15 DeKalb places you didn’t know you needed to see

Posted by the AJC; see the original article here.

Some well-known tourist attractions, like Stone Mountain Park, are certainly worth visiting, but often the market, building or garden that captures an area best is under-the-radar. In DeKalb County, there are a few surprising spots you may be unaware of unless, of course, you are a resident or aficionado.

Here are 15 fun and quirky places in DeKalb the intrepid should seek out.

1. The world’s first Waffle House

Arabia Mountain photo

Arabia Mountain in DeKalb County features more than 2,000 acres, two monadnock mountains, three lakes and many historic sites. (Photo courtesy of Discover DeKalb)

Ever wonder how Waffle House got its start? In Avondale Estates, you can see the birthplace of one of Atlanta’s best contributions to the American landscape: the first Waffle House. After years of disrepair, and a brief stint as a Chinese restaurant, the building was restored and opened as The Waffle House Museum in 2008. Here you can see how the original diner was set up in 1955, as well as old memorabilia, such as aprons, uniforms and more. Although the original restaurant is no longer serving food, there’s a Waffle House just down the street.

Where to go: The Waffle House Museum is located at 2719 East College Ave., and tours may be scheduled between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call 770-326-7086 to make reservations at least 48 hours in advance.

2. A garden that feels like a ‘Jurassic Park’ set

This somewhat hidden gem in Decatur can be found behind a parking lot on the campus of Georgia Perimeter College. The Native Botanical Gardens offer nearly a mile of easy walking trails and more than 20 beds of native Georgia perennials. As you make your way to the “Ferns of the World” garden, you may feel like you’ve just walked into the set of “Jurassic Park.” There are reportedly more species of ferns here than any other garden in the nation.

Where to go: The garden is open free on Fridays. There are plant sales from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (cash or checks only), guided garden walks from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and native plant talks (bring your lunch) from noon to 1 p.m. at the Wildflower Center of Georgia, 3251 Panthersville Road, Decatur. 678-891-2668.

3. ‘The Walking Dead’ crew shops here

This isn’t your typical antique store. The Odd’s End in Avondale Estates sits in an unassuming Victorian-style house on College Avenue. Once inside, you’ll find curiosities from across the globe such as embalming machines, monkey skulls, voodoo dolls and more. Owner Merrick Mixson has been collecting “all kinds of spooky things” his entire life. The props crew from “The Walking Dead” is a top customer.

Where to go: The Odd’s End is a two-story yellow house with white bannisters and a front porch. It’s located at 2774 College Ave. in Avondale Estates, and there’s a parking lot directly behind the house that can be accessed from Maple Street.

4. One of only four left in Georgia

Watching a movie from the comfort of your driver’s seat with close friends is a disappearing treat, but you can still find an iconic drive-in just off I-20. Starlight Drive-in is one of about 400 drive-in theatres remaining in America and one of only four in Georgia. Opened in 1949, this theatre offers a great communal experience and currently has three screens with newly released double features throughout the week.

Where to go: Starlight Drive-in Theatre is located at 2000 Moreland Ave. SE. Movies start at 8:30 p.m. and are $9 for all ages 10 and above, $1 for children ages 5 to 9. However, the prices are only 25 cents and parking is free from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is only for one screen. Since the sound is heard on FM radio, you may want to bring a battery-operated radio instead of keeping your car running.

5. Georgia’s oldest African American history

Flat Rock, Georgia (located in the city of Lithonia) is believed to be one of the oldest African American settlements in the state. The museum is located in the historic 1917 home of the Bryant family. A wide variety of artifacts and family treasures are on display and each visitor receives a personal tour. Johnny Waits, a descendent of one of the first residents, created the Flat Rock Archives, which serves as a museum and a resource for researchers. 

Where to go: The Flat Rock community is a small area south of I-20, with the Flat Rock Slave Cemetery being one of the few intact slave cemeteries remaining in Georgia. The Flat Rock Archives are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays by appointment. 770-797-5625.

6. Explore land that took 400 million years to form

The Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area along I-20 is dominated by two granite outcrops and plenty of natural wonders. The site contains many miles of trails to meander the mountaintops, rivers and creeks. There are also two, small reflective lakes one near the quarry and one near the base of Arabia Mountain. Bikers can also take a 30-mile ride on paved paths with challenging switchbacks and hills.

Where to go: Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area is located at 3350 Klondike Road in Lithonia. 404-998-8384.

7. Train like Evander Holyfield

An early training ground for Evander Holyfield, Paul Murphy Boxing Club in Doraville is one of the major boxing facilities in North Georgia. Numerous world-class title holding fighters have trained here over the years.

Where to go: The boxing club is located at 3688 King Ave., across from the Doraville MARTA station. The monthly membership fee is $30 per person.

8. A Walmart mausoleum?

One quirky spot that certainly sets DeKalb apart is the Crowley Mausoleum, located in the parking lot of a Decatur Walmart. The Crowley family owned the plot for over a century, but the land was slowly parceled off over the years. In 1960, a big portion of the land was sold to create the former Avondale Mall (which included the family plot). The builders, who agreed to leave the graves untouched, created the unusual mausoleum in the back of the parking lot.

Where to go: The Avondale Mall has been replaced by a Walmart, but the building still stands. It is located at 3580 Memorial Drive in Decatur.

9. One of the world’s best places for beer

The Brick Store Pub in downtown Decatur is the second best beer pub in the world and it’s only a MARTA ride away. The pub, which has the largest beer cellar in the U.S., was given the title a few years ago by Beer Advocate. Brick Store includes eight Belgian-only taps upstairs, 21 mostly domestic taps downstairs, a list of more than 1,000 bottles and thousands more aging in a bank vault below the pub.

Where to go: The Brick Store Pub is located at 125 East Court Square in Decatur.

10. The largest antique area in the South

Chamblee’s Antique Row, located off Buford Highway, is reportedly the largest antique area in the South. Here you’ll find shops filled to the brim with trinkets, collectables, furniture and more. This area of town is also a favorite prop house for movies and TV.

Where to go: Chamblee’s Antique Row is located at 3550 Broad St. in the historic central business district. 770-458-6316.

11. Mummies and ancient artifacts

Nestled on the Emory University campus is great destination for local art and culture. The Michael C. Carlos Museum holds the largest collection of ancient art in the Southeast, and it’s one Georgia’s oldest museums (dating back to 1876). The museum is small enough to be privately enjoyed at your leisure and large enough to offer a significant collection for viewing. Visitors can check out artifacts from Egypt, Nubia, Near East and more, as well as special exhibitions.

Where to go: The museum is located at 571 South Kilgo Circle NE at Emory University. Free parking is allowed anywhere on campus except in 24-hour restricted areas or reserved spaces. $8 for adults, $6 for students, seniors and children ages 6 to 17, free for ages 5 and under with $2 for audio guide rental. Free admission days are available from 1 to 4 p.m. on certain days. 404-727-4282.

12. Try on a lab suit at the CDC campus

This is the only museum in Atlanta that requires a vehicle inspection upon entry, but that sort of adds to the excitement. The David J. Sencer CDC Museum, named for the Center of Disease Control’s longest-serving director, traces the CDC’s role in waging war against polio, smallpox and more.

Where to go: The David J. Sencer Museum is located at 1600 Clifton Road NE on the CDC campus. Admission and parking are free with no reservations required for groups with less than 10 visitors. Closed weekends and federal holidays, hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays. 404-639-0830.

13. See produce you never knew existed

Your DeKalb Farmers Market, located just outside of Decatur, is a sprawling facility with what seems like miles of fresh produce. Hard-to-find fruits and vegetables, ranging from the stinky durian to Thailand’s mangosteen, can be found here. Many of Atlanta’s top restaurants are known to pick up high-end ingredients at the market, which also includes a deli, pastry shops, beer and wine, wild-caught seafood and more.

Where to go: Your DeKalb Farmers Market is located at 3000 East Ponce De Leon Ave. in Decatur. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Days, hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. 404-377-6400.

14. Secret rock garden in Druid Hills

Need a break from the daily bustle? Stop by the Cator Woolford Gardens in Druid Hills, where you can relax among formal gardens, a sweeping Italianate staircase and woodland trails. A mossy rock garden (known as the Jacqueland Rock Garden) is adjacent to the Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House, near the Fernbank Museum. The garden dates back to 1926, but it became neglected and overgrown over the course of five decades. The Sara Giles Moore Foundation transformed the rock garden into an oasis once again, and it won this year’s Restoration Award by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Where to go: The Jacqueland Rock Garden is located at 1815 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE. The garden is open to the public during the daylight hours.

15. Take a creepy, funny and whimsical hike

Located in an industrial part of southeast DeKalb is a former brick works site that was regenerated as a scenic wetlands area. This little-known area is filled with turtles, herons, kingfishers and surprising folk art. The Doll’s Head Trail was created by zealous volunteers who picked up trash (old TVs, barrels, dolls) washed up in the floods of the nearby South River. It’s a not-challenging and whimsical hike, and visitors are encouraged to create their own artwork along the trail.

Where to go: Constitution Lakes Park is located on South River Industrial Boulevard, which dead ends into the trail’s parking lot after it crosses Moreland Avenue. The first half mile is paved and leads to a boardwalk vista.