Buckhead is no longer the epicenter of Atlanta’s once buck-wild nightclub scene — and that’s the way most residents like it. Although we’re still waiting on the ritzy Streets of Buckhead development, the cranes they are a craning, and the growing agglomeration of Buckhead’s glittering high-rises has only further solidified this hood’s status as Atlanta’s other skyline. With two high-end malls and countless swanky boutiques and salons, it’s easy to forget that Buckhead is also home to many neighborhood-supported small businesses. Just dodge that shiny Range Rover and venture beyond Peachtree Road to find them. While still a bastion of luxury and old-school fine dining, a crop of hip, new restaurants and chefs have revitalized Buckhead’s culinary scene in recent years. These days, Buckhead is a culture clash of new and old, progress and tradition. If you don’t live there, it’s absolutely destination-worthy — if you can stand the soul-crushing, cross-town traffic to get there, that is.
Rows of shotgun houses and old brick buildings once inhabited by Cotton Mill and railroad workers now comprise a charmingly dense and notoriously artsy enclave largely protected from the asphalt sprawls and behemoth developments plaguing many Atlanta neighborhoods. Cordoned off by a rail yard to the north and Oakland Cemetery to the west, the historically working-class district has meandered down its own narrow streets on a path to urban renewal in recent decades. Yet while its demographic character may have shifted, the community manages to hold fast to its tight-nit feel and bohemian hotspots its come to be known for.
Chamblee isn’t so much a neighborhood with something for everyone as a neighborhood convenient to the ones that do. It offers affordable housing inside the Perimeter, is practically adjacent to the Buford Highway corridor of ethnic restaurants, and just a few miles south of Buckhead’s shopping districts. Families with kids will be more attracted to spacious, sleepy residential neighborhoods like Huntley Hills and Sexton Woods, which feel insulated from its more industrial areas. Chamblee’s heart lies in the Antiques Row of its historic business district, with so many shops that you can lose hours searching for the perfect vintage knickknack.
College Park/East Point/Hapeville
Small College Park has several claims to local fame: It’s a lickety-split MARTA ride from the airport; it’s home to Woodward Academy, the largest private school in the continental United States; and it boasts one of Georgia’s largest historic districts, with more than 835 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its picturesque main street, which it shares with East Point, was hit hard by the economy. But renovated storefronts and a slew of modern restaurants are beginning to resurface without sacrificing the small-town feel. East Point residents have some charming and historic neighborhoods of their own, as well as a new generation of single professionals, working couples, and young families committed to bonding together by preserving their tree-lined streets, embracing diversity, fighting crime, maintaining their properties until the housing market improves, and having a good time in the process. Hapeville's path to greatness started when Coca-Cola heir Asa G. Candler Jr. opted to allow planes to land in the middle of a racetrack he owned nearby. It later became Atlanta's first airport, a move that lured Delta and other aviation interests. Today, the city with approximately 7,000 people, is dwarfed by the world's busiest air hub, but boasts a quaint main street that also features the first Chick-Fil-A restaurant.
Downtown, the one-time railroad hub where Atlanta literally began, has come a long way from its days as a vertical office park that turned into a ghost town after the sun set. Though still overrun by government buildings and nine-to-fivers, the area is continuing to grow into a community where young singles and small families have converged to be near the joys of urban life: the entertainment, the walkable streets, and, yes, the chaos. And thanks to Georgia State University’s decision to concentrate its students and faculty in downtown, the streets are a little more bustling. Yes, parts can be touristy. But the heart of the city boasts history, density, and, if the city doesn’t turn its back on the area, seemingly unlimited potential.
If you’re not a student and can afford to live there, the Emory University/North Druid Hills area provides a kind of middle ground to the landscaped estates of Buckhead and the casual atmosphere of Decatur. Druid Hills features such lovely neighborhoods and large homes, it provided the location for the title character’s mansion in Driving Miss Daisy. Plus, a variety of funky shops and restaurants, conveniently located to Emory’s staff and student body, offer such necessities as inexpensive books and savory falafel.
East Atlanta/Ormewood Park
East Atlanta is near the epicenter of the city’s trendsetting counterculture. The ’hood boasts a diverse mix of dingy bars, a decent smattering of affordable shops and restaurants, and the city’s highest concentration of hipsters. The music scene attracts an impressive roster of visiting bands.
Across Moreland Avenue is Ormewood Park, a verdant, diverse, and quiet neighborhood with a storied history of being a good place to settle down and raise a family - while still being close to the East Atlanta haunts you enjoyed in your younger days.
Once a drab shell of hollowed warehouses and industrial artifacts from Atlanta’s manufacturing heyday, the Westside has reemerged in recent years with a live, work, play mantra and a hefty platter of top-tier dining, arts, and nightlife destinations for the city at large. Indie art galleries banded together with the communities and other institutions to establish the Westside Arts District, and large, mixed-use developments such as Atlantic Station and the Westside Provisions District have helped reclaim some of the most derelict expanses. With a growing number of young, ambitious professionals choosing to call the area home, this long-overlooked expanse of western ATL seems primed for yet another chapter of growth and revitalization.
This leafy neighborhood boasts one of Atlanta’s grandest parks, close proximity to downtown and Turner Field, and a collection of some of the city’s oldest and best-maintained houses. While Grant Park has some retail and dining amenities, its streets get plenty of weekend traffic, thanks to Zoo Atlanta. Bounded on two sides by the Beltline, the historic ‘hood can have the cozy, genteel feel of a small town in the middle of the big city.
Inman Park is where members of the city’s creative class go when they hit the big time — or where those seeking the refuge of quaint coach houses or partitioned Victorians go to fake it. It’s the perfect mix of resplendence and cool.
Little Five Points
Situated a few miles east of downtown at the intersections of Euclid, Moreland, McLendon, and what used to be Seminole avenues, Little Five Points is Atlanta’s version of Haight-Ashbury, pressed into a 2-and-a-half-mile area. With a variety of independently owned boutique shops, restaurants, bars, and music venues, Bohemian culture and DIY capitalism are the backbone for this neighborhood that caters to everyone from urbane hipsters to beard-o street urchins. But most of all, this is where you’ll find the best record shopping, coffee sipping, and people watching anywhere inside the Perimeter.
Atlantans are at once impressed by and dismissive of Midtown. They’ll tell you that no part of the city has evolved more dramatically over the past two decades, and then they’ll wax nostalgic about how it used to be (funky, seedy, a little scary) and complain about what it is now (chain restaurants and a disappearing gay epicenter). But there is much to love amid the sea of national and local knockoffs. The city’s art institutions such as the High Museum, SCAD-Atlanta, and the relocated MODA anchor the neighborhood. It’s only blocks away from arguably the city’s finest greenspace, Piedmont Park. Where once there was a wasteland, now there are great restaurants, groceries, specialty shops, townhouses, lofts, high-rises, and even people. Judging by the cranes dotting the landscape, many more folks will soon call it home.
For a relatively small neighborhood, Poncey-Highland has a hell of a lot going on, from movies at the deco-chic Plaza Theatre to drinks at true-blue political haunt Manuel’s Tavern, meals post-midnight at the Majestic Diner, and middle-aged jubblies at the Clermont Lounge. The best part — everything’s within walking distance.
It’s hard to imagine a time when an Atlanta neighborhood four miles from downtown was considered a suburb. It’s even harder to picture the city with bustling transit, but Virginia-Highland was founded as a streetcar suburb nearly a century ago. Now incorporated as an intown ’hood, residents can walk to restaurants, boutiques, bars, grocery stores, and even a weekly food truck event. There are few places in Virginia-Highland you can’t reach by way of a pleasant stroll along tree-shaded sidewalks or a quick bike ride. To the north, Morningside remains a dreamy — albeit pricey — destination for families.
West End/Atlanta University Center
Besides being home to the largest conglomerate of historically black colleges and universities in the nation, the West End runneth over with the kind of cultural dichotomy - from the Southern folkloric figure Uncle Remus found at the Wren’s Nest to such Afrocentric institutions as the Shrine of the Black Madonna - that could only be nurtured in one of the city’s oldest communities and nationally registered historic districts. If that’s not cool enough for you: OutKast’s first public performance occurred at West End’s now-defunct Club Fritz.
This east DeKalb enclave has become something of a post-hipster nesting place — or, as one resident described it, “a punk rock retirement village.” Due to the proximity of the International Rescue Committee, which helps refugees establish stable homes, Clarkston’s also a melting pot of eastern European, African and Middle Eastern communities.
Nestled in the heart of Cobb County, this one-time railroad town has blossomed with subdivisions, strip malls, and students on top of students thanks to the ever-improving Kennesaw State University. Originally known as Big Shanty, the town was walloped during the Civil War and suffered its hits over the years, but ballooned during metro Atlanta's suburban boom in the mid- to late-1990s. Despite the contemporary retail, car dealerships, and college crowd, Kennesaw maintains ties to its past by preserving its historic, antique-filled downtown and directing visitors to the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. There they'll find, among other choo-choo attractions, the famed "General" locomotive that was absconded by Union spies during the Civil War.
Think of Vinings and swanky suburban real estate or high-end townhomes will probably come to mind or perhaps glimpses of the river from that bridge that brings you to the doors of Canoe restaurant. Situated on a ridge high above the Chattahoochee, Vinings’ reputation as an upscale shopping and dining destination remains untarnished. A few miles northwest just outside the Perimeter, Smyrna has grown into its own notable destination, thanks in part to newer home developments and increased options for dining and shopping.
Still not entirely gentrified, Kirkwood is a fascinating hodgepodge of restored two-story homes, old rooming houses, and quaint bungalows. The downtown retail district is slowly blossoming, but most amenities are only a short drive away, and the neighborhood has plenty of park space and bike trails. The active Kirkwood Neighbors’ Organization adds to the feeling of community. Neighboring Edgewood is a fairly quiet residential area with bungalows galore that backs up to the big-box behemoth Edgewood Retail District. Pro: There's a grocery store. Con: You'll never get out of the parking lot.
Old Fourth Ward
Long known as the historic neighborhood associated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, Old Fourth Ward recently has become minted as the bustling center of a nightlife district. Notices of celebrities dropping by for the cheap drinks and comfortable bars have become national gossip in recent years, which probably hasn’t hurt the neighborhood’s profile. Whether you’re there to drink yourself blind at night or see some of the most important African-American historic sites during the day, there’s always reason to make Old Fourth Ward a destination.
Named for Coca-Cola magnate Asa Candler, who donated the parkland to Atlanta in 1922, this neighborhood is centered on a 55-acre park and nine-hole golf course. Long a hippie enclave, Candler Park is also a family-oriented community thanks to Mary Lin Elementary School’s outstanding reputation. Also nestled on the edge of this neighborhood (though Candler Park residents embrace it with pride) is the Lake Claire Community Land Trust, a green sanctuary that is open to the public complete with trails, gardens, and weekly drum circles. With its small strip of boutiques and casual eateries, Candler Park remains one of Atlanta’s more laid-back and quirky neighborhoods.
In 1974, the Atlanta Rhythm Section sang the virtues of Doraville with the line, “Touch of country in the city.” Today, you might wonder, “Which country?” as you drive along Buford Highway on either side of the Doraville line and read the billboards and shop signs in Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, and more. Although Buford Highway as a thoroughfare spans from Buckhead to Buford, the multi-ethnic eating and shopping destination commands about a seven-mile stretch inside and outside the I-285 perimeter. It remains a mecca for delicious, exotic, cheap food, as well as countless shopping opportunities for the adventurous. Looking for meat-shaped tofu? Tongue-scorching spices? Cowboy boots or ball gowns for preschoolers? Buford Highway awaits.
The picturesque road, which winds past parks, golf courses and small commercial nodes, has served as an address for mayors, ambassadors, bankers, businessmen and prominent church leaders. Although surrounded by middle-class and affluent neighborhoods, Cascade still has yet to see an influx of retail development, although local institutions like the Beautiful Restaurant and Life's Essentials Market continue to thrive.
The rapidly developing enclave, tucked just inside the Perimeter between Buckhead and Buford Highway, is filling up with big-box amenities interspersed with a handful of local boutiques, bars, and businesses. The residential areas in Brookhaven, which was incorproated in 2012, are mostly full of modest single-family homes popular with those looking for a good school system. Brookhaven Park, one of the community's largest greenspaces, is central to the neighborhood and within walking distance of a number of important locations, including Oglethorpe University, the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe MARTA station (which the transit agency is looking to bolster with an adjacent development), and Town Brookhaven, the neighborhood's behemoth mixed-use centerpiece. The 460,000-square-foot complex holds more than 700 luxury apartments for those who want the comforts of suburbia while still living close to the city.
Tucker lies at the crossroads of urban Atlanta and suburban sprawl. With some decent dive bars and hidden-gem restaurants, there’s plenty of character branching off Lawrenceville Highway.