This spring, it’s Atlanta’s turn to host basketball’s biggest weekend. And whether you have tickets to the Big Dance or not, there’s a lot going on here besides the tourney itself. (With the world’s busiest airport, a diverse population of a half-mill, and a hip Southern charm, it’s called Hotlanta for more than just the weather.) Take in culture, take in some fresh air, and then make a beeline for the Georgia Dome—or just pull up a stool at one of the city’s best sports bars.
Take a tour of the CNN Studios, where you can make a videotape of yourself reading the day’s top stories—you might even get a chance to gloat about your team. Catch up on all that U.S. history you forgot at the King Center, where you can see both the birth home and the crypt of MLK. Want an art fix? The High Museum of Art won architectural awards when it was built in the 1980s and has a huge contemporary and outsider collection. Then try this on for size: The Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the world. That’s 10 million gallons of water, some 120,000 animals, and 500 species (it’s the only aquarium outside of Asia that has whale sharks). One tank has a window that’s 61 feet wide and two feet thick.
The DeKalb Farmers Market and Harry’s Whole Foods are mega indoor emporiums dedicated to free range beef, organic produce, fair trade coffees, local cheeses, delish baked goods, and more—perfect to counteract the effects of sports-arena food (and beer). Celebrate wins at Bacchanalia, where crab fritters and warm Valrhona chocolate cake make foodies go bonkers. At Holy Taco, they fill tortillas with the likes of buttermilk-fried chicken hearts, puffed pork skin, goat, and (if you’re feeling traditional) chicken or black beans. Mary Mac’s Tea Room has been around for 60 years; they call iced tea “the table wine of the South,” and it goes well with pot likker soup, cracklin bread, black-eyed peas, and fried chicken. (Don’t tell your trainer.)
Piece together a run—long or short—in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, with 70 miles of zig-zagging trails. Practice your three-pointer at the spiffy basketball courts in Midtown’s Piedmont Park, home to bocce, inline skating, a half-mile running track, and an aquatic center with lap lanes. Stone Summit Climbing is the country’s largest climbing gyms, with some walls as high as 60 feet—and rated as high as 5.12. (Not a climber? Translation: badass.)
Yes, Atlanta sometimes gets a bum rap as being the worst sports town in America. But you wouldn’t know it if you show up at a sports bar like Stats—with five bars, three levels, 70 HD televisions, a rooftop deck, firepits, and tableside taps. (Yep, you can pour your own draft without leaving your seat.) Hit Dantanna’s in trendy Buckhead for schmancy bar food like surf & turf and lamb burgers; every table on the patio has its own personal TV. Brewhouse Café feels like an old English pub, with a dark wood interior and Brit faves like sausage rolls and bangers and mash.