Atlanta Visitor’s Guide – Getting Around in Atlanta Georgia

Getting around in Atlanta

Buckhead
Where: North of downtown Atlanta, centered at Peachtree and Roswell roads.
Inside scoop: Where old money meets frat parties, where streets lined with magnificent homes empty onto Atlanta’s most famous singles scene. It’s home to the Governor’s Mansion, much of the goings-on in Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full” and two of the area’s best malls, Lenox (Lenox Square guide) and Phipps (Phipps Plaza guide).

Downtown Connector
Where: I-85 meets I-75.
Inside scoop: Traveling those few miles through downtown Atlanta where the two superhighways meet can take a few lifetimes. Stay away if you can.
Elton John
Where: Sometimes in a Midtown high-rise condo, but mostly in the newspaper.
Inside scoop: Yes, he lives here part time, but that does not explain, entirely, the AJC’s good-humored fascination with him. Sightings and goings-on of the singing knight are reported diligently in the Peach Buzz gossip column, but only half-seriously. John has become the local celebrity we love to love.

Five Points
Where: Marietta and Peachtree streets.
Inside scoop: Used to be the center of downtown, where the city’s five biggest streets converged. Now it’s better known as the city’s biggest MARTA station, where the East-West and North-South lines converge. You may pass through this site often, on your way to or from sports or music events, but you probably won’t want to linger.

Little Five Points
Where: Moreland and Euclid avenues.
Inside scoop: Atlanta’s version of New York’s East Village. Kids with Mohawks and tattoos, street musicians, a cool boutique called the Junkman’s Daughter, and a joint called the Star Community Bar, complete with an Elvis shrine. Walk around, catch a local band, stare at people who look weirder than you – get a little funky – and collect “you wouldn’t believe what I saw” stories for the folks back home. (See Dining, Nightlife, Shopping.)

MARTA
Where: Mostly inside the Perimeter.
Inside scoop: The Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority is an example of a public transportation system that was built with alternating flashes of brilliance and fits of immense stupidity. Some leaders had the vision to built east-west and north-south train lines that lead right to the doorstep of the airport, but others foolishly stopped the system from extending into their neighboring counties, leading to suburban commuters’ daily traffic nightmare. Ah, well, live and learn. The bus system is only for the truly devoted (or otherwise carless) rider, but the trains are pretty clean, pretty inexpensive and pretty reliable – making them pretty good for getting to the airport and to downtown events like ballgames and concerts.

Peachtree
Where: Everywhere.
Inside scoop: Imagine a stately home built on rolling green pastures, the hot Georgia sun beating down everywhere except under a stand of shady peach trees. OK, now forget that and think of crowded, SUV-jammed road where virtually the only shade is provided by traffic lights. Now think of about 42 other roads that also have the word “Peachtree” in them. These are the peach trees of today’s Atlanta. If you have not encountered them already, you will see some of them soon enough.

Ponce
Where: Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Inside scoop: An east-west thoroughfare that was once a streetcar route (you can still see the turnaround at the street’s intersection with Peachtree near the Fox Theatre), this street is not pronounced like you learned it in high school. It may be named after the Spanish explorer who named our neighboring state to the south, but it’s pronounced “Pontz dee Lee-on.”

The Perimeter/Perimeter Mall/ Perimeter area
Where: I-285.
Inside scoop: Like the Beltway in Washington, this ring around Atlanta tends to be an unofficial demographic marker, separating the in-towners from the suburbanites. It’s also the home of some of America’s most infamous traffic. But here’s the tricky part: It’s also the name of a mall and a business district. Perimeter Mall is just north of the Perimeter, off Ashford-Dunwoody due north of Atlanta. The “Perimeter area” is the unofficial name of the Central Perimeter Business District, of which Perimeter Mall is roughly the geographic center. Got it?

Spaghetti Junction
Where: I-85 at I-285.
Inside scoop: One of Atlanta’s most appropriately nicknamed landmarks. A soaring tangle of over and underpasses, on-ramps and exits. You probably drove in, around or over it to get here.

Tara
Where: Not applicable.
Inside scoop: Sorry, it doesn’t exist. The closest you’ll get to it is the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown, a restoration of the building where the Atlanta native wrote “Gone With the Wind” in a small apartment she called “the Dump.” The building, which was burned by arsonists and rebuilt twice, is a historic site complete with exhibitions about the author’s life.

Underground Atlanta
Where: Downtown at Five Points (The main entrance is at Peachtree and Upper Alabama streets at the Five Points MARTA station; another is on Central Avenue near the World of Coca-Cola.)
Inside scoop: Designed to breathe life into downtown with a variety of shops, bars and restaurants, sadly, it has never really taken off. Still, it remains a tourist attraction – and a place for teenagers to cruise on foot. Business owners are hoping that a legal loophole that allows bars to remain open later there than in the rest of the city will give them that extra, drunken boost.

Urban music
Where: From automobiles and recording studios all around town.
Inside scoop: Hip-hop, rap, R&B – Atlanta is the proud source of much of it, and it’s THE home of crunk, the bassy rap style pioneered by Lil Jon. Many great talents either got their start or their inspiration in Atlanta, including OutKast, Ludacris, Lil Jon, Usher, Faith Evans, TLC, Bow Wow and moguls Jermaine Dupri, L.A. Reid and Dallas Austin.

Getting Around / Traffic
It’s easy to get around Atlanta … as long as you have a car and plenty of time on your hands. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate, but Atlantans appreciate car humor almost as much as they appreciate their cars. Residents take a sort of perverse pleasure in their traffic, which rivals that of Los Angeles. The area’s main highways are I-20, which runs east-west; I-75 and I-85, which join together to run north-south through town as “the Connector” and then veer off at slight angles; Ga. 400, a toll road that runs due north off I-85 near Buckhead; and I-285 (“the Perimeter”) which circles the city.

MARTA, which mostly functions inside the Perimeter in Fulton and DeKalb counties, also has mostly north-south and east-west train routes, plus an extensive bus system that can be challenging to navigate – especially when you’re in a rush. Neighboring counties such as Cobb and Gwinnett also offer some bus service.

Unfortunately, Atlanta does not have the level of taxi service found in cities like New York or Chicago. But it does have regulated rates based on zones, and if your location doesn’t happen to be one of the few that is populated by hailable cabs, you can always order one by phone.

Climate
Springtime is certainly the very best time to visit Atlanta. Veils of white dogwoods provide cool contrast for azaleas bursting afire in reds and pinks. Everything else takes on a yellow-green tinge as pine pollen settles everywhere. In spring the days are sunny and cool, averaging highs in the mid-60’s.

But unless you are a lover of damp heat, don’t linger too long. Summers can be brutal, especially for the uninitiated. The average high creeps into the mid-80s, as does the humidity (OK, maybe more like 55 percent relative, but it can feel like you’re taking a perpetual sponge bath, with your clothes on). In this fast-growing population center, more residents are transplants than natives, and many of them shake their heads in wonder at the generations of people who endured Georgia summers without air conditioning.

Year-round, the average high is about 71. Air quality, however, is a growing concern, and in summer months, ozone pollution often exceeds federally defined safety limits.