Atlanta is a rapidly expanding, vibrant city with a lot of good food, gorgeous nature, and — ok, I’ll admit it — a lot of traffic. Because the city is so spread out, it can take a while to find your scene. If you look hard enough (or get lost on Highway 285), I guarantee that you’ll find it. In the spirit of Southern Hospitality, I’ll save you the effort and lay it out for you. I know, we southerners are so sweet. You’re welcome.
If you’re a hipster
In East Atlanta Village, Friday nights at Graveyard Tavern are perfect for cheap drinks, a good DJ and pool playing. If you happen to have a love of heavy metal, you can join them on (slightly less packed) Saturday nights for some head-banging music and silent adult films. The Old Fourth Ward is a slightly smaller area, located a little closer to the center of the city. It’s got a perfect mix of good food (at Ammazza Pizza), rap music (at Noni’s), and Southern irony at Sister Louisa’s Church. Yes, it’s a church-themed bar. Make sure to take a picture in one of their gospel choir robes before you leave.
If you’re preppy
Get ready for some fist-pumping frattyness in Buckhead. Buckhead has been an Atlanta nightlife mainstay for several decades. Despite the fact that the main strip is in ruins due to a failed luxury shopping-development endeavor that was canned mid-recession, the backstreets of Buckhead are a great place to hear “Don’t Stop Believin'” and some country music classics. If you’re feeling ambitious, ask around to see if you can score the secret phone number that grants you entry to Prohibition, the cigar lounge hidden behind a British telephone booth in the basement of Stout.
If you’re a foodie
I could spark some severe comment-thread battles by naming only one spot for the best eats. Foodie culture exploded in Atlanta over the past decade, and there’s not a single neighborhood lacking in fantastic fare. While I recommend you try everything, true foodie bliss is found at the Dekalb farmer’s market. This is hands down the best (and cheapest) farmer’s market I’ve ever been to, and it’s open every day in a giant warehouse. The sushi-grade rice selection alone is worth the trip.
If you’re into history
Oakland Cemetery and Grant Park are only a few miles away from each other, and from some of Atlanta’s most breathtaking historical landmarks. Both are located close to downtown, so you can take in the gorgeous cemetery and architecture against the backdrop of Atlanta’s skyline. If you’re willing to venture out of the city, a night at Stone Mountain Park’s laser show is the way to go.
If you’re out with a big group
I don’t know a single Atlantan that dislikes Virginia Highlands. It runs the gamut from divey beer bars to upscale restaurants, all within walking distance of one another. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a friend who lives in the neighborhood so you can end the night sitting on a large front porch.
If you’re into the club scene
I have no research to back this up, but I assume that Midtown Atlanta has inspired 95% of Usher’s club songs. The area is packed with venues boasting house bands, DJs, and frozen drink machines. The great thing about Atlanta clubs is that they aren’t as absurdly overcrowded as clubs in a lot of other cities. Get ready to pay a cover, wait in line, and fight for a cab at the end of the night, but there’s always a place to take a breather from your dancing and buy a modestly priced drink. Or if you get sick of the scene early in the evening, you can head over to Ormsby’s for some Bocce and Shuffleboard.
If you’re into nature
Practically everywhere you look in Atlanta offers an opportunity to stop and go on a miniature hike. Some of Atlanta’s best activities, however, include rafting down the Chattahoochee River, mountain biking at Big Creek, or simply laying out in Piedmont Park.
If you’re looking for a tattoo, piercing, or mean game of hacky sack
The moment you enter Little Five Points, you’re greeted by the facade of Junkman’s Daughter (a thriftstore with a flying saucer jutting out of its entryway) and the Vortex (a burger joint that’s shaped like a skull). From there, you’ve got about 20 wacky restaurants, boutiques, and bars to choose from, all of which scream boho, hobo, or new age.
If you’re looking for the next big singer/songwriter
Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia, holds a weekly open mic on Mondays. Sign-up slots are in high demand ever since John Mayer got his start performing there, but since there’s no audition you get to see everything from up-and-coming artists vying for a spot in the biannual open-mic shootout to rapping amateur mouth-harp players. Make sure to get to Decatur early so you can grab a drink and a cup of Brunswick stew at Brickstore Pub.
And finally, regardless of what you like, if you want to feel like a true Atlantan
Go to MJQ. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you like, and whether or not you hate MJQ while you’re there. Everyone has been to the underground bar/dance club off Ponce de Leon road. Every night of the week they have a different theme, and two different rooms for rock/pop and rap/R&B.