Midtown Atlanta Sights & Attractions
From historic homes and literary touchstones to newsroom tours and picturesque settings, Atlanta offers something interesting for everyone.
The exterior of the 8 million-gallon Georgia Aquarium (404-581-4000), the world’s largest, was designed to look like a giant ship breaking through a wave. As guests enter the huge atrium inside the building, they’re led into the facility by “a wall of fish” guiding them inside. They then have the choice of entering five galleries. Each gallery is easily identified by an icon and signage at the entrance: Georgia Explorer has a light house; River Scout displays a cascading waterfall; Cold Water Quest has an ice covered cliff; Ocean Voyager offers a peek window into the huge habitat; and Tropical Diver has two video screens displaying the perspective of a fish on a reef.
Downtown explorers should not miss the CNN Studio Tour (CNN Center, Marietta and Techwood Sts., Atlanta, 404-827-2300), which offers a glimpse into the sleepless studios of CNN and Headline News. CNN’s coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 made the Atlanta-based network a force to be reckoned with in the world of international media. Now, it’s the channel most people watch when breaking news happens. The VIP Tour, which lasts a little more than an hour, actually takes you onto the newsroom floor.
Where Kings are Born
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (along Auburn Ave., Atlanta, 404-331-5190), which is several city blocks long, preserves the birthplace and surroundings of the nation’s foremost civil rights leader. Among many things, the site includes King’s birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church and his grave site. There is also an educational visitors center that has in-depth exhibits of the civil rights movement and King’s life and legacy, along with powerful documentaries. Reservations are required for the birth home tour. Just beyond the site is a preservation district that maintains the atmosphere of the Sweet Auburn community.
The World of Coca-Cola (55 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, 404-676-5151) celebrates the world’s best-selling soft drink and its familiar trademark. A self-guided tour begins with “Bottling Fantasy,” a tribute to bottlers around the globe. The 1930s-era Barnes Soda Fountain comes complete with a jukebox and real soda jerk. “Every Day of Your Life” is a 10-minute extravaganza celebrating Coca-Cola’s universal appeal. Soft drinks are offered in “Club Cola,” and 46 exotic soft drinks from outside the United States are served in the International Lounge. The tour ends with “Everything Coca-Cola,” the largest collection of Coca-Cola merchandise in the world.
The Write Stuff
When the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum (990 Peachtree St., Atlanta, 404-249-7015) was dedicated to the city of Atlanta in 1997, attendees included Governor Zell Miller, Mayor Bill Campbell and keynote speaker and author Tom Wolfe. You can tour the house that Mitchell affectionately called “the dump” and hear little-known stories about the creation of Gone with the Wind. Wren’s Nest (1050 Ralph D. Abernathy Blvd., Atlanta, 404-753-7735), the home of Joel Chandler Harris — the beloved publisher of the Uncle Remus stories — is a splendid example of an 1880s Queen Anne–style structure. The house contains original family furnishings, including the library table where Harris brought Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox to life. Throughout the year, storytellers take their turns at spinning Harris’ delightful yarns.
Laying Down the Law
The days when Jimmy Carter occupied the Georgia Governor’s Mansion (391 W. Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead, 404-261-1776) may be long gone, but this stately Greek Revival is still a gem. Thirty rooms are furnished with early 19th-century American paintings and porcelain, as well as a remarkable collection of Federal-period furniture. Self-guided tours are offered Tuesday through Thursday. Topped by a brilliant dome sheathed in gold leaf, the 1889 State Capitol (Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Capitol Ave., Atlanta, 404-656-2844) is home to the Georgia Capitol Museum (404-656-2846). Tours are offered weekdays.
Painting in the Round
One of Atlanta’s most popular and enduring tourist attractions, the Atlanta Cyclorama (Grant Park, 800 Cherokee Ave., SE, Atlanta, 404-658-7625) is a mammoth “painting in the round” — 42 feet high and 358 feet in circumference — depicting the Battle of Atlanta. Visitors view the battlescape from theater-style seats on a rotating platform. Sections of the poignant scene are spotlighted as narration and vivid sound effects evoke that fiery July 22, 1864. Also on exhibit is the Texas, the railroad engine that pursued “The General” in the Andrews Raid.
Garden of Delights
In addition to roses and perennials, the Atlanta Botanical Garden (1345 Piedmont Ave., NE, Atlanta, 404-876-5859) offers vegetable, herb, fern, camellia and Japanese gardens, as well as a collection of dwarf and rare conifers. In the Fuqua Conservatory, stroll among endangered tropical and desert plants from around the world. The garden’s most recent addition is the Fuqua Orchid Center, which opened in 2002. Special events take place year round at the garden, including the “Holiday in the Garden” (first Sunday in December) and “Gardens for Connoisseurs Tour” on Mother’s Day weekend.
Where the Wild Things Are
Just minutes from downtown, Zoo Atlanta (Grant Park, 800 Cherokee Ave., SE, Atlanta, 404-624-5600) is one of Georgia’s best-loved institutions. Founded in 1889, it is one of the 10 oldest zoos in continuous operation in the U.S. The zoo is home to nearly 1,000 animals, representing 250 species from all over the world, as well as many threatened and endangered animals. The zoo features a family of six red-ruffed lemurs and is the home of the only breeding pair of drill monkeys in the United States. (Drills are currently the most endangered primate species in Africa.) Giant pandas Yang Yang and Lun Lun, along with the 23 gorillas in the Ford African Rain Forest, continue to capture the attention of visitors.
Just for Kids
Imagine a place where young children and grownups are transported into a different world — a world where a banana looms, friendly forests and bubbling streams beckon and fresh-made music fills the air. The mission of Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta (275 Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW, Atlanta, 404-659-5497) is to create environments and activities where young children experience the power of imagination and the pure delight of learning with each other and with grown-ups. At the Fernbank Museum of Natural History (767 Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, 404-929-6300), kids can explore the world of dinosaurs, artifacts, wildlife and more. At Six Flags White Water (250 Cobb Pkwy., Marietta, 770-424-9283), a water-slide park, little surfers can ride four-foot waves or navigate the Bermuda Triangle Boat Ride. And the coasters at Six Flags Over Georgia (275 Riverside Pkwy., SW, Austell, 770-739-3400) offer a thrill a minute.
The Big Picture
The massive five-story screen at the IMAX Theater (Fernbank Museum of Natural History, 767 Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, 404-370-0019) creates an intense, “you-are-there” experience. Click here to view a list of currently-playing and upcoming films. Call for more information.
Houses of History
Surrounded by gardens at the Atlanta History Center (130 W. Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead, 404-814-4000) stands the majestic 1928 Swan House (404-261-0224), built by Philip Trammell Shutze, one of the great classical architects of the 20th century. The house features a restaurant (404-261-0636), fine arts gallery and a canopied terrace overlooking a formal garden. Nearby is the pre–Civil War Tullie Smith Farm, built in 1845 and one of the oldest houses in the Atlanta area. Enthusiasts of African American history should visit turn-of-the-century Herndon Home (587 University Place, N.W., Atlanta, 404-581-9813). Built by Alonzo Franklin Herndon, a former slave and founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the beautiful 15-room house was designed in the beaux arts classical style. Completed in 1904, Rhodes Hall (1516 Peachtree St., NW, Atlanta, 404-881-9980) is a lavish 15-room structure with exterior arches, turrets, a four-story square tower, a carved mahogany interior stairwell and more.
The Highest Mountain
To the native Creek Indians, it was a sacred shrine. In the 1830s, President-to-be Andrew Johnson and a friend bought it for a shotgun and $20. More than 300 million years in the making, Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park (Hwy. 18 E., Stone Mountain, 770-498-5690) is the world’s largest granite monolith, rising 825 feet above a 3,200-acre park dotted with lakes. The centerpiece of the park, on the massive mountain’s northernmost face, is the Confederate Memorial Carving (90 by 190 feet), featuring the likenesses of the men who made Southern history: Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and General Stonewall Jackson. Other attractions include a paddle wheel riverboat; scenic five-mile railroad; 20-building antebellum plantation; skylift; petting farm; and an antique car and treasure museum.
In Heroes’ Footsteps
Seeing the sights of the Confederacy will take you all over the Atlanta metro area. For a short tour, visit the Atlanta Cyclorama (Grant Park, 800 Cherokee Ave., SE, Atlanta, 404-658-7625). Historic Oakland Cemetery (248 Oakland Ave., SE, Atlanta), one mile north of Grant Park, is the final resting place of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and hundreds of Civil War soldiers. You can stroll scenic trails that put you right in the midst of Civil War history at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield (900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive, Kennesaw, 770-427-4686).
In the 1880s, an entrepreneur named Joel Hurt purchased land east of downtown. In 1889, he laid down Atlanta’s first streetcar line from his new neighborhood to the central business district. From 1890 to 1910, Inman Park (Edgewood and Euclid Aves., Atlanta), Atlanta’s first suburb, was the place to live. The restored Victorian mansions, decorated with turrets, parapets and intricate woodwork, are a good reflection of the wealth of the early residents.
A Day Away
The town of Marietta, 20 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, offers a true glimpse of the Southern past. Nearby is historic Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive, Kennesaw, 770-427-4686). Contact the Marietta Welcome Center (#4 Depot St., Marietta, 770-429-1115) for more information. In antebellum Roswell, Bulloch Hall (180 Bulloch Ave., Roswell, 770-992-1731) was the home of Theodore Roosevelt’s mother, Mittie Bulloch. Roswell also offers antebellum homes and historic tours. Contact the Roswell Historic Convention & Visitors Bureau (617 Atlanta St., Roswell, 770-640-3253) for more information. Just 40 minutes north of Atlanta in scenic Braselton is the 3,100-acre Château Élan Winery & Resort (100 Rue Charlemagne, Braselton, 678-425-0900), which offers free daily tours of the winery, tastings and much more. A tennis center, seven restaurants, an authentic Irish pub, a wine market, art gallery, European-style health spa and 63 holes of championship golf, not to mention The Inn at Château Élan, make for an ideal getaway.