- Lori McMillen Brown for The AJC
In case you missed the time change, the warmer weather and the rising pollen count, one sure fire way to know it's spring in Atlanta is the kickoff of Atlanta's annual Dogwood Festival at Piedmont Park.
The festival, which is in its 82nd year, takes place Friday, April 13 to Sunday, April 15. If you have never been, then hurry up. Having never been is akin to saying that you don't drink Coke or that you've never tried grits. Southern blasphemy
What should I wear?
Whatever you choose to show off your style, be sure that your outfit includes comfy walking shoes and weather appropriate coverage. In years past, it has been rainy, sweltering, windy, cold and everything in between. There have even been a couple of perfect spring days! Just be sure to check the weather and plan ahead. This event is OUTSIDE.
In years past, many owners even dressed to match their dogs. Yes, it is true and was the most amazing day of people-watching. Just in case you have been under a rock for the last couple of years, please know that dogs are NOT allowed in the festival anymore. Don't worry, it is Midtown. There is still plenty of great people watching.
When should we go?
Did you take Friday off? No, seriously! You should be entering the park just before noon on Friday. The festival hours are from noon to 11 p.m. on Friday, which are the most pleasant hours of the entire festival. Unless you want to channel your inner salmon and swim upstream in a massive crowd, Friday is your day.
If Friday is not an option, plan to go early and be there when they open at 10 a.m. on Saturday or Sunday. Later in the afternoon also dwindles some. Note that the artist market closes at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, but other activities, such as the rides and live music, will be going strong until the festival closing time.
Unless you've figured out how to train a child to pass by a fun-filled area of entertainment, then Friday is the most economical choice for your family. Family Friday is a great deal; an inexpensive wrist band gives you all-day unlimited access to rides and inflatables. Friday only the wristbands will be $12 for Family Friday, or $15 at the festival. And yes, you can purchase one even if you don't have a child. It's alright if you still relish a trip down the Giant Fun Slide.
Is there anything to eat?
Why yes, yes there is! Food trucks and other vendors will be there selling fair-style yummies. Fried pickles, roasted corn, corn dogs, fresh-squeezed lemonade, kettle corn and chicken on a stick always seem to make an appearance. The food vendors change a bit from year to year, but you'll never walk away hungry. If fair food is not your style, there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance of Piedmont Park should you prefer to lounge on a patio and drink mimosas.
We like to roll VIP style. How do we do that here?
If you are all about the private ticketed areas, then the Backyard Bites & Brews VIP Experience is where you should be. It’s a new ticketed event at Atlanta Dogwood Festival, but tickets for previous iterations of the VIP event have sold out quickly. If you are just reading this now you better move quickly. Saturdays always sell out first, leaving Sunday availability sometimes. With the VIP tickets you get access to the tented area overlooking the main stage, samplings of beer and wine, and of course, food. Namely, barbecue. Picnic fare from local restaurants and chefs will also be available.
In keeping with the cold-brew, picnic-like atmosphere, you can enjoy a game of corn hole. But the unsung hero of this experience is the access to private bathrooms.
We're hooked! What is the best way to get there?
If you're coming from the northern suburbs, then by all means, use this opportunity for your annual trip on MARTA. The Arts Center Station is where you should get off. They do have shuttles available, but you should use this as an opportunity to warm up for a day of walking. The jaunt up 15th street takes you past the Woodruff Arts Center complex. A right onto Peachtree Street NE will take you right by a Starbucks at Colony Square, should you need to fuel up for the day. A left onto 14th Street takes you directly to the park entrance.
The Dogwood Festival has partnered with Parking Panda to allow you to pre-purchase guaranteed parking at a number of lots around the park area. Rates vary by day and can get pretty high. We'll take this opportunity to mention once again that MARTA rail is a great way to get to the festival. Or start begging your intown/midtown friends.
Anything else I should know?
• Bring cash. Even though many vendors, especially the artists, take credit cards, a good deal may not. Really, do you want to pay the ridiculous service fee at the festival ATM?
•Be sure to see the dogs. I know I said they weren't allowed, but the ones competing in the Annual Disc Dog Southern Nationals are the exception.
•Think about your Christmas list and home decor needs. Jewelry to pottery, photographs and lithographs, even modern sculptures and garden tchotchkes can be found here.
•Plan to plant a tree. Dogwood trees can be purchased at the festival to take home and plant.
•Check out the Dogwood Festival website for other events and features, like the Atlanta Dogwood Festival Mimosa 5K.