For a City that has been around since almost the earliest origins of the USA, it sure feels like an up and coming town. Georgia was originally established as a penal colony, with Atlanta being founded in 1837. During the Civil War, as a result of Sherman’s famous march across Georgia, much of Atlanta was burned to the ground. Since that time, Atlanta has been home to parts of the Civil Rights movement, the Olympics and a push for downtown revitalization that has been slowly coming along. Atlanta has a rich history, is a modern, yet classic southern town where you are more likely to find a mix of southern accents alongside 'nawthern' accents as the City swells in size.
Logistics: The airport is south of town, by around 20 minutes. You can take Marta straight into downtown, and you could theoretically visit many of the places on this list without a car, but the reality is at some point you will want a car. A note on driving in Atlanta: It’s a major city with some of the worst traffic in the USA, but the drivers here are unfailingly polite. They will let you into their lane, they don’t tailgate you in an uptight, 'get out of my way’ feeling. Avoid driving during rush hour and you will have a much better experience. If you encounter a driver who behaves otherwise, you can bet they are a transplant! A GPS of some sort is crucial as every corner in Atlanta looks the same, down to the chain stores and restaurants.
Below are the 10 things I recommend you consider in a visit to Atlanta, along with a couple bonus places that are definitely worth a look.
1. Georgia Aquarium--allow a half day. With kids, you really could easily spend an entire day, especially if you opt for a behind the scenes or other experience. Don't try and do it in less than 3 hours or you will be miserable, or be missing large parts.
2. Atlanta Zoo --also a 1/2 day. It's really well done.
3. Stone Mountain--this is just such an oddity and a fun climb to the top (or if you aren't fit enough, a gondola ride). There are year-round activities, such as a December Christmas village and summer mini golf so that you could enjoy more than just the hike up the mountain. If you ride the gondola, allow an hour, and if you hike allow 2-3 hours (depending on if you have to stop on the way up). There is a small (expensive) shop at the top to buy refreshments, but best to bring your own, especially if you make the hike along an incredibly well marked trail. Allow for a little time to wander around the top and take in the views.
Martin Luther King National Historic Park--gaining an appreciation for the origins of MLK is priceless
Center for Civil and Human Rights--very new and extremely well done
World of Coca-Cola--unless you are trying to stay away from the beverage or worry that you might start up a long-dead habit, this is a real favorite in our family--so many different flavors of coke--with unlimited tasting. 'nuf said. Well, maybe one more thing: don't visit too late in the day with kids, or that caffeine won't have time to wear off before bedtime!
CNN--maybe not great for the super young ones, but it is really cool to visit and see the HQ's (CNN, World of Coke, Center for Civil Rights and the Aquarium are all clustered around the Centennial Park and completely walkable from each other).
Take in an Atlanta Braves or Atlanta Falcons game, or if college ball is more your style, check out the Georgia Tech athletic schedule (the University of Georgia is just over an hour away, in Athens)
Fernbank--cool natural history/science museum--check out what they have going on during your visit.
SkyView--it seems an emerging trend in big cities to have a ferris wheel (DC, Chicago, London as examples) and Atlanta couldn't be left out. Know that it's there, so you can decide in advance if you'll take the kids.
Other places that your family might enjoy, depending on their interests:
High Museum of Art--fabulous art museum--I always feel like I'm using a 'chit' taking the kids to an art museum, but I don't let that stop me!
Six Flags--there is an outpost in Atlanta, so we feel compelled to mention for those of you who like to frequent amusement parks, or have a season pass elsewhere for Six Flags. With all the other things that are unique to Atlanta, this really is at the bottom of our list, but could certainly make for a fun day!
Margaret Mitchell home. The author of Gone with the Wind might not garner as much interest these days, but she is from Atlanta--on my list to visit
Atlanta Botanical Gardens--on my list to visit
Atlanta History Center/Cyclorama--I always found this boring as a child, but it's a beloved work of art depicting the Battle of Atlanta from the Civil War that after several years now has a new location and display--we haven't been yet, but it's supposed to be well done.
Children’s Museum—I hate to say anything bad about a children's museum, but this one just isn't that great. It is located right by Centennial Park.
Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum-- if you have older kids, what a great way to introduce them to this son of Georgia and Naval Academy graduate/peanut farmer/Nobel Peace Prize winner without hauling the couple hours to Plains, Georgia, or maybe you like Presidential History, it's supposed to be great.
Georgia State Capital--for those of you checking off US Capital visits, here's your chance
College Football Hall of Fame
My connection to Atlanta: I grew up driving from our home in the Florida panhandle to visit my grandparents and other relatives in Atlanta. Before what is lovingly referred to as spaghetti junction (a massive tangle of freeways coming together in overlapping sky-reaching bridges), MARTA subway and the downtown renaissance. Back then, there was little to do beyond Stone Mountain and a few other places that as a child held zero interest. With a plodding pace, Atlanta has now become a mega City for the south offering visitors so much to do!