Families looking for a fun weekend in a great American city will find it in Atlanta. From a massive aquarium, to the home of Coca-Cola, world-class art and even a behind-the-scenes look at the CNN Studios, there are a number of spots to keep children entertained and parents engaged, too. Here are five Atlanta family attractions to keep on your radar for a trip to Georgia.
In past trips to Atlanta, we’ve focused more on the great food, shopping and sports scene. I’ve never before kept an eye out for Atlanta family attractions. But on the first stop of our NBA Road Trip, this visit to Atlanta would include a mix of Atlanta family attractions, shopping, great restaurants and sports. And, with this being the first time to take our son, Colby, to Atlanta, we wanted to find a solid mix of activities he would enjoy while not sacrificing our need to explore our favorite Atlanta neighborhoods. To achieve this, there were times I explored some of the Atlanta family attractions with Colby while Stacey did some shopping. Sometimes, splitting up like that is the best way for everyone in the family to be happy.
We’re not big aquarium and zoo visitors, but we had to visit the massive Georgia Aquarium. And it didn’t disappoint, especially the acclaimed dolphin show. Photography wasn’t allowed during the show so that camera flashes wouldn’t distract the dolphins and human performers during the darkened show.
I’ll be honest, I thought the show was hokey. But all the children in the room — including our own — seemed to love it. The show followed a tale of a seafarer and his magical ship. I won’t give the story away, but just know that dolphins and crowd interaction play prominently. Children will love it, and most adults should, too.
There are plenty of other fun exhibits. We started our visit in the Tropical Diver gallery.
The Cold Water Quest gallery shows animals living in the world’s cold ocean waters, such as beluga whales.
There are several other galleries, from the Georgia Explorer that takes visitors to the state’s coastal waters, to River Scout and its exploration of the world’s rivers, to Sea Monsters Revealed, an exhibition of the world’s largest sea creatures.
But our favorite? It was Ocean Voyager, a 6.3 million-gallon exhibit built to house whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world. There are 4,574 square feet of viewing windows, a 100-foot-long underwater tunnel, 185 tons of acrylic windows and the second largest viewing window in the world at 23 feet tall by 61 feet wide.
World of Coca-Cola
Pairing visits to the aquarium and World of Coca-Cola makes a lot of sense. The two attractions are across a small courtyard from each other, just at the northwestern edge of Centennial Olympic Park.
Coca-Cola is a world name, a product I’ve had in several countries. I grew up drinking Coke, and can relate to all of the old memorabilia that fills the huge facility. And to confirm the world reputation of Coca-Cola, our tour was filled with visitors from several countries.
Following a video featuring the famed polar bears, we were released into the building to walk through the several galleries at our own pace. We started out with an exhibit that is a miniature version of a bottling line.
We got to get close to what they “said” is the secret formula. The vault exhibit didn’t hold Colby’s interest, but a lot of the older kids and teens seemed to have fun.
And we got to say hello to a polar bear.
Probably everyone’s favorite part comes at the end with the opportunity to taste several products Coca-Cola makes and sells in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, plus many versions of the traditional products.
High Museum of Art
In all the times we’ve visited Atlanta (at least seven) we’ve never visited the High Museum of Art. And that’s a shame, because this is a fantastic art museum that has had several great exhibits through the years. A few years back, the museum did a series over a three-year period with art from the Louvre. When we visited, there was a special western art exhibit.
The High reminded me of a smaller version of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art because it has a sampling of works from Renaissance works through 1800s Europe and American to modern.
Where I really thought of the Met was with the furniture.
They have a nice collection, which probably makes sense being in one of America’s great design cities.
The western art exhibit had a variety that showed all sides of the old West: art that showed good and tragic sides of Native Americans, great Indian portraits, buffalo art; it also showed a bit of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show stuff, which to me glorifies the negative parts of the story of the American West.
But the exhibit in general does a solid job of showing all sides of the westward expansion of the United States.
Oh, and I know nothing about this painting below. But it’s awesome. So it belongs here.
CNN Studio Tour
As newspaper journalists, Stacey and I were both looking forward to the CNN Studio Tour. We weren’t sure how much Colby would get out of it, but we were hopeful.
Turns out, the tour is a great idea for children. They do a great job of getting them involved.
I saw a lot of familiar things with the newsroom and wire screen, shown on the left below.
The tour lasts about an hour and is worth the time. However, if it’s possible I’d recommend visiting during the week. I knew that going into our trip, but a weekday visit wasn’t in the cards for our schedule. We visited on a late Saturday afternoon, and with no big news events going on, the building was pretty quiet. During the week, your tour might go by one of the studios with a show being recorded live.
Centennial Olympic Park
I have sentimental reasons for suggesting Centennial Olympic Park. It was on July 26, 1996, that we visited the first day of track and field at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. Later that day, I enjoyed the spray of the Olympic rings fountain in Centennial Olympic Park. Of course I didn’t know at the time, but it was later that night that the park bombing occurred. Fortunately, we were out of town by that point.
When Colby and I visited the park, he immediately went to the fountains. He didn’t exactly stand in the water, but he had a lot of fun darting in and out of the dancing spray. And, it appears, making the waters follow his command.
We saw a number of families lounging in the grass, playing soccer and football, and just enjoying a nice day.
We had hoped to visit Zoo Atlanta, but because we decided to spend some of our weekend shopping in Little Five Points, there wasn’t enough time. There are plenty of great parks in the city if you find yourself out in some of the cool neighborhoods of Atlanta. I’ve had a nice run in and around Midtown’s Piedmont Park, which isn’t far from the High Museum. And of course there are plenty of sites of historic significance, including the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum and the Martin Luther King Center.
If you decide to visit the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Inside CNN Studio Tour and the High Museum of Art think about getting the Atlanta CityPASS. It will get you into those four exhibits plus a choice of Zoo Atlanta or Atlanta History Center for one price. Or, if you don’t want to visit the High Museum, you can check out the Fernbank Museum of Natural History instead. The CityPASS provides a savings of nearly $60 for one adult planning to attend five of the attractions.
A special thanks to Discover Atlanta and CityPASS for providing us with three complimentary Atlanta CityPASS booklets.