You've heard about the Atlanta BeltLine, but don't know what it is or how to get there. In short, the Atlanta BeltLine is a former railroad being converted into a 22-mile paved pedestrian trail. On a nice day, the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail draws scores of locals and tourists - walking, jogging, bicycling, skateboarding or scootering. It is a place to see and be seen.
Besides fresh air and exercise, you can find an astounding selection of art and food on the Atlanta BeltLine. Known as the South's largest outdoor art exhibition, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine hosts seasonal art installations, and you can find an explosion of other murals, street art and spontaneous graffiti.
And undoubtedly, what draws people to the BeltLine's Eastside Trail is its restaurants, which have taken over many of the former factories and warehouses along the path. With two food halls (Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market), there are more than 55 eateries along a 2-mile stretch. The BeltLine is a food lover’s dream.
Navigating the Atlanta BeltLine does not have to be intimidating. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some suggestions for making the most of your time on the BeltLine.
Best route: Eastside Trail from Ponce City Market to Irwin Street or Dekalb Ave. (~1.5 - 2 miles one way)
Where to park:
There is paid parking at Ponce City Market in the lot or garage. To save time, download the PayMobile parking app in advance and enter your payment info.
Ponce City Market. Nearly every ethnicity is represented in Ponce City Market’s voluminous food hall. While you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants, including some by James Beard Award winners, top choices include: El Super Pan (Puerto Rican) and Ton Ton Ramen & Yakitori. A must-have is Botiwalla’s chicken tikka masala sandwich. Also try Atlanta-based King of Pops, which prides itself on “creating Unexpected Moments of Happiness” by serving popsicles in creative flavors (including some with alcohol), either at their location here or from their cart on the BeltLine at Irwin Street.
Krog Street Market. At the other end of the Eastside Trail is Krog Street Market, another food hall, named among the top in the nation by Zagat and Fodor’s. It was the original factory and warehouse for Atlanta Stove Works and was later used by Tyler Perry as a film studio. Today, it houses a number of delectable restaurants, such as Fred’s Meat & Bread (best Philly cheesesteak) and Varuni Napoli (authentic Neapolitan pizza). Superica offers Tex-Mex in a funky interior or on their expansive patio. For dessert, splurge on a French pastry at The Little Tart Bakeshop or join the line at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams for flavors like Skillet Cinnamon Roll or Sweet Cream Biscuits and Peach Jam. They also have dairy-free options like Texas Sheet Cake and Cold Brew Coconut Cream. If you’re bordering on chocoholic, XOCOLATL offers small batch chocolates for sale.
Pizza. Get back on the trail for some of the best pizza you will ever eat, at Nina & Rafi. Their main feature is the Detroit Red Top, a thick rectangular pie with cheese baked into the crust, practically enough to feed the whole neighborhood. Craving New York style instead? Their Old Fashioned and round pies are also tasty options. With a red leather booth interior and “beachfront” patio seating on the BeltLine, N&R’s atmosphere is as inviting as the food. Find more pizza on the BeltLine.
International. One thing you don’t easily find in Atlanta is Puerto Rican food. Yet the BeltLine houses the real thing at My Abuela’s Food. Chef Luis Martinez serves his grandma’s recipes, and fills the rest of the menu with vegan dishes. The empanadilla, aka empanada, is crispy and flaky and buttery. My favorite is the Mr. Pig, a delicious slow roasted pork nestled with pickles, cheese, mustard and a magic mayo between toasted slices of buttery Cuban bread. Try dessert made by local company La Dolce Madness, a mother and daughter team from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. To get there, take the stairs on the right side of SPX Alley. Learn more from our previous blog post.
Above, an empanadilla and Mr. Pig from My Abuela's Food
Beer. If craft beer is your thing, head to New Realm Brewing and have a microbrew on their upstairs balcony, which affords a fabulous view of the Atlanta skyline. Or chill out on their expansive patio with the locals and their dogs. While beer is the focal point here, the food is pretty good too. They are known for their Radegast burgers, and their Blackened Shrimp Roll is excellent.
On the other end of the trail, Pour Taproom is where you will find hipsters packed onto the patio on nights and weekends, COVID pandemic or not. The concept is self-serve beer. You get a wristband, hold it up to the brew of your choosing and pour away. Pros: No waiting on bartenders. Cons: Self-restraint required. Food fact: You can order Nina & Rafi’s pizza without having to go next door.
Wine. You don't have to be a wine connoisseur to stop in at VinoTeca for a wine tasting, Friday - Sunday. Buy a bottle to take home as a souvenir (or have it shipped). They carry more than 500 wines from across the globe, and when in season, offer a superior selection of rosé.
Or drink on the cheap at Kroger. Yes, Kroger offers wine and beer starting at $4/glass from its takeout window. The infamous Murder Kroger was revamped and rebranded (call it BeltLine Kroger now), and their patio overlooking the BeltLine has become a hot gathering spot. While the alcohol is budget, you’d be hard pressed to tell. If you're abstaining, there is also a Starbucks. It’s a great vantage point to watch the comings and goings on the BeltLine (if you can find a seat).
Cocktails. Bar Vegan, on the second floor of Ponce City Market, is a new take on the insanely popular Slutty Vegan, by the same owner. It brings you “bar theatre” - drinks served in a fire extinguisher, ferris wheel or gas can, along with some vegan bites. They also offer vegan beer and wine and non-alcoholic cocktails.
Guac y Margys, located on the Southern end of the trail, has one of the most expansive margarita selections in town, served by the glass, double glass or pitcher. Their “dranks” are delicious and playful. Try this one: Have You Seen My Giant Hat? made with Lunazul tequila and infused with blackberries, mint and lime. Or Nobody Calls it Hotlanta, which has watermelon and lime. As the name implies, they also have some seriously good guacamole, along with queso, salsa and a few tacos and bowls. Join them for a TV/movie themed trivia night, or just chill on the patio with front-row-people-watching seats on the BeltLine.
After 5 p.m., The James Room opens up to a back-room speakeasy behind its
storefront café. Relax in this plush, darkened lounge while sipping classic cocktails like a Sidecar or Manhattan, or be adventurous and try the creatively named “To Be or Not to Be” or “The Big Payback.” Live music completes the experience. Be sure to abide by the rules, though, they're serious!
Above, the James Room drinks and rules
Victory Sandwich Bar, just off the BeltLine, serves inventive mixtures that include Whiskey Coke Slushie, Cabana Split or Spiked Soda like Mexican Coke and rum. Drinks pair nicely with tiny sandwiches like the popular Tea Bird.
For a spot as quirky as its name, try Beetlecat in Inman Park. Skip the upstairs dining room, and head to the garden level bar. It’s like a friend’s basement from the 1970s, with retro decor, vintage board games and a rotary phone. Or perhaps engage in a corn hole game on the patio. They make some fine cocktails, and if you’re feeling nibbly, order some calamari or their lobster roll, named the best by Maine (and Maine knows).
Art makes the BeltLine one of the most photo-worthy spots in Atlanta, and a frequent backdrop for photographers and filmmakers. You can find paintings on the sides of buildings, fences, even on the paved path itself, but the most prolific art is under the bridges.
The John Lewis Freedom Parkway underpass is an ever-changing outdoor art gallery, covered with colorful street art and graffiti self-expression. Murals on its walls have included portraits of actor Chadwick Boseman, Congressman John Lewis and Baby Yoda (maybe still there on the backside of the wall). On weekends, local performers set up shop. You might see Kermit playing drums or a local band looking for an audience. Bring a bit of cash to drop them a tip if you wish.
Above, a sampling of street art under John Lewis Freedom Parkway
On the North Avenue bridge, get a photographic view of the Atlanta skyline. Walk a few steps to the left and get a selfie in front of the Black Lives Matter mural and the panels next to it, part of the project called A Reflection of Change, all painted by people of color.
To experience the BeltLine and the best of its restaurants and art, come on a walking food tour with BiteLines. We have paused tours during the pandemic but hope to ramp up later this year when it's safe.
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but will ramp up again as soon as it’s safe.