Ask anyone and they'll tell you they've been to Atlanta -- the airport that is. If you haven't had the opportunity to explore one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States, now couldn't be a better time. In fact, the world is coming to Atlanta this summer when the area hosts the 1996 Centennial Olympics. Rich in history, warmly hospitable, full of southern gentility and urban sophistication, Atlanta is full of many wonderful attractions that will make for an exciting and memorable vacation for each member of the family.
Contrary to the popular belief, everything is not located on Peachtree Street. To easily get around Atlanta, it will be helpful to understand the metro area layout. The central area of the metro area includes several other city and county governments, not just the city of Atlanta. The Atlanta "in-town" area is defined by Interstate 285, called the Perimeter. You'll undoubtedly receive directions from locals that will describe a destination as being inside the Perimeter or outside the Perimeter. Destinations will also be described in terms of the county in which they are located. Within in the Perimeter, you'll find Fulton, DeKalb (pronounced De-Cab), Cobb and Clayton counties.
Atlanta's Spring and Fall weather is terrific, however, the summer is hot and humid. April's average temperature is usually in the high 70's during the day and high 50's at night. At many Atlanta attractions you'll be spending lots of time outside, so dress appropriately. If you're visiting any time between late May and October, the kids will definitely need a supply of good sunscreen.
You'll also want to keep in mind that on Sundays some attractions are not open. In addition, many attractions with Sunday operations open after Church services end around noon.
Here are some numbers to call for information and help:
WorldTravel Partners (214-851-4029) They act as a clearing house for available hotel rooms. Call them to see what they have available. For close-in lodgings, there is a 3-night minimum stay.
The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce (404-880-9000) will send you a list of 19 member firms offering housing rentals. You may also wish to contact the Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 285-2682.
Great Manors (800-483-7896) is an organization offering bedrooms in people's homes and apartments throughout the Atlanta area, as well as unoccupied housing for rent.
If you're coming to Atlanta for a vacation, a number of hotel chains offer special family programs. These include Days Inns (800-325-2525), Hyatt (800-233-1234), Hilton (800-445-8667), Ritz-Carlton (800-241-3333), Omni (800-843-6664), Marriott (800-228-9290), and Swissotels (800-927-9477) to name a few. You may wish to call the chain's 800-number or your travel agent and inquire as to special "kids stay free" and/or " kids eat free" programs for the hotel of your choice.
Atlanta offers a free travel service that will book rooms for your vacation. To find out more, call (800) ATL-TOUR. In addition, the Atlanta International Bed and Breakfast Reservation Service (800-473-9449) and Bed & Breakfast Atlanta (404-875-0525) can help you find appropriate accomodations for your family. The Atlanta Housing Bureau (404-521-6600 and Atlanta Dream Hostels (404-370-0380) can also provide information on accommodations in Atlanta.
If you're looking for a suites hotel, some of the hotels in Atlanta that are particularly great for families include:
* Guest Quarters Suite Hotel - 6120 Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta 800-424-2900 or 404-668-0008
* Marriott Suites Midtown - 35 14th Street, Atlanta 800-228-9290 or 404-876-8888
* Homewood Suites Cumberland - 3200 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta 800-CALL HOME or 404-988-9449
* Suite Hotel at Underground - 54 Peachtree Street, Atlanta 800-477-5549 or 404-223-5555
* Embassy Suites Buckhead - 3285 Peachtree Road, NE, Atlanta 800-EMBASSY or 404-261-7733
* Residence Inn Buckhead - 2960 Piedmont Road, NE, Atlanta 800-331-3131 or 404-239-0677
* Best Western Bradbury Suites - 4500 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta 800-528-1234 or 404-956-9919
* Summerfield Suites Buckhead - 505 Pharr Road, Atlanta 800-833-4353 or 404-262-7880
Operated by the Atlanta Historical Society, the center is largest history museum in Georgia. Attractions include: The Tullie Smith Farm (a pre-Civil War working farm where you'll see open-hearth cooking, smithing, whittling and occasionally storytelling); Swan House (a classically styled mansion built in 1928 -- the house is furnished with many delicate pieces so you may want to pass up the tour and instead let the kids enjoy the Victorian playhouse behind Swan House); Museum of Atlanta History (the main exhibit is Metropolitan Frontiers: Atlanta 1835 - 2000); the Dickey Collection of 800 Civil War Armaments; and 25,000 items from the Beverly M. DuBose Civil War Collection , containing items from both the North and the South. In addition to all this, you'll want to take time to enjoy the 32 acres of wonderful gardens and woodlands including Swan Woods Trail , a one-half mile trail labeled for a self-guided tour, and an idea outlet for children who may need a break after touring the entire center. For more information call (404) 814-4000.
Center for Puppetry Arts
This place definitely should be on your "must see" list. The center has the largest collection of puppets ranging from hand puppets to Punch and Judy to the Muppets. There's an entire museum featuring the Muppets! With an international reputation for hosting the finest puppeteers, the shows are truly first rate productions. There are multiple shows, 12 puppet making workshops and three theaters, one of which seats 300. For more information call (404) 873-3371.
CNN Studio Tours
This is one of the most popular tours in Atlanta, so purchase your tickets early! You'll tour the network's studios, see the production of a live newscast, and view the TBS Collection including memorabilia from the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Hawks, and the superstation itself. Teens in particular seem to love this tour. For more information, call 404-827-2300.
ZooAtlanta is a delight to visit. It's home to Willie B., the gorilla mascot of the zoo and a long-time favorite of Atlantans. Willie B. and his family are one of four gorilla families who make their home in the 5-acre Ford African Rain Forest natural habitat exhibit. Be sure to check for animal feeding times and don't miss the elephants --Starlett, Victoria and Zambezi -- who very actively help Zoo staff in their educational talks about elephants and conservation efforts. Wander into the elephant barn and see the paintings done by the elephants. The Children's Zoo, encircled by a children's railroad train, is where kids can interact with more domesticated animals. A word of advice for increasing the enjoyment of your visit to the zoo -- be there when it opens at 10 a.m.!
There are two reasons: that's when the animals are being fed for the first time that day and they will be out so you can see them. Second, once the day gets hot and sunny the animals will find a cool spot in the shade, usually out of your view. ZooAtlanta is located in Grant Park (the park is the site of a Civil War battle), so do take advantage of the Park's many picnic facilities. For more information call (404) 624-5600.
The Yellow River Wildlife Game Ranch
If your kids or other members of your family are crazy about animals, add The Yellow River Wildlife Game Ranch to your list of sites to see. It's located about 30 miles east of downtown in suburban Lilburn. The Game Ranch offers the chance to mingle with some 600 animals (over 100 white tail deer alone) who are highly socialized and will literally be eating out of your children's hands if you bring snacks along. For more information call (404) 972-6643.
Located next door to ZooAtlanta in Grant Park, the Cyclorama is a 360 degree cylindrical painting displayed on a rotating platform. It depicts the Battle of Atlanta when General John Hood attempted to save Atlanta from the Union army lead by Major General Sherman. It's an amazingly vivid recreation of the battle. The 358 feet around and 42 feet high painting was completed in 1887 and brought to Atlanta in 1892. There is a 30-minute production which tells of the battle using the painting and multi-media special effects. During a second rotation of the painting, the presentation describes the painting and its history. Also housed here is the famous steam locomotive "Texas", which chased and caught "The General" in the Great Locomotive Chase of the Civil War. The Cyclorama is "must see" for older children. A sign on the door states that the attraction is not suitable for children under three, mainly because the 30 minute production may alter between not holding their attention and being too scary. For more information call (404) 624-1071.
You can see "The General" and learn more about The Great Locomotive Chase by visiting Big Shanty Museum in Kennesaw, about 35 miles north of downtown. For more information on this museum, call (770) 427-2117.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
The Historic Site receives over three-and-a-half million visitor each year making it one of the nation's most frequented attractions. The Visitors' Center includes a museum containing memorabilia from Dr. King's life, including his Nobel Peace Prize. Mrs. Coretta Scott King founded the Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which is located here. It is the only official monument, national or international, dedicated to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. In the courtyard, Dr. King's elevated marble tomb is surrounded by a reflecting pool. Located just west of the Historic site and Preservation District is Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King was co-pastor. To the east is Dr. King's restored birth home at 501 Auburn Ave. For more information call (404) 524-1956.
World of Coke
Although unabashedly self-promoting, this is a fun attraction! Walk under the 11 ton red and white neon Coca-Cola sign and you're in for a real treat. The self-guided, multi-media tour takes you through the 100+ year history of the world's favorite soft drink. Coca-Cola was first served at Jacob's Pharmacy in downtown Atlanta in 1886. Allow at least one to two hours to make your way through the 3 story pavilion which houses amazing memorabilia as well as a look at the future world of Coke. The futuristic soda fountain is awesome! When you've worked up a thirst, you can sample unlimited amounts of 38 Coca Cola beverages -- including 18 that are not sold in the US. Your last stop will be the first floor gift shop where you will find a mind-boggling area filled with Coca-Cola merchandise. For more information, call (404) 676-5151.
Little Five Points
Coming to Atlanta with teens? Then you'll probably want to visit Little Five Points, Atlanta's answer to Greenwich Village and Haight Ashbury. It's a lively area with some funky little shops that seem to especially appeal to teens. Some of the most interesting stores are clustered around the intersection of Euclid and Moreland. If your teens are into fads, t-shirts, used records, antique clothes or health food, this may be a stop for you. If malls are more your kind of thing, check out the Lenox Square Mall at the intersection of Peachtree and Lenox Roads. It's one of the top ten malls in the country in terms of revenues, and between it and its upscale neighbor Phipps Plaza, you're sure to find what you're looking for.
Fernbank Museum of Natural History
This museum is a wonderful experience for all ages. It uses hands-on exhibits and interactive displays so kids can have fun while learning. The museum's permanent features include "A Walk Through Time in Georgia", which takes you through a chronology of development of life on earth, complete with Dinosaur Hall, which houses 7 life size dinosaurs. In the Cosmos Theater, the high density video "The Origin of the Universe" which describes the Big Bang Theory, is projected on a 30 foot by 10 foot screen. On the second floor there are two wonderful discovery rooms for kids: Fantasy Forest for preschoolers and Georgia Adventure for 6 to 10 year-olds. Also on the second floor is Spectrum of Senses with its wonderfully interactive exhibits on light and sound. Not to be passed up is the IMAX Theater. Its curved 52-foot by 70 foot screen and IMAX film technology will make you feel like you are part of the action. For more information on this museum, call (404) 370-0960.
Housing over 150 interactive exhibits, SciTrek will be a place every family member will rave about for days! You can change light into energy, test metal for electrical conductivity, step inside a kaleidoscope, use a computer to mix over 16 million colors, freeze your shadow on a wall, look into infinity and much, much more. KIDSPACE has scaled-down exhibits guaranteed to intrigue 2 to 7 year-olds. It's easy to see why SciTrek is rated among the top ten science centers in the United States. Don't miss it! For more information on SciTrek, call (404) 522-5500.
Named for a family of wrens that nested in the mailbox, this is the Victorian home of Joel Chandler Harris, the author of the Uncle Remus, Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox tales. The home was built in the 1870's, and Harris lived here from 1881 to his death in 1908. The 30-minute tour includes a slide presentation on Harris' life and lots of Uncle Remus memorabilia. Displayed are original and foreign editions of Harris' works as well as signed first editions of other major writers of his day -- including works by Mark Twain. Storytelling is a wonderful Atlanta tradition, and Atlanta boasts many well-known storytellers. Among them is Akbar Imhotep, the Wren's Nest's resident storyteller. From mid-June through August, Mr. Imhotep and other storytellers give performances three times a day. If your trip brings you to Atlanta at other times, there are storytelling programs year-round. For more information call (404) 753-7735.
Stone Mountain Park
Located about 16 miles east of downtown, Stone Mountain Park is 3200 acres of lakes and wooded parkland with attractions for each member of the family. The park's name comes from the enormous exposed granite outcropping (the world's largest) overlooking the area. On one side of the outcropping is carved a massive memorial to the Confederate war heroes Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. You can hike up the mountain on walking trails or take the tram. You won't want to miss Lasershow which takes place after dark. The mountain becomes the backdrop to a spectacular laser light production choreographed to music. Lasershow begins in April, and occurs Friday and Saturday evenings only at 8:30 pm. Starting in May, the show takes place nightly at 9:30 p.m.
Other major attractions include the Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad, a 25-minute ride around the base of the mountain in a Civil War steam train; rides on the Scarlett O'Hara, a paddlewheel riverboat that cruises Lake Stone Mountain; The Traders Camp Petting Farm; and the Antebellum Plantation, a 19 building complex offering a self-guided tour of attractions such as an 1830's general store, Dickey House, an 1850's house in the neoclassic style (Tara-like architecture), slave cabins, a couch house, Thorton House (an 1790's elegant home of a landowner), a smoke house, a doctor's office and much, much more. If all this is not enough to keep you busy, there's also boating (paddleboats, canoes, sailboats and rowboats), bike rentals, a golf course, miniature golf, tennis courts, a lakefront beach, fishing, hiking, and picnicking. Stone Mountain Park also hosts many special events during the year, ranging from Chili Cook-offs to craft shows. For more information on Stone Mountain, call (770) 498-5600.
Six Flags Over Georgia
Once your kids get tired of museums -- or on the way out from the Olympics -- you may want to check out this huge amusement park located 12 miles west of Atlanta. Kids can take a ride on the Ninja or the Viper, get wet on Thunder River or Splashwater Falls, and meet some of their favorite cartoon characters. You'll find live performances, restaurants, a nightly fireworks and laser show, and lots of the usual Six Flags rides and entertainment. The park is open from March to October, but be sure to call ahead for hours of operation, as they vary by season. For more information, call 404-948-9290 or 404-739-3400 for hours of operation.
Six Flags White Water
If you're in Atlanta during the summer and are starting to roast, take the kids over to Six Flags White Water - the largest waterpark in the South. This waterpark features more than 50 attractions for the whole family including lazy river raft rides, water slides and chutes, restaurants, shopping, and Captain Kid's Cove, a park area just for preschoolers. There are lifeguards on duty, so parents can relax a little and maybe even catch some rays. Two-park season passes, including admission to both Six Flags White Water and Six Flags Over Georgia, are also available. For more information and hours of operation, visit www.sixflags.com or call 770-948-9290.
This is the only amusement park in Atlanta that's only for children, and is specifically designed for the pre-school and grade-school group. Here you'll find lots of outdoor activities for kids including miniature golf, two-seat go-cart racing, and amusement park rides. There's a large restaurant and some indoor activities as well. It's located near the Six Flags White Water Park. For more information, call 770-428-5217 or visit www.americanadventuresfunpark.com.
Cool Day Trips in Surrounding Areas:
If you have a car and some extra time, there are some neat things to do outside of the greater Atlanta area. If your kids love Cabbage Patch dolls, drive up to the Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland and see where those funny little kids come from. Cleveland's a 90-minute drive north of the city. You'll see the doctors and nurses who deliver these babies, not to mention the cuties themselves. For more information, call 404-865-2171. Callaway Gardens is one of the most beautiful family-oriented resorts in the country, and it's only located 90-minutes southwest of the city in Pine Mountain, Georgia. The gardens are drop-dead gorgeous, and there are many family-oriented activities. Don't miss the glass-enclosed butterfly conservatory -- it's the largest one in North America. For more information on this resort, visit their website at www.callawaygardens.com or call (706) 663-2281 for a brochure.
If you'd like to strike it rich, pan for gold in Dahlonega. This is where the Georgia gold rush took place. You can pan for gold in the mines and visit the Gold Museum. For more information, call the Chamber of Commerce at 404-864-3711.
If active outdoor activities are more your style, take the family river rafting. If you like 'em wild, check out the one-day river tours on the Chattooga River, made famous in the movie Deliverance. Rapids range from Class II to Class V in difficulty. The Chattooga is about 120 miles outside the city (about a 1 1/2 hour drive). You can call Southeastern Expeditions (404-329-0433 or Wildwater (803-647-5336) for more information. Closer to Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River is also great for canoeing, kayaking and rafting. There are some Class I and Class II rapids, but it tends to be a good river for families. For more information on rafting, call the Chattahoochee Outdoor Center at 404-395-6851.
Which restaurants will make kids and families happy? Here's our list of the high points and the practical.
Hard Rock Cafe -- The name says it all. Inside you'll find rock 'n roll memorabilia from Elton John (who is a resident of Atlanta) to an Elvis Presley guitar. Burgers are the highlight of the menu. And, of course, the kids will not want to pass up the obligatory Hard Rock Cafe - Atlanta t-shirt.
Planet Hollywood -- Recently opened and featuring a Gone With the Wind diorama, this Planet Hollywood is one of 18 (at last count) worldwide. The menu is California cuisine including turkey burgers, gourmet pizzas, pasta, and vegetarian entrees.
The Varsity -- Truly an Atlanta institution, the world's largest Drive-in restaurant first opened in 1928. The place bustles with activity daily serving an estimated ton of onion rings, 2,500 pounds of potatoes, two miles of hot dogs and 5,000 fried apple or peach a la mode pies. Car hops will bring your food to your car -- which the kids love --or you can eat inside. Don't look for health food here -- order up chili dogs, burgers, and fries. Since you've gone that far a "must" are the onion rings -- the all-time best you will ever have. The good news is that everything is under $5.
Gorin's -- Casual dining with the kids where everything is homemade and fresh. The menu ranges from kid favorites like grilled cheese to almond chicken pasta for you. Be warned though, Gorin's homemade ice cream will delight any and all ice cream gourmands.
Fellini's Pizza -- Whimsical decor, loud music and great pizza in a casual setting. Kid heaven and reasonably priced!
Rocky's Brick Oven -- Great pasta and pizza, with good meals to keep kids happy.
Mick's -- There are 11 Mick's in the Atlanta metro area. Noted for their good food and big portions, the menu is wide ranging with lots of the food kids seem to love, at very reasonable prices.
The Royal Bagel -- Great bagels and spreads for a good meal or snack. The local area Bagelicious stores are good, too.
Fat Matt's Rib Shack -- Don't come to Atlanta without trying some barbeque! This place is great for pulled-pork barbeque sandwiches. If barbeque is your passion, you might also want to try Down East in Smyrna, Holt Brothers Barbeque or The Rib Ranch in Buckhead.
Other cool places include the Buckhead Diner (an upscale rendition of the diner -- this one was copied at Euro Disney), Greenwood's on Green Street (great pot roast, chicken, homemade desserts and pies), Kudzu Cafe (a Houston's-like place with super onion rings and salads), and California Pizza Kitchen (a national chain with specialty pizzas and chopped salads).
Here are some suggestions for saving money on your Atlanta vacation. Some of these, such as discounts on hotel rooms, will not apply to trips during the Olympics due to sell-out conditions.
* If you're coming to Atlanta for the weekend, make sure to take advantage of weekend rates at hotels. A number of the downtown hotels offer weekend discounts of 15% to 40% below normal. To learn more, shop around with the hotels directly, or contact your travel agent.
* If space is available (ie. if hotels are at less than 80% occupancy), you may be able to take advantage of the 50% rates offered through half-price programs offered by Entertainment Publications (800-285-5525), Quest (800-638-9819) or Encore (800-638-0930). Before you book however, check the "half-price" rate you're quoted against the latest rates provided by your travel agent. You may be surprised that your findings.
* Check with wholesalers and consolidators such as the Hotel Reservations Network (800-964-6835), Quikbook (800-789-9887 or Express Reservations (800-356-1123) to see what discounts they may be able to offer you on the lodgings of your choice. Discounts are often in the 15-50% off rack range.
* Go to your library and check out the Sunday travel section of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. You can often find great hotel deals and packages far better than anything offered in your local paper.
* Think about packing a picnic lunch to save money on food. A number of area attractions either have picnic facilities on site or are located close to park areas that do. Picnics are inexpensive, and playing in the park is a great way to let the kids burn off some energy.