Famous for its history in the civil rights movement, its delicious food, and its southern hospitality, Atlanta has a lot of charm that makes it an attractive destination for LGBTQ travelers. Check out this guide to the best of gay Atlanta bars, clubs, restaurants, LGBTQ-friendly hotels & cool things to do.
Often cited as a capital of the gay Southern USA, Atlanta has a lot to offer LGBTQ travelers. As the Georgia state capital and the home to important civil rights milestones, Atlanta is “the city too busy to hate.” It’s a city of love and passion, represented by its commitment to be an open, friendly, and welcoming destination. So welcoming, in fact, Atlanta is home to North America’s largest airport!
When Queer Eye rebooted in 2018, Atlanta popped up on the gay travel radar once again. As a culturally diverse capital, the city has all the charm of a southern city with all the amenities of a big metropolis. Rather than the two divergent themes clashing, it all comes together in Atlanta to make it an equal-parts interesting, entertaining, and vibrant city. One with a lot of love and life.
Check out my gay guide to Atlanta below.
WHAT TO DO IN ATLANTA
The home to major corporations and the biggest airport in the USA, there’s understandably a lot to see and do in Atlanta. Georgia was one of the original 13 colonies, so there’s a lot of history here. The city played an important role in American history, especially during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But even to this day, thanks to its relevance in pop culture and across many industries, there’s no shortage of cool things to do in Atlanta.
Most of the tourist things to do in Atlanta are located in Downtown Atlanta in and around Centennial Olympic Park. The park was built for the 1996 Olympics and the main entrance is marked by the iconic five interlocking rings. Across the street, a 20-story Ferris wheel (the SkyView Atlanta) offers a panoramic view over Downtown Atlanta.
But the museums and sites around the park offer some of the best experiences in Atlanta. Home to the CNN headquarters, it’s possible to take a studio tour through CNN. As a city with so much history, it’s no wonder CNN has their headquarters here, and the studio tour offers a glimpse into how one of the world’s largest news organization works.
Nearby, another brand found around the world which originated in Atlanta, Coca-Cola, has a museum. The World of Coca-Cola is a fun, family-friendly experience where you can learn about the iconic brand’s history, watch some of its most iconic advertising, and even taste-test Coca-Cola products from around the world. It’s a surprisingly fun tour through the brand’s history.
In a city of so many superlatives, it’s no surprise that Atlanta is also home to America’s largest aquarium, and one of the most important in the world. The Georgia Aquarium is an impressive non-profit organization that’s home to tens of thousands of animals—from the beautifully mesmerizing jellyfish to beluga whales, whale sharks, and stingrays.
The Aquarium also participates in important conservation effort around the world; they are the only aquarium in North America to house rescued whale sharks.
And just across the Aquarium, in Pemberton Place, is the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The city where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived and preached, Atlanta was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. The museum documents the civil rights movement with important historical artifacts, letters, photographs, and videos. It’s an emotional journey and probably the most important site to see in Atlanta. There’s a lunch counter attraction inside where it’s possible to experience what some of our most important civil rights leaders had to endure before changes were slowly enacted.
The center also features an exhibition on civil and human rights movements from around the world, touching on women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, and other crises in modern human history.
Of course there are a lot of other things to see and do in Atlanta. Piedmont Park is the city’s largest green space, where the annual Atlanta Gay Pride is held each October (as well as the Atlanta Botanical Gardens). Other LGBTQ events in the city take place throughout the year, including a queer film festival in September, and the largest Black Gay Pride in the world.
WHERE TO EAT, DRINK, AND PARTY IN ATLANTA
Atlanta’s importance isn’t just in its historic attractions. Like all the best destinations, the city’s unique culture is closely intertwined with its food and culinary sites. There’s more than just Coca-Cola in Atlanta!
As the unofficial cultural capital of the south, Atlanta has some great BBQ restaurants—too many to recommend! Along Ponce De Leon Avenue and throughout the Old Fourth Ward are a number of great restaurants. Sweet Auburn BBQ (taking its name from the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta) serves traditional BBQ such as brisket and pulled pork, but also features less-traditional menu options like a Korean steak salad. Visit on Thursday evenings when they offer happy hour specials on their extensive Bourbon menu.
Just down the road is the brunch hotspot 8ARM, serving New American fare. It’s alongside the Atlanta BeltLine—a trail that runs through the Old Fourth Ward along an old railway track. You’ll find lots of beer gardens, street art, cool shops, and great people-watching along the route, including the Ponce City Market shopping center and food hall.
For a taste of LGBTQ Atlanta, visit the Midtown neighborhood. Einstein’s is a popular brunch restaurant serving Southern comfort food (what else?!) and Joe’s on Juniper has great bar bites in a very gay setting (including rainbow steps up to their breezy courtyard.
Just around the corner, the beautiful Joy Café serves classic brunch dishes like biscuits & gravy, but also more creative dishes such as their local favorite shrimp & grits. Locally-owned, it’s a great spot for a relaxing meal where you’re likely to meet the namesake owner. Try their homemade hot sauce and don’t miss their indoor bakery full of delicious, homemade cakes.
At night, the corner of Piedmont Ave and 10th Street is the hottest place to be. Gay bars such as Ten Atlanta and Blake’s on the Park are both a lot of fun, though you’ll find other LGBTQ-friendly bars and nightlife throughout the city. (Piedmont & 10th is where you’ll find the city’s rainbow crosswalk though—an important marker of the city’s Midtown gayborhood!)
Just east of Downtown Atlanta, Edgewood Avenue is home to a handful of trendy and fun bars and restaurants that are especially popular on nights and weekends. Sister Louisa’s (affectionally called Church by the locals) is a raucous Church-themed bar with karaoke, ping-pong tournaments, and other funky events. It feels a lot like a living room—but much more kitschy—and attracts a pretty queer crowd thanks to its irreverence.
WHERE TO STAY
Atlanta’s best and most important tourist sites are located in the downtown city center. From downtown Atlanta, you’re well-connected to everywhere else in the city—whether it’s the hipster shopping in the Old Fourth Ward, the LGBTQ nightlife in Midtown, or the airport in the south. At the heart of Downtown Atlanta, The American Hotel is a great option for tourists.
As a Doubletree Hilton property, the hotel has all the amenities you’d expect from Hilton. But this property isn’t just your typical Hilton! The American Hotel is an important historical site in Atlanta. Recently renovated, the hotel was the city’s first modern hotel, opened originally in 1962 where it was the first hotel in downtown Atlanta to desegregate. The lobby of the hotel is dotted with historical photographs and memorabilia including copies of letters from its opening.
The American Hotel was designed to reflect its place in history with mid-century modern design aesthetics—everything from the Airstream trailer by the pool to the houndstooth carpeting in the rooms and hallways. Funky design elements, including classic 1960s board games like Battleship and Connect Four are available for use in the spacious lobby. Colorful IGLOO mini-fridges in the mid-century style are also in each room.
Walking distance to the main tourist sites around Centennial Park, The American Hotel is both convenient and cool. There’s even a fitness suite on-site for those travelers who can’t miss a day at the gym (though the hotel’s on-site gym is also 24-hours!).
Atlanta is a buzzing city with some of the region’s best LGBTQ nightlife, bars, and clubs. It’s a great weekend destination thanks to all the events.
This blog post was originally featured on Travels of Adam.
Adam Groffman is an award-winning travel writer, blogger and marketer based in New York City where he covers city trips around the world, expat life, LGBT travel, festivals, and nightlife. Find more LGBT travel tips on his popular gay travel blog, Travels of Adam. When he’s not out exploring the coolest bars and clubs, you’ll find him in an art gallery or museum—or most likely, on Twitter and Instagram @travelsofadam.