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Tour Atlanta by Peachtree Street

Image: Atlanta's Peachtree St.
Peachtree Street is in the midst of a new hotel boom. The Sheraton Colony Square Hotel at Peachtree and 14th streets is scheduled to reopen March 18 as the W Atlanta Midtown. Another W hotel, the W Atlanta Buckhead, is scheduled to open on Peachtree in the fall; and The Mansion on Peachtree, a luxury hotel, opens in Buckhead in May.John Amis / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Georgia is known for its peaches. And in its capital city, there are dozens of places named for the fuzzy fruit — from businesses to streets like Peachtree Plaza, Peachtree Way and Peachtree Park Drive, to name a few. But it's the original Peachtree Street that is the spine of the city.

Running north and south from the heart of downtown Atlanta to suburban Buckhead and beyond, you could actually use the route as a key to the city. To be sure, not all of Atlanta's biggest attractions are on Peachtree — you won't find the Georgia Aquarium here, or the New World of Coca-Cola. But you will find plenty of hotels, some interesting landmarks, shopping and other places to visit.

Peachtree Fountains Plaza marks an entrance to Underground Atlanta, a major retail and entertainment district. Concerts, specialty vendors and eateries make this subterranean site a favorite among tourists and natives alike. New Year's Eve at Underground Atlanta is marked by the drop of — what else — a giant glittering peach, and you'll also find the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau visitor's center here.

Peachtree Street is in the midst of a new hotel boom. The Sheraton Colony Square Hotel at Peachtree and 14th streets is scheduled to reopen March 18 as the W Atlanta Midtown. Another W hotel, the W Atlanta Buckhead, is scheduled to open on Peachtree in the fall; and The Mansion on Peachtree, a luxury hotel, opens in Buckhead in May. Another boutique hotel, Twelve Centennial Park, is located at West Peachtree Street and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.

Last October, the 127-room Ellis Hotel opened at 176 Peachtree St. NW at the site of the former Winecoff Hotel, where 119 people died in a fire in 1946. The historic property had been vacant for years before the $26.8 million renovation and opening of the Ellis.

One of the city's most recognizable skyscrapers is the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, with a cylindrical design and all-glass exterior. Atlanta's Hard Rock Cafe is across the street, at Peachtree and Andrew Young International Boulevard.

The Woodruff Arts Center is at 1293 Peachtree St. This sprawling arts hub is home to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art. Special exhibits at the High through May 4 include "Georgia O'Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle" and "TRANSactions: Contemporary Latin American and Latino Art."

The High also has an ongoing partnership with the Louvre Museum in Paris. "The Louvre and the Ancient World" includes 70 works from the Louvre's Egyptian, Near Eastern and Greco-Roman antiquities (on display through Sept. 7), while "The Eye of Josephine" offers 60 pieces from antiquities owned by Empress Josephine Bonaparte (through May 18).

A few miles north, you'll find Lenox Square mall, at Lenox and Peachtree roads. Peachtree Road is just Peachtree Street once it crosses into the suburbs. One of the city's more than 20 enclosed malls, Lenox is home to more than 250 retailers and specialty stores, from Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's and Macy's to Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren and Hermes. One of the city's most popular events, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, will be held at Lenox Square April 4-6.

Razed and reconstructed during the Civil War, Atlanta has grown to become a commercial powerhouse, an Olympian city and the unofficial capital of the South.

Another major event on Peachtree is the Peachtree Road Race, held every Fourth of July. It's one of the world's largest 10-kilometer races, attracting 55,000 participants each year.

After sundown, Peachtree Street becomes a center of city nightlife. Head to Peachtree Road and Bennett Street for your pick of restaurants: Japanese, Mediterranean or soul food. Beware: Nighttime traffic along Peachtree Street can come to a crawl, especially on weekends thanks to diners and clubhoppers.

Check out the Fox Theatre, at 660 Peachtree St. NE. Originally the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque, this sparkling 1920s-era theater hosts everything from ballet to comedy. Jerry Seinfeld, Riverdance, Dolly Parton, "Sweeney Todd" and "The Color Purple" are all on the schedule for the next few months. You can also tour the building; it's a Peachtree landmark.

Atlanta's tallest building, Bank of America Plaza, is nearby at 600 Peachtree St. NE.

The Margaret Mitchell House & Museum is also on Peachtree, at No. 990. This is where the author wrote "Gone With the Wind." Currently the museum is hosting an exhibit of almost 30 of Bob Adelman's photographs, from the book "KING: The Photobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr."

After spending all this time on Peachtree Street, you might start wondering about the origins of the name. It all started in the 18th century, according to Donald Rooney, a curator at the Atlanta History Center, when an Indian trail emerged along the route. It started as a raised land ridge that was convenient to natives seeking a high observation point during floods. Later, whites used the route, calling it the Peachtree Trail and later Peachtree Street.

But Rooney noted that the accuracy of the name is a subject of controversy. "It can be debated if Peachtree was actually named for a peach tree," Rooney said. "Peach trees were not indigenous to the area."

Historians speculate that a large peach tree may have grown at the site of a military fort once anchoring the route. Others theorize that Indians used a pine tree there for resin — also known as sap or pitch — and called it a "pitch tree."

The street eventually became so integral that other streets were named according to their proximity to it.

"The name became a tag as a wayfinding (tool)," Rooney said. "It also became a way to spinoff and provide milestones or landmarks."

For instance, Peachtree Battle Avenue was named after a Civil War showdown near Peachtree Street.

So are there any peachtrees in Atlanta? "Many years ago domesticated peaches were planted in gardens and as street trees in Atlanta, but they do not thrive in this area," said Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, director of research and conservation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. "As street trees, they have small root systems that can be damaged and they do not tolerate pollution well."

There are a few dwarf peach trees in the orchard at the Atlanta Botanical Garden; they bloom pink flowers in April and bear a few peaches in July. The peaches Georgia is famous for are found in other parts of the state. Georgia is generally ranked as one of the top three-peach producing states in the country, along with California and South Carolina.

Finally, if you find yourself in Atlanta lost or confused about all the Peachtree places, Spurgeon Richardson, head of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, has this advice: "The people down here are very nice and friendly and would be happy to give you directions."