Family Vacations to Atlanta, Georgia

Centennial Park Atlanta, Georgia
Centennial Park (courtesy, Georgia DED)

Atlanta Highlights

  • Explore the world's largest aquarium.
  • Meet giant dinosaurs at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History.
  • Learn about the Civil Rights struggle at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
  • Visit lowland gorillas and giant pandas at Zoo Atlanta.
  • Walk the nature trails and watch the evening laser show at Stone Mountain Park.

Atlanta, the urban symbol of the "new South," typifies a blend of 21st-century sophistication and old-school southern charm. And for families there's lot from which to choose, including a spectacular new aquarium, great hands-on museums, moving Civil Rights history lessons, and several inviting urban parks.

When the Georgia Aquarium opened in November 2005 it hooked a whopper pair of titles: world's largest aquarium with eight million gallons of water and more than 100,000 animals; and home to the biggest fish tank?Ocean Voyager?containing the world's biggest fish?a pair of whale sharks. Stand in front of the huge windows and you feel immersed in the sea. Beluga whales swim in Cold Water Quest, jellyfish undulate in Tropical Diver, and at the Georgia Coast Gallery, kids touch horseshoe crabs, sea stars, and stingrays. Nearby, in summer kids can romp through the dancing waters of the Fountain of Rings, part of the Centennial Olympic Park commemorating the 1996 Olympic Games. In winter, the fountain morphs into an ice-skating rink.

The World of Coca-Cola museum traces the 1886 birth of this popular beverage in Atlanta to the present day. Admire the whimsical, kinetic sculpture containing hundreds of coke bottles and pose as part of an old-fashioned Coca-Cola poster. At Imagine It!, a children's museum for ages eight and younger, kids paint on the walls, build sand sculptures, and dress up in costumes.

The recently expanded High Museum of Art showcases folk art, photography, paintings, and sculpture by many outstanding artists, and makes for a relaxing way to wile away a few hours. At the Family Learning Gallery, kids draw and use puppets to tell the story depicted in a painting.

With gradeschoolers and teens, tour CNN Atlanta to see the newsroom that never sleeps and also visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. It encompasses the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. King's crypt in Freedom Plaza, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize winner's birth home, whose photographs, clothing, and memorabilia enable children to remember that the respected world leader was once a child, just like them. Nearby, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum has exhibits on Carter's boyhood, the Camp David peace accord, and gifts received by the presidential couple such as the diamond- and ruby-encrusted purse given to Rosalynn Carter by King Hassan II of Morocco.

At the Fernbank Museum of Natural History's Giants of the Mesozoic gallery, meet a menacing 47-foot-long Giganotosaurus as well as the 123-foot-long plant eater Argentinosaurus. Kids can also see a tornado, watch themselves forecasting the weather, or, for three- to five-year-olds romping in the Discovery Room, don camouflage smocks to discover how bugs and critters hide.

For outdoor fun, visit Zoo Atlanta, known for its lowland gorillas, giant pandas, and the recent Wild Like Me, where kids are urged by Yogi Bear and other cartoon characters to roar like a lion and to build an animal habitat set as part of a mock movie production. Not far from downtown Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park features a scenic railroad, Duck tours through Stone Mountain Lake, and a gondola ride to the summit that passes the park's signature Confederate Memorial Carving. You can also tour an antebellum plantation, walk nature trails, and enjoy evening laser shows in summer.

Tip: The grounds of 13,000-acre family resort Callaway Gardens, 90 minutes from Atlanta, blooms with 20,000 azaleas in spring and thousands of flowers in summer. There's also a butterfly center here.

Recommended Side Trips: Augusta, Chattanooga (Tennessee)'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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