Friday, May 26, 2017

Summer Trip Planner: Big City Adventure in Atlanta

Most families don’t place Atlanta at the top of the list of summer travel destinations, but there’s plenty to do for families looking for something new. Once you and your family have exhausted all the major theme parks within driving distance and spent many a vacation on the beaches of Mississippi, Alabama, or the Florida panhandle, it’s easy to run out of affordable ideas. How about considering an excursion to one of the larger cities in the Southeastern U.S.?

While hotels downtown can be expensive, it’s easy to find deals in the suburbs fifteen or twenty minutes north, in family-friendly places such as Alpharetta. My family visited this past winter and while we didn’t stay anywhere swanky, we got an outstanding deal -- if memory serves, we paid about $60 per night -- on a standard hotel room that even had an indoor pool and included free breakfast (wow -- over the course of several days, free buffet breakfast and coffee is a HUGE money-saver while traveling with kids, so don’t forget figure in this value when considering hotel costs). 
 
Granted, this room rate was for off-season, but it is possible to get good summer rates if you plan ahead and search deals on Groupon, Hotels.com, and other booking services.
 
A week is probably too long for Atlanta when you’ve got kids in tow, but a three-to-four day trip is perfect. As with most large cities, families will want to take normal precautions to assure the family’s safety. But when planned with children in mind, a trip to Atlanta can be a fun way to introduce children to big city life. It’s a drive that can easily be done in one easy day from southern Mississippi, which makes it family-friendly and affordable, since there are no airfares involved.
 
Here are a few things Atlanta has to offer families:
 
Centennial Park

This wonderful park has become a real focal point in downtown Atlanta since built for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The centerpiece is something kids will love: An interactive fountain shaped like the five interlocked rings that symbolize the Olympic Games. There, kids may cool off during summer by playing in the water jets. There are also four daily “Fountain of Rings” shows, with water sprays synchronized to music. The park features an audio tour, where visitors can explore the huge space and all its features, including sculptures, an amphitheater, playgrounds, and more. 
 
World of Coca-Cola
After enjoying Centennial Park, Coke fans may want to head to the epicenter of Coca-Cola culture, located just a few paces away. This “world” of everything coke includes historical displays about the drink synonymous with American culture. It features fun photo-taking spots, films, tons of interesting Coke memorabilia, and, of course, Coke-themed products for sale. Some visitors find this attraction  to be a bit too promotional, but it’s probably a must-see for real Coca-Cola fans. It’s also great to do in summer, because it’s indoors in the air-conditioning, and a cool soft drink is always an arm’s reach away.
 
Georgia Aquarium

The Georgia Aquarium allows kids to view a wide array of fish and other sea life, including sharks. However, there are also mammals featured at one of Atlanta’s most popular kid attractions; the museum offers shows and encounters with one of the smartest creatures of the animal kingdom: dolphins. There are also special “Toddler Time” events as well as a “4D Funbelievable Theater.” The aquarium is another great way to beat the heat when traveling during summer.
 
Center for Puppetry Arts

This is a museum devoted to puppetry, with specific emphasis on Jim Henson’s Muppets (did you know Jim Henson grew up in Mississippi, and that it’s Kermit’s home as well?). It houses a whopping 500 puppets, the largest Henson puppet collection in the U.S. Children will delight in seeing Kermit, Elmo and the rest in “real life” as they tour the museum, touch the materials used to make puppets, try their hands at puppetry with shadow puppets, and much more.
 
Stone Mountain Park

Although now considered a bit of a controversial site due to its connection to the Confederacy, sites such as Stone Mountain Park have important lessons to teach children. Seeing the amazing sculpture carved into a mountainside might encourage conversations about this period of history when our nation was truly divided. The park also includes an array of attractions kids will enjoy. There’s nature trails, including one that leads to the top of Stone Mountain; a cool old-time grist mill and covered bridge, where kids may pretend they’ve gone back in time; a fishing pond; golf course; children’s playground; quarry exhibit; laser light shows; and more. 
 
Dahlonega

Go back in time with a shopping and mountain-touring trip to the quaint town of Dahlonega. A little more than an hour north of Atlanta, it’s a nice way to finish off a trip. This sweet little town situated around a cute-as-can-be historic town square offers unique shops, restaurants, and a historical museum. Properties around the square have little plaques telling stories of the properties so visitors may picture what life was like during the Victorian Era. The best part of a visit is that just a brief ride away is the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, which offers drives and hikes with beautiful mountain vistas and the feel of being a million miles away from downtown Atlanta.
 
These are just a few ideas for a visit to Atlanta. For more ideas -- and to plan your trip -- visit the website of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau at Atlanta.net. 
 
 
 
Kara Bachman is a writer, an editor, and a married mom to two kids, ages 13 and 17. 
 

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