In the last few years, Atlanta has become the third most visited city in the US, falling only behind Chicago and New York. And if we see what all this city has to offer, this comes as no surprise. Atlanta is a bustling urban jungle that melts into friendly suburbs filled with culture and history and vivid, unfrequented hiking trails in the midst of the city’s busiest streets. It’s a unique city like no other and it’s no wonder that more and more people visit every year. However, the city has a lot more to offer than just the typical tourist attractions you’ll find in most tourist guides. If you look hard enough, you can find some places in Atlanta off-the-beaten-track that most tourists aren’t aware of. Or, if you don’t like to look hard enough, just keep reading; here are the best-hidden gems in Atlanta!
Cascade Springs Nature Preserve
Starting off this list of hidden gems in Atlanta off the beaten track, we have Cascade Springs Nature Preserve. When I first visited this nature reserve, I couldn’t believe that you can find a cascading multi-level waterfall in the midst of Southwest Atlanta! This beautiful green oasis stretches across 120 acres of lush greenery and features rushing streams and springs, a historic springhouse, remnants from the battle of Utoy Creek (Civil War), as well as a fair share of wildlife, including deer, turtles, and different kinds of birds.
The most interesting thing about this nature preserve is that its starting point is next to a chain-link-fenced parking area. If you happen to be wandering around, you probably wouldn’t think that such a beautiful green oasis hides behind this unsuspecting parking area. Perhaps this is one reason why this nature preserve doesn’t get more visitors.
East Palisades Trail
If you’re a fan of nature and getting off-the-beaten-track, you’ll surely enjoy hiking along Atlanta’s most important river; Chattahoochee River. The blissfully-unfrequented East Palisades Trail is one of the most scenic walks in Atlanta that also offers some of the best views of the city. The park’s winding network of trails can be a bit confusing when visiting for the first time, but almost every trail intersection is marked with a trail map.
The trail starts from the Indian Trail trailhead and goes through several high overlooks and a thick bamboo forest. For some reason, most travelers that visit Atlanta don’t spend a lot of time in its outdoors, which is a petty, considering Atlanta is one of the greenest cities in the US. While you’re near the river, you should also check out:
Chattahoochee Diving Rock
Known among locals as “the diving rock”, this giant cliff towers over the Chattahoochee River and is one of the favorite places to hang out for the local youngsters. The cliff is surrounded by lush forests and greenery that create a perfect getaway during the hot summer days. If you’re planning to dive from the cliff, be cautious; the height is around 20 feet and the water is around fifteen feet deep. However, even if you’re not planning to dive, this is still one of the hidden gems in Atlanta off the beaten track. Keep that in mind if Atlanta’s busy streets become too overwhelming for you.
If you want to get here, there aren’t many transportation options and the best way is probably to either get a cab or rent a car.
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Doll’s Head Trail
A few miles away from Downtown, you’ll find this strange path in the Constitution Lakes Park that leads to a little-known urban nature preserve. This place is a haven for nature lovers and you can also see a lot of birds around. If you want to reconnect with nature without ever leaving the city, this trail is a great option.
Locals call it the Doll’s Head Trail because of the strange-looking old doll that was installed in the area by a local artist named Joel Slaton. Throughout the years, visitors started adding their own artwork near the doll spontaneously, enriching this beautiful nature trail with some interesting art, ultimately turning the Doll’s Head Trail into one of the best alternative places in Atlanta.
Lake Claire Community Land Trust
Lake Claire is Atlanta’s very own hippie hub that was founded by a group of enthusiasts in the early 80s. The mission of this local community is to maintain and preserve green space in the area and celebrate nature and the work of local artists. The Lake Claire Community Land Trust also features a big garden, a sauna, an outdoor stage, an amphitheater, a turtle pond, and a number of nature trails leading to the forest.
There are also a lot of regular events, like tribute shows, drum circles, seasonal festivals, etc. If you ask me, I think every neighborhood should have its own Lake Claire Community Land Trust!
Harris Trail & Whitewater Creek Road
As I previously mentioned, Atlanta is one of the greenest cities in the US and I could probably add a few more similar places on this list, but I just can’t forget mentioning Whitewater Creek Road and the nearby Harris Trail. Not only is this place unknown among most tourists but even a lot of locals aren’t aware of its existence. If you want to spend some time in the outdoors and go somewhere where there aren’t a lot of people, it doesn’t get better than this.
If you follow the Harris Trail, you’ll eventually reach a viewpoint where you can get an amazing view of Atlanta. In addition, you can also do some river tubing, trek through the bamboo forest, or just enjoy the surrounding nature.
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Judging by its name, you might think Cabbagetown is a giant cabbage farm in Atlanta’s suburbs but that’s not true. Cabbagetown is actually one of Atlanta’s most vibrant historic districts. Here, you can find some of Atlanta’s finest architectural gems and learn a lot about Atlanta’s growth and evolution throughout the years by merely looking around. Stretching over only six blocks, Cabbagetown is one of the smallest districts in Atlanta but these six blocks are packed with hundreds of years of history.
Hence, this is a great starting point if you want to learn more about Atlanta’s history. If you’re visiting around November, you can also witness the Cabbagetown Stomp & Chomp, an annual festival devoted to the district’s rich heritage and history. If this sounds interesting, then you should also check out another fascinating historic district of Atlanta:
Chamblee Antique Row District
Hidden in Atlanta’s Chamblee suburb, the Antique Row District features a myriad of authentic retail and antique shops. Locals say that this district is the largest antique collection in the Southeast and there is, indeed, something special about the small-town atmosphere you can feel in this historic district.
Here, you can find anything, from old trinkets, furniture, gems and jewelry to old coins, antique items, and everything in-between. In addition to the cluster of interesting shops, you can also find a lot of fine dining options around. However, even though it’s very popular among locals, not a lot of travelers end up visiting the Antique Row.
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Millennium Gate Museum
Even though Atlanta’s Millennium Gate is located in Midtown’s Atlantic Station District, for some reason it’s not one of the most popular tourist attractions in town. Fortunately, this means that your visit will be less hectic and more enjoyable. The gate comprises a large Roman-style arch that symbolizes the old name of Atlanta- “the Gate City”. The 12,000 square-foot museum is a tribute to the history and culture of the state of Georgia.
The Millennium Gate is often overlooked, perhaps because it was built recently but it’s a great place if you’re looking for a not-so-known but yet beautiful site where you can also learn a lot about Atlanta and the state of Georgia.
Sitting on Peachtree Street in the center of Atlanta, Rhodes Hall is another oftentimes overlooked place in Atlanta. This 9000-square foot mansion was home to a local magnate Amos Rhodes in the 19th century. What’s interesting about the house is that it’s built in Romanesque Revival style and it’s one of the last remaining classical buildings in Atlanta.
The interior is filled with vintage parquet floors, fascinating mosaics, murals, and stained glass windows. Today, the mansion is a house museum open for visitors. However, for some reason, it still remains under the radar and hence, must be mentioned in this list of hidden gems in Atlanta.
Mt. Olive Cemetery
You might not think that there’s anything special about a cemetery but the Mt. Olive Cemetery truly is one of the best-hidden gems in Atlanta. This cemetery is probably the last remnant of Atlanta’s earliest communities. This community established after the Civil War by freed slaves was home to around 400 people. Today, the place seems isolated and forgotten but it’s still worth visiting if you want to get a glimpse of the city’s earliest history.
Dekalb Farmers Market
You probably wouldn’t think a grocery shopping center might make it to the list of the best-hidden gems in Atlanta but we just had to include the Dekalb Farmers Market in this list. This market has an amazing selection of organic produce, fresh fish and meat and a section dedicated to every country from around the world. All this makes this farmers market one of the most fascinating less-known tourist attractions in Atlanta.
Finally, we round up this list of hidden gems in Atlanta off the beaten track with Junkman’s Daughter. This store was opened in 1982 by Pam Majors; a junkman’s daughter who was searching for retail space to sell the items her parents gathered throughout the years. Under her leadership, this quirky store turned into one of the most popular stores among local college students and non-conformists.
If you’re looking for some quirky decorations, retro items, groovy accessories, retro-collectibles, or unusual gifts, definitely check out this store. And if you like quirky things, check out our list of weird things to do in Portland, Oregon.
Helpful resources for traveling to Atlanta
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Also, before you visit, don’t forget to check out this list of things I wish I knew before visiting America.
Did you ever visit Atlanta? Have you heard about some of these hidden gems in Atlanta? Which one was your favorite? What’s the first place you’d visit if traveling to Atlanta? Let me know in the comments!
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