Right in My Hometown… Atlanta – What to See

Someone suggested on a blog I read that reading a blog about a place written by a local can be better for a visitor than a blog about the place written by a visitor.  I agree that a local can give a unique perspective though I still like hearing a visitor’s perspective about a place.  Regardless, I thought I’d give my hometown, Atlanta, a crack in my blog though these entries will not be about a trip for me.  Well, it was the first time I got here as a teen in the 80s…

Atlanta, Georgia Skyline circa 1984

Atlanta Skyline 1984

Getting Around

Back then, Atlanta felt sleepy.  Everything closed at 10PM including McDonalds.  One or two shopping malls within my reach.  Taking the subway (MARTA) to the Arts Center station and from there connect to a bus to get to Lenox Mall or Perimeter Mall.  Boy, how things change: the subway now goes to those places and beyond.  MARTA does not have a great metro network unfortunately due to small-mindedness and the high cost of digging into solid rock.  But at least it does cover a good distance in the lines it does have.   The best part was when they finally extended MARTA to the airport.  Brilliant.  But stay tuned, there is a project called the Beltine (www.beltline.orgwhich promises to add a circular route, intown, connecting at 5 places with the various MARTA lines.  That long-term project will begin to impact how we rely on public transport, at least for those of us who live intown for whom the Beltline may be just a walk away.

Or that’s the hope in this car-loving city.  Because if you come, I’d strongly recommend right now to rent a car.  Else, you are stuck to downtown and the MARTA line or hard-to-hail taxis.

Downtown Points of Interest

Atlanta is a wonderful place to live but I would not place it in a top 5, perhaps even top 10, places to visit in the U.S. if you come from abroad (my fellow locals may kill me for saying that… or do I just want a good secret kept secret??).  However, there is a lot of charm and things to discover in and around the city for those who can forgive it for not having the scale and worldliness of NYC or the beautiful natural setting of San Fran…  Nightlife is pretty limited in downtown proper unless there are a few conventions concurrently taking place.  But I define downtown as a very small part of the city.  A few blocks away begin neat parts of the city!

Despite all that, it has some cools to see and do.

In this part of town, you must definitely see the Aquarium – an impressive colossus best seend during a weekday (www.georgiaaquarium.org).  Right next to it is the new Coca-Cola Museum (www.worldofcoca-cola.com) (true Atlantans know to put the dash between Coca and Cola!).  I haven’t seen the new one but the old one was on the fascinating side so this must be too.  CNN is located on the opposite end of Centennial Olympic Park and its tour can be interesting.  Finally, the MLK Memorial is on the opposite end of downtown and an important historical site (http://www.nps.gov/malu/index.htm)Underground Atlanta unfortunately became a massive souvenir shop SLASH smaller crime center so it is hard to recommend except you can see what are old buildings for Atlanta and imagine how it used to be end of 19th century which is of some value.

Oh, one more thing.  If you like a good view, go up to the rooftop bar at the Westin Peachtree for a phenomenal set of views of the city.  But no need to walk around, just plop down, have a drink and the place will rotate for you.  ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

Just Outside Downtown and Beyond but Still in the City

Just outside of downtown, a few gems to check out.

  • First, the Fox Theater dating from the 1920s has really interesting architecture (this is not where “Gone with the Wind” had its premiere; that theater is now the site of the Georgia-Pacific skyscraper in downtown right across from where Margaret Mitchell, the author, was struck by a bus leading to her eventual death…).
  • Second, the Oakland Cemetery (http://www.oaklandcemetery.com/).  One of the oldest places in town and with some famous people buried there (e.g., Bobby Jones).  The Jewish sector of the cemetery speaks to the long-standing presence in the city of the Jewish community and has some of the most interesting tombstones.  Go and walk about.  And bring your camera for some photo opps within the cemetery and of the downtown skyline, one of my favorite places to photograph it!  Also, it seems to put on a good tour during Halloween but I haven’t been to it…
  • Third:  Piedmont Park, our Central Park (or is Central Park NYC’s Piedmont Park?).  Expansive, with great views of the Midtown skyline, and plenty of people watching to do as you relax in this urban oasis.
  • Fourth:  the Inman Park neighborhood.  What used to be the suburbs in the 1910s, where the original owners of Coca-Cola (after the druggist who developed the formula) lived, and site of some beautiful turn of the century homes (19th to 20th turn of the century!).  As old as Atlanta gets for the most part and especially fun in April when a tour of homes is held.
  • Fifth:  The Fernbank Museum of Natural History (www.fernbankmuseum.org) in the beautiful neighborhood around Ponce de Leon Ave. with its exhibits and IMAX museum.  Granted, just about every city has one but it can be a nice break plus if you drive around the neighborhood you will see something a lot prettier than downtown!
  • Sixth:  Get lost in the neighborhoods just east and west of I-75, inside the perimeter (I-285, the ring road around the city) and north of the Chattahooche River.  You WILL get lost without a GPS or map.  But the houses go from impressive to almost Versailles itself.  Not a piece of Atlanta people get to see or understand when just coming for a convention and a MANDATORY part of the tour I give friends and family when they come.  These neighborhoods are part of Buckhead and Vinings but very different than Buckhead as you may know it by Peachtree Street.
  • Seventh:  Shoot the Hootch!  Or, get on a raft and go down river down the Chattahoochee River.  A typical summer outing for me when I was in college and right after but fun for families.  The river is pretty mild – but wear a lot of sunscreen!

Fox Theater

If you have children and all this sounds too adult, the Children’s Museum (www.childrensmuseum.org) right near the Aquarium could give the kiddos a good target place.  So mix the Aquarium and this museum (which is very much about hands-on activities and perfect for kids up to 7 years old) in on your schedule for the kids’ sake!

What Else Can You Tell Us, You Ask, about Things not in but Near Atlanta?

  • Stone Mountain Park (about 20-25 mins away) has what is supposed to be the single largest mountain of granite.  This mountain is walkable up the side or one can go up using a cable car.  Back in the 1930s a giant, football field-sized carving of Confederate heroes was made on the flatter side of the mountain and, whether you like the people depicted or not, it is something to see.  In summertime, a laser show takes places at night against it that is worth watching.  Stone Mountain, among many other attractions, features a model of a real life Southern plantation.  They moved structures from several plantations around the state to depict life on a plantation.  It is very much worth seeing.
  • For fun in the park, Six Flags over Georgia west of the city is ideal.  I am not much for this type of parks but it is good if you like ’em!
  • Callaway Gardens south of the city offers very nice, obvious, gardens but also things like butterfly exhibits and golf.  It is a family resort for those seeking that type of environment. (www.callawaygardens.com)
  • North of the city, you can head up the North Georgia mountains where towns like Dahlonega & Blairsville offer a great view into the south and mountain living (a lot of retirees from other states landing up there!  it is a choice spot for retirement in the corner of North Carolina, Tennesee and Georgia, 2 hrs away from Atlanta’s airport and less from Chattanooga).  Helen, GA is a pseudo-German town with fun Oktoberfest though a little cheesy overall for me.
  • Though I haven’t been to it, I have heard good things about Sweetwater Creek Park (http://gastateparks.org/info/sweetwater/) which sounds like nature’s oasis within a stone’s throw of the city.  Just like that you will find fascinating gems of nature and history (another example, the town of Madison about an hour plus east of Atlanta).
  • About an hour north on I-75, there is a true jewel of a museum.  It was quite unexpected when I heard about it and I was very impressed with its modernity, and the quality and contents of this museum given the setting in Cartersville, GA:  The Booth Western Art Museum (http://www.boothmuseum.org/)
  • Further north and getting close to the Tennessee state line are Rock City and Ruby Falls.  Pretty neat places to explore and fun for the kids.

Rock city (photo from http://roadsidegeorgia.com/site/rockcity)

Within the metro area, going to towns like Decatur with its diverse scene and great places to eat and Marietta with its old style town square and shops are great places to discover on your own.

Packaging It All Up

It is all fine and good to list all the things that can be done but how to package it and get it organized for execution?  Well, I can provide a strawman of how I would package up all the things to see and do.  Maybe a topic for a future blog if that is of interest!

What About Food?

In a later installment, I will discuss food and try to identify places near the stuff I have mentioned here so you can plan.  This will be my favorite section for sure!  But I must do LOTS OF research so it may be awhile 🙂

Other thoughts on things to do in Atlanta?  There is plenty more especially right outside the city.  Pipe in and help inform others on your recommendations!


  1. Glad to see you are going to be putting one together with a food theme, as that is one of the best features of Atlanta, as well as one of the things I miss the most!

  2. It will be hard, so many places to eat here come and go… I like that I will HAVE TO do research 🙂

  3. I enjoyed the post because… Atlanta is not very high on my travel list (even though I do enjoy destinations that are overlooked or not on many must-see lists). Fox Theater looks great and the surrounding area looks attractive too. Great resource.

  4. these are all just tourist traps. the aquarium is a joke next to the one in Chattanooga. avoid downtown, hang out in the surrounding neighborhoods, ask locals where to go.

  5. Getting Around Atlanta often means getting around Buckhead. The most convenient Atlanta transportation when visiting Atlanta’s Buckhead area is to use a Buckhead Atlanta Car Service. An Atlanta car service will be timely, prompt and provide a great deal of convenience while traveling about Atlanta.
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