Atlanta City Guide
If you asked different people what Atlanta was known for, you would probably get as many answers as people you asked. Some would say Atlanta is known for its rich history, others would say its museums and sports teams, or the city’s Southern hospitality and musical heritage. While the city’s core is modest half a million people (38th in the country), the metropolitan area is home to over 6 millions people (2021) contributing a GDP north of $400 billion. The city has played a key role in America’s industrialisation since the Civil War, so too a vital organizing point for Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.
To make the most of this Atlanta city guide for endurance athletes, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Atlanta. Exact hours aren’t indicated unless very restrictive, and prices are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $20 for day access. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section, so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in Directory link directly to the venue’s Google Maps profile – click on the venue’s name to generate directions. Finally, the Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for sleeping and fuelling during your time in Atlanta.
Orientation & Logistics
Eastside Atlanta is the place where art, food, and music come together. Centered around the Atlanta BeltLine, the neighborhood features a lot of independent book and record stores. Midtown Atlanta is home to the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It also offers one of the best places to run and relax in Atlanta: Piedmont Park. Last but not least, Buckhead deserves a mention. The neighborhood is a place that stands out, with Southern mansions and shopping centers at Lenox Square and Buckhead Village. At night, the neighborhood offers trendy rooftop bars.
One of the best ways to discover Atlanta is on two wheels. You can rent a bike and ride along Atlanta’s BeltLine, or you can book a guided bicycle tour (Bicycle Tours of Atlanta – Discover Atlanta). If you are looking for a recovery day activity, try out a tour by Atlanta Food Walks to fuel up on the city’s best culinary offerings. While eating your way through the city, you also get to learn about Atlanta’s history.
There is no best way to get around Atlanta. Rather, you have to find the one that fits your needs the best. Atlanta’s public transportation system can get you where you need to be, or you can rent a car or get a taxi. Atlanta’s rapid transit rail system is called MARTA. It offers rides to the airport or to neighborhoods like Buckhead. The city also just added a new means of transportation: the Atlanta Streetcar. It runs between the convention and entertainment district and the Sweet Auburn area.
Atlanta is hot and humid in the summer. The winter is cold and dry, but for the most part, snow doesn’t linger. In the summer, you can get up to 14.5 hour of daylight around summer solstice. In the winter, the sun rises around 7:38am. and sets at 5:33pm on winter solstice. Daylight savings start in the middle of March and end at the start of November.
Atlanta is a great city for running. With 30,000 members and 40 events per year, the Atlanta Track Club keeps the community running. For running tracks, first visit The Cheney Stadium in Phoenix Park – refurbished by the Atlanta Track Club in 2017. It also served as a warm-up facility for track and field athletes at the Olympic Games in 1996. The track is now open to the public every day of the week. It’s located south of Atlanta in Phoenix Park. Alternatively, seek out Sutton Middle School Track‘s 400m. It’s located in Buckhead and open 24 hours to the public and entry is free.
Piedmont Park is the perfect location for longer, continuous runs. The park features paved trails that are great to run on. The best day to run at Piedmont Park is Saturday, as the Piedmont Park Green Market offers great post-run refuel options. The farmer’s market is open from April to November. You can also run a few laps around Piedmont Park’s Active Oval, which is a better name for sports fields and a track. A full loop around Piedmont Park is about four miles long. If you want to extend your run, you can explore the surrounding parks such as Winn Park or Hillpine Park.
From the Promenade area around Piedmont Park, you’ll have a great view of the park and the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. If you follow the trail, you will also pass the Piedmont Park Pool and Lake Clara Meer. Also make sure to pass the Atlanta Botanical Garden. While you can’t enter the garden without a ticket, you can glimpse at it as you run past it.
If you are more of a trail runner than city runner, Sweetwater Creek State Park is for you. With its flowy trails and inclines, the park is not only great for running, but also for hiking. The park offers a number of trails ranging in distance. The Red Trail is one mile one way and leads past the ruins of the five-story New Manchester mill. The trail follows the Sweetwater Creek and ends at the Sweetwater Fall area. While the terrain is rocky and strenuous, the trail is the most frequently used as it is the shortest in the park and showcases the valley in its best light.
The White Trail, on the other hand, is the longest trail available. The 5.2 mile loop makes the most remote areas of Sweetwater Creek State Park accessible and showcases its unique wildlife. Intersecting with the Red Trail at the overlook of the mill ruins, the White Trail also provides great views of the area. The trail follows a stream up to Jack’s Lake and the Jack’s Hill area, which is popular with bird watchers.
Lastly, Sweetwater Creek State Park offers a third trail, the Yellow East Side Trail. The 3-mile loop starts on the Red Trail and heads towards the bridge across Sweetwater Creek. The trail features beautiful forests and comes with an elevation gain of 350 feet. As you run down the descent, you’ll see a large rock overhang on the left, which was used as shelter by Native Americans, according to archaeologists.
As you spend time in and around Atlanta, you’ll find that the area is rather hilly. In fact, it’s hard to find even one flat stretch. (At least that’s what it feels like when running or cycling.) If you are looking for a hill or mountain to do hill reps on, look no further than Kennesaw Mountain. Just north of Atlanta, the mountain towers out of the forest and provides a great view of the city’s skyline. But that’s not the only reason you should do your hill reps on Kennesaw Mountain: It also offers great opportunities to learn about Atlanta’s history.
Kennesaw Mountain is surrounded by the National Battlefield Park that once saw a fiery Civil War battle that lasted 14 days. A few cannons, fortifications, and monuments remain to remind visitors of the park’s history. One of the most popular trails is the Kennesaw Mountain Trail, with a distance of 2.1 miles. If you like to run a bit further, check out Battlefield Trail, an 11-mile loop that features epic views from Kennesaw and Little Kennesaw Mountain.
Alternatively, the Cheatham Hill and Kolb Farm Loop Trail makes for a great 10k run or hike. The trail head is located on Cheatham Hill, the place of the 14-day Civil War battle. The trail then loops around the Kolb Farm battlefield. If you decide to come by car, don’t forget to pay the $5 vehicle entrance fee at the visitor center.
Only 15 miles from downtown Atlanta, Stone Mountain is one of Atlanta’s favorite recreational destinations. While you could take the cable car to the summit of the quartz monzonite dome, running up the hill isn’t only more fun, it also gives you a better view. Stone Mountain Park offers 15 miles of running and hiking trails that vary in difficulty. You can run the 5-mile trail around the mountain, as well as the 1-mile trail to the summit. Once you are at the top, you get to enjoy a view of downtown Atlanta and the Appalachian mountains in the distance. If you catch a good day, you can see up to 60 miles from Stone Mountain.
We have mentioned the Atlanta Track Club before, but here’s a summary of the running club’s gatherings. The club organizes monthly and weekly group runs on the BeltLine. They begin at 6:30pm on Thursdays and rotate weekly between the Eastside and Westside BeltLine tracks. The group runs are free and open to all people. At the end of the run, participants can enjoy food and beer specials.
parkrun also have a presence in Atlanta – their Northside Beltline chapter. Join them for a free timed 5km run each Saturday morning at 8am during Summer months and 9am in Fall/Winter.
Atlanta’s size is daunting, but there are rides there are navigable gateways for hitting the best routes in town. The place to start is Red Top Mountain State Park. Depending on the season, there will be more or less traffic, but overall, the state park offers windy roads through forest, countryside neighborhoods, and over bridges with great views of Allatoona Lake.
You can find a great number of group rides around Atlanta. For the most part, they are organized by bike shops and other organizations. Before getting ready for a group ride, contact the shop or ride leader to verify that the ride is still on. When trying a group ride, also make sure to choose the right group for your pace. If you can’t keep up with the group, expect to be dropped.
On Tuesdays, Atlanta Cycling offers a 22-mile women’s ride at 6:30 p.m. The ride breaks into two groups, and a sweep rider makes sure that no one is left behind. To join the ride, a road bike is required.
On Wednesdays, a moderate or strenuous ride leaves from the Atlanta Cycling Vinings shop at 6:30 p.m. While the main group rides at race pace, there will be another group that allows riders to ride at their own pace. The distance is around 25 miles.
The Atlanta Trek store offer premium road bike rentals. As of 2022, they offer the Trek Domane SL 5 Disc, a performance road bike that’s comfortable and fast. It has a carbon frame with a full Shimano 105 drivetrain, high-quality wheels, and hydraulic disc brakes. The bikes are available in sizes 47 to 58.
The home of the Georgia Tech Swimming and Diving teams is McAuley Aquatic Center. It was originally built for the 1996 Olympic Games and is now used for classes, clubs, and swim teams. The pool is also open for recreational lap swimming.
The C.T. Martin Natatorium offers eight lanes in a heated 50-meter competition pool. When you visit Atlanta in the winter or fall, you might find that the pool is divided into 25-yard sections for swim teams and 29.7-yard sections for lap swimming. The natatorium also offers a therapy pool that is kept at a warmer temperature. It definitely makes for a good post-workout relaxation swim. The lap lane swim ends at 6:00 p.m., as swim teams start practicing at that time.
Piedmont Park was a popular place to swim even before the bathhouse was built in 1911. The bathhouse is now an event space, while the current Aquatic Center is a renovated swimming pool from 1973. The pool has four lap swimming lanes and there are locker rooms and showers available. The Aquatic Center follows the pool calendar of the City of Atlanta. If you like to get up early, you can make use of the early bird lap swimming on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 6 to 9 a.m. Entry fees are $5 for a single day pass for adults.
The City of Atlanta has four indoor pools and 12 outdoor pools, one of them is Pittman Park Pool. Located just south of downtown Atlanta, the pool is easily accessible. The pool has nine lanes, half of which are usually dedicated to lap swimming. You can find more outdoor pools on the website of the City of Atlanta. Pools | Atlanta, GA (atlantaga.gov)
If you prefer the open water over swimming pools, you should check out Cauble Park. Located on the north shore of Lake Acworth, the park has a public beach and recreation area. While there is no entry fee, there is also no lifeguard on duty. The surrounding park is also great for activities such as boating, fishing, and playing volleyball. Even though the park is open all year around, swimming is only allowed between the last Saturday in April and Labor Day weekend. The beach is open from dawn to dusk, while the park is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
You don’t want to skip the gym while away? Then you should check out the following two gyms in the Atlanta area. Crossfit Downtown Atlanta offers drop-in classes to any athletes. However, since their classes are strictly capped, visitors have to register online before arriving. The rates for drop-in classes are $25. You can also purchase a 5-class pass for $100.
Anytime Fitness is one of the most popular gym chains in the US. Their locations are open 24/7 and membership gives you access to more than 3,000 gyms around the globe. Anytime Fitness has locations in Atlanta Midtown and Buckhead.
Sleeping & Eating
While training hard is one side of the coin, resting and eating well is the other side. The following suggestions for cafés, restaurants, and hotels will keep your stomach full and your body well-rested.
Community Ground Café is a great place for a coffee stop while riding, with plenty outdoor seating and space for bikes. It’s located in South Atlanta and offers breakfast biscuits, sandwiches, and all kinds of coffee specialties. The café is opened from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the week. On Saturdays, it opens at 8:00 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:00 a.m.
Located just off the BeltLine, Dancing Goats at Ponce City Market is a great place to grab a coffee on a ride. The café offers locally made pastry and specialty beverages that will keep you going on the bike. Dancing Goats café is opened from 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. during the week. On the weekends, it opens half an hour later at 7:00 a.m. Dancing Goats is known being the first café in the US to be 100% powered by green energy sources. They also achieved near-zero landfill waste and near-100% composting and recycling.. The coffee shop has several locations in Atlanta, as well as in Olympia and Tacoma in Washington and St. Petersburg in Florida.
If you just finished a long training day and your body wants nothing but rest and food, Fogo de Chão in Buckhead is your place to go. The Brazilian restaurant chain offers an all-you-can-eat salad bar and fresh meat that is served at the table. The meat is prepared after a centuries-old cooking technique called churrasco, where cuts of meat are roasted o ver an open flame.
Rootstock is a local restaurant that offers locally sourced food and a global wine selection. The “Vintners Rooftop” hosts a Wine and Bourbon bar with wines from family-owned and mostly organic vineyards. The bar and restaurant also supports local artists by giving them a place to share their music.
Sitting on top of the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, the Sun Dial Restaurant provides a spectacular view of Atlanta’s skyline. You can enjoy meals from local and farm-to-table ingredients while observing the buzzing city with a 360-degree panorama at 723 feet. Entry to the restaurant is granted by reservation only, and not that the dress code is strict, requiring business casual clothes.
The Urban Grind coffee shop is a great place to get some work done while sipping on a coffee. It’s also a great place for a post-workout coffee and snack. Based in Atlanta’s West Midtown, the coffee shop offers freshly brewed coffee and loose-leaf tea, served in a nice and calming atmosphere.
If you’re also an avid reader, you might like to check out the Read Shop. The bookstore slash coffee shop is located in Vinings Jubilee and offers all kinds of coffees and seasonal drinks. The book section contains books of every genre, including greeting cards and magazines.
The Westin Peachtree Plaza from Marriott is housed in one of Atlanta’s most iconic buildings, located close to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Centennial Olympic Park. The four-star hotel offers great views of the city of Atlanta and comes with nice-to-have features such as a fitness center and an indoor/outdoor pool. It also has a convenience store and gift shop.
Another hotel with a great location is the Omni Hotel at the Battery. If you’re a baseball fan, you might enjoy the short walk to Truist Park, which is home to the Atlanta Braves baseball team. The hotel also comes with a rooftop pool and bar with a view of The Battery. The pool is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The full-service fitness center makes going to the gym easy. On rainy days, you can also make use of their Peloton as an alternative to cycling outdoors. There is also a full-service restaurant and in-room dining options are available. Other amenities include a lobby bar, Wi-Fi, concierge, and valet parking.
Cauble Park: no number
Community Grounds Café: +1 404-586-0692
Fogo de Chão: +1 404-266-9988
Omni Hotel: +1 678 567 7327
Read Shop: +1 678-742-7853
Rootstock Restaurant & Bar: +1 770-544-9009
Sun Dial Restaurant: +1 404-589-7506
Westin, The: +1 404-659-1400
Urban Grind: +1 404 7240 605
Thanks for Julia Gralki for compiling this Atlanta City Guide