You might be asking yourself why someone would want to visit the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta. After all, two things in the state of Georgia that sometimes get a bad rap are the city of Atlanta and President Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter was a one-term president during a difficult time in American history. And Atlanta, largely because it was totally destroyed during the Civil War, lacks the charm of some other Southern cities like Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Asheville, Louisville…I could go on and on.
But perhaps this 24 hours in Atlanta could convince you to give both Georgia’s capital and America’s most famous peanut farmer a second look. Today we will visit the Jimmy Carter Library, explore Inman Park, one of Atlanta’s most charming neighborhoods, and dine at one of the most feminist restaurants in the city! By this end of today you’ll be saying “Forget Charleston!” (OK, you won’t actually say that. But Atlanta is still lots of fun.)
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.
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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 like the Jimmy Carter Library 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
Morning: Inman Park Food Tour
Food tours are my absolute favorite way to see a city. I am all about packing as much fun into a short period of time as I can. And food tours combine tasty local eats, historical fun facts, sightseeing, and walking off calories in a way that I truly enjoy.
That’s why I suggest you kick this 24 hours in Atlanta off with the Inman Park Food Tour. I hinted that Atlanta is not exactly brimming with charming historic neighborhoods. But Inman Park is an exception. It’s full of trendy restaurants, colorful houses, and stories about eccentric rich Southerners. Plus we will even get to meet the elusive Fitness Santa!
I never like to spoil all the secrets of a food tour because then you’d have no incentive to take the tour yourself! And the purpose of this blog is not to put hard-working local guides out of business. So I’ll just give you an introduction with…
approximately top 5: inman park food tour
1) one eared stag
The story of Inman Park is the same as the story of many historic urban neighborhoods in America. It used to be thriving and full of fancy pants folks. Then those fancy pants folks moved to the suburbs for lots of reasons (space, affordability, racism, etc.) and the neighborhood declined. Eventually people realized that suburbs are the worst, and they started moving back into these historic neighborhoods.
And we all know what happens when gentrification takes over a neighborhood. Hipster restaurants serving local ingredients and twists on comfort foods start moving in. In Inman Park, one of those restaurants is the One Eared Stag. It’s named after this guy who sits above the bar:
I’m tempted to call him the Dread Pirate Stag, but then I remembered that pirates have one eye, not one ear. Anyway, despite any mixed feels I have about gentrification, I am not even slightly ambivalent about One Eared Stag’s scrumptious Wisconsin cheddar sandwich with onion marmalade and beer mustard or its rich tomato soup. The stag makes yummy eats, even if he has to listen to all his food with only one ear.
2) the albert
Our next stop was a little more down-home. It was a local bar called The Albert. It was named in honor of the owner’s father, who was Albert Einstein’s godson. (There’s a picture of the owner’s father with Albert Einstein on the wall.) Our guide, whom I shall call Asa, said that this bar was voted the best bar to drink alone in Atlanta. Any bar’s a good drink in which to drink alone if you’re a character in a country and western song, Internet Stranger!
Here, we feasted on a special cocktail made just for the food tour with vodka and St. Germain. It’s perfect for a hot day in Atlanta. (PS. This is basically every day in Atlanta.) We then had two snacks, a normal one and a weirdo one to test our limits. The normal snack was chicken wings with three dips: ranch, blue cheese, and barbecue sauce. The BBQ was the most interesting dip because it was made with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Hipsters love PBR. No one knows why.
The weirdo snack was the wet lumpy dish you see in one of the black containers: boiled peanuts. These are a delicacy in Georgia, but a lot of non-locals think they are soggy and bleh. I like them, but then my family has lived in Georgia since before the American Revolution. But I like this idea of having the main dish on a food tour be something that would appeal to most people, and then giving a small portion of an odder taste, just to try.
3) instagram time!
We’d had two savory dishes, so now it was time for something sweet! So we stopped at the bistro Bread and Butterfly. Everything in here in gorgeous, but I don’t think it’s possible to get more Insta-friendly than a unicorn shaped cookie sandwich filled with rainbow frosting. It was almost too gorgeous to eat, but I managed to force myself to nom down the whole thing.
The colorful historic homes of Inman Park are almost as Insta-friendly as the rainbow frosting! But I don’t want to give away all Asa’s secrets about these houses. You’ll have to take the tour if you want to know the wacky stories. (Most of them involve building too many fireplaces in houses in Atlanta when you basically never need a fire.)
I will tell you that we saw a trim, fantastically aged gentlemen, in itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny running shorts and a long, flowing beard jogging ferociously down the sidewalk. Asa told us this was Fitness Santa (probably not the name on his birth certificate) and he sees him running in the nabe all the time. Please don’t leave Inman Park until you meet this wondrous creature.
4) kale salad
Another feature of most hipster neighborhoods is factories that have been turned into bars or restaurants or stores. It’s fun because it makes us think about the death of the working class in America. Bonus points if you serve kale salad there. (This kale salad was made with a Very Southern buttermilk dressing, and it was served in an old pipe factory. I shudder to think of what my Georgia farmer grandfather would have thought of it, but I thought it was delicious.)
On our way to the kale-salad-in-a-pipe-factory, we saw one of the coolest public art projects I’ve ever seen. It’s called Tiny Doors Atl, and you can find them all around the city. You’ll know them when you see them because each one has a tiny door. They’re not vandalism; the artist Karen Anderson Singer creates them when a neighborhood or institution invites her to.
This Tiny Door represents Inman Park because it’s decorated with butterflies, which are the symbol of the neighborhood. I think Fitness Santa should be the symbol of the neighborhood, but no one asked me.
5) krog street market
Of course the last thing every hipster neighborhood needs is a food market. And Inman Park has one of the best with the Krog Street Market. One of the advantages of stopping in a market on a food tour is that you get to sample lots of different tastes without getting off your lazy bones.
Our savory taste came from Gu’s Dumpling. These dumplings are Szechuan, and if you’re familiar with Szechuan food, you know that means they are hot like burning. Chef Gu is the only person in the United States who knows how to make these exact dumplings. He learned from a dumpling master who made him promise not to teach the recipe. That sounds suspiciously like the origin story for Atlanta’s number one drink, Coca-Cola. I think Gu and Coke should team up. It would be perfect brand synergy!
The final dish on the tour was an apple turnover from Little Tart Bakeshop. This bakery has more than one location, and it’s been voted one of the best bakeries in the country. (At least that’s what Asa said.) I loved the concept of this apple turnover because there was cheddar cheese baked into the crust. It was like a portable apple pie baked by your mom.
Also, I liked that I could take it with me because I was already stuffed from the other treats on the food tour. You can just save it for a delicious breakfast tomorrow morning!
24 Hours in Atlanta
Afternoon: Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
When we finish the food tour, it’s just about a 20 minute walk to our next stop, the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the idea of a presidential library, every President has been honored with a presidential library and museum, even if, like Gerald Ford, they didn’t serve a full term. Usually the president chooses the destination, and obviously President Carter selected Atlanta, where he once worked as governor, to be the home of the Jimmy Carter Library.
The Jimmy Carter Library is full of artifacts and films about Carter’s entire life, from his boyhood in rural Georgia to his charity and diplomatic work today with his wife Rosalynn. I’ll point you towards some of the most important parts of the Jimmy Carter Library with…
three fun facts: jimmy carter library
1) what did carter do before he was president?
So many things! President Carter, as he was fond of reminding people, was born on a simple peanut farm in Plains, Georgia. (When he became president, he turned his peanut farm over to a blind trust to avoid a conflict of interest.) Carter was the first person in his family to get a degree of higher education. He dreamed of entering the Navy and graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
According to the materials at the Jimmy Carter Library, Carter began to believe that he needed to get involved in politics in order to combat the plague of segregation that permeated the South. At the time, a Democrat named Lester Maddox was the Governor of Georgia. Maddox was a virulent racist and a staunch pro-segregationist. Carter ran against Maddox in the 1966 Democratic primary for Governor of Georgia. He lost, but when he ran again in 1970 he was victorious and became governor of the state.
2) how did carter get to be president?
My favorite artifacts from the Jimmy Carter Library are the memorabilia from his first presidential campaign. Jimmy Carter ran for president in 1976, which was a truly bizarre period in American presidential history. Richard Nixon had resigned from the presidency in 1974 because of his role in the Watergate scandal. He was succeeded by Gerald Ford, who hadn’t even been Nixon’s running mate! (PS. Young Gerald Ford was smoking hot. Enjoy these photos, those of you who enjoy hunky blond men.)
The American people were tired of corruption and lies. They wanted a Simple Man for President. And Jimmy Carter thought they wanted a peanut farmer. That’s why he ran ads like this emphasizing his roots on the farm and his ordinary, giant-toothed ways. (I could watch Jimmy Carter for President ads from the 1970s all day. They are so soothing.) It worked, and Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford to become the first, and to this day only, president from the great state of Georgia.
3) was carter’s presidency successful?
Well, Jimmy Carter lost his re-election campaign pretty badly to Ronald Reagan in 1980. So his presidency is often considered unsuccessful. But the Jimmy Carter Library is definitely partisan, so they try to show you the best parts of Carter’s presidency. And they are quick to point out that though Carter got blamed for the Iran hostage crisis, all American hostages were returned home safely. (For more on this, watch the film Argo.)
I especially liked the video about an day in the life of Jimmy Carter as president. You got to see just how many mind-numbing meetings he had to sit through. I counted about ten with his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski alone. And it took half the meeting just to say the guy’s name!
Almost everyone agrees that Carter’s greatest achievement was overseeing the Camp David Accords, a peace treaty between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. At the Jimmy Carter Library, they proudly declare that no Egyptian or Israeli has killed each other since the agreement, which is quite impressive.
Jimmy Carter’s post-presidency is usually considered more successful than his presidency. He won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his efforts in international diplomacy. And most impressively, even though he is 95 as of this writing, he continues to show up at the Jimmy Carter Library on a regular basis. Everyone I spoke to on staff said he was the greatest guy. So perhaps it’s fitting that the man who won election on a platform of being an ordinary guy with huge chompers is most appreciated by the people who work with him.
24 Hours in Atlanta
Evening: Mary Mac’s Tea Room
Now that we’ve visited the Jimmy Carter Library, let’s check out a restaurant where Jimmy Carter has actually dined. Mary Mac’s Tea Room was founded in 1945 by a woman coincidentally named Mary Mac. Back then women were not allowed to open restaurants, so she had to call her place a tea room. And Mary Mac’s is still an Atlanta institution to this day! In fact, the Georgia House of Representatives even passed a resolution calling it Atlanta’s Dining Room.
As soon as you sit down, your waiter will give you complimentary house lemonade and pot likker. (Yes, I spelled that correctly.) Never fear, teetotalers! Pot likker has no booze in it. It’s the liquid you get after boiling collard greens. If you’re looking for authentic Southern food, this is it.
For an appetizer, I recommend the wedge salad. I was so excited to eat it, my picture came out all blurry! I just love a classic wedge salad. Nothing fancy, give me iceberg, bacon, and blue cheese. It’s great that Americans have access to so many different kinds of lettuce now, but sometimes iceberg is best.
24 hour treat: fried chicken
I always get the fried chicken with two sides, and for the sides I choose stewed okra with tomatoes and the collard greens. Getting two veggie sides cancels out the calories in the fried chicken, I am very sure. I have two Southern parents, so I grew up eating okra and collard greens, and they are my two favorite vegetables. When I’m down south, I eat as much as I can.
I am aware that okra and collard greens aren’t to everyone’s taste. Some find okra slimy, and some think collard greens are bitter. But never fear, Internet Stranger! Mary Mac’s has all kinds of sides, from mac and cheese to fried green tomatoes. They also clearly mark every side to show if it’s vegetarian or not, which is the right kind of Southern hospitality.
Mary Mac’s has all kinds of desserts available, from the peach cobbler to the peanut butter pie. (I think they should rename the peanut butter pie after Jimmy Carter, but maybe they’re worried it would offend any Republican diners.) I opted for the banana pudding, which is another one of those dishes I get every time I return to the South.
You’re able to get good banana pudding up north now, but it’s not the same. Sometimes you don’t want “reimagined Southern classics”. You want your favorite Southern recipes done just like your grandma made them, and Mary Mac’s is perfect for that. Nine out of ten Jimmy Carters agree!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours with the Jimmy Carter Library!
What would you do at the Jimmy Carter Library? When will Fitness Santa start his own YouTube channel? “Knock Knock! Who’s there? Argo! Argo Who?” Please leave your thoughts below!