"How do I get to Tara?"
"Where are Scarlett and Rhett buried?"
"Why do you put sugar in iced tea but not on grits?"
"Just what is a grit anyway?"
Some visitors come to Atlanta looking for Old South stereotypes -- white-columned mansions surrounded by magnolias, owned by slow-moving folks with accents as thick as molasses. Instead, they discover a region that's more cosmopolitan and a heck of a lot more interesting than what they'd expected.
When General William Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground in 1864, the city rose from those smoldering bitter ashes and hasn't looked back since. Instead, it has spent the last 145 years building what's been described as the Capital of the New South and the Next Great International City. Atlanta's heritage may be southern, but the current dynamic is brashly Sunbelt, and straight-up economic vitality now drives this city's engines.
Atlanta is and always has been a city on the move. Longtime mayor William B. Hartsfield called it the city "too busy to hate," and the spirit of Atlanta is one of working together to get the job done. The dramatic downtown skyline, with its gleaming skyscrapers, is testimony to Atlanta's inability to sit still -- even for a minute. And its role as host for the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996 finally convinced the rest of the world that Atlanta is a force to be reckoned with -- and a great place to visit. Recent projects have only reinforced that notion. These ventures include the World of Coca-Cola; the addition of the Atlanta Dream, the city's first venture into women's professional basketball; and the onslaught of new hotels and restaurants that call Atlanta home.
Consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the world in which to do business, Atlanta is headquarters for hundreds of corporations, including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, UPS, Holiday Inn, Georgia-Pacific, Home Depot, BellSouth, and Cox Enterprises, and it has become a magnet for many Internet-related companies. A major convention city and a crossroads where three interstate highways converge, Atlanta is home to the country's busiest airport. And all those conventiongoers certainly find many places to spend money -- Atlanta is considered the shopping capital of the Southeast. Although the city limits are only 131 square miles, the metro area is vast and sprawling. With a population nearing 5.5 million (and still counting), Atlanta was recently named the ninth-largest metropolitan area.
But commerce and development are not the only things that characterize this bustling metropolis. Its success is due in no small part to its quality of life, which is hard to beat. Atlanta is often called the City of Trees, and the streets are indeed filled with dogwoods and azaleas. The city has a small-town quality to it, with dozens of neighborhoods and parks. A temperate climate makes Atlanta a magnet for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and the city's southern roots ensure graciousness and hospitality. As Atlanta has grown in stature, it has attracted residents from across the continent and around the world, further enriching the city's social fabric. You'll still hear gentle southern accents here, but at least half of Atlanta's citizens were born outside the South. Interestingly, many of these transplants find themselves bending to the local customs, saying "please" and "ma'am" and holding doors open for one another.
When H. L. Mencken came south earlier in the century, he branded Atlanta a cultural wasteland. He should visit now. Media mogul Ted Turner inaugurated CNN here in 1980, and subsequently launched Superstation TBS, Headline News, and TNT. Also in 1980, the revitalized black neighborhood of Sweet Auburn became a national historic district, with 10 blocks of notable sites including Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, boyhood home, his crypt, the church where he preached, a museum, and the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change. It is probably the major black historical attraction in the country, and in the last several years it has undergone a major revitalization and restoration.
Atlanta is home to major art, science, nature, and archaeology museums; a vibrant theater community; an outstanding symphony orchestra; a well-regarded ballet company; opera, blues, and jazz performances; Broadway musicals; a presidential library; Confederate and African-American heritage sites; and dozens of art galleries. To those leisure options, add such attractions as Stone Mountain Park, a regional theme park, a botanical garden, and professional sports teams, and you have the makings of a lively and sophisticated city. The culinary spectrum here ranges from grits and biscuits to caviar and sushi. Sure, you can still feast on fried chicken and barbecued beef, but Atlanta also serves up cuisine from across the globe.
Of great significance is the ongoing development downtown. For years, city leaders have tried to encourage central city living, and it's finally taken hold as developers renovate old buildings into attractive apartments and lofts. The mark of a great city is an appealing and vital downtown area where people live as well as work, and Atlanta finally appears to be living the dream.
Atlanta recently said goodbye to Shirley Franklin, the first African-American female elected as mayor of this busy city, and welcomed the newly elected Kasim Reed, who shares much of Franklin's expansive vision for this heart of the New South. So if you've set your heart on hoop skirts and plantations, go on down to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Gone With the Wind. But if you want to visit a vibrant, energetic city that's rich in heritage, culture, fine cuisine, entertainment, and commerce, Atlanta runs right up there with the big dogs.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.