Adding to it these days is the remarkable regeneration of the city's downtown area, with an incomparable new aquarium already pulling in visitors from around the world, and many more exciting projects in the works. Modish new hotels and world-class restaurants are popping up all over the city, and there's a general sense that much like her fabled daughter Miss Scarlett O'Hara, this gal will never go hungry again.
Atlanta's strong and vibrant gay scene has long made it the heart of the homo Southeast, and its mayor, Shirley Franklin, is a huge friend to the community. Though Atlanta's place on the national gaydar may have taken a hit after a number of city ordinances restricting bar and club hours went into effect in 2004, ending the 24-hour hedonism that had become its de facto queer tourism calling card, this town that revels in rising from ashes is currently bouncing back big-time via a ground swell of sassy style and sophistication. Forget your daddy's Hotlanta--this is the new Haute-lanta.
Sea to shining CNN: Put on your tourist cap and hit Atlanta's top mainstream attractions. Start with a splash at the Georgia Aquarium (225 Baker St., 404-581-4000), the world's largest. Boasting 100,000 animals (including five beluga whales) in 8 million gallons of fresh and marine water, the aquarium is sure to fascinate even the staunchest of landlubbers. Next, head next door to the sweet universe of another famous liquid, the new World of Coca-Cola (Baker St., exact address to be announced, 404-676-5151 or 800-676-COKE), opening May 24, which promises to present a bubbly array of Coke-related artifacts, theatrics, pop art, and global drink samples. On to CNN Center (One CNN Center, 404-827-2300), where you'll tour the heart of the Turner broadcasting empire.
Eat, art, drink: It's a heavy day of midtown consumption for the body, mind, and soul. Start with an early brunch at Einstein's (1077 Juniper St. N.E., 404-876-7925), a midtown institution occupying three 1920s bungalows. Weekend brunch includes their famous (and fiery) Bloody Mary bar. But just one will do, Einstein, as you've got a full day ahead, commencing with the High Museum of Art (1280 Peachtree St. N.E., 404-733-HIGH). The heralded Richard Meier– designed base was enhanced in 2005 with three new structures by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano, the addition having more than doubled the museum's space. Through October 2009, the High is enjoying an unprecedented partnership with Paris's Louvre Museum whereby “Louvre Atlanta” plays host to hundreds of the French institution's works. After angling through the huge High, slip next door to Table 1280 (1280 Peachtree St. N.E., 404-897-1280), a restaurant and tapas lounge where real men eat quiche as part of its Louvre-inspired prix fixe menu. If you're visiting during the weekend of April 13–15, walk over to Piedmont Park for the Dogwood Festival, which began in 1936 as a commemoration of spring's blooming dogwood trees and has since morphed into one of the city's most lively arts, food, and music fests. For dinner try Trois (1180 Peachtree St., 404-815-3337), the latest from sizzling Atlanta restaurateurs Bob Amick and Todd Rushing. Then cut loose at Blake's on the Park (227 10th St. N.E., 404-892-5786), a fun and frolicking landmark of the city's gay scene. Dance off the day's indulgence at WETbar (960 Spring St. N.W., 404-745-9494), the place to be gay for where-it's-at Atlantans. The adjoining Fountain Club is a sleek private lounge with complimentary wi-fi access.
Beyond the pale: And we don't just mean your morning complexion after last night's revelry. Rise late and walk it off in the wonderful Castleberry Hill neighborhood, a downtown-close historic district once home to little more than long-abandoned factories but now a booming and exciting arts-driven business community dotted with hip and very friendly galleries, shops, eateries, and bars. Stop in for an exquisite Mexican lunch at No Más! Cantina (180 Walker St. S.W., 404-574-5678), the sprawling and gorgeously authentic creation of longtime local furniture importers (and charming and handsome couple) Walt Bilinski and Steve MacNeil, who reside over the adjacent home decor bonanza No Más! Hacienda. Now head over to Little Five Points, Atlanta's longer-running bohemian district, for some further sight-filled sauntering and a must-shop stop at Wish (447 Moreland Ave. N.E., 404-880-0402), a longtime hipster fave now retooled with a supercharged stock of elite international clothing labels. Round out your trip with a leisurely scenic drive through posh Druid Hills to charming Decatur, where you can get a sense of Atlanta's character as it developed from the sleepy railroad town of Terminus into the cosmopolitan capital it is today. For a perfect final dinner, head to Watershed (406 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 404-378-4900), where you'll find Southern cooking at its best, partially courtesy of coproprietor (and Indigo Girl) Emily Saliers. Try the delicious fried catfish or the salmon croquettes.
A full-on sleek boutique surge is under way, with a number of exciting new hotels promised in the next year or so. But several swanky properties have already beaten them to the posh punch: Downtown's The Glenn (110 Marietta St. N.W., 404-521-2250) exudes sexiness from every nook and cranny, from the BED restaurant in its lobby to its spectacular rooftop bar (the only one of its kind in the downtown area). Twelve (361 17th St. N.W., 404-961-1212), in the upscale planned community of Atlantic Station, is an all-suite ultramodern palace, also esteemed for its trendy eatery Lobby. For the location and style combo it's hard to beat Hotel Indigo (683 Peachtree St. N.E., 800-972-2404), part of the InterContinental chain's dive into the chic market.
With the world's busiest passenger airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (404-209-1700), at its heels, getting to Atlanta is a cinch. Delta and AirTran, both based locally, offer direct flights from scores of cities around the country. Taxi service from the airport to downtown is $30; $32 to midtown. For the adventurous, subway service via MARTA is just $1.75 from the airport to any of the city's numerous stops and generally takes just about 20 minutes to downtown.