As your first semester comes to a close, and sleepless nights under the bright lights of the Woodruff Library plague the campus, you may have realized that you have not yet enjoyed Atlanta to its fullest this semester. Don’t panic. There is still plenty of time to discover the wonders of Atlanta, known for its Southern hospitality, upcoming artists, diverse culinary scene and original coffee shops. We have narrowed down our favorite spots in Atlanta, so you can get the most out of the city before the semester wraps up. 

Truly Southern Fare

If you’re looking for a combination of Georgia history and Southern comfort food, take a 15-minute drive to Ponce de Leon Avenue and visit one of the last 16 tea rooms that once inhabited intown Atlanta. Mary Mac’s Tea Room opened in 1945 after housewife Mary McKenzie decided to put her Southern cooking to use and make some money during the difficult post-World War II days. After 74 years, Mary Mac’s continues to cook up made-from-scratch Southern dishes with a side of Southern hospitality, well-known among locals and tourists alike. 

The interior of the restaurant now carries the homely smell of sweet tea, creamy macaroni and cheese, and crispy Southern fried chicken. Photographs of numerous celebrities who made Mary Mac’s part of their Atlanta visit adorn the walls. 

If you truly want a taste of the South, order the chicken and dumplings, crispy fried chicken or the tender barbeque pork sandwiches with sides such as the creamy sweet potato soufflé, warm cornbread or buttery macaroni and cheese. Pair every dish with the house-made sweet tea, dubbed “the table wine of the South,” and finish off your foodie adventure with a dessert such as the cozy Georgia peach cobbler, homemade crunchy pecan pie and fluffy bread pudding with wine sauce. 

Drag With a Side of Dinner

If you’ve gotten yourself a little too attached to “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and want to delve into the world of drag, Lips, a 15-minute drive from campus on Buford Highway, offers Broadway-, celebrity- and Sunday Gospel-themed drag shows. Famous for their intricate shows and skilled divas, Lips has racked up over 1,000 reviews and a 4.5-star rating on Google and was featured on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” 

The venue features a strikingly flashy stage, tables draped with red tablecloths and six diamond chandeliers alongside several sparkly disco balls dropping down from the ceiling. The night offers an interactive experience with the drag queens as they strut across the stage and in between tables. While taking in the show, enjoy one of their tasty dishes named after famous drag queens and sip on original cocktails.

The joint makes for a perfect birthday party locale, a memorable night out with friends or an exciting family outing that will add some change to the fast-paced college schedule of exams and essays. 

Shopping on a Budget

Money can be tight as a college student, but with the numerous thrift stores in Atlanta, shopping does not have to be depressing. Rag-O-Rama, the popular resale clothing store in Little Five Points about a 15-minute drive from campus, offers a wide array of styles, cheap prices and just about anything you might need in your closet. Although we are all busy preparing for exams and trying to catch up on sleep, do not miss out on the opportunity to put some neglected clothing to good use. 

Funky and upbeat music fills the atmosphere as shoppers scale up and down the tight aisles between racks filled with more clothing than they can hold. Rag-O-Rama is constantly updated with vintage and modern styles as both Atlanta residents and stores sell their clothing to the thrift chain on a daily basis. 

During the holidays, LGBT Pride Month and several other celebrations, Rag-O-Rama spices up its store with themed clothing, offering low-priced Halloween costumes, sweaters for all your ugly Christmas sweater party needs, rainbow T-shirts, fanny packs and more. Whether you’re looking for the perfect party dress, a comfortable everyday outfit, a business casual suit or funky sneakers, Rag-O-Rama is an Atlanta staple for all your thrifting needs. 

Coffee and Cuddles

Take a break from the stress of school at Happy Tabby Cat Café with warm coffee, cuddles and fluffy cats in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward District about a 20-minute drive from campus. The cafe offers guests the opportunity to play with cats and kittens alike for $8 an hour while sipping a cozy cup from their wide selection of coffees and teas. Each cat comes from Furkids, Atlanta’s largest no-kill animal shelter, and is adoptable with the exception of the house cats, Binky and Butterbean.

The bright and airy cafe occupies two commercial spaces, providing plenty of room for the cats to roam and mingle with guests. You can even bring your homework and study while a cat cozily sleeps in your lap. If Happy Tabby is a little too expensive, you can volunteer at the cafe by doing some light cleaning, grooming and giving tons of love to the cats, and get free access to all the cats. With a surplus of cat toys, there is plenty to do with the cats in addition to petting and loving them. 

Home Away From Home

Stretching from Buckhead all the way to Buford, international students don’t have to feel so far from home with the culinary diversity that Buford Highway has to offer. The range of restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores on the strip connecting Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties covers tons of different Asian cuisines, including Japanese, Bangladeshi, Indian, Korean, South American and Central American, to name a few.

Buford Highway, dubbed “Atlanta’s corridor of international culture,” is home to chain restaurant Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, where small quantities of sushi on a conveyor belt glide throughout the restaurant for patrons to pick themselves. At $2.35 a sushi plate, it’s quite easy to grab a few too many dishes of fresh-tasting sushi and end up splurging all your money. 

After enjoying a meal at Kura, you can head over to any one of the many dessert shops and bakeries on Buford Highway. My personal favorite is Sweet Hut Bakery & Cafe, which boasts over 75 dessert options ranging from sweet Irish cream donuts to sweet buns filled with Mexican milk cream to Japanese hokkaido cupcakes. The bakery also offers savory baked goods such as Portuguese egg tart and curry chicken pastry, and even has a cafe menu with choices like Taro bubble tea and matcha red bean frappé to quench your thirst. 

Conclusion

If you catch yourself with a free night sometime between these upcoming finals and the end of the semester, we highly recommend relaxing at these superb locales that will introduce you to both Atlanta and diverse cultures. From drag shows to cat cafes, there’s something in Atlanta for everyone to enjoy while staying close to campus and without spending too much money.