Things To Do and See in Atlanta
by Shawne Taylor
Atlanta is a city of contradiction – thoroughly modern and progressive and, at the same time, steeped in the history of both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. It’s fast-paced and metropolitan, yet still retains its down-home southern charm. It’s a true international city, great for young professionals, and also a wonderful place to homeschool and raise children. And thanks to a generous tax incentive from the state, which has led to an increase in the number of movies and TV shows being filmed here, the city has now rightfully earned the nickname “Hollywood of the South.” It’s not uncommon to see production crews set up and filming in neighborhoods throughout Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs on a daily basis. From The Hunger Games to Ozark, Walking Dead to the Marvel movies, to Stranger Things (and more), this influx of creativity and business into the area over the last eight years has made life in Atlanta more interesting than ever. There are so many things to do and see in Atlanta, you’ll want to keep coming back.
If you’re coming to Atlanta for the Secular Eclectic Acacdemic Homeschool Convention in July, you may decide to spend a few extra days exploring some of the great historical, cultural, or just plain fun family-friendly destinations the city has to offer. With so much to see and do in metro Atlanta, we couldn’t list everything here. But we have put together a short list of our not-to-miss favorites. Whether you’re a family that loves history, shopping, art, or nature, there’s something here for everyone. Enjoy!
Georgia Aquarium – 225 Baker Street NW; 404-581-4000; With over 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water, the Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the US and the fourth largest aquarium in the world. Here you’ll see Beluga whales, dolphins, rays, sea turtles, otters, puffins, sharks, and hundreds of varieties of fish and other marine animals. Located 0.6 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
World of Coca-Cola – 121 Baker Street NW; (404) 676-5151; Since opening in 1990, World of Coca-Cola has welcomed over 24 million guests and counting. Visitors come to learn more about the history of this iconic beverage, get a behind-the-scenes view of the bottling process, learn about the legend of the secret formula, enjoy a short 4-D multisensory movie, sample over 100 different Coca-Cola flavors from around the world, and much more. Located 0.5 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, the World of Coca-Cola is one of the most popular things to do and see in Atlanta!
Centennial Olympic Park – 285 Andrew Young International Blvd NW; 404-223-4412; Originally built for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Centennial Park is now a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. The park is open from 7am to 11pm daily, and features a helpful Visitor’s Center, free Wi-Fi access, a burger stand, concerts and special events, and the famous Fountain of Rings – the world’s largest interactive splash fountain for kids of all ages. Located 0.5 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis (next to CNN Center).
CNN Center – 190 Marietta Street NW; CNN Center is a one-of-a-kind destination. Featuring quick service and full service restaurants, Atlanta-specific specialty retail shops, and the Omni Hotel, it is also the world headquarters of CNN. Visitors can sign up for a 50-minute guided CNN Studio Tour to get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at how a live broadcast is produced, how the world’s largest news organization operates, and the history of the network. (A VIP Tour, with access to a live newsroom, the HLN control room, and the state-of-the art studio is also available for visitors 12 and up, for an additional charge.) Located 0.7 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
High Museum – 1280 Peachtree St NE; 404-733-4400; The High Museum is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Considered the leading art museum of the southeast, the High is home to an impressive collection of historical and contemporary art, permanent and special exhibitions, and celebrated architecture. There are also a variety of food options here, if you’re looking for lunch or just a quick snack. One great feature for families of young kids is the museum’s Discovery Pack. These brightly colored packs are filled with projects, puzzles, books, games and other activities connected to the various galleries throughout the museum. The packs can be borrowed free of charge from the coat check desk in the Taylor Lobby of the Wieland Pavilion. Located in midtown Atlanta, 2.8 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Atlanta Botanical Garden – 1345 Piedmont Avenue NE ; 404-876-5859; The ABG, located next to Atlanta’s Piedmont Park in the heart of midtown, is a world-class botanical garden, named one of the “Top Ten Best Gardens in the Country” by USA Today and the “Best City Attraction” by Self Magazine in 2016. It has grown and evolved over the years, and now includes a 600 ft. canopy walk through a mature hardwood forest, a relaxing Cascades Garden with flowing water features and 25’ tall Earth Goddess plant sculpture, a Japanese garden, rose garden, edible garden, indoor tropical and desert habitats, the Fuqua Conservatory and Orchid House (featuring the largest display of orchids under glass in the U.S.), and more. Throughout the gardens, visitors will find dozens of permanently installed art pieces from renowned artists such as Moto Ohtake, Dale Chihuly, and George Sherwood. There are also three dining options: an outdoor snack bar near the great lawn, the Quick Café with outdoor seating, and the upscale (yet kid-friendly) Longleaf Restaurant. And if you’re visiting with kids, the newly renovated Children’s Garden is not to be missed. Here you’ll learn about bees, walk gentle paths through a variety of natural environments, and find slides, climbing structures, hands-on activities, and a splash pad (perfect for Atlanta’s hot summers). Located 2.4 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
State Capitol Museum – 206 Washington Street SW; (404) 463-4536;Visitors to Atlanta’s beautiful gold-domed State Capitol can pre-register for a guided group tour of the building, or take a self-guided tour. Along with the tour, there’s a museum showcasing both the history of Georgia government and the unique features of the capitol building itself. And, if you happen to visit during the legislative session, you’ll also have a chance to view lawmakers in action. Visits to the Capitol (including tours and museum admission) are free. Located 1.4 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Zoo Atlanta – 800 Cherokee Avenue SE; 404-624-9453; originally opened in 1889, Zoo Atlanta has undergone enormous changes over the years to become a national leader in animal conservation and preservation. Today the zoo is home to a variety of animals from around the world including African elephants, meerkats, giraffes, gorillas, African lions, tigers, warthogs, otters, pandas, and so much more. There’s a state of art amphibian center, petting zoo, aviary (where, for $1, visitors can buy a stick of food and feed the birds by hand), wildlife talks and encounters, a playground, climbing wall, carousel, train, and large splash pad (with ample covered seating for parents around the edges). It’s easy to make a day of it here, walking the shaded paths between exhibits and picking up a quick lunch from one of the Zoo’s many quick serve cafes. Located 2.9 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site – 450 Auburn Avenue, NE; 404-331-5190 x5046; A trip to Atlanta would not be complete without a visit to the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. Start at the Visitor’s Center for a brief orientation, and to watch a video program in the Visitor Center Theater, and view exhibits of the Civil Rights Movement and the King family. (This is also where you can sign up to tour the Birth Home.) From there, be sure to check out the lovely “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, MLK’s Birth Home, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Historic Fire Station No. 6, The King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, and the tombs of Dr. and Mrs. King. Located 1.5 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Center for Civil and Human Rights – 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd.; 678-999-8990; Established in 2007, this groundbreaking 42,000-square-foot facility is located near the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola, and is dedicated to educating and empowering visitors on the subject of human rights. Connecting the Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movement, the exhibits and programs here engage visitors through powerful imagery, compelling artifacts, and poignant storytelling. In addition to permanent displays, the Center is also home to traveling exhibits and special events throughout the year, so that each visit brings something new. Located 0.8 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Historic Oakland Cemetery – 248 Oakland Avenue SE; 404-688-2107; Historic Oakland Cemetery is a beautiful public park located in the Grant Park neighborhood (near Zoo Atlanta). There is no fee to visit, and it’s open from dawn to dusk year-round. Visiting a cemetery might seem like an unusual thing to do on a trip to Atlanta, but Oakland is no ordinary cemetery. Here you’ll find an impressive display of art and architecture, from elaborate mausoleums to soaring sculptures, in styles ranging from Victorian to Gothic, Greek Revival to Neo-classical, and more. There are winding paths, large shade trees, and an abundance of flowers and blooming shrubs. There is also history. You’ll find the cemetery divided into sections – the Child Square, the Original Six Acres, Jewish Flat and Jewish Hill, the African American Grounds, the Confederate Memorial Grounds, and Potters Field, where the poor were once buried in unmarked graves. Famous historic Atlanta residents from government, business, and entertainment (including Bobby Jones, Margaret Mitchell, and Maynard Jackson) are buried here alongside not famous soldiers and civilians from throughout Atlanta’s history. To enhance your visit, be sure to stop in the Visitor Center and Museum Shop, located in the historic Bell Tower building. The volunteer staff can answer questions and offer self-guided tour maps, free brochures, and access to burial records. Located 2 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
The Atlanta History Center – 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW; 404-814-4000; The 33-acre Atlanta History Center features award-winning exhibits, historic houses, lush gardens, interactive programs, and year-round activities for visitors of all ages. Here you can learn about the history of the city (and surrounding areas) in the Atlanta History Museum, visit and tour the iconic Swan House (featured in the Hunger Games films), tour the Smith Family Farm (Atlanta’s oldest surviving farmhouse), and participate in one of the Center’s regularly scheduled programs. The AHC also manages and maintains the Margaret Mitchell House, located just five miles away, where the author (known as Peggy Marsh to her friends) wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gone With the Wind. Tickets are available for visitors who want to tour the home and learn more about the life and personality of this interesting author. Located 6.1 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum – 441 Freedom Parkway; 404-865-7100; a wonderful research library and museum documenting President Carter’s life and his years in office. Visitors can explore the museum exhibits, have lunch in the café, and enjoy time outside in the 30+ acres of beautifully maintained grounds. Adult tickets are $8; kids under 16 are free. Located 2.2 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Stone Mountain Park – 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain, GA 30083; 800-401-2407; Stone Mountain Park is one of metro Atlanta’s most popular destinations for both families and those interested in Civil War history. Civil War buffs come to view the confederate memorial carving – the largest relief sculpture in the world – of Jefferson Davis, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Robert E. Lee, on horseback, on the north face of the mountain, and visit the museum at Memorial Hall to learn more about its creation and how the Civil War affected this area. Families come for the many attractions and activities offered at the park, including hiking trails (up the mountain or around the mountain), Summit Skyride (to the top of the mountain), mini-golf, Historic Square and farmyard, Sky Hike adventure ropes course, Geyser Towers (a great place to cool off during the summer), Dinosaur Explore, the Scenic Railroad, Ride the Ducks, and more. One of the park’s top draws, though, is the amazing nighttime Lasershow Spectacular and fireworks, set against the backdrop of the mountain, and running nightly from Memorial weekend through August. Located 16.2 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park – 900 Kennesaw Mountain Dr., Kennesaw, GA 30152; (770) 427-4686; This 2,965 acre National Battlefield north of Atlanta is most famous as a preserved Civil War battleground from Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. But the history of this site precedes the war. Visitors here can learn about Kennesaw Mountain’s earliest people, life before the war, and Kennesaw in the modern era, as well as the important month-long battle between Union and Confederate soldiers that took place here in the summer of 1864. The park offers a wide range of activities including 22 miles of maintained interpretive hiking trails, a Visitor’s Center with museum and bookstore, areas to picnic and play, and Ranger Talks. They also hold Military Living History Demonstrations throughout the year, bringing in Civil War re-enactors from around the country (check with the Visitor’s Center to find out when these are scheduled). Located 23.6 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
In addition to the culture and history, Atlanta is also home to world-class Shopping, particularly in Buckhead at Lenox Square Mall and the more-upscale Phipps Plaza (which also happens to be home to LEGOLAND Discovery Center); the ultra-hip Ponce City Market in midtown; and Atlantic Station near downtown (and next door to IKEA).
If Sports are your thing, be sure to check out the schedules and ticket information for Atlanta Braves baseball; Atlanta’s pro soccer team, Atlanta United FC; the champion Atlanta Falcons; and Atlanta Hawks basketball.
Bio: Shawne Taylor is a professional writer, proofreader, and PR consultant. She has lived in metro Atlanta for 30 years, and has homeschooled for the past 20 years. She is the author of the Newcomer’s Handbook for Atlanta, 2nd and 3rd editions, and also writes about Atlanta, arts and entertainment, and homeschooling for a variety of print and online publications. Shawne is an expert when it comes to things to do and see in Atlanta.