Few cities were hit harder when the Housing Bubble burst than Atlanta, Georgia. After experiencing some of the fastest growth in the nation through the early 2000′s, Atlanta’s red-hot housing market crashed harder than almost anywhere else, sinking the city’s economy as deep as its fabled namesake. Recovery has been slow: over 80,000 homes were foreclosed upon this year, striking the city with a 4.3% housing vacancy rate, while thousands have been forced to pack their belongings into an Atlanta storage facility and move into a tiny apartment.
Those of you who survived Atlanta’s cataclysm are likely clinging to a life raft pieced together out of Ramen noodles, PBR, and a tight budget. In your struggle to keep your head above water you probably think it’s impossible to get out there and live a little, that your budget is some inescapable handicap on having any fun.
But you’re wrong. It’s not: there are plenty of ways to get out there and have a good time in Atlanta, all on a budget. Allow us to show you.
Southern culture is one of America’s most distinct and recognizable regional cultures, and there are few places you can find it as distilled into its essence as in Atlanta, Georgia. Southern African American culture is particularly strong in Atlanta, along with its preeminent musical tradition: Jazz. The Atlanta Jazz Festival, hosted on Memorial Day weekend in Piedmont Park, is one of the largest and best-respected free Jazz fests in the nation. The three-day concert has been attracting the greatest Jazz musicians from Georgia and around the world for decades–miss it and miss out on one of Atlanta’s most distinctive traditions.
Speaking of African American culture, Atlanta was not only a hot-spot for the Civil Rights Movement but was the birthplace of its most recognizable icon, Martin Luther King, Jr. Immerse yourself in his life and the movement he came to represent at the (free) Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
Catch Atlanta’s bohemian side at the First Thursdays ArtsWalk. Stroll around Downtown from 5-8:00pm, meeting people, taking in the architecture, and admiring the galleries. Local restaurants and bars often run specials these nights, so they’re a great opportunity for a night on the town. You can find free parking at the Lanier Parking Deck behind the library from 6-9:00pm; just make sure to have your ticket stamped at the desk. You can also find free parking at the United Way parking garage.
Atlanta boasts a host of world-class attractions–at world-class prices, or course. Its famed Georgia Aquarium–the largest in the world, with more than 8.5 million gallons of marine and fresh water housing more than 120,000 animals of 500 different species–can cost a whopping $34.95 a ticket. Fortunately enough for you Georgia residents, its free on your birthday. So reschedule your party–this is likely the only day you’ll be able to afford to visit.
Coca-cola is probably the most recognizable word in the world. And the drink that took the world by storm was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Discover its unbelievable origins (it was originally created by John Pemberton in 1885 after prohibition made his French Coca-Wine —that’s an alcohol-cocaine mix [take that, FourLoco]—illegal. Cocaine remained an ingredient until the end of the 19th century), its contentious history (three pharmacists were selling the drink three years after its invention, and who was doing it legally is not exactly clear), and its worldwide impact. Tickets are $16, but you can save up enough Coke Rewards points for free admission—although on your budget you’re probably buying store brand cola. Members of the Armed Forces are admitted every day for free.
The Inside CNN Tour takes you behind the scenes of this global media giant’s headquarters, giving you an exclusive peek at how the news is made. Unfortunately, tickets cost $14. Inside CNN, the World of Coca-Cola, and the Georgia Aquarium may all strike you as prohibitively expensive–luckily enough, there are plenty of package deals in Atlanta that can save you on all three. With the Atlanta Brands Combo (ABC) Pass you can get into both Inside CNN and the World of Coca-Cola for just $27. The Pemberton Place Pass gets you $1 off admission if you visit either the Coca Cola Museum or the Georgia Aquarium seven days after visiting the other. The Atlanta CityPASS will get you into the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca Cola Museum, and Inside CNN Studios, along with admission to two other attractions of your choice (including Zoo Atlanta, the High Museum of Art, and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History). $69, but it only lasts for nine days, so plan ahead.
Perhaps the best deal for those who want a more flexible option, the MVP Pass (Most Valuable Package) will get you a ticket to an Atlanta Braves game, admission to the World of Coke, a Stone Mountain One-Day All Attractions Pass, admission to Six Flags Over Georgia (all good on any day the attractions are open for the rest of the year), and a ticket to the Georgia Aquarium (good the day of, before, or after the Braves game). That’s a total value of $164.74, all for $109.
The High Museum of Art is one of the best in the South, plus its free to residents of Fulton County on the second Saturday of every month.
If you’ve got kids, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta is free the second Tuesday of every month. They’ll also love Centennial Olympic Park, where they’ll have a blast playing in the fountains. There’s also a ton of free events all year, with free concerts every Wednesday. The little ones will also get a kick out of Stone Mountain Park’s free Laser Show Spectacular.
Finally, if you’re looking for some fresh air and exercise, the Silver Comet Trail is excellent for biking, running, or walking and extends for an incredible 61 miles–all the way into Alabama.
For good old home-style Southern food, eat at Eats restaurant–it may be a hole-in-the-wall, but it’s also an Atlanta mainstay that has been named “Best Cheap Eat” by Creative Loafing ten times. Grab the three veggie plate for your choice of three southern-cooked veggies and cornbread.
Craving Chicken Sausage? Probably not, as if you’re like me you’ve never heard of sausage made out of 100% chicken—but after trying Delia’s you won’t only have heard of chicken sausage—you might never go back to beef or pork again. The hearty Naked Slinger is just $4.25.
Hit up Victory Sandwich Bar for a host of phenomenal, unique sandwiches–like the Beeter (‘beet’ pastrami, white kimchi and Thai pepper) of the the Hambo (prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, apple and balsamic)–for just $4. Established in 1920, Alpha Soda is the oldest standing business in Alpharetta. Little seems to have changed over the years, including both its art deco vibe and its prices ($4.25 for fried chicken tenders?!).
We thought the Korean-Mexican foodtrucks in Austin and LA were unique to those cities, so we were surprised to learn that Chef Thomas Lee had brought this wacky-but-delicious combination to Atlanta to start his own restaurant—while keeping prices down low. Head to Hankook Taqueria for a $2.25 Korean BBQ Taco with chicken, pork, beef, fish or tofu.
Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium is either one of the most original bars in town or is drowning in hipsters, depending upon where you stand (but really, though, only hipsters complain about hipsters, right?). Where else can you sing church organ karaoke? Oh, and it’s pretty cheap, too: $3 Buds, High Lifes and Yuenglings, $4 PBR tall boys, Newcastles, Guinesses, Hoegardens, and Woodchucks. As for the ping-pong part, there’s only one table–so we’re calling them out on the use of the word ‘Emporium.’
Otherwise, your best bet for finding cheap drinks is to head to your local dive bar. There are a few of note: Clermont Lounge is a dive bar (and, uh, strip club) with high ratings, notoriously ‘experienced’ strippers, filthy bathrooms, and cheap drinks. People either love or hate this place–go with an open mind and you’re sure to have fun. The Euclid Avenue Yacht Club is a bit classier; Natty Lights go for $2 on Wednesdays.
Atlanta has four light rail lines—however, they are paired into parallels that cross the other pair perpendicularly, meaning there’s not a great amount of range or coverage. The bus system offers a much wider reach, but is subject to this city’s notorious traffic. It’s $2.50 a trip, $25 for 10, $9 a day, $23.75 for one week unlimited, $95 for one month unlimited.
Another budget option saving you on car insurance and gas is a car sharing service. With ZipCar Atlanta it’s just $85 to get started ($25 application fee, $60 a year) then $8 an hour or $69 a day to drive. It’s a great option for those who can walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation to get to work and only need a car occasionally, saving you on all those insurance and maintenance costs.
Know of any budget insights on Atlanta that we missed, or have any advice for us on future cities? Let us know below!
Brian Shreckengast is a writer at Self Storage Deals.