Downtown, the one-time railroad hub where Atlanta literally began, has come a long way from its days as a vertical office park that turned into a ghost town after the sun set. Though still overrun by government buildings and nine-to-fivers, the area is continuing to grow into a community where young singles and small families have converged to be near the joys of urban life: the entertainment, the walkable streets, and, yes, the chaos. And thanks to Georgia State University's decision to concentrate its students and faculty in downtown, the streets are a little more bustling. Yes, parts can be touristy. But the heart of the city boasts history, density, and - if the city doesn't turn its back on the area - seemingly unlimited potential.
Things to do Downtown
Channel your inner Bobby Fischer
And capture another man's queen (stop it) at Woodruff Park's chess boards.
Spend a few hours at the state Capitol - and then stop by City Hall
Too often people fixate on the partisan battles in Washington, D.C., when the real political events that affect our daily lives play out closer to home. For 40 days out of the year, state lawmakers meet at the Gold Dome to craft policy. Pay them a visit and remind the men and women that you're watching. Afterward, drop by Atlanta's City Hall across the street.
Pay respects to Mitchell Street
This south downtown street - one block of which has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places - boasts one of the city's best (and most affordable) restaurants, NBA players' go-to shoe store, and a voodoo shop. If you're looking for clippers, cross the street and pick 'em up at the barber supply store. The best part? They're all locally owned businesses.
Do and/or don't visit Magic City
The venerable strip club and stomping ground of rappers and hangers-on will provide all the acrobatic pole work and booty shakin' one might desire on a given night.
Wake up early and watch Liverpool FC play anyone at Meehan's Public House
The Celtic pub teams up with Atlanta's local Liverpool fan club to host early morning viewing parties in downtown, replete with chants, camaraderie, and a free halftime buffet of toast, eggs, and hash browns.
Don't waste your time in Underground Atlanta
That is unless you want to witness live ear candling, get your photo taken in front of an airbrushed Atlanta skyline, or get incredibly depressed.
Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming Unseen Underground Walking Tours
Led by local architect Jeff Morrison, the two-and-a-half mile, three-hour walkthrough (and "underneath") offers an up-close look at the city's beginning as a railroad town - and how much things have changed. Sure, it's now available on YouTube - but nothing beats the real thing.
Volunteer at one of the many homeless outreach organizations
There's a reason homeless men and women gather in downtown: It's where many of the city's service providers are located. Such groups as the Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, the Gateway Center, and Trinity House and Trinity Table, and the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are often seeking volunteers to help prepare meals or keep the operations running.
Stop by the city's Sweet Auburn Curb Market
Founded in 1918 on land that was gobbled up by a huge fire, this true public market has evolved into an urban gem that provides fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and cheeses to downtowners. The city-owned facility also acts as an incubator for up-and-coming restaurateurs and has helped eateries such as Bell Street Burritos and Grindhouse Killer Burgers - both of which now have brick-and-mortar locations - to gain their footing.
Down tropical shots with conventioneers at Trader Vic's
Every Thursday night, the tiki- and tribal mask-filled downtown location of this Polynesian chain hosts Tongo Hiti, a Mai Tai-fueled dance fest to the live sounds of Big Mike Geier of Kingsized. Yes, the entire evening, what with the smarmy umbrella drinks and island decor, is ridiculous. That's what makes it so damn enjoyable.