Atlanta's Hottest Happenings in 2012
A Year-Round Guide to Atlanta’s Top Events
by Caroline Cox
Moving to a new city can be very taxing. And when the dust settles, you’re probably too exhausted to ask the really important questions, like “When does the local amusement park open?” or “So what’s there to do around here on St. Patrick’s Day?” Here’s a list of the important events to mark on your calendar, from New Year’s Eve parties to outdoor arts festivals, Fourth of July fireworks and more.
(Where no official 2012 dates are listed, please check the event websites for updates.)
New Year's Eve
For many Atlantans, there’s no better way to gear up for a New Year’s Eve party than college football in the Georgia Dome. Cheer on teams from the ACC and SEC in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. www.chick-fil-abowl.com. In Atlanta, Dec. 31 is synonymous with the Peach Drop. Usher in 2012 in style as a sparkling, 800-pound peach descends upon Underground Atlanta. Revelers fill the downtown shopping district for fun family activities including live music and, of course, a dazzling fireworks display. www.peachdrop.com.
The third Monday in January is set aside for honoring a son of Atlanta who spearheaded the Civil Rights movement. Observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, or the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church on historic Auburn Avenue. www.kingcenter.org.
Who needs Punxsutawney Phil? Every Groundhog Day, Atlanta consults its own furry weather prognosticator at Stone Mountain’s Yellow River Game Ranch. General Beau Lee scurries out on Feb. 2 to predict when spring will come to the Southeast. www.yellowrivergameranch.com.
Don your best green ensemble and head downtown for floats, Irish dancers and music, all part of Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Bars and restaurants throughout the city, and local Irish hangouts like Meehan’s Public House, Fadó and RiRa Irish Pub, will be hosting all-day parties, as well. March 17. www.stpatsparadeatlanta.com.
Six Flags Over Georgia celebrates its 45th anniversary this year with new live shows alongside its roller coasters, games, family rides and water attractions. The park opens for the season on March 17. www.sixflags.com/overgeorgia.
For movie buffs, the Atlanta Film Festival, held at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, features a range of buzzworthy independent flicks. March 23–April 1. www.atlantafilmfestival.com.
One of the city’s biggest outdoor events, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival has been drawing crowds for more than 75 years. Held in Midtown’s beautiful Piedmont Park, it features hundreds of artists, as well as musicians, food vendors, children’s entertainment and a disc dog tournament. April 20–22. www.dogwood.org.
Another popular outdoor celebration, the Inman Park Festival is a whirlwind weekend of music, street food, dance performances and a tour of some of the neighborhood’s nicest homes. There’s also an arts and crafts market filled with paintings, sculptures and more, as well as a kids’ zone with slides, obstacle courses and other exciting activities. April 27-29. www.inmanparkfestival.org.
A relative newcomer to the local event scene, the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is sure to be a favorite among Atlantans for years to come. The festival features dishes, demonstrations and seminars by the South’s top chefs, mixologists and local growers. May 11-13. www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com.
Memorial Day Weekend
Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2012, the Atlanta Jazz Festival features three days of local, national and international jazz artists and ensembles in Piedmont Park. The festival also celebrates “31 Days of Jazz” each May with daily jazz performances around town. The festival runs May-26-28. www.atlantafestivals.com.
The Decatur Arts Festival features an artist market, theater and literary arts, dance, performing arts, areas for kids and teens and a silent auction. www.decaturartsfestival.com.
For the last 28 years, Virginia-Highland Summerfest has featured art, food and fun, with an artist market, 5K race, live music and more, on Virginia Avenue in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. www.vahi.org/summerfest.html.
Featuring artists from the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, the National Black Arts Festival bills itself as “the largest celebration of art and artists of African descent in the world.” The festival showcases dance, theater, visual art, film, music, performance art and literature. www.nbaf.org.
Fourth of July
The Peachtree Road Race is an Atlanta institution. For more than 40 years, thousands have gathered to trek the scenic 6.2-mile course, or just to cheer on the runners and enjoy live music. Last year’s race brought a crowd of 60,000 participants. www.peachtreeroadrace.org.
Let freedom ring at Lenox Square Mall’s Legendary Fourth of July Celebration. The area around this large Buckhead shopping mall is filled with musical entertainment and food from top local restaurants before the Southeast’s largest fireworks show takes your breath away. www.lenoxsquare.com.
Atlanta offers plenty of other patriotic parties on the Fourth. Bring the family for fireworks and even a laser show at the Fantastic Fourth Celebration at Stone Mountain Park. www.stonemountainpark.com. And downtown, Centennial Olympic Park has its own 4th of July Celebration and fireworks spectacular. www.centennialpark.com.
The Grant Park Summer Shade Festival encourages families to enjoy Atlanta in the summertime with a weekend of art, live music, children’s entertainment, a 5K run and a fine food and wine event. www.gpconservancy.org.
Labor Day Weekend
It’s not uncommon to run into Darth Vader, Wonder Woman or Captain Jack Sparrow in downtown Atlanta on Labor Day weekend. That’s because Dragon*Con draws thousands of fantasy and sci-fi enthusiasts from around the world each year. www.dragoncon.org. The Decatur Book Festival is the country’s largest independent book festival, with book signings, poetry slams, readings, writing workshops, parades and more in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. www.decaturbookfestival.com. Go retro with a weekend of rockabilly music, classic cars, corn dogs and drive-in films at Drive Invasion. This ’50s-style celebration takes place in an actual drive-in movie theater, with bands playing all day and movies running all night. www.starlightdrivein.com.
The Atlanta Arts Festival in Piedmont Park features fine drawings, paintings, sculptures, mixed media, photographs and more, plus live art demonstrations and classes so the whole family can create their own masterpiece. www.atlantaartsfestival.com.
Enjoy a weekend of family fun at the Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain. For nearly 50 years, generations have come together to enjoy shopping, great food, art and live entertainment, including fun demonstrations of everything from crafts to clogging. Sept. 6-9. www.stonemountainpark.com.
The Atlanta Greek Festival is an annual celebration of the sights, sounds, tastes and traditions of Greece, with souvlaki, gyros, dancing, music and much more. The festival usually runs over the first weekend of October. www.atlantagreekfestival.org.
Taste of Atlanta is the city’s premier food and drink festival, with top chefs, farmers and bartenders offering delicious drinks and dishes. There are also live cooking demonstrations, competitions and seminars across three stages. www.tasteofatlanta.com.
The Pumpkin Festival at Stone Mountain celebrates autumn with storytelling, pie-eating, scavenger hunts and a puppet parade. Kids can enter a costume contest and even dress their own scarecrow. Every weekend in October. www.stonemountainpark.com.
Atlanta Pride Festival is the city’s biggest LGBT event. Hosted in Piedmont Park, it features live music, literary events, a dance party and a parade. Out on Film, Atlanta’s premier gay and lesbian film festival, often screens in October as well. www.outonfilm.org. www.atlantapride.org.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden hosts a number of fun Halloween-related events all month long, including a Great Chefs of Atlanta Pumpkin Carving Contest; Fest of Ale, a weekly celebration of harvest season with live music and seasonal brews; and Scarecrows in the Garden, featuring more than 100 scarecrows hand-crafted by local businesses, schools and organizations. www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org.
Boo at the Zoo at Zoo Atlanta is the perfect place for spooky family fun. Kids can explore the corn maze, view thousands of exotic animals, enter a costume contest and more. Boo at the Zoo usually takes place the last two weekends of October. www.zooatlanta.org.
The Little Five Points Halloween Parade features two stages of live music and an army of costumed participants. Check with the website for upcoming 2012 date and schedule information. www.l5phalloween.com. And Netherworld Haunted House, consistently hailed as one of the nation’s top haunted-house attractions, offers bone-chilling sights and frights that may not be appropriate for pre-teens and younger fright-seekers. www.fearworld.com.
November, December and Holiday Season
Early November brings old-time tunes and home cooking with the Cabbagetown Chomp & Stomp. At this chili festival in the hip Cabbagetown neighborhood, just $5 gets you a spoon for plenty of sampling. The event also features a 5K run, art vendors and plenty of local beer. www.chompandstomp.com.
Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens features more than 8 million twinkly lights strung along the wooded area of the beautiful Callaway Gardens luxury resort in Pine Mountain. Children won’t forget the spectacular winter scenes and larger-than-life creations. Check the website for dates, directions and other information. www.callawaygardens.com.
Kick off the holidays in Midtown Atlanta’s top shopping district with the Lighting of Atlantic Station. Families gather to enjoy a film screening, open-air market, holiday fashion show, children’s crafts, a realistic snowfall and a special appearance by Santa Claus himself. www.atlanticstation.com.
It’s not Christmas in Atlanta until you’ve seen A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre. Bring the family to both of these holiday traditions featuring some of the city’s best actors and dancers. www.alliancetheatre.org. www.atlantaballet.com.