I’ve been going to Atlanta twice a year for the last decade or more to exhibit my collection of Stephanie Johnson cosmetic and travel bags at the Atlanta Gift Mart.  (You can find our products in the gorgeous Codarus showroom!)  I’ve never been to a more friendly place and I’m smitten with their brand of southern hospitality.  Somehow Atlanta always feels like home.

STAY

Don’t be distracted by bright and shiny new things.  The Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead is the only place to stay.  An update a few years ago has kept the classic rooms cozy in neutral shades with the addition of flat screen TVs and a coffee bar in each room.  But the real reason I stay there is the Cheers-like atmosphere where everyone knows my name and they welcome you back with a genuine smile that says they are really happy you are there.  It’s no accident that this property consistently wins in the ‘best service’ category.  Be sure to start your day with a swim in the indoor rooftop pool, or take a run around Buckhead and be welcomed back with water, fruit and cold towels.  They will even give you a jogging map.  Everyone at the Concierge desk is amazing and I have an old friendship with Jim Panero who knows everything about everything.  Ask him where to dine and you won’t be disappointed.

EAT

This trip I tried all the new kids on the block and was pleasantly surprised.  Ocean Prime had a weighty price tag but farm fresh unique salad offerings and a yummy blackened snapper with a jalepeno corn relish.  Delish.

Bocado is located in Midtown and worth the drive if you are looking for a casual spot to dine.  I had an avocado+carrot salad with grapefruit and crunchy seeds, and a burger.  I eat burgers maybe twice a year and I heard theirs was the tops, and it was.

I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Art Smith through friend Lulu Powers on this visit, and lucky for me he just opened the new ‘it’ restaurant in town called Southern Art.   Walking distance from the Ritz-Carlton, I loved the colorful ceiling that forces you to look up and the chairs that made me feel like a Queen whilst I dined.  The shrimp and grits must be your starter followed by Art’s famous fried chicken.  Ooh yeah.  I was exhausted after a day on my feet and passed on dessert.  The lovely waiter had remembered that I announced I wanted the ‘peanut brittle thingy’ for dessert even before I ordered (uh, I do this a lot) and he didn’t let me leave empty handed.  Along with a full belly, I brought a cellophane sleeve of sweet peanut brittle back to the hotel.   Perfect.

If you eat meat Bone’s is for you.  If you don’t eat meat, find something else to love on their menu!  Old Atlanta at its finest, Bone’s is the only restaurant I’ve ever dined where they remember you even though it’s been a year since you’ve been there.  It’s always, ‘Hello Ms. Johnson, welcome back.  Let me show you to your table.’  A dark, clubby atmosphere with white tablecloths and the very best wait staff, go for steak any way and a warm spinach salad.

Bistro Niko is another neighborhood gem that serves up French cuisine like Boeuf Bourguignon (made with Kobe beef y’all) and Coq Au Vin.  I also like to hit The Tavern for Southwestern chips before a movie.  And don’t forget the Lobby Lounge at the Ritz.  It’s still the place to be at happy hour.

DO

I took a morning off and headed to the Georgia Aquarium, which is walking distance from the Mart and located in Centennial Olympic Park.  I was initially put off by the ‘in your face’ corporate sponsors for every attraction, but it was easy to see beyond it all and take in their large collection of fish and sea animals from around the globe.  I loved the layout and could easily have spent the day observing beluga whales, manta rays, whale sharks and the tiny dance of the sea horses.  My daughter would have gone nuts to see their dolphin show.

The World of Coca-Cola was a sweet surprise.  I completely loved the tour, taking in Coke memorabilia from days gone by, like Raquel Welch modeling mail-in Coke jewelry.  There is a great animated short and a theater that shows all the classic Coca-Cola commercials.  Don’t forget the tasting room where you can sample Coke brands from around the world including Bibo from South Africa (addicted) and Beverly from Italy (yuck!).  You get to walk away with a Coke fresh off their miniature bottling line that you can only get in Atlanta.  It’s the real thing.  (Couldn’t resist.)

SHOP

B.D.Jeffries is 8,000 square feet of everything from French antiques (I’ve been to Paris with the owners!), to silver photo frames, alligator handbags, all things that say ‘chic home’ and the sporting life’, and of course Stephanie Johnson bags.

I always hit the shoe department at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta (Dallas too) for the latest and greatest.  Somehow they manage unique offerings that I never see back in NYC and they always have my size (yeah!).  My favorite Prada wedges and Prada sandals came from here and this time I managed to scoop up the most adorable Miu Miu  cherry sandals known to fashion.  Aren’t they cute?

SPA

What trip would be complete without a little pampering?  Woo is a skincare and makeup haven (and longtime SJ customer!) known for their attentive service. They also offer a full menu of spa treatments.  For my next trip, I’m craving the delicious-sounding Darphin Divine 8-Flower Lifting Facial.  Bliss!