With many people hitting the city of Atlanta to soak up the social scene, it’s easy to empty your wallet before you realize what happened. I recently took to Georgia’s capital city without an agenda (or a rental car) to visit friends and enjoy a bit of the local culture. What I didn’t want to do, however, was spend a lot of money. Believe it or not, it’s possible to have a great time in Atlanta without breaking the bank—all it takes is a bit of creativity.
Get the most bang for your buck
I’m an admitted hotel snob, so many of my friends were surprised when I chose to stay at the budget-friendly Residence Inn Downtown as opposed to the W Hotel. I chose the Residence Inn for several reasons: free wifi, free breakfast, and a free dinner reception with beer and wine in the evenings. I effectively managed to eat for free twice a day—and didn’t need to pay for internet access like I would at many other properties—shouldn’t wifi be free everywhere by now?
Also, I knew most of the tourist attractions I wanted to see were downtown. My centrally-located hotel left me within walking distance of Centennial Olympic Park (which has a fantastic calendar of free events), the CNN Center, the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola.
Learn to work the system
On my first night in the city, I hit the Westin Peachtree Plaza’s Sundial Restaurant & Bar for cocktails. I was treated to a 360 degree view in the slowly-rotating restaurant as the sun set. At about 8 p.m. a live jazz band took to the floor providing a sexy, urban soundtrack to my Atlanta adventure. The best part about this was by hitting the restaurant, I bypassed the admission fee for the tower’s observation deck that didn’t rotate or have entertainment.
The following day I made my mind up that I wanted to lounge by a pool. My hotel didn’t have one so I booked a manicure at the Bliss Spa at the W Hotel Downtown. Why? Because patrons of the spa gain access to the W Hotel pool and locker room facilities. What began as a $25 manicure ended up just being a $15 polish change, and I spent all afternoon lounging and sipping champagne (courtesy of the spa) on the 16th floor terrace, overlooking an infinity pool that gave way to more sweeping views of the city. When I was done, I showered and freshened up in their locker rooms, with complementary Bliss products.
Call on friends
You can count on locals to know where the action happens. A fellow writer was invited to the Coors Light Search for the Coldest emcee competition at Club Reign. It was a free event, so I decided to join her and watched as Jay R Da Star and Lois LS Lane engaged in a battle royal of words. The event was hosted by Ice Cube featured appearances by rappers T.I., ASAP Rocky, Bushwick Bill and Lil' Scrappy. Lois LS Lane won the battle, by the way.
On another evening, a friend chauffeured me around for a night tour of Atlanta’s landmarks including the Dr. King birth home and tomb, as well as a quick loop through the Atlanta University Center (the AUC).
A few nights later, a change of pace was in order with ARTlanta, a showcase of 11 local artists which was hosted by Enitan Bereola, author of “Bereolaesque”. The cool kids of ATL were in full force at this event, packing the intimate Hotel Indigo with their brand of style and panache. The scene was an unexpected fashion show. In addition to hosting, Bereola also served as art curator, choosing an array of high-impact modern art pieces. The price? Free. And so was the after party at Halo Lounge.
Atlanta is full of attractions and tours and the best way to beat admission prices is to get a City Pass. An adult City Pass is $69 and grants access to five of the Atlanta's top attractions. If tickets were purchased individually, the cost would be around $126. I decided the two things I most wanted to experience were the Inside CNN Studio Tour and the World of Coca Cola. The $27 Atlanta Brands Combo pass saved me $3 on admission to both attractions, and because I went on a weekday in the afternoon, the crowds were minimal.
The last of my sightseeing wrapped up at 5 p.m. which marked the beginning of happy hour at McCormick & Schmick's at the CNN Center. I had an appetizer and two cocktails for less than $20 as I waited for my friends to wrap up at work and meet me.
Choose your splurges
While I did spend time walking between destinations and lodging at a highly-economical hotel, there was still a part of me that wanted a bit of luxury. I opted to spend my last night in the city at the Georgian Terrace hotel. Call it a stroke of luck, but I was able to score a king bedroom suite at this historic and opulent property for $110. The meals weren’t free, but I sacrificed them for the cool factor of the on-property Livingston Restaurant & Bar as well as Proof and Provision, the hotel’s underground “speakeasy” where bartenders whipped up craft cocktails from liquors I’d never heard of.
The morning before my departure, I relaxed at their rooftop pool. Twenty stories above the city, I had the chance to take in the panoramas and mentally bid farewell to an Atlanta experience unlike others in my past.