The city of Decatur Georgia is the county seat for DeKalb County. However, just eight kilometres without a break from downtown Atlanta to the west, it would be easy to think of it as part of the Georgia state capital.
Decatur is now a trendy and progressive city with a small town feel despite its proximity to Atlanta. Now served by the Atlanta metro, it wasn’t always that way.
Two hundred years ago the area was unsettled forest, and the site for the country courthouse chosen in 1822. It means there’s plenty of historic structures to admire, with Decatur containing five different historic districts.
Its excellent location means there’s no shortage of things to do. Here are the 15 best things to do in and around Decatur, Georgia
1. DeKalb History Center
The very center of Decatur from the city’s creation, the DeKalb History Center is located within the neoclassical splendor of the County Courthouse on Decatur Square.
The current structure dates from 1898, and was used for legal judgements until 1967. It first opened as a museum in 1983, and hosts a regular series of exhibitions which aim to uncover the hidden aspects of history and culture of this part of Georgia.
The courthouse was also the site of a skirmish during the American Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta. Confederate cavalry attacked a supply wagon for Unionist forces as a plaque outside details.
2. Woodlands Garden
Decatur’s Woodlands Garden comprise a 3.2-hectare public park that is a key urban sanctuary for the residents of the city.
The largely wooded land contains more than 30 species of tree and a wide range of plants native to the region.
The brainchild of Chet and Gene Morse, the area where the park stands was donated to the city in the early 2000s to ensure its permanent protection from construction.
Their forethought in giving their gardens to the public ensure there is a place for plants from the Georgia Piedmont biosphere at the very heart of the city.
3. Callanwolde Fine Arts Center
Throughout the year the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center presents a series of art exhibitions within its gallery space. It also hosts classes and workshops for all ages in a vast array of artistic disciplines.
Built in 1917, its mansion-like Late Gothic or Mock Tudor architecture is almost as impressive. It was constructed as the home of Charles Howard Candler, President of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1920s and son of the drink’s formulator.
Used as a location for several Hollywood films, in its recent history it has hosted Prince Albert of Monaco and famous operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
4. Eddie’s Attic
Music and Decatur go hand in hand. The birthplace of REM front-man Michael Stipe, the attraction of much recent musical talent is thanks to the presence of the bar, restaurant and performance space called Eddie’s Attic.
Having live music almost every night of the week, Eddie’s Attic is a place where a good time is almost guaranteed.
Its stage is very welcoming to local bands and musicians, but has also played host to people who would become some of the biggest acts in the world. These names have included Justin Bieber, Michelle Malone, and Tyler Childers.
5. Decatur Ghost Tours
An alternative way to explore all Decatur has to offer after dark is by joining a Decatur Ghost Tour. Beginning with ghostly tales of otherworldly goings on in Decatur Square, you’ll soon be looking at the city in a new way.
Slipping down spooky side streets you’ll stop by the old passenger railway depot, where the cries of pain from civil war troops wounded in battle have been heard.
Other stops include one of the oldest two-story homes in the city, where spirits are said to wander inside and out, as well as the historic cemetery that is the final resting place for several generations of Decatur residents.
6. Fernbank Museum of Natural History
Just beyond the bounds of the city limits in Atlanta proper is the Fernbank Museum of Natural History.
Starting as it means to go on, the museum’s front flower beds are overshadowed by models of creatures that walked the Earth several million years ago. Inside, you’ll find dinosaur fossils including a 37-metre long Argentinosaurus skeleton, one of the largest species of dinosaur ever discovered.
At the same time, the museum’s glass atrium draws visitors towards Fernbank Forest. Situated in the foothills of the Piedmont mountains, this important surviving area of old growth woodland can be explored thanks to a multitude of interpretative walkways.
The museum is ten minutes from Decatur Square by road.
7. Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park
Continue further towards downtown Atlanta from the Fernbank Museum and you’ll soon find yourself at one of the United States’ newest national historic parks.
A little misleading in name for some, this park isn’t an open area of landscaping, but a zone of buildings whose histories help detail the fight for civil rights led by Martin Luther King Jr.
They include his childhood home, as well as Ebenezer Baptist Church, the building where he was baptized and where his father was a minister.
The park contains a visitor center with museum where you can learn more about King and the Civil Rights Movement more generally. It also contains the grave into which King’s remains were interred after his assassination at the age of 39 in 1968.
8. Decatur Historic Districts
The city of Decatur is blessed with a number of historic structures and districts which have made it onto the country’s National Register of Historic Places as a result of their national importance.
Among them is the Clairemont Historic District, immediately north of Decatur Square, which is the location of several historic and architecturally impressive church buildings.
Nearby, the MAK Historic District can be found around McDonough, Adams, and Kings Highway. This area is recognized because of its string of early twentieth century’s American Craftsman-style homes.
It leads eastward into the South Chandler Street-Agnes Scott College Historic District and then the Winnona Park Historic District, proving just how much history there is to explore in Decatur.
9. Stone Mountain
Twenty kilometres further east lies Stone Mountain. Dramatically rising out of the surrounding Georgia woodland as an isolated upthrust of rock, it is a popular destination for outdoors-men of all kinds.
In and around the park you’ll find some 25 km of hiking trails, some perfect for beginners looking to take in the mountain, and others a little more difficult under foot.
The Cherokee Trail rings the base of the mountain in approximately eight kilometres, through oak forest and streams. Meanwhile, the walk-up trail reaches the summit for views over Atlanta and the Appalachian Mountains.
Of course, if you’ve left you’re walking boots at home, you can also reach the summit via the Skyride cable car.
10. Michael C Carlos Museum
Roughly five kilometres northwest of Decatur in Emory Village is the Michael C Carlos Museum.
While not a household name, the museum is nonetheless one of the most important museum spaces to be found in the southeast of the United States.
Its permanent collection contains objects from ancient cultures right around the world, making it an important stop for anyone who wants to discover the wonders of ancient Egypt, Rome, or Greece.
What’s more, the collection extents to sketches drawn in Renaissance Europe, and artifacts from the cultures of both Asia and Africa too.
11. Three Taverns Brewery
This part of northern Georgia has seen a number of craft breweries pop up over recent years, with Three Taverns Brewery being one of the picks of the bunch.
Its taproom, or ‘tasting parlor’, is a wonderful blend of urban and rural, with exposed brickwork and impressive pieces of hardwood furniture.
Behind the scenes, which can be explored on a short tour, is a state-of-the-art brewery producing some excellent beers in a wide range of styles.
Its regularly rotating list of beers include Belgian-style IPAs, German-style pilsners, and wheat beers too.
12. Briarcliff Mansion
The history of Briarcliff Mansion is an extraordinary tale of how fortunes can change. Built in 1922, no expense was spared in its construction, since it was to be the home of one of the sons of Asa Griggs Candler, a co-creator of Coca-Cola.
Its exterior has a Georgian Revival style, while its interior contained a paneled library, Tudor hall, ballroom and solarium. Its grounds were the home of animals including a Bengal tiger and six elephants – one of which was named Coca, and another Cola.
Later sold, the estate became the Briarcliff campus of Emory University, although the mansion itself remains abandoned and of interest to urban explorers.
13. Zoo Atlanta
Many of Chandler’s animals made their way to a new home at Grant Park Zoo, which is today known as Zoo Atlanta.
One of the oldest zoos in the United States, it is also rated as one of the best in the country for the conservation of endangered species and animal healthcare.
The zoo’s grounds are able to boast around 1,500 individual animals coming from 220 different species.
Among some of its rarest are two giant pandas, a family of gorillas, and Malaysian sun bears. Elsewhere, Outback Station contains Australian species including kangaroos and cassowary, while World of Reptiles has more than 450 venomous and non-venomous cold-blooded creatures.
14. Farmers Markets
One of the attractions the residents of Decatur are most proud of is its farmers market, which connects them with small independent producers.
Picnic benches and plenty of space on the front lawn of Clairmont Avenue’s church make it ideal for families, while foodies are obviously very well catered for here.
The market has a laid-back pressure-free feel, with various artisan products for sale beside fruits, vegetables and baked goods.
For an alternative experience, there’s also Your DeKalb Farmers Market, a much larger indoor food center.
15. Hampton-Beecher Nature Preserve
Follow the metro line west from downtown Atlanta and you’ll soon find yourself in proximity to Hampton-Beecher Nature Preserve.
This greenspace has several hiking trail options that allow visitors to explore its hidden areas. But it is also recommended for its civil war remains.
The preserve features defensive ditches and fortifications that were built by troops from the Union during the Battles of Ezra Church and Utoy Creek, part of the Atlanta campaign.
Its northern half is the semi-separate Lionel Hampton Park, named after a local jazz musician. Its lower section shares its name with the Beecher Hills where it is located.