If you’re not otherwise occupied at a football game, or being entertained by the ancillary events (such as the NFL Experience), there are plenty of things to keep you busy in downtown Atlanta and in nearby neighborhoods.
Here’s a small sampling:
With 10 million gallons of freshwater and saltwater tanks, the Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere.
Its opening in 2005 helped power the renaissance of downtown’s entertainment offerings, and today the aquarium draws 2 million visitors a year to see dolphins, sea lions, puffins and the majestic whale sharks. 225 Baker St., Atlanta. georgiaaquarium.org.
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Arrayed around the aquarium is a tourist-friendly collection of attractions that have benefited from this boom. They include the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which opened in 2014. It tells the story of Atlanta’s civil rights movement and the international human rights movement that Atlanta’s leaders helped inspire. 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Atlanta. civilandhumanrights.org.
Also nearby is the World of Coca-Cola, which moved next door to the aquarium in 2007. One of the most popular features at the 20-acre museum is the Taste It beverage pavilion, where visitors can taste more than 100 Coke products from all over the world, including the bubblegum-ish Inca Kola from Peru and the tart Beverly, served in Italy as an aperitif. 121 Baker St., Atlanta. worldofcoca-cola.com.
College Football Hall of Fame
Pro football is all well and good, but in the South, college ball is the true religion.
At the College Football Hall of Fame, college fans can relive (or invent) game-day memories on a 45-yard indoor playing field, check out their school colors on a Wall of Helmets (featuring 768 helmets, one from every four-year institution that fields a football team) and study virtual stadium viewers, which place visitors on the field or in the stands at iconic stadiums around the country. 250 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. cfbhall.com.
Centennial Olympic Park
The above sites are all dotted around downtown’s central park, Centennial Olympic Park. The site of many concerts connected to the Super Bowl (Goodie Mob, Waka Flocka Flame and the Ying Yang Twins will be among the performers at SB 53-related concerts), Centennial is also a pleasant place to walk and people watch. It stretches between CNN Center and the World of Coke.
After Coca-Cola and Scarlett O’Hara, Atlanta is perhaps best known as the home of CNN. Though many functions of the cable news network have moved to New York City, CNN keeps a toehold in Atlanta. Take a tour of the CNN studios or just visit the food court. 190 Marietta St., Atlanta. tours.cnn.com.
Atlanta is an outdoors city. Come take a walk along the Beltline, a repurposed former railbed transformed into a necklace of parks that encircles intown neighborhoods.
The Eastside Trail, which meanders from the Krog Street Market north to Piedmont Park, is the most developed and draws the most pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The Westside Trail, from Washington Park to near Adair Park, is the newest section.
Many sections of the trail feature murals, sculptures and other artwork. To see maps and entry and exit points, go to beltline.org.
The jewel in Midtown’s crown, Piedmont Park was designed by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted and stretches over 185 acres of real estate between Piedmont Avenue, 10th Street and Monroe Drive.
It invites picturesque strolls along the banks of Lake Clara Meer, and offers tennis courts, baseball fields, walking paths, an outdoor pool, and enormous meadows that often host large concerts and festivals. For maps, go to piedmontpark.org.
Ponce City Market
The former Sears, Roebuck and Co. retail and mail-order headquarters between North Avenue and Ponce de Leon was at one time the largest building in the Southeast. It was redeveloped into Ponce City Market, which opened in 2014.
Ponce City features such retailers as West Elm furniture, taverns and restaurants including the taco eatery Minero and such entertainment as Skyline Park, a sort of high-altitude midway on the roof of the facility. 675 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. poncecitymarket.com.
After Atlanta United won the MLS national championship in December, players took their silver Philip F. Anschutz Trophy with them to this venerable strip bar. 241 Forsyth St., Atlanta. 404-584-5847. (Alternatives: the Cheetah, noted not just for beautiful women but for excellent cuisine; 887 Spring St., Atlanta. thecheetah.com; the Clermont Lounge, a strip bar celebrated for its live music events and hipster cred; 789 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. clermontlounge.net.)
Glenn Hotel’s SkyLounge
The Glenn Hotel’s SkyLounge puts a glass in your hand and downtown Atlanta at your feet. 110 Marietta St., Atlanta. glennsskylounge.com. (Other high-altitude entertainment: the Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar and View, an eatery at the pinnacle of the Westin Peachtree Plaza. 210 Peachtree St., Atlanta. sundialrestaurant.com.)
A stone’s throw from the stadium, Castleberry Hill has grown into a lively arts and entertainment district, with tattoo shops, art galleries, studios, restaurants and regular events, including the monthly Second Friday Art Stroll. The neighborhood is bounded by I-20 to the south, Northside Drive to the west, Ted Turner Drive to the east and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the north.
The Carter Center and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum
Notable authors frequently speak at the Carter Library. The library and museum contain a mammoth archive of information from the Carter presidency, including 27 million pages of documents and 500,000 photographs. 453 Freedom Parkway and 441 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta. cartercenter.org.
This is the definition of a blues bar, with no apologies for its beat-down decor and smoke-filled atmosphere.
The Northside offers music seven nights a week, most of it focused on the blues, from acoustic country-style to table-kicking rave-ups. 1058 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. northsidetavern.com.
A 7,000-square-foot music venue in the King Plow Arts Center, Terminal West is sited in a former foundry. It has a 625 standing room capacity, and has become a favorite stopping place for many touring midsized pop music acts, including Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and CeeLo Green. 887 W. Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. terminalwestatl.com.
One of the most praised pizza joints in Atlanta, Antico started downtown but now has stores at The Battery next to SunTrust Park, at Avalon in Alpharetta and inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Hemphill Avenue store is where it all started. 1093 Hemphill Ave., Atlanta. centrostorico.it.
If you’re traveling from Centennial Olympic Park to the King Center, one way to get there is to use the Atlanta Streetcar. Rides cost $1 on this small-scale and somewhat underused transportation system. Download the app, which allows you to buy a fare, view the route and check arrival times with your phone: itsmarta.com/streetcar.aspx.
The thatched grass ceiling, carved wooden screens, Pacific island statues and Asian-inspired cuisine make this restaurant/Tiki bar in the basement of the downtown Hilton a popular destination for out-of-town visitors and locals.
Thursday nights bring live music. Vic’s signature mai tais are like a Honolulu vacation in a glass. Hilton Atlanta, 255 Courtland St., Atlanta. tradervicsatl.com.
Elliott Street Deli and Pub
The Elliott Street Pub was a downtown institution before the Benz was even a twinkle in the eye of Arthur Blank.
Located hard by the new stadium, the ESP offers live music from the mainstream to the avant-garde, burlesque shows and occasionally “iron pours,” when Atlanta Metal Arts fires up a furnace on-site and habitues can make their own cast iron. 51 Elliott St., Atlanta. elliottstreet.com.
Martin Luther King Jr. historic site
Almost a million visitors come to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park each year to learn King’s story and to view such artifacts as the mule-drawn funeral wagon that took King from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College for his funeral service in 1968. During a government shutdown, some services may be discontinued at the site, which includes an interpretive center staffed by the National Park Service.
The site includes King’s Birth Home, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and Historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church. 450 Auburn Ave., Atlanta. nps.gov/malu.