Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect Atlanta walking tour. When many people imagine Atlanta, they imagine a modern city full of business meetings, traffic, and the world’s busiest airport. But Atlanta is also a green and lush city, full of trees and places to relax. And there’s no better place for an Atlanta Walking Tour than Grant Park. It’s home to Zoo Atlanta, and it’s right near the most historic cemetery in the city.
In our Atlanta Walking Tour, we will find Atlanta’s most delicious food, both casual and Very Fancy. Then we will say hello to Idgie, the world’s cutest red panda and learn the secret behind her name. Finally we will meet my long-lost great-great grandparents. (True story!) Let’s not waste any more time!
Atlanta Walking Tour
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 like Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta 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.
Atlanta Walking Tour
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!
Atlanta Walking Tour
Morning: Grant Park Food Walk
Downtown Atlanta can be a little sterile and modern, but once you leave Downtown, you’ll find plenty of fascinating neighborhoods to explore on your Atlanta Walking Tour. Grant Park isn’t just one of the most charming city parks in the South. It’s also an adorable Victorian neighborhood where many of the most famous people in Atlanta’s history are buried. You certainly won’t get bored if you spend your morning here.
My favorite way to explore a neighborhood is through a food tour. You get historical fun facts, a local guide who can show you hidden treasures, and most importantly, enough food to usually fill you up for two meals. You won’t need breakfast or lunch when you take the Grant Park Food Walk through Atlanta Food Walks. Just bring a camera and an empty belly to take advantage of…
approximately top 5: grant park food
1) atlanta seafood
I’m making a little joke here because Atlanta is landlocked and not famous for its seafood. But you can find any regional Southern cuisine in Atlanta, and that includes Louisiana catfish served with fried okra. For some people these foods are an acquired taste because catfish can be muddy and okra can be slimy. But the cucumber wasabi sauce and pepper jelly adds a fun kick that jazzes up both these foods.
No discussion of Southern seafood is complete without shrimp and grits, a specialty of the Southern coast. Like the catfish and okra, these were given some zazzle with asparagus, cotija cheese, and roasted peppers. I love seafood, but even the seafood skeptics on our tour enjoyed these dishes.
Also, as a pun lover, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the name of this restaurant is Six Feet Under. That’s a perfect name for a seafood restaurant located right next to a cemetery! But except for the fish, no dead bodies are served at this restaurant.
Speaking of odd restaurant names, our next stop on our Atlanta Walking Tour was at a gastropub called Augustine’s. It was named after St. Augustine, who is the patron saint of brewers. Our guide, Joy, told us that Atlanta has always been split between those who love to party and those who don’t. And in fact, pubs have been an important part of Atlanta’s political history!
At one point in the 19th century, there were two political parties in the city: the Free and Rowdy Party and the Moral Party. (Not a joke.) Naturally the Free and Rowdy party won by canvassing in saloons. SMORT! And I always feel better about day drinking when I get history to go along with my booze.
We got two tastes here: a Honeysuckle Mule made with honeysuckle vodka from Mississippi and ginger beer, and a pimento cheese sandwich with shortrib. I urge you to eat as much pimento cheese as you can when you are down south. It’s a cheese spread made with mayo, mildly spicy peppers, and LOVE. Basically it makes every sandwich divine. Except PB and J. I don’t know that even I could go for that.
3) beer tasting!
What’s that you say, Internet Stranger? You want more daydrinking? Happy to oblige! Our next stop was at a local liquor store that has since closed. But since I’m sure the Grant Park Food Walk has replaced it with something just as good, I’ll let you know what we tasted, so you can get a good idea of the amount of food and drink to expect on this tour.
First we sampled four different local beers and ciders. They were all on the light and refreshing side. After all, Miss, this is Atlanta, and it’s never very cold, so we don’t need stout beer here. If there’s even half an inch of snow, the entire city shuts down and people start raiding the local drugstore in a zombie movie style situation. Basically it’s like The Walking Dead, only real.
But never fear if you’re a teetotaler or a card-carrying member of the Moral Party. They also have local soft drinks on the tour. Please get peach flavor. It’s against the law to turn down a peach in the Great State of Georgia.
4) republic social house
We’ve sampled almost every region of Southern cuisine that there is, but we haven’t hit up Tennessee yet. So let’s head into Republic Social House for a taste of their Nashville hot chicken. Joy told us the story behind this spicy treat.
Apparently a woman in Nashville found out her boyfriend was stepping out on her. So she doused his favorite fried chicken in hot sauce. But this ended up not being a punishment because he loved the taste and made a bundle selling Nashville hot chicken. A victory for cheating dogs everywhere!
I personally think she should have doused something else in hot sauce if she really wanted revenge, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure that you do. I don’t think there’s anyway he would have been able to turn that into a profitable business.
Hmm, you might be thinking. I don’t see what’s so Southern about a cookie. It looks French to me. Well, you’d be right about that, Internet Stranger! But Joy said the last stop on the tour was chosen to show what modern Atlanta is like. My mother’s father’s family has lived in Georgia since before the American Revolution, but even I didn’t know that Atlanta didn’t become the capital of Georgia until after the Civil War.
Joy said that there were several cities in Georgia that wanted to be the capital, but Atlanta won because they promised to build an expensive capitol building. (It is very, very shiny.) After Atlanta became the capital, business started to boom. Atlanta remains a popular city for major American businesses like Delta, Coca-Cola, and CNN today.
But we were here to support one of its successful small businesses, a James Beard semifinalist called Little Tart Bakeshop. Little Tart specializes in French pastries, so we sampled both an apple oat galette and a sable cookie. As much as I love pimento cheese and okra, it’s nice to find other types of cuisine in Atlanta too.
6) oakland cemetery
I try not to give away too many historical tidbits from the tours I take. Otherwise you might not be motivated to try them for yourself! But I can’t resist telling you about the Oakland Cemetery. Joy took us through here in the middle of the food tour while we were digesting. Oakland Cemetery is the big celebrity cemetery in Grant Park. (It’s in Grant Park the neighborhood, not Grant Park the park.)
The three biggest names in Oakland Cemetery are probably Bobby Jones, the legendary golfer, Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind, and Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of Atlanta. (Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is half named after him.) But I was most excited when Joy started talking about the Jewish part of the cemetery. After all, my dad’s side of the family is Jewish and has lived in Atlanta for a long time. Could we have relatives here?
Joy told me how to look up names in Oakland Cemetery and I came back after the tour. Sure enough, there they were! My great-great grandparents, Max and Sarah Wice! They were born in Russia before the Civil War ended, and they ended up buried in the same cemetery as some of the biggest celebrities in Atlanta! This marks the first and only time I have ever found my relatives’ corpses on a food tour.
Atlanta Walking Tour
Afternoon: Zoo Atlanta
Now that our bellies are full, we can leave the Grant Park neighborhood and continue our Atlanta Walking Tour into actual Grant Park. We’ll be visiting one of the most popular attractions in Georgia’s capital: Zoo Atlanta. Zoo Atlanta is mostly famous for its Giant Pandas, and we will definitely get to meet those today. But I also want to introduce you to some less famous animals at Zoo Atlanta. We’ll get up close and personal to these majestic creatures with…
three fun facts: zoo atlanta
1) what about these giant pandas?
The giant pandas are definitely the major celebrities of the zoo. What Margaret Mitchell and Maynard Jackson are to Oakland Cemetery, these beasties are to Zoo Atlanta. They’re so famous, they even have their own Panda Cam. Now this is a reality TV show I can get behind!
The matriarch and patriarch of this panda family are named Lun Lun and Yang Yang. They’ve had seven babies, but the oldest five have all been returned to China. This is the rule for all pandas born in zoos in the United States. China loans the zoos the adult pandas, but their babies need to go back to China once they’ve been weaned. Basically pandas are to China what peaches are to Georgia, I think.
2) any other famous animals?
Yes! In fact, one resident of Zoo Atlanta was actually the subject of an award-winning children’s book called The One and Only Ivan. You should read the whole book if you want Ivan’s story, but the short version is that he was captured in the Congo when he was young and sold to the United States to be the pet for a wealthy family.
Ivan’s story gets worse because the family actually put him on display at their department store. I feel like it goes without saying that gorillas should not be kept in department stores, even if it does bring in customers! Eventually, thanks to protests and financial necessity, the family sold Ivan to a zoo, and he made his way to Zoo Atlanta, which has the top program for gorillas in the country.
Ivan was a beloved member of the family at Zoo Atlanta until he died at the age of 50. But you can still see the other gorillas who live in the zoo. Zoo Atlanta works with the Dian Fossey Fund and other organizations to help preserve critically endangered gorillas.
One way you can help is by recycling cell phones. The gorillas’s habitat is endangered by poachers mining for the materials needed to make your iPhone. I’m sure no one wants these majestic creatures to become extinct!
3) what about the less famous animals?
My favorite animal at Zoo Atlanta is Idgie the red panda. Despite her name, she is related to raccoons and not to giant pandas. In the wild, red pandas live between 8 and 10 years, but in zoos they can live to be in their late teens. I expect Idgie to live much longer than that because of her namesake.
I assume Idgie was named after the main character of Fried Green Tomatoes, which partially takes place in Georgia. In that book/movie Idgie was a no nonsense character who did whatever it took to care for the people she loved. I assume Idgie the red panda is the same. It was hard to tell though. Mostly Idgie just seemed to sleep and she didn’t even cook one fried green tomato. But you’ll still enjoy watching her cute little fluffy head even if she won’t murder your abusive husband for you.
Atlanta Walking Tour
Evening: Dinner at Bacchanalia
After a busy day of an Atlanta Walking Tour around Grant Park and meeting my great-great grandparents, you’ll probably want to head back to your digs and freshen up before our evening meal. Bacchanalia is probably the most famous fine dining restaurant in all of the ATL. Atlanta used to be considered kind of a dud, food-wise. When Bacchanalia opened in the early 1990s, it helped change all that.
Fast forward to 2020, and Atlanta is now one of the biggest food cities in the country. But Bacchanalia is still going strong. Sometimes it seems like every major chef in the city got their start here. So no one who calls themselves a foodie can miss the change to step in here and partake of Bacchanalia’s four course prix fixe menu.
24 hour treat: foie gras
The Bacchanalia menu is a prix fixe, not a tasting menu. That means you will have to order four courses, but you get several choices for each course. The first course is the appetizer and I strongly recommend the foie gras. It’s served with scuppernong grape and peanuts, so you know we’re in Georgia. Basically it’s the world’s fanciest peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
What goes better with a goose liver than a baby sheep? That’s why I suggest the lamb prepared three ways; the tender loin, the fatty belly and the flavorful sausage. This dish was served very simply, just with a little roasted eggplant, so the flavors of the lamb could shine through. Though of course there’s a lot of impressive technique involved in preparing the lamb three ways. I enjoy many kinds of cooking, but it’s always satisfying when a chef knows how to let a high quality ingredient speak for itself.
24 hour treat: cheese course
One of my favorite things about Bacchanalia is that there’s a mandatory cheese course. Cheese eating should always be mandatory! After all, blessed are the cheesemakers. The waitress very helpfully explained each cheese on the menu and how strong the flavor was. I enjoy a bold cheese, but I felt that it was best to go with something mild after the heavy foie gras and lamb.
This lovely goat cheese served with light greens on a little blini was the perfect choice. Bonus! It’s actually Georgia-made goat cheese from the Capra Gia Cheese Company. (Capra means goat in both Italian and Romanian.)
At Bacchanalia, everything changes with the seasons and the desserts were no exception. I visited Atlanta in the fall, so I ordered the pumpkin flan with pumpkin seeds and meringue. It was almost too pretty to eat! I feel like I could take this photo in to my hairstylist and say I want to try this look. But don’t worry. I ate the whole thing.
And I strongly suggest you order a dessert with seasonal produce when you go to Bacchanalia! Unless peaches are on the menu. I don’t want you to go to prison for declining a peach in Georgia.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours with an Atlanta Walking Tour!
What would you do on an Atlanta Walking Tour? Have you ever met your great-great grandparents on a food tour? And what is the penalty for declining a peach in the great state of Georgia? 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 with an Atlanta Walking Tour. If you have another 24 hours in Atlanta after the Atlanta Walking Tour, add this itinerary. Or you can add this itinerary. Maybe try this Atlanta Walking Tour with Inman Park. Or you could include an Atlanta Walking Tour with the most important Civil Rights sights.
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