Why Decatur, Georgia Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America
Decatur was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, Georgia, is a friendly little tree-lined suburb called Decatur. Decatur’s four square miles are a haven for foodies, arts lovers, hippies, families, and all the young at heart. The burb blends the best of small-town life with the convenience of city living.
One thing you might immediately notice when you visit Decatur is that residents (called “Decaturites”) keep it local. In fact, the town has an initiative called “Keep It Indie-Catur,” aimed at encouraging folks to shop and dine locally, with the tagline, “Spend your money where your heart lives.” Decatur also offers an annual class called Decatur 101, during which citizens learn about the suburb’s history and civic workings; take walking tours of noteworthy buildings; and learn about community action plans for equity, inclusion, and engagement.
Decatur is also known for its incredible festivals. Although it’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the town’s website proclaims,“There’s a festival for that!” And in Decatur, there is. Can’t-miss events include the Decatur Arts Festival; the Decatur Beach Party; the BBQ, Blues, and Bluegrass Festival; and the Oakhurst Porchfest.
When it comes to food and drink, Decatur has you covered. From trendy to traditional, the suburb offers critically-acclaimed dining options for everyone. Kimball House is the go-to spot for delicious cocktails alongside a raw oyster bar. Revival serves up southern-style classics with a sense of elegance. Twain’s is a more casual watering hole, with elevated pub food, darts, pool tables, and beer made on-site. Chai Pani offers Indian street eats and Taqueria Del Sol often has a line out the door for its delicious from-scratch tacos. And that’s just the beginning!
In Decatur, you’ll find hometown hipness with a side of southern hospitality. Live music, friendly neighbors, community festivals, farm-to-table food, local beer, handcrafted cocktails, charming shops and boutiques, walkable streets: It really is greater in Decatur!
Median rent price:
$1,032 with an average apartment size of 1,000 square feet, according to RentCafé.
Median house price:
$424,900, according to Zillow.
Price per square foot (compared to city):
$241 in Decatur vs. $229 in Atlanta, according to Zillow.
56, according to Walk Score.
Median household income:
$92,263, according to Census data.
19,335, according to Census data.
What the suburb is known for:
Decatur is known as an arts- and food-focused suburb that is welcoming and open to all. In Decatur, you’ll find a robust LGBTQ community, world-class restaurants, festivals throughout the year, pedestrian-friendly streets, eco-conscious and social justice-minded residents, and a way of life that feels friendly and kind.
Claims to fame:
Decatur and DeKalb County are home to Rebecca Latimer Felton, who was the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate; hip-hop artist Future; R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe; Amy Ray, of the Indigo Girls; and comedian and actor Chris Tucker, among other noteworthy figures. Eddie’s Attic in downtown Decatur is where the Indigo Girls, Sugarland, The Civil Wars, Shawn Mullins, and John Mayer played before they made it big. (They sometimes come back for surprise performances!)
Something only locals know:
Running through Decatur is always a highlight of any road race. On race days, many of the suburb’s residents wake up extra early and volunteer together, by putting out funny signs, handing out food and water, and enthusiastically cheering on each athlete.
Established in 1823, the Decatur Cemetery is the oldest burial ground in the Atlanta area. Its 54 acres make it a great place to walk. The cemetery even encourages people to bring their dogs and stroll the property.
Eat Me Speak Me is a temporary restaurant concept by local Chef Jarrett Stieber, who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef Award in 2016. Eat Me Speak Me is currently operating out of S.O.S. Tiki Bar in Decatur. In contrast to highbrow restaurants boasting Michelin Stars, Steiber dubbed his concept “Michelin tire dining,” and uses locally-sourced ingredients to create playful menu items that feel like fine dining at an affordable price point.
Place that makes you happy to live there:
There’s no problem a big bowl of ice cream can’t fix! Butter & Cream is a hometown, handcrafted, small-batch ice cream shop and bakery in downtown Decatur. The shop’s flavors include classics like mint chocolate chip and butter pecan, but if you’re more adventurous, try a scoop of passion fruit habanero or green tea ginger.
Favorite activity for families:
Concerts on the Square take place Saturday evenings in May and September. Young kids will enjoy dancing and wiggling to the free live music, while teens and adults can stroll the square and enjoy a bite at one of the many nearby restaurants.
Favorite hangout for young professionals:
Decatur CoWorks is the perfect “non-office” office for freelancers and startups, with an open work environment and private offices. Membership perks include bottomless Dancing Goats Blend coffee (a local brew, of course), dry cleaning pickup and delivery, and on-site car washing.
Favorite teen hangout:
McKoy skatepark is a hub for teenagers, whether or not they know how to skateboard. As one of just two skate parks in the metro Atlanta area, it’s a unique destination for teens (and adults!) to hang out.
Favorite outdoor lounge spot:
On sunny days, the back patio at No. 246 is perfect for lounging, drinking, eating, playing Ping-Pong, and people-watching. This upscale, Italian-inspired restaurant is known for its rustic comfort dishes. If you’re on a budget, Raging Burrito & Taco has a fantastic patio and serves up affordable burritos so big you’ll barely be able to finish them. The burb offers free municipal Wi-Fi in key public spaces, so you can stay connected while dining alfresco.
Favorite date spot:
It’s easy to see why Eddie’s Attic (an intimate concert venue in downtown Decatur) is a favorite among locals. Eddie’s offers a simple menu with classic bar fare, including vegetarian and gluten-free options, plus a full drink menu. The restaurant holds a competitive Songwriter’s Open Mic Night each Monday evening, and past winners include John Mayer, Clay Cook, Jacob Jeffries Band, and Jennifer Nettles.
Favorite local bookstore:
The Little Shop of Stories is a charming bookstore for young readers. The shop regularly hosts storytime, along with a book club, and summer reading program. Little ones can even have their birthday party at the Little Shop of Stories!
Favorite place to get coffee:
Ebrik Coffee Room is a destination for true coffee lovers. The staff at Ebrik are masters when it comes to centuries-old brewing techniques, as well as newer, hipper drinks. Their vibe is comfortable, cozy, and trendy.
Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:
S.O.S. Tiki Bar conjures tropical vibes with palm trees, pink plastic flamingos, and drinks with little umbrellas. Cocktail aficionados from Decatur and beyond flock to S.O.S. Tiki Bar for its irresistible rum cocktails and hip, summery atmosphere in this see-and-be-seen neighborhood spot.
Favorite alone spot:
Brick Store Pub is known for its extensive beer list that could double as a phone book. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a pint with friends, but if you’re craving solitude, pull up a stool at the less-crowded Belgian Bar upstairs. While you’re there, try the sage-fried pierogies with brown butter and enjoy not having to share them with anyone.
Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:
The AJC Decatur Book Festival is the largest independent book festival in the country. Each September, tens of thousands of book lovers gather in downtown Decatur to enjoy readings and book signings with world-class authors, thousands of books for sale, panel discussions, live music, an interactive children’s zone, and writing workshops.
Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor stuff:
Head to Dearborn Park for 7 acres of paved trails, a playground, basketball court, and picnic tables. Scenic Shoal Creek winds through the park, making it a picturesque spot for a run or a bike ride.
Favorite spot for an Instagram:
In the days of “The Great British Bake Off,” La Calavera Bakery is serious #breadgoals. La Calavera celebrates Mexican baking traditions, whipping up delicious breads, cookies, and other pastries. The interior isn’t fancy, but that’s not the point. The best photo ops are the baked goods themselves, especially alongside La Calavera’s colorful, flower-patterned tablecloths and sweet sugar skull logo.
Housed in the old Scottish Rite Hospital building, Scout is a restaurant in the Oakhurst neighborhood named after organized scouting. Much like scout programs, Scout is about unity and togetherness through shared experiences and good citizenship. For brunch, try the fried egg sammy; ricotta and collard green fritters; and an “Oh Mary!” bloody.
Favorite free activity:
The Decatur County Public Library is a fantastic free community resource. The library’s collection includes scores of recently-released books and cookbooks, as well as audio books and magazines. You can even check out a pass for free admission to local attractions, like Zoo Atlanta, the Center for Puppetry Arts, and Georgia State Parks.
Favorite grocery store:
The Decatur Farmers Market gives residents access to locally-grown produce and other goods on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from April through December. This pup-friendly outdoor market offers nearby picnic tables, and ample and free on-site parking. They also match the value of SNAP/EBT dollars.
Favorite place for a workout:
The Decatur YMCA is an underrated spot for working up a sweat. While trendier boutique gyms exist in Decatur, the YMCA is a friendly and welcoming gym that boasts free parking, a huge cardio area, an ample supply of weight lifting and strength equipment, wellness coaching, and classes like HIIT, spin, barre, yoga, Pilates, and swimming.
Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:
Three Taverns Craft Brewery. You can’t come to Decatur without sampling our growing craft beer scene! Three Taverns’ brews are inspired by the incredible beers made by Belgian Trappist monks. Three Taverns’ IPA, “A Night on Ponce,” is poured in noteworthy bars all over town.
Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:
The worst place in Decatur to park is directly on the busy Decatur Town Square, where the small metered parking lot is nearly always jam-packed. Instead, ample paid street parking and several paid decks can be found a short walk away. Parking is easy outside of downtown Decatur. Many neighborhoods like Oakhurst, North Decatur, and College Heights have free parking readily available.
What the neighbors say:
“It’s neighborly and warm, accepting of all sorts of diverse populations. There’s an old hippie vibe here that keeps it feeling funky. I love taking my dog to the Decatur Farmers Market on Saturday, where I actually know the local farmers I buy my groceries from.” —Sara Lamond, Decatur resident of two years, director of operations at a local non-profit.
“Decatur is like the chill, hippie friend you had in high school who polished up as she got older. These days, some of the city’s finest dining experiences can be had in Decatur—oysters, caviar, absinthe. But even then, you’re still just a stone’s throw from the wonderful labyrinth of Kudzu, the gorgeous Decatur cemetery, and the wonderland that is YOUR Dekalb Farmers Market. I love Decatur because at heart, you know she’s still down to get weird.” —Kimberly Coburn, Decatur resident of seven years, community organizer and advertising copywriter.
“Decatur is a great place! I live and work here, so the walkability, the beauty, and access to tons of places to eat, meet up, and explore [are] the best parts.” —Jasmine, Decatur resident of two years, program associate at a health organization.
“It’s great to go out for a night on the Square! Iberian Pig is my favorite restaurant. Decatur is an affordable spot and so close to Atlanta.” —Harold Haye, Decatur resident of one year, sales representative for a pet food company.
“I love Decatur because it has the charm and local flavor of a small town with all the features I love about a big city. I can be in downtown Decatur in five minutes and find a dozen amazing restaurants on one block with smaller crowds than you find in Atlanta.” —Christine Barrett, Decatur resident of four years, marketing manager for a hotel company.
Favorite annual event:
The Decatur Craft Beer Festival is held each October on the Decatur Town Square. More than 80 noteworthy breweries from around the country join Atlanta’s local beer purveyors to serve up their best brews, while live bands and a DJ keep everyone entertained.
What I miss about the city living in a suburb:
Even though Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods are just a few miles away, sometimes the city’s traffic can make getting across town daunting. While I occasionally miss being steps away from the hustle and bustle of intown neighborhoods like Inman Park or West Midtown, Decatur has lots offer, at a slightly slower pace.
What I never miss about the city:
Traffic! Atlanta is ranked the 11th most congested city in the country. Driving through some parts of Decatur, you may still experience the dreaded Atlanta traffic—but as a whole, Decaturites who live and work locally tend to have shorter commutes. MARTA (Atlanta’s public transit system) has a station in the heart of downtown Decatur, with neighboring stations in East Lake and Avondale, and bus stops all over town.
Favorite local home store:
SQ/FT sells unique home decor items along with jewelry, t-shirts, socks, and other gifts. It’s the perfect spot to discover something perfectly kitschy, like cat-shaped bookends, or a kitchen tray featuring Bob Ross’s face and the quote, “There are no mistakes—just happy accidents.”
Favorite house/garden walk:
Woodlands Garden is a scenic 7-acre nature sanctuary that’s ideal for quiet exploration. Leave your pup at home, though—furry friends aren’t allowed in the garden. (Note: Woodlands Garden is currently under renovation to make improvements for greater accessibility, to create new pollinator-friendly gardens, and to add thousands more local plants to the grounds.)
Favorite dog park:
Oakhurst Dog Park is a hidden gem for pups of all sizes and personalities (and their humans)! A huge, open area gives athletic dogs the space to run their energy out, while picnic tables allow humans to gather and share meals. Walking trails and some agility equipment help pups get in peak shape, and a dog-friendly water fountain inside the park helps furry friends stay hydrated.
Favorite spot to treat your dog:
Taj Ma-Hound bakery uses natural, restaurant-quality ingredients to prepare pet-friendly cookies, customizable “barkday” cakes, doughnuts, and other baked goods. “Bone” appétit!
Darling & Co. earns stellar reviews for its industrial-chic space, cozy waiting area, attentive service, and exceptional hair transformations.
Favorite resale and antique store:
Decatur Estate & Wayback Antiques is a treasure trove of vintage clothing, records, furniture, dishware, toys, dolls, books, and all manner of other goodies. One of the best things about this store is its down-to-earth pricing and friendly staff. (Seriously, a salesperson once spent nearly 30 minutes helping me track down the perfect vintage picture frame for an anniversary gift).
How would you sell your suburb to the coolest person you know?
While the South has a reputation for a slower-paced way of life, Atlanta is a booming metropolis where everything moves quickly. The city serves as the headquarters for major companies like Delta Air Lines, the Coca-Cola Company, the Home Depot, the United Parcel Service (UPS), Porsche, and more.
Dubbed “Y’allywood,” Atlanta is also a major hub for film production: More top-grossing films are shot in Georgia than anywhere else in the world.
Decatur offers easy access to all of the excitement of Atlanta’s recent growth, but with a small-town vibe and a sense of community. Decatur is a place where neighbors actually know each other and stop to chat while walking their dogs or playing outside with their kids. Residents value wholehearted inclusivity, sustainability, eco-consciousness, and progressive local government.
In Decatur’s four square miles, you can find world-class fine dining, live music, public art, outdoor festivals, and so much more. Most of all, it is the people who make Decatur unique, by genuinely caring about their town and each other, and by working hard to create and maintain Decatur’s local charm.