Atlanta has changed drastically over just the past five years. It has become a transplant haven, in part due to its relatively affordable cost of living. And since establishing itself as a hip-hop capital of the South, the city has had Hollywood filming an exponentially increasing number of movies and TV shows within its limits. The neighborhood that rappers referred to as Little Mexico now has a specialty coffee and beer bar. An abandoned military base in Big Boi's stomping grounds will eventually become Tyler Perry's next studio. In another five years, the neighborhoods as we know them now could well have changed again. For now, though, these are the neighborhoods we roll with.
East Atlanta Village
The intersection of Flat Shoals and Glenwood Avenues Southeast is practically a nightlife district, but it is fueled by PBR instead of sparklers. Among other landmarks are music venues 529 and the Earl (read more about them in the Music and Nightlife section), which are a walk down the street from each other and help host two music festivals: the Atlanta Mess-Around for debauched punk in the spring (PBR has actually been a sponsor), and A3C for every iteration of hip-hop in the fall. Since Feed Your Head! Music and Bound to Be Read Books closed, that same intersection hasn't offered much else for when the sun comes up—except for coffee. Fortunately, between Joe's and Hodgepodge, you'll find the most diverse caffeinated drink selections in town.
Little Five Points
L5P is where Atlanta rapper Young Thug roams in his "Stoner" video to holler at a girl with both hoop earrings and plugs in her ears. If he were actually to shop there, he'd likely hop across Moreland Drive between sneaker and sportswear boutique Wish and kitsch warehouse Junkman's Daughter. Granted, during the weekends that requires patience, as L5P transforms into a tourist trap with its heavy traffic and parking lot fees. But there is truly something there for the ATLien in everyone. Check event listings for A Cappella and Charis Books. For music: Criminal Records has the most variety; Wax 'n Facts has vinyl, new and used, covered. And Moods Music's hip-hop, R&B, and soul sections are more robust than most other stores combined, period.
This artist's hub risks pricing out longtime residents nowadays, but at least its nightlife is still budget-friendly. Your favorite local rapper and/or his touring DJ kicks it at Spin.
Old Fourth Ward / Poncey Highland
O4W's biggest trademark may now be the billboards for email marketing juggernaut Mailchimp. Those were erected across its headquarters at the mixed-use Ponce City Market, inside the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building next door to Murder Kroger—sorry, the future home of 725 Ponce. Is that grinning mascot Freddie a sign of progress? For techies and restaurateurs, absolutely. But between PCM and the stretch of shops and restaurants off Ralph McGill Boulevard, O4W threatens to be overtaken by J. Crew shoppers and the condominiums sprouting like weeds. For refuge, head to music venue the Masquerade, dance caves MJQ and El Bar, bars like the Bookhouse Pub or pizza dive Jack's. And for our sake, please, pray on our behalf that venerable watering hole Manuel's Tavern reopens this spring like it's supposed to.
During the day, take a walking tour through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s past life, from his birth home to Ebeneezer Baptist Church and the grave sites of both him and his wife, Coretta Scott, nearby in the King Center. Head two blocks north to the Jackson Street Bridge for that postcard-worthy shot of the Atlanta skyline. Once the sun sets, however, that very same historic district also hosts a thriving bar and nightlife scene that includes sets from internationally touring DJs. Atlanta is a city that gets caught between preserving its history and developing to meet some abstract idea of what transplants might want, and Sweet Auburn is proof.
Sometimes transplants will confuse West End with Westside, the burgeoning Midtown neighborhood that houses the first Octane Coffee location. But there isn't a trendy coffee shop in sight at this humble, historically black neighborhood. To wit, West End's two biggest landmarks are house museum the Wren's Nest and the Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home. (You may recognize the latter from Real Housewives of Atlanta thanks to Phaedra Parks's ambitions of becoming "the Vera Wang of funerals.")
This is where Emory University students go for a night out in the town. Look no further than Moe's and Joe's, the bar with a logo that actually riffs off PBR's. It's no wonder why: It serves a ton of the stuff.
Midtown used to have LBGT institution Outwrite Books, which was also proof of how an independent bookstore can add heart to a city. Since Outwrite closed four years ago, Midtown can feel soulless at times, aside from a few specific locations. Piedmont Park, which hosts Music Midtown and the free Atlanta Jazz Festival, is fine. Wil May's #COOLFridays at the W Hotel are more than fine. The HIGH Museum of Art is the city's biggest, though with its balance of marquee names and regional darlings, it doesn't play it as safe with its exhibitions as some would think. And the all-vegetarian, 24-hour R. Thomas Deluxe Grill, just outside the limits, is the best place to people-watch. Among the things you'll see: people who stayed after last call at Opera Nightclub, strippers and nurses after their graveyard shifts, suits during their lunch breaks and maybe Andre 3000 or Usher.
Recently T.I. performed a greatest hits concert at Campbellton Road's Greenbriar Mall to announce his co-ownership of TIDAL. "Before there was a Perimeter Mall, before there was a Phipps Plaza [in Buckhead], this is a place where I came," he said. Greenbriar Mall does have history: The first Chick Fil-A in existence is here, and Tip himself would get kicked out for hawking mixtapes in the parking lot. But the only reason you may need to visit there (and the aging, historically black Campbellton Road in general) is to see past glories. The intersection of Headland and Delowe is where Rico Wade of Organized Noize first met Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Goodie Mob shot its "Soul Food" video at JJ's Rib Shack. Snap photos there to show your friends.
Future hails from Kirkwood, as he reminds us on the back cover of his 2015 album DS2. The Kirkwood that he recalls is also referred to as Little Mexico. But that same neighborhood, which is next to the quaint Oakhurst and downtown Decatur, has also been where Oprah Winfrey scouted a Craftsman bungalow to shoot Selma. Head to the BP along the two-block strip of restaurants off Hosea Williams Drive, next door to the Arden's Garden, for a souvenir from Kirkwood as Future might remember it: a gas station mixtape.
Inman Park / Cabbagetown / Grant Park
These growing neighborhoods, with public whiteboard/frequent music video site Krog Tunnel at their heart, have become trendy thanks to their many recent additions. But let's face it: The new Krog Street Market is where transplants can impress their parents, if not grandparents—and prove that Atlanta is "a safe place to live."
Truth be told, you'd be perfectly fine skipping downtown altogether, but if you find yourself in the shadow of Atlanta's towering skyscrapers, there is a tad bit of (sterile) fun to be had. As expected, the neighborhood has its share of tourist attractions: World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium, SkyView Atlanta's Ferris Wheel. Downtown Atlanta is largely a business district, so it mostly shuts down after 6 PM. That said: Skip World of Coca-Cola for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Skip Underground Atlanta for Walter's Clothing. Head to Trader Vic's, home of the Mai Tai, for the sheer novelty, and check out the avant-garde art and music venue Eyedrum. See the Hawks play at Philips Arena, bonus points if a hometown rap hero (T.I., Jeezy, 2 Chainz, Ludacris) performs during halftime. And actually, downtown has one option for the after-hours: Magic City, the strip club where Future is rightly treated like the mayor-elect.