No need to leave the city: play tourist in Atlanta

Here are suggestions aplenty for sites to experience in our city and a little bit beyond the metro area.
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Field at the College Football Hall of Fame offers the thrill of victory for pigskin lovers of all ages. 
(Courtesy of the College Football Hall of Fame)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Field at the College Football Hall of Fame offers the thrill of victory for pigskin lovers of all ages. (Courtesy of the College Football Hall of Fame)

Remember complaining to your parents that you had nothing to do and how they suddenly had a laundry list of things for you to do — including the laundry? Well, it’s the same with people bemoaning that there’s nothing to do in their hometown. Locals — regardless of the city — often fail to get out and explore their locality until friends visit. Then as the hometown guide, they discover or revisit all the things their city offers that they take for granted and fail to enjoy.

“People live in New York and don’t go to the theater. When we think of vacation, our first thought is getting out and going somewhere,” said William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But we are seeing more and more folks in Atlanta exploring their hometown. We have a rich set of offerings with a lot of variety — recreation, arts and culture, sports, civil rights history. We offer a Black travel experience [itinerary] as well as one for the LGBTQ community. Our food is definitely a destination favorite with visitors and locals. With the price of gas, you’ll find that Atlanta offers not only a lot of different things to do but also great value.”

If you still think there’s nothing to do, Pate suggests checking out the ACVB’s website that lists 50 fun activities. “It’s a great resource. We’re finding that people are going through the list and checking off the different activities like a game.” Pate also recommends purchasing a CityPASS for attraction discounts or memberships for yearlong savings.

The Bransford family enjoys an event — or a nap — at Oakland Cemetery. 
(Courtesy of Amy Leavell Bransford)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Amy Leavell Bransford, owner of Aviary Beauty + Wellness, enjoys being a tourist while entertaining visitors. “It’s pretty basic but we go to Piedmont Park for a picnic, Frisbee game and best Atlanta skyline views. We also can’t miss Oakland Cemetery especially if there’s an event going on. It’s more of a park than a cemetery and the gardening is amazing.”

Other favorites for the Decatur family of four include going to the Starlight Drive-In Theatre, Ponce City Market and Stone Mountain Park. “How can you explain to people that there is a giant granite mountain that you can hike or take the skyrocket to the top?” she asks.

Marietta resident Loretta Rieman and her family wander a little further afield, regularly renting a boat at Lake Altoona near Cartersville or riding horses at Barnsley Gardens in Adairsville. Family activities changed as her now-teenage kids grew up but favorites included trips to the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, Cartersville’s Tellus Science Museum and hikes on Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

“When the kids were little we went to the puppet shows [at the Center for Puppetry Arts], the Wren’s Nest, the World of Coca-Cola and [Zoo Atlanta]. We always would go to the Broadway shows at the Fox” Theatre, she said.

How green is the Atlanta Botanical Garden in summer? Very! Courtesy of Erica George Dines

Credit: Erica George Dines

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Credit: Erica George Dines

Shelby Salisbury, a therapist with Peachtree Comprehensive Health, enjoys the “classic” sites. “I love to do the super-touristy things like going to the Georgia Aquarium. It never gets old. The [Atlanta] Botanical Garden is so much fun, and it’s a good place to meet people. I see the ‘Nutcracker’ every Christmas.”

As for food, locals are missing something if they don’t explore the authentic and exotic flavors of mom and pop ethnic restaurants on Buford Highway as well as splurge occasionally on those that earned Michelin Guide stars — and hit some of the great choices in between.

Pho Dai Loi #2 is among the many ethnic eateries to explore along Buford Highway. The Vietnamese restaurant serves up pho dac biet and other comfort food. (Credit: Henri Hollis / henri.hollis@ajc.com)

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis

“The dining scene is one of the most underappreciated elements in the city,” said Pate of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have fantastic chefs doing really great stuff with a variety of cuisines, and they haven’t gotten the credit. We have a rich dining scene.”

Pano I. Karatassos had a front-row seat to watch the city’s culinary evolution and now is part of that “rich dining scene.” His father, Pano, cofounded the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and, with the 1979 opening of Pano’s & Paul’s, is credited with elevating fine dining in the city.

Now Buckhead Life’s co-president and corporate executive chef, Karatassos saw the scene grow from a few notable restaurants to a “mecca for dining,” he said. “The rest of the country was light years ahead of Atlanta but that’s changed. You’re getting great restaurants in neighborhoods like on the Westside, Inman Park, Alpharetta. These are places residents are seeking out.”

Many Atlanta restaurants are on tourists’ radar (as well as locals’) thanks to their celebrity chefs, who have appeared on TV cooking competition shows. Karatassos and Ian Winslade separately won on “Beat Bobby Flay,” while Kevin Rathbun bested Flay on “Iron Chef America.”

“There are outstanding chefs like Kevin Rathbun, Ford Fry, Aaron Phillips of Lazy Betty,” Karatassos said. “But Atlantans also like the tried and true restaurants that they keep going to, tell their friends and take visitors.”

If you’re a resident looking for other ideas to play tourist in our city, here are good places to try, just for starters:

May 7, 2019 - Atlanta, Ga: Imaginary World Returns Alice's Wonderland at the Atlanta Botanical Garden Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Atlanta.  (Photo by JASON GETZ/ Atlanta Botanical Garden)

Credit: Jason Getz

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Credit: Jason Getz

Atlanta Botanical Garden features 30 acres of outdoor gardens. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays (until Sept. 2). Weekdays: $26.95 adults, $23.95 children 3-12. Weekends: $29.95 adults; $26.95 children 3-12. 1345 Piedmont Ave. 404-876-5859, https://atlantabg.org

Center for Puppetry Arts offers puppet shows and is home to one of the few puppet museums in the world. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. $16 for museum. Show prices vary. 1404 Spring St. 404-873-3391, puppet.org

Chattahoochee Nature Center is located on 127 acres adjacent to the Chattahoochee River. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. $20 adults; $16 seniors and students 13-18. 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell. 770-992-205 www.chattnaturecenter.org

College Football Hall of Fame highlights include a three-story wall displaying helmets from 775 colleges. Guests can test their football skills on the Peach Bowl Field, watch taped performances of marching bands and learn about those who made it into the Hall of Fame. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (closed Tuesdays in July). $30.25 adults, $23.75 children 3-12. 250 Marietta St. 404-880-4800, cfbhall.com

Georgia Aquarium is one of the world’s largest aquariums, with shark exhibits to a dolphin show and much more inhabiting 10 million gallons of water. Hours vary. $39.99-$64.99. 225 Baker St. 404-581-4000, georgiaaquarium.org

A guest contemplates a painting at the High Museum of Art. 
(Courtesy of the High Museum of Art / Rafterman)

Credit: Matthew Timothy Demarko

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Credit: Matthew Timothy Demarko

High Museum of Art is one of the country’s premier art museums, featuring temporary exhibits including “Dutch Art in a Global Age: Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston” (closing soon: July 14) and “Patterns in Abstraction: Black Quilts from the High’s Collection” (through January 5, 2015) as well permanent collection galleries curated from 19,000 works of art. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. $23.50. 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-4400, high.org

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, where 5,350 Civil War soldiers died, is a favorite of hikers. 6:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily (until November). $5 per person. 900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive. 770-427-4686, www.nps.gov/kemo/index.htm

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park covers 39 acres and 28 historic structures around Sweet Auburn including several related to the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., including his birth home and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached. The King Center includes Freedom Hall, which showcases works of art from around the world, the Coretta Scott King Peace and Meditation Garden and the final resting place of the first couple of the Civil Rights Movement. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Free. 449 Auburn Ave. 404-526-8900, thekingcenter.org

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights offers learning experience for all generations. (Courtesy of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights)

Credit: Courtesy of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights

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Credit: Courtesy of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights

National Center for Civil and Human Rights explores the Civil Rights Movement in the South from the early 1950s to the end of the 1960s; and the Global Human Rights challenges of today. Noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and Sundays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. $19.99 adults, $17.99 ages 65 and up, $15.99 ages 7-12, 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. 678-999-8990, civilandhumanrights.org

Oakland Cemetery is a 48-acre historic burial ground — the final resting place of famous Atlantans including Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones, Maynard Jackson and Kenny Rodgers — and public park. Dawn-dusk daily. Free. 248 Oakland Ave. 404-549-8932, oaklandcemetery.com

Starlight Drive-In Theatre, Atlanta’s only drive-in dates to 1949. Various times daily. $10 adults; $1 children 5-9. 2000 Moreland Ave. 404-627-5786, starlightdrivein.com

Amy Leavell Bransford and her son Miles Bransford celebrate a healthy hike up Stone Mountain. 
(Courtesy of Amy Leavell Bransford)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Stone Mountain Park features 3,200 acres and family-friendly attractions. 5 a.m.-midnight park gates; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. attractions. $39.99 adults; $34.99 ages 3-11. 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain. 770-498-5690, stonemountainpark.com

Tellus Science Center is a 120,000-square-foot science museum. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $20 adults; $16 ages 3-17. 100 Tellus Drive, Cartersville. 770-606-5700, tellusmuseum.org

Trap Music Museum showcases the culture of trap music, an Atlanta-rooted subgenre of hip-hop. 4-9 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; noon-8 p.m. Saturdays; noon-6 p.m. Sundays. $29.99. 630 Travis St. trapmusicmuseum.com

Yes, Coke is it at the World of Coca-Cola. 
(Courtesy of the World of Coca-Cola)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

World of Coca-Cola tells the story of the Atlanta-born soft drink, complete with a beverage sampling room. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. $21-$24 adults; $17-$20 ages 3-12. 121 Baker St. 404-676-5151, www.worldofcoca-cola.com

Wren’s Nest is the home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the “Uncle Remustales. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. $12 adults; $10 students, seniors; $8 ages 3-10. 1050 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. 404-753-7735, wrensnest.org

Two elephants from among Zoo Atlanta's 1,000 animal residents. 
(Courtesy of Zoo Atlanta)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Zoo Atlanta is home to more than 1,000 animals representing more than 200 species. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays-Sundays. $31.95 adults; $25.45 children 3-11. 800 Cherokee Ave. 404-624-5600, zooatlanta.org