When the sky turns blue and redbuds send out purple blossoms above pink azaleas, I take to the streets. Just as the flowers emerge to shine in the warm day, I, too, shed any winter blahs with a springtime walk.
Some of the South's prettiest seasonal displays bloom this month and next in Atlanta. The city's neighborhoods invite us to park our cars and leave the traffic behind. Many times I explore alone or with a friend, better to concentrate on the glorious natural adornments of the handsome historic homes. Other times, I'll join a guided tour and learn some background on how these communities stay vibrant. So grab a map, and join me.
Ansley Park's Dogwood Days
Sometimes the best walks await just around the corner. Such is the case with Ansley Park, a garden neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places and tucked between Peachtree Street's High Museum of Art and Piedmont Park. You can get there from the MARTA Arts Center Station. (MARTA is Atlanta's public transportation system.)
Ansley's curving streets offer sidewalks that meander under towering trees with Midtown's skyscrapers peeking between the tiny new leaves. Developed around 1905, the community has wide green lawns and pretty little parks that can keep you happy for half an hour or half a day. Bring along a picnic lunch to plop down at Winn Park. (Try carryout from Woody's.) Here a lovely swing catches breezes, while a stream trips and falls between azaleas. The homes all show the affluence of their time, mixing Italianate villas with Romanesque, Craftsman, and Georgian styles.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden and Piedmont Park border the east side of Ansley. Both include traditional walking paths that stay busy with strollers on good-weather days.
Recently renovated Piedmont Park shows off its best side during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival (April 11 through 13). Springtime revelers fill this huge urban green space with three stages, dozens of musicians, hundreds of artisans, and the fun-to-watch Disc-Dog Southern National Competition.
- Suggested Ansley Park route (about 45 minutes): Park along Peachtree Circle, and walk south. Turn left onto Lafayette Drive at Winn Park. Turn right onto Yonah Drive. Turn right onto 15th Street, which leads to Peachtree Street. Walk north past First Church of Christ, Scientist; the Woodruff Arts Center; and the First Presbyterian Church. Then turn right onto 17th Street, which leads back to Peachtree Circle and your car.
Incredible Inman Park
Victoriana rules the architecture of Atlanta's first planned trolley suburb. Inman Park began in 1889, just 2 miles from downtown. The neighborhood fell into neglect after World War I; then rigorous restoration began in the 1970s. Today, it's a delightful area with lovingly maintained historic homes alongside some modern interpretations of traditional styles. Amid the dogwood blossoms, wisteria, and huge mounds of azaleas reside homes with elegant porches, intricate gingerbread, and towering turrets.
Inman Park is very accessible, and one of the best ways to explore it is on an Atlanta Preservation Center tour ($10 per person, March 1 through November 30). Meet at 2 p.m. on a Thursday or Sunday at the highly decorated Queen Anne-style 1890 King-Keith House bed-and-breakfast at 889 Edgewood Avenue. A chatty volunteer describes how this area, once devastated during the Civil War's Battle of Atlanta, became prime real estate in the waning decade of the 19th century. You'll stroll past the Tudor Revival Woodruff house with its 30 rooms as well as Asa Candler's 15,000-square-foot Beaux Arts-style Callan Castle. You'll also see homes designed by Atlanta's first female architect, Leila Ross Wilburn.
Each April (25 through 27 this year), Inman Park holds a delightful Spring Festival and Tour of Homes. In addition to offering a street market with antiques and crafts, the event includes a juried arts-and-crafts show, a zany parade, and live entertainment.
Another wonderful area on the northern edge of Inman Park is the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Each year flowers grace the entrance, while a 35-acre park entices visitors. There, walkways, blooming annuals, a wildflower meadow, and a rose garden surround two serene lakes and a waterfall. Runners, cyclists, and skaters travel along the PATH, a trail that stretches from near downtown to the eastern neighborhoods.
- Suggested Inman Park route (about one hour): Park on Edgewood Avenue, near Inman Park Elementary School. Walk east past the Trolley Barn, and either turn left onto Elizabeth Street or Hurt Street. Turn left onto Waverly Way, and then right onto Euclid Avenue, which leads you back to Edgewood Avenue and your car. You can start on Hurt Street if you arrive via MARTA's Inman Park station.
Walking for Art's Sake
Once a month, 15 downtown art galleries are open from 5 to 8 p.m. for viewings, hors d'oeuvres, and chats with the artists. Turner's First Thursdays has transformed the business district into a fun and crowded spot. The venues include well-established ones such as the High Museum of Folk Art and Photography Galleries, APEX Museum, the Georgia State University Gallery, and the SunTrust Plaza Gallery, along with artists' workspaces and performance art spaces.
Restaurants join in the activity by offering specials to gallerygoers such as two-for-one entrées or free desserts. Restaurant partners include City Grill, Mumbo Jumbo, and Hard Rock Café. Check the Turner's First Thursdays Web site in advance for the month's participants.
It's impossible to see all of the 15 art spaces on any given evening, so pick out 3 or 4 and arrange your tour around them. SunTrust Plaza provides free parking (with validated ticket) for gallery patrons.
Power Walking in Virginia-Highland
Admit it. Not all strolls have to be through the prettiest historical neighborhoods or full of artistic touches. Sometimes we simply want to power walk while we power shop. Atlanta's Virginia-Highland neighborhood fills this need. You can stop to eat, then shop, then walk till you're content. Amble alongside Virginia Avenue or North Highland Avenue to Ponce de Leon to view cozy 1920s bungalows next to diverse retail spaces. You'll find trendsetting boutiques, small galleries, antiques shops, day spas, salons, coffeehouses, and even a fun pub. Parking is at a premium here--don't pass up any metered space.
Once you leave your car behind, revel in the springtime strolls that Atlanta has to offer.
The Details on Atlanta
For Atlanta Information: Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, (404) 577-2148, 1-800-285-2682, or www.atlanta.net
Atlanta Preservation Center: (404) 688-3350 or www.preserveatlanta.com
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum: (404) 331-0296 or www.jimmycarterlibrary.org
Turner's First Thursdays: (404) 658-1877 or www.atlantadowntown.com (Go to the "Have Fun" section and click on "First Thursdays.")
Where to stay: For lodging, the AmeriSuites Atlanta-Downtown has excellent rates from $89 (330 Peachtree Street NE., (404) 577-1980). We like the Residence Inn Historic Midtown, just four blocks from Piedmont Park; rates start at $124 for suites (1041 West Peachtree Street, (404) 872-8885). If Inman Park is your destination, try the colorful 1890 King-Keith House bed-and-breakfast; rates start at $90 (889 Edgewood Avenue NE., (404) 688-7330).
Where to dine: In Midtown, the newest and best-deserved dinner sensation is One Midtown Kitchen, where the small plates add up to an affordable big meal. The menu changes nightly, but be sure to order the blue crab fritters ($9) if they're available (open for dinner and Sunday brunch only; 559 Dutch Valley Road, (404) 892-4111). For lunch, try some of Atlanta's best burgers and beers at The Vortex Bar & Grill (open for lunch and dinner; 878 Peachtree Street, (404) 875-1667). For a dressier meal, the quaint South City Kitchen puts fun twists on favorites such as shrimp and grits ($17.25) and fried chicken (open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch; 1144 Crescent Avenue, (404) 873-7358).
In the Virginia-Highland and Inman Park neighborhoods, reserve a table at La Tavola Trattoria for upscale Italian (open for dinner and Sunday brunch only; 992 Virginia Avenue NE., (404) 873-5430). We love their homemade ravioli ($13.95). When all you want is a good sandwich, pull into Woody's on the corner of Monroe and Virginia Avenue (open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; (404) 876-1939). Try their messy but wonderful cheese steak sandwich ($4.55).
This article is from the March 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.