Five Highlights from a Long Weekend in Atlanta

We recently spent a long weekend in Atlanta visiting family.  It was my first trip to the city (other than the airport) and I was happy to discover a lot of fun, family-friendly activities. Here are the highlights from our visit.

1. The Georgia Aquarium

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The main draw of the Georgia Aquarium is the “Ocean Voyager” exhibit, where you can see reef sharks, sea turtles, manta rays and whale sharks (the only captive ones in the US) swim together. I’ve had so many incredible wildlife encounters that I tend to be a bit jaded about aquariums and zoos, but not here – the enormous tank filled with so many marine giants is truly awe-inspiring. The aquarium not only has a great collection, they’ve also put a lot of thought into how to deliver the best viewing experience to visitors. You can view the tank from an amphitheater with comfy seating, or go through a moving walkway in a tunnel where you can watch the animals float above you. There’s also an option to go upstairs and look down on the tanks from above.

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I highly recommend doing the “early bird” admission. Not only will you save up to $10 on your entrance fee, but you’ll get to enjoy the museum for a couple hours before the crowds arrive. I didn’t find it unbearably crowded even after the general admission hours started but those first two hours were incredibly peaceful.

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2. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights

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As the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta played a central role in the American civil rights movement, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is definitely a must-do for adults and older children. The first floor comprehensively covers the American civil rights movement from it’s beginnings in the 1950s through the assassination of Dr. King, while the second floor talks about global human rights issues. The most powerful part of the museum is a lunch counter sit-in simulation, which tries to give you a sense of the horrific abuse that the men and women participating in these peaceful protests endured. (If you go on a weekday, I recommend getting there when the museum opens and heading straight to the lunch counter simulation, because only four people can do that at one time, so if you get behind a school group, you may have to wait a while.)

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3. CNN Headquarters

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While I wouldn’t put this on par with the two previous destinations in terms of being a must-do, it’s in the same neighborhood and is a great way to kill an hour or two. I did the basic tour ($15 for adults in 2019), which took us to see a studio with a live broadcast, a control room, and the newsrooms for CNN and CNN International. Photos understandably aren’t allowed on many of the stops, but it was an interesting glimpse into how live news is produced. Just don’t expect to catch Anderson Cooper or any of the other big names, who mostly work out of NYC. Fun fact: the escalator in the lobby is the longest free-standing escalator in the world.

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4. Piedmont Park

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This is Atlanta’s version of Central Park and is a great place for families, with lots of different playgrounds, and a nice little farmer’s market on Saturday mornings from March to November. Piedmont Park is also home to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, which our hosts raved about (sadly, it was closed for a private event on the day we tried to go).

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5. Southern Food

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Perhaps it can be chalked up to bad luck or the limitations that come with traveling with a toddler, but the food in Atlanta didn’t blow me away. But there are two places I can enthusiastically recommend: South City Kitchen and Atlanta Breakfast Club, both of which serve up delicious Southern staples like fried chicken, chicken, biscuits and grits. The latter is right downtown near the aquarium, civil rights museum and CNN.

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Have you been to Atlanta? What should we do on our next trip there?

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