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Atlanta – Big Apple of the South

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It may be the South's largest cultural and historical center, but this city is also big on family fun!

I know it sounds crazy, but until recently, my family and I had never been to Atlanta.  Sure, it’s only four hours away, but all I knew about the South’s largest city was that it was great for partying and seeing live bands – they don’t call it “Hotlanta” for nothing!  There’s another side to this urban center, however, and it’s one worth getting to know.  During our visit, we discovered that family entertainment is a high priority for this lively metropolis.

All About History
Our first stop was The Atlanta History Center, where we got a thorough look at the city’s metamorphosis from railroad terminus to “the city without limits.”  The kids especially loved visiting the working 1880s-era farm and the authentic Victorian playhouse.  Exhibits on the Civil War and Civil Rights make great jumping off points for these two key themes in Atlanta’s history.

To delve more deeply into the War Between the States, a visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum is a must.  Created in 1886 and depicting the Battle of Atlanta, the 42-ft.-high, 358-ft.-wide painting is one of three cycloramas – a popular 19th century form of entertainment – remaining in the United States.  The painting is viewed from a rotating platform and presented with special lighting, sound and narration.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site is a somber place, offering visitors the chance to reflect on King’s life and legacy.  The site includes the Civil Rights leader’s birth home, grave site, the MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King and his father both preached.  A visitors’ center features exhibits on the Civil Rights movement and King’s life.

Though it’s a shopping mecca now, Underground Atlanta was once home to the few buildings left standing after the Civil War.  Right next door you’ll find the shameless self-promotion that is World of Coca Cola – an hour-long commercial disguised as a tourist attraction.  The best part was trying out dozens of crazy soft drinks from around the world.  My favorite?  Japanese melon soda!

In addition to being the birthplace of the world’s best-selling soft drink, Atlanta is also home to news giant CNN.  Older children will enjoy the studio tour and a visit to the Control Room Theater, where they can get a firsthand look at what it takes to put a news broadcast together.

One Hundred Percent Fun
My girls love animals, which is probably why Zoo Atlanta was their favorite part of our visit.  The zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals, including gorillas, lions, orangutans and elephants.  The big stars, though, are giant pandas Lun Lun and Yang Yang, one of only three giant panda pairs in the United States.  For the most part, all they do is sleep, but they’re adorable, and the Panda Gift Shop is awesome – we found souvenirs there for everyone on our list.

Another big draw for kids is Stone Mountain, a combination nature and amusement park (without the rides) that’s billed as Atlanta’s “Number One Attraction.”  A visit to the park is an all-day affair – attractions include the new Crossroads, a recreated 1870′s village; an antebellum plantation and other historic buildings; a riverboat; waterslides in the summer; and much more.

A Room With a View
We stayed at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta, the tallest hotel in the western hemisphere.  To the girls’ delight, our room was on the 66th floor – so high up that people on the street looked like ants!  Guests have free access to the viewing platforms on the 72nd floor, while visitors pay around $7 (the breathtaking ride to the top in a glass elevator is really what it’s all about).  Another way to see the view is by dining at the Sun Dial restaurant, also on the 72nd floor.  This fancy establishment rotates 360 degrees every hour.

While you’re in the city, don’t forget to take a ride on MARTA, Atlanta’s cool urban rail system.  Sure, it’s just another mode of transportation for Atlantans, but for us, it’s an attraction!

There’s much more to Atlanta than we had time to see on our quick three-day trip.  Planning your family’s visit ahead of time will help you decide which of the city’s many attractions you want to see.  For detailed information to help you get started, visit www.atlanta.net.

 

Ashley Crownover is freelance writer for this publication.

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