Alpharetta: Gateway to a New South

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The Avalon shopping center in Alpharetta, Georgia. Courtesy Avalon.

Nothing is as anxiety-inducing for the frequent traveler as the Atlanta airport.

Fortunately, the next time you visit (or get stuck on an interminable layover), there’s a new place to kill time — and get some retail therapy. You may even want to stay a while longer. I certainly did.

Alpharetta, Georgia — about 30 minutes outside what’s known as the Atlanta perimeter — used to be a rather dull corner of suburbia. Now, it’s brimming with vitality, primarily as a shopping destination.

The hotel and dining scene is booming here, mostly to satisfy the Atlantans who want to see what all the fuss is about over the proverbial fence.

I stayed in the new Courtyard Atlanta Alpharetta, just opened in January, a fine example of the modestly priced luxury in this Marriott line. The hotel is a short drive from the hub — what’s worth getting to — if you’re in Metro Atlanta: the Avalon, more than 500,000 square feet of retail space on 86 acres. I was keen to check out the Chanel beauty boutique, the only one of its kind in the area.

There’s a plethora of other stores — everything you can conjure — but this is no all-American mall. The shopping center was designed with a sustainability ethos and its landscaping, fountains and “Modern South” vibes free you of the usual consumer experience.

Of course, no trip down south is complete without the culinary “fixins.” Alpharetta’s got plenty — from the down-home to the continental.

For breakfast, try the pancakes at Goldberg’s at Avalon or the cinnamon biscuits at Maple Street Biscuit Company. For lunch with cocktails, check out Crú Food & Wine Bar, especially on a day when you can enjoy the patio. Best to keep indoors in summer; they don’t call it “Hotlanta” for nothing.

On a spring or fall night, enjoy Alpharetta’s warmth and ease under the magnolias at Brooke Street Park, not far from the Avalon shopping area. I had a chance to hear the Alpharetta Symphony perform the score of “Gone With the Wind” there. A performance will make you forget about all that stress and hassle at the airport.

For an elegant dinner, go to Holmes on South Main Street, a small-plates dining spot that opened last year. It’s all the rage on the local dining scene. One food writer rhapsodized for an entire article on the carrots.

Sip a nightcap at the Hotel at Avalon, a four-star property from the Autograph Collection that exudes a sleek decadence. Or, if you’ve busted your budget on all the shopping, an ice cream from Kilwins or Jeni’s will more than suffice.

It’s nice to see areas like Alpharetta getting the investment dollars lacking in so many communities, even as our economy rides high. But it’s even better for those of us who can enjoy the fruits of its development.

Places like Alpharetta are why a getaway to the “New South” will never grow old.

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