Want to travel cheap in Atlanta? Of course you do! It’s a gorgeous city and there’s tons to do! Today, Atlanta local Katie McLendon is sharing all her best Atlanta budget travel tips: $15 a night camping (or $85 a night glamping), $1.95 biscuits, $10 river tubing, and free Walking Dead tours!
I’ve lived in California, Louisiana and the Bahamas, and traveled as far as Tokyo, but still in peaceful dreams I see the road leads back to … biscuits. Once you live in Georgia, you have to stay for:
- the accents (otherwise you suffer from “withdrawl”),
- the passive-aggressive gentility (i.e., “bless your heart,” “what an interesting haircut!”), and
- the food, primarily the breakfast. I left the state after college, and I came back within a year. Good luck getting a decent biscuit beyond the Mason-Dixon Line. (In the spirit of Jon Stewart’s spot-on 2013 anti-deep-dish rant, I might add: Dear Everywhere Else, your grits are runny and bland, so here, let me help you with that. *takes spoon from hand* Love, The South)
Besides having some of the state’s best restaurants, Atlanta has dozens of cool little neighborhoods with their own character, plus lush trees and parks stuffed into every gap. It’s like Epcot, but the cheap food is worlds better. And some of the best are at least semi-accessible by MARTA rail ($9 for one-day pass, $23.75 for seven-day pass).
I’m Katie McLendon, a public health writer and editor by day, and author of Gut Check, a blog about living with Crohn’s disease without going crazy (which, for me, includes figuring out how to get away with a drink and a burger now and then). I was born in Athens, Georgia (Go Dawgs!), and returned there for college AND my wedding to a fellow Bulldog.
I’ve lived in ITP (inside the perimeter, of Interstate 285, as opposed to OTP) Atlanta for 12 years, and I don’t want to brag, but between being a broke college student or a broke journalist, I have some experience finding cheap things to eat and do in this city. I’ll try to keep it under $100 a day with lodging included, unless I find a $75 chicken biscuit I feel you need to experience.
CHEAP LODGING IN ATLANTA
Airbnb Superhost properties
There are tons of Airbnb properties in Atlanta, so I narrowed it to only Superhosts. I found a cute private room with yard and fire pit access less than a 10-minute walk to eclectic Little Five Points for $47/night and a cozy room in a beautiful house walking distance to East Atlanta Village for $49.
P.S. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit for your first booking!
Camping (or glamping) near Atlanta
Sweetwater Creek State Park is only a half-hour drive from downtown Atlanta, but feels like much farther when you see the big lake (kayaks and canoes for rent), spooky old mill ruins, and hiking trails. You can stay and glamp with up to six friends for $85 a night, so that’s as little as $15 per person!
And these are swank little Ewok-village-like huts with heat and air, electricity, porches, and a bathhouse within walking distance. Or you can rough it for $25 a night at one of five tent sites.
Jeju Sauna, Duluth. $25/day
This is an unusual (for Georgia) traditional Korean public bathhouse 30 minutes northeast of Atlanta. You pay $25 a day to not only sleep (women-only room available; mats and pillows provided) and shower but also relax in hot tubs and sauna mineral rooms 24/7.
The same-sex spa areas are naked zones, and there are little uniforms to wear in unisex areas. There’s even a food court, TVs, and a heated saltwater pool.
CHEAP FOOD IN ATLANTA
If you’re going for cheap and you love grease, Georgia’s Holy Trinity is Waffle House, Chick-fil-A, and The Varsity. (But stay with me! Non-chain, non-fast-food spots coming up shortly.)
Waffle House – $ 6.35 for a pecan waffle and hashbrowns scattered, smothered and covered
Go to its hometown, Avondale Estates. The first restaurant is now a museum that has rare tours and make-your-own-waffle days (one’s coming up, on December 12!), but across and down the street is a regular location that’s solid.
The Varsity – naked dog, fries or onion rings, and a medium Coca-Cola for $5.17
The world’s largest drive-in has been around since 1928 and holds 600 cars, yet has fast service by sometimes-singing “car hops.” Add a fried peach pie for $1.89.
For food that’s not fast food but still cheap and Atlantastic, get breakfast at:
Gato – $1.95 for Big Bizco biscuit; add egg and cheese for $3
This cat-themed café has one-quarter the wait times of Flying Biscuit across the street! And soft, crispy-edged biscuits.
Flying Biscuit – one Flying Biscuit with cranberry apple butter for $1.49
Once the line dwindles, get one or a dozen of these sugar-dusted biscuits. I can only vouch for the original location, in Candler Park.
Pallookavile Fine Foods – gourmet corn dog for $4.75, cathead biscuit for $1.50
A carnival-themed restaurant but with higher quality food, and it has brunch. Also try the mix-and-match cane syrup sodas and vegan milkshakes.
Taqueria del Sol – tacos $2.39 each (order two or three per person)
This popular order-at-the-counter taco place in downtown Decatur has a long line, but just go with a friend and one of you can go get you drinks from the bar. Taco highlights: the Memphis, fried chicken, carnitas, and fish.
Luqma or Zyka – chicken boti with saffron rice (big enough to share) for under $10
Two very similar quick-service Indian restaurants near Patel Plaza, an area dense with awesome Indian food in Decatur.
Midway Pub – Grit Cake BBQ Stack for $6
Midway is an East Atlanta mainstay, with a huge dog-friendly patio and huger beer selection.
My Parents Basement – $7 chicken-in-the-waffles
A new Avondale Estates comic-book-themed bar and comic book store, where you can play old-school arcade games while drinking beer and eating homemade Hot Pockets!
El Taco Veloz – $1.69 for a chicken or pork taco
This is only one of many great cheap Mexican restaurants in the Buford Highway area. Tip: Buford Highway is an activity in and of itself. It’s known for its delicious cheap food, blend of cultures, and tons of unpredictable pedestrian traffic on a 7-lane highway (so be careful!).
Chateau Saigon – most entrees from $12 to $15 (to share)
This Buford Highway Vietnamese sit-down restaurant’s entrees aren’t cheap, but are big enough for three or four meals.
Pho Dai Loi – small soup for $6.50
Go for pho at this popular Buford Highway soup spot. If you’re brave, follow with a durian shake.
Revolution Doughnuts – doughnuts from $2 to $3
The yeasty Caramel Bacon doughnut can be your breakfast, lunch or dessert. Other favorites are the cakey Toasted Almond, the vegan vanilla bean, or the low-gluten Dough-Nut (made with almond flour).
Sublime Doughnuts – most less than $3 (15% off with student ID)
It’s worth another doughnut stop for Sublime, especially the heavenly Orange Dream Star doughnut.
CHEAP ACTIVITIES IN ATLANTA
Craft brewery tasting tours – $12 each
Despite some legal hurdles, there’s a craft brewery boom in Georgia, with several in the Atlanta area. Second Self (try the Thai Wheat!) and Three Taverns Brewery each have a tour with 36 ounces of beer-tasting for $12. Wild Heaven is $12 for tour, three 12-ounce beers, and souvenir beer), and Orpheus Brewing overlooks Piedmont Park and the Beltline ($12 for tour, seven 5-ounce samples, and glass).
Tubing the Chattahoochee River – free (if you have two cars for shuttling, plus tubes and life jackets) or as little as $10/person from local companies
An Atlanta August is like no other. When the humidity is 100 percent, you’re already soaked, so you might as well double down and shoot the ‘Hooch. The trip is a mostly relaxing float (with some fun mild rapids and rocky obstacles, so look alive).
Self-guided Walking Dead tour – free
Yes, there’s a $65 guided tour, but you’re no follower. Also, that’s expensive and we still have to buy biscuits. Thrillist has done the research for you, with a 13-stop map (only the first six are in Atlanta) documenting major series moments like the CDC visit (not really at CDC!) and Rick’s horseback ride into downtown.
Piedmont Park and the Atlanta BeltLine – free
Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s signature park, with 185 acres of greenspace, trails, and a dog park. Bike and skate rental are nearby ($6/hour). And the BeltLine is an in-progress 22-mile loop of defunct rail that circles downtown, with trails, transit, parks and housing along the way.
Oakland Cemetery and Grant Park – free
Reading clever epitaphs and admiring elaborate 19th-century statues can easily fill a Sunday afternoon at Oakland Cemetery. It’s not just a graveyard but a tree-filled park in its own right, filled each day with joggers and dog-walkers. At night, it’s left to the permanent residents, including Civil War soldiers, golfer Bobby Jones and Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. It’s also a great place to bring a picnic (as was the trend in the late 1800s). Finish the day at nearby Grant Park listening for roaring Zoo Atlanta lions, or head to Six Feet Under Pub & Fish House patio for a bird’s-eye view of the cemetery.
It pained me not to include every single cheap awesome place in Atlanta! I didn’t even include all the biscuit places! Help set the record straight in the comments below.
P.S. 7 travel tools I will not shut up about!
This is one of the best cheapskate guides that’s been on the site, Sarah! If I ever go to Atlanta, I’ll come right back to this article. And as someone who was raised in the south, I’d like to second the point about grits. They ain’t soup.
Yay! So glad to hear it!
This is so great! I definitely am putting Atlanta on my list of places I need to go, and I want to check out the glamping haha.
Thanks so much for this!
Thanks, now I need to go to Atlanta when I come to the US next year and to swing that I’ll have to beg my boss for an extra few days off :p
I recently moved away from Atlanta (lived in Candler Park and Decatur since 2009) and I want to commend Katie on this list. It made me homesick for Atlanta, and hit so many awesome points. I LOVED living there, and her advice is spot on. One addition to consider is the Sundial Lounge – the rotating bar at the top of the Westin downtown. The restaurant is overpriced, but if you tell the host/hostess at the elevator entrance that you’re just going to the bar, you won’t need a reservation, and you’ll just need to commit to an $8 food or drink minimum per person. The view is totally worth the price of admission (and much better than the view from the $14 ferris wheel ride). I recommend going on a weeknight in time to watch the sunset.
Atlanta doesn’t feel like the South to me at all, and I’ve never heard a Southern accent in the dozen years I’ve lived here…only from visitors. But it is an amazing melting pot and is worthy of visiting. By the way, Taqueria Del Sol has 3 locations in Atl, so I suggest the original on Cheshire Bridge, where the lines aren’t nearly as long.
I currently live out of the country but my husband and I are looking at moving to Atlanta when we return!
This article was really helpful, and I’ve been to some of the places and can vouch for them.