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s best indoor collection are its gobsmacking display of orchids. They are located in the Fuqua Center, which I think was named after Training Day director Antoine Fuqua.
There are so many wonderful treasures in an orchid. Did you know the orchid has the greatest variety of any species of flower? And did you know that the vanilla plant is really an orchid? Finally, did you know that orchids need humid temperatures to thrive? Well, you should so you can prepare and bring a hairbrush with you to the Botanic Garden. Once you leave the Orchid Center, your hair will have frizzed into oblivion.
24 Hour Treasure: The Flying Biscuit
Any time I am in Atlanta, I crave breakfast at The Flying Biscuit. It has 17 locations now, but it started as a local place in Atlanta, and it still has the feeling of a neighborhood hangout, not a chain. For this itinerary, you should visit the Midtown location.
My favorite thing about The Flying Biscuit is that they serve breakfast all day. As Leslie Knope says, “Why would people ever want to eat anything but breakfast food?” Especially when that breakfast comes with sausage, grits, AND a biscuit. That spread you see in the little metal dish is cranberry apple butter. It’s just the right sweet-tart choice to plop on that tangy biscuit.
As much as I like the food here, I’m always tempted to complain because I’ve been here several times and I have never even once seen that biscuit fly. I call that false advertising.
24 Hours in Atlanta
Afternoon: High Museum
The High Museum of Art has been around since 1905. Its name has nothing to do with tree canopies, flying biscuits, or drug use. It was named after the High family who donated their ancestral abode to house the museum. ATLiens can call this museum “The High” for short.
You might be confused because this modern structure above doesn’t look anything like a place a wealthy Atlanta family might live around the turn of the century. You are most correct, Internet Stranger! The current building was erected in the 80s, thanks in large part to a grant from Coca Cola Big Wig (TM) Robert Woodruff. So I guess this makes the High the umpti-millionth thing the city owes to Coke.
PS. Try saying high with a Southern accent. It’s very fun.
The High has a rich collection of art as well as regular temporary exhibitions, so allow me to focus your journey with…
Approximately top 5: high museum edition
1) Pennsylvania Dutch Trunk
It’s always a pleasure to find pieces in an art museum that aren’t just your typical painting or bust. This is a colonial trunk belonging to the Pennsylvania Dutch. These are more commonly known as the Amish, from the Harrison Ford film Witness. Each image on the trunk would have had a special significance for the Pennsylvania Dutch. The hearts symbolize God’s love. The star also symbolizes God. But I want to know which design symbolizes scrapple.
2) Still Life With Orange by emile bernard
I enjoy learning about new artistic styles almost as much as I like trying new foods. This painting is the Synthetist style. Apparently this means the painter was supposed to attempt to paint from memory and not from life. Is this really how Bernard remembers fruits and vegetables? Because they kind of look like ghost vegetables to me. He might want to consider shopping at a different farmers’ market.
3) Half-Tide Annisquam River by Cecilia Beaux
Cecilia Beaux was the most prominent female painter in the United States at the turn of the century. Yet I had never heard of her before visiting the High! Sometimes I feel like my high school textbooks left a lot of information out. Apparently she was famous for painting portraits of rich people. Isn’t that how most portrait painters get famous? It seems a lot harder to get famous by painting portraits of randos on the street. They just don’t give as much publicity.
4) Face Jugs
Face jugs are an African-American art form that dates to the 1800s. They are probably a continuation of a tradition practiced in the Congo. Nobody knows exactly why enslaved Africans began making them. I mean, we know that the jugs were made to hold liquid. But scholars can’t agree on the purpose. Some think it was the enslaved people’s way of making a self-portrait. Others think the faces were meant to scare off evil spirits. What everyone agrees on is that face jugs are one of the first uniquely American art forms.
5) The church is the union hall by Ben shahn
This illustration was commissioned by Fortune magazine in 1946. They wanted Shahn’s commentary on the movement to create unions in the South. Ben Shahn was a Lithuanian-born Jewish artist. He was a strongly pro-labor member of the Social Realist movement. His best-known work may be his portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. My brain struggles to visualize Fortune Magazine commissioning such an image today.
24 Hours in Atlanta
Evening: Dinner at The Varsity
This is my second chain restaurant recommendation of the evening, and yet I regret nothing. I’ve been going to The Varsity since I was a little girl. I used to sleep in a bright red Varsity shirt. At least four presidents have dined here. (That’s Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.) Comedian Nipsey Russell got started as a carhop here. If you spend 24 hours in Atlanta and don’t go to the Varsity, I don’t think you can really say you’ve been to Atlanta at all.
24 hour treat: The Stella Special
The Stella Special is what I call my regular order at The Varsity. It is not on the menu. Do not try to order it. At The Varsity, they always ask to take your order by asking “What’ll ya have?” It’s the restaurant’s catchphrase. If you want the Stella Special, ask for two chili dogs with fries, an Varsity orange drink, and a fried peach pie. The Varsity has its own special language so just be aware if you ask for a “hot dog”, you’re going to get a chili dog with mustard on top.
I don’t know exactly what is the magic in the Varsity chili. It’s not like chili you’d eat by itself but it’s the perfect consistency for the hot dog. The Varsity orange is the perfect sweet way to wash down the slightly spicy chili. And then the fried peach pie is just the most Georgia dessert there is. I could eat here every day, but I’d probably need triple bypass. Just once every couple of years will have to do for me!
24 Hour Tip
Of course The Varsity, as majestic as it is, will not take up an entire evening. But there are so many things to do in the Phoenix City at the end of your 24 hours in Atlanta. You could take in a show at the historic Fox Theatre! They spell theater the British way, so you know it’s extra classy. (Whether or not you’re able to take in a show here, check out the architecture. It’s the only theater in the United States that I know of to be modeled after a mosque.
You could also check out one of Atlanta’s beloved sports teams. I’ve not seen the Atlanta Braves, my very favorite sports team in the world, play in their new home at SunTrust Park yet, so I can’t recommend it. But you could see the Atlanta Hawks get their space jam on in the State Farm Arena. Admire the statue to legendary Hawk and native Parisian Dominique Wilkins. I was so surprised to find out that he was from Paris because it’s really hard for me to imagine any Parisian playing basketball. They are so cool and it’s such a sweaty sport.
If football’s more your speed, the Atlanta Falcons play in the dodecahedral Mercedes Benz stadium. There’s a sign outside advertising Southern Hostility, showing a Falcon tackle an opposing player with extreme prejudice. I chuckled because the phrase should really be Southern Hospitality. But the phrase would be funnier if the Falcons were having a better season. Oh well, as we say in Atlanta, there’s always next year! (Atlanta hasn’t won a sports championship since the Braves took the World Series in 1995. But the city makes up for it in tree percentage.)
And That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Atlanta, Georgia!
What would you do with 24 hours in Atlanta? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Atlanta right now? Have you ever made up your own special at a restaurant and tried to get Internet Strangers to order it? And what crazy magic will make biscuits fly? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Atlanta. If you have another 24 hours in Atlanta, add this itinerary. You could see this itinerary with Inman Park. Maybe try this Atlanta Itinerary with Grant Park. Or you could include an Atlanta itinerary with the most important Civil Rights sights.