Explore the Arty Side of Atlanta

1. Where to Stay

Claim your own piece of modern design in Atlanta in a chic Inman Park loft.Photo: Courtesy of Airbnb

Experience Atlanta like a local in the stylish digs of photographer and Georgia native Rob Simmons. His striking, black-and-white nighttime images of the city skyline adorn the walls of his 900-square-foot loft (from $105, via Airbnb) in the heart of Inman Park. The industrial-modern space has sleek design touches like a Noguchi coffee table, raw concrete walls and floors, a balcony that stretches the length of the unit, and a separate bedroom. Pick up provisions at nearby Savi Urban Market, which stocks an impressive variety of gourmet goodies, including wine, beer, and cheese — bring back the nutty Georgia Gouda, from a farm in the southern part of the state ($19/pound).

Make your home base a few steps from one of the South’s premier arts landmarks at the aptly named Artmore Hotel (from $129). Located across the way from Woodruff Arts Center, which encompasses the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the revamped apartment building dates back to 1924, with a Mediterranean-style façade and cheerful courtyard. Rooms have an old-school vibe, with a black-and-white color scheme and pops of red, along with wall art of Hollywood stars (ask for one of the quieter top-floor rooms). After a day of artistic exploration, chill out on a couch at the al fresco cocktail garden in the courtyard with a drink like the Hitchcock ($10), made with Four Roses bourbon, lemon juice, and Champagne.

Keep an eye out for celebs at The Georgian Terrace (from $159), which has drawn film and literary luminaries as one of the South’s most elegant hotels since it opened in 1911. Its star-studded guest list includes F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Disney, and most of the cast of Gone With the Wind, (the party before the film’s premiere was held here). Request one of the renovated premier rooms or suites (from $189) with crisp white duvets, flat-screen TVs, skyline views, and a washer/dryer in some units. Stop into the on-property Livingston restaurant for dinner under soaring white columns and a spectacular chandelier; the menu leans toward inventive takes on heart-of-Dixie dishes, such as free-range chicken-liver gyoza topped with Georgia peanut and cherry sauce ($8), and sorghum and sea-salt brick chicken with turnip greens ($21). Then pop across the street to the historic Fox Theatre, which hosts everything from classic movies to musicals and concerts by the likes of Beck and Aretha Franklin.

2. Where to Eat

Chef Ford Fry transformed an old factory into an airy ode to all things oceanic at the Optimist.Photo: Courtesy of the Optimist

Dig into homemade, hand-rolled pastas at BoccaLupo, a buzzing spot on the edge of Inman Park. Chef/owner Bruce Logue, an Atlantan whose résumé includes Mario Batali’s Babbo, serves dishes blending Italian inspiration and southern flavors, as in a fritto misto starter including Georgia shrimp and summer squash ($13), and Logue’s signature black spaghetti with Calabrese sausage, red shrimp, and scallions ($19). Ask for a table on the patio, cleverly situated behind repurposed garage doors, and relax with a glass of sparkling Cortese from the well-curated, boutique Italian wine list ($9) or one of mixologist Questa Olsen’s inventive cocktails, like the Kirkwood Bully (Old Overholt rye, Barolo Chinato, and Aperol; $11).

Get a taste of the Georgia coast at tthe Optimist, which opened in 2012 in the exploding Westside neighborhood. Housed in an old country ham factory, it’s the most visually stunning of Atlanta star chef Ford Fry’s growing culinary empire, with a cozy oyster bar opening up into a palatial dining room with vaulted ceilings and a beautifully lit bar. The restaurant’s name is a nod to a type of fishing dinghy, and the cuisine follows suit, with elegantly executed piscine creations like charred Spanish octopus with spiced yogurt ($14) and whole-roasted swordfish poached in duck fat with crispy pork belly ($27). Save room for tasty sides ($6.50) like the addictive beignet-style corn-milk hush puppies with cane-syrup butter and butterbeans in pancetta vinaigrette. The place can get loud, especially on weekends, so request a quieter half-moon booth on the room’s periphery.

Roll up your sleeves for the rib-sticking grub at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, where the breezy patio is always full of happily sticky-fingered diners. Texan brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox serve up boldly seasoned meats (smoked chicken and wings, pulled pork), plus creative appetizers like the Tomminator: tater tots smothered with Brunswick stew and melted cheese ($8). The brisket is some of the best in the city; try it unadorned on a plate ($14) or piled high and topped with bacon, jalapeño mayo, and melted pimento cheese in the Fox Bros. “Burger” ($12). If you’ve got room, be sure to end the meal with the homemade banana pudding ($5)

3. What to Do

Thanks to the Living Walls project, street art (like Roa's alligator mural) is thriving in Atlanta. Photo: Courtesy of the Living Walls

Take in Atlanta’s evolving street-art scene on a self-guided tour of the Living Walls. This nonprofit project has been transforming Atlanta’s urban landscape since 2009, when two local artists began encouraging businesses to open up available outdoor wall space for street artists from all over the world to showcase their work; this summer, the project celebrates its 100th wall. Walk along the Edgewood Avenue corridor, between Jessie Hill Jr. Drive and Boulevard, to find one of the most easily accessible concentrations of art. Within a few blocks, you’ll see several standout works, including a farmer in overalls atop a wooden horse and set against a canary-yellow background, by Mexico City’s Neuzz, and a striking portrait done in a hybrid of stencil and poster from Italian artists Sten and Lex. Post-stroll, stop into Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping-Pong Emporium, affectionately known by locals as Church. A whimsical hodgepodge of offbeat religious art, vintage toys, and ping-pong and bowling memorabilia, the grocery turned coffee shop turned bar is a favorite among visiting artists, including those of the more famous variety — like Lady Gaga, Owen Wilson, and Vince Vaughn.

Peek into the daily lives of working artists at the Goat Farm Arts Center. The hybrid complex provides work/live space for artists and creative businesses, plus a performance venue, all housed in a 19th-century cotton gin factory on 12 acres on the Westside (designers, engineers, and tech start-ups, among others, also find a home here). No official tours are offered at the center, which opened in 2008, but anyone is welcome to come by, pour a cup of coffee at the Warhorse, the on-site coffeehouse, and see what’s happening: a dance troupe rehearsing, a photographer fine-tuning an exhibit, or a glimpse of the resident goats, chickens, and llamas. The center puts on more than 150 art exhibitions and performances a year; recent shows (prices vary) included a group of musicians playing gongs with bows, and a few Georgia-based bands that reinterpreted the Talking Heads album Speaking in Tongues.

Get a southern-style taste of Hollywood with a self-guided tour of the city’s filming sites. Start off at Belly General Store, a cheery eatery in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood that was transformed into Fraiche, the bakery owned by Katherine Heigl’s character in the rom-com Life As We Know It. From there, it’s about a ten-minute walk along North Highland Avenue to George’s Bar and Restaurant, a popular burger joint where bar scenes from Trouble With the Curve, starring Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams, were filmed. From George’s, head west on Virginia Avenue, which virtually dead-ends into Piedmont Park, beloved by both Atlantans and filming crews for its rolling green hills and views of the midtown skyline. Several scenes from The Change-Up (the Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds comedy) were filmed here, including a vow renewal at Lake Clara Meer. For a wider scope of movie hotspots, plus insider knowledge on the local film scene, check out Atlanta Movie Tours ($67), whose guides include actors who have worked on local movie sets.

4. Insider’s Tip

Check out a gallery after-hours on one of the Castleberry Hill Art Strolls.Photo: Courtesy of the Big House Gallery/Granite Room

Castleberry Hill Art Strolls are held the second Friday of each month from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., offering an alternative look at the eclectic, loft-filled neighborhood that’s one of Atlanta’s art hubs. Galleries stay open late and often feature live music and refreshments; occasionally loft tours are also offered. Visit participating galleries such as the Big House Gallery/Granite Room and Besharat Gallery, a three-level space with a permanent exhibit by photojournalist Steve McCurry, who shot the award-winning “Afghan Girl” image for the cover of National Geographic.

5. Oddball Day

Explore the city on two wheels via the Beltline's Eastside Trail, stopping off at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.Photo: Ryan Gravel; Courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden

After indulging your cerebral side, grab a bike to explore Atlanta. Take a two-wheeled tour along the Atlanta Beltline, a multi-use trail built on old railway lines that connects several neighborhoods and green spaces around the city. Weekends draw big crowds, so pick up your vehicle early at Atlanta Beltline Bicycle ($15/day) in the Old Fourth Ward, near the southern endpoint of the Beltline’s 2.25-mile Eastside Trail. It’s a short ride to Parish Foods & Goods, where you can settle in upstairs for a hearty, southern-inspired brunch with dishes like lemon-buttermilk pancakes ($9) or fried-green-tomato Benedict ($12). From there, take a quick detour to the Freedom Park Trail (take a right at Northern White, a stainless-steel sculpture of a rhino head) for a leisurely ride into Little Five Points, Atlanta’s original hipster ‘hood. Make a right onto Moreland Avenue and park (and lock) your bike at your starting point: Junkman’s Daughter, a 10,000-square-foot emporium of ‘70s-style outfits, gag gifts, and wacky home décor. Head north, back to the Beltline, then pedal southwest to the Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark. Atlanta’s first public skate park, opened in 2011 with the help of a grant from Tony Hawk, is also home to the Beltline’s largest permanent piece of art: Phil Proctor’s Iron Column, a gargantuan Corinthian column constructed from old railroad metal and switches. From there, it’s a short ride to Two Urban Licks, a revamped warehouse turned restaurant. Retreat to a table on the courtyard and people-watch as you nosh on small plates like salmon chips with chipotle cream-cheese and capers ($10), or a refreshing scallop ceviche with charred tomatillo-truffle sauce ($12). After lunch, it’s an easy ride to Piedmont Park, Atlantans’ favorite public space, and the adjoining Atlanta Botanical Garden (adults, $18.95; children, $12.95), where the efflorescence of summer flowers is truly spectacular. Ride back to the bike shop and head to dinner nearby at Barcelona. End the day with a slew of inventive tapas, like grilled quail breast with za’atar ($14), sunchokes a la plancha ($8.50), and pulpo gallego ($10.50), washed down with a refreshing flight of three Riojas ($14.50).

6. Links

ArtsATL is an art-centric blog that includes reviews on recent shows, exhibits, and performances, as well as a comprehensive list of events.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff entertainment writer Jennifer Brett keeps a close watch on which movies are filming where, plus all the scoop on Atlanta celebrity news, in her “Buzz” column.

Creative Loafing, Atlanta’s long-running alternative weekly, offers excellent insider tips on the local dining scene, including restaurant openings and closings.

Explore the Arty Side of Atlanta