Published Sep/Oct 2006

The fruits of olympic efforts to make Atlanta a destination city are being harvested today.
By Chris King

Ten years ago, Atlanta had the world’s attention as it hosted the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. In many respects, the Olympics forever changed Atlanta, transforming this vibrant Southern city into an international force and travel destination.
Fittingly, the Atlanta History Center (130 West Paces Ferry Road NW) on July 15 opened its new museum in the new Fentener van Vlissingen Family Wing that is dedicated to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.

Improvements made to prepare for the Olympics were friendly to residents and visitors, and spurred new development, including Centennial Place, a mixed-use project where public housing once stood. Centennial Olympic Park boosted the city’s green space, and all major sports facilities received an upgrade.

For many international viewers, Atlanta came into focus for the first time, and folks liked what they saw. Now Southern families wanting to experience a modern, big city can look no further than Atlanta.

Quite a fish story

Last fall, Atlanta introduced the Georgia Aquarium (225 Baker St.), a jewel in Atlanta’s crown of new developments. This family attraction was funded in part by a gift of more than $200 million from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.

This place is colossal: 8 million gallons of water, 100,000 fish and mammals, and 505,000 square-feet of floor space. The return on Marcus’ investment is seen on the faces of children, which light up at the endless aquatic marvels.

The experience is subdivided into a cold ocean environment, a Georgia coast show, a river exhibit, a coral reef with luminescent jellies, and a huge habitat devoted to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef of Central America. The reef habitat is home to whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world, and visitors can view these creatures from an enormous (23 feet by 61 feet) window.

“Big is better” is the guiding curatorial method throughout the aquarium, and the crowds it attracts are correspondingly mammoth–some 1.3 million visitors through March.

Navigating the largest aquarium in the world can be challenging, sometimes frustrating. That’s why the folks at the Georgia Aquarium suggest making advance ticket reservations (www.georgiaaquarium.org) to cut on wait times. They also have cut the building capacity down from 6,000 guests to 4,000 at a time, plus extended hours through Sept. 4.

Admission to the aquarium is hefty: $22.75 for adults, $19.50 for seniors, $17 for children (under age 3 free).

The world on a string

At the other end of investment and glitz from the Georgia Aquarium, but with just as much imagination in its own right, is the Center for Puppetry Arts located Midtown at the corner of 18th and Spring streets (1404 Spring St., NW). Like the aquarium, it is for children of all ages; all you need to enjoy yourself is the capacity to dream.

A tour of the puppet collection is worth the visit, but the center also has a busy schedule of performances for children and adult audiences. Tickets vary, but a family performance ticket is $16 and includes a tour of the museum and making a puppet in the workshop.
fine art in phoenix city

It could be a stretch for kids to visit the newly expanded High Museum of Art (1280 Peachtree St., NE), but you owe it to yourself and to them. The Italian architect Renzo Piano envisioned the expansion, adding beautiful green space where children can run off some energy. The expanded galleries have a stunning incorporation of natural light. Adults will enjoy Table 1280, a restaurant and tapas lounge.

An extra reason to visit the museum is “Louvre Atlanta,” a partnership that will bring hundreds of works from the Musée du Louvre in Paris to the High Museum of Art. The collaboration will launch in October and conclude in 2009. Works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens and more will be exhibited, and a variety of educational programs are planned.

General admission tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children (under age 6 free) and $12 for students and seniors. Timed admission to “Louvre Atlanta” is $15 for adults, $12 for students/seniors and $10 for children; advance reservations are suggested.

The Greene Family Education Center is available to open younger minds to the mysteries of visual art. Its encyclopedic collection is comparatively strong in African-American artists, including Beauford Delaney, Hale Woodruff and Bill Traylor.

The next shopping mecca

Travelers with a restless need to tick off the “what’s new” list will want to visit Atlantic Station in west Midtown, off Interstate 75 near 14th Street and Northside Drive. This development, with a pleasant view of the Midtown skyline, is not just for shoppers. The Station’s 138 mixed-use acres includes 2 million square feet of open-air retail and entertainment venues, including a theater and hot restaurants like Geisha House, Dolce and Kingpin, set to open this fall. Office and living space also are planned.

As Atlanta continues to sprawl, it’s wise to plan activities with a map and try to keep off the highways during commuter drive time. Visitors also can take advantage of the Atlanta Tourist Loop (ATL), recently established by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), that links major hotels with top attractions like the aquarium, the Martin Luther King Jr. historic district, CNN Center and Underground Atlanta, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex. For public transportation information, click on www.itsmarta.com.

Toohey’s Trolleys is a shuttle service that moves tourists on a 2.3-mile loop between the aquarium and Underground Atlanta. For information, call 1-877-743-3698. And in 2009, the Atlanta Streetcar will change the face of Peachtree Street, allowing riders to move between Atlanta’s three main neighborhoods on the 12-mile line.

The rest of us can get up the nerve to battle a little (or a lot) of traffic and simply go play, in what remains one of the country’s most surprising and dynamic cities.•

Chris King is a new contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

Above, title: Centennial Olympic Park is a welcome green space for Atlanta and is popular with local and visiting families.

Above: The Georgia Aquarium has seen more than 1 million visitors in its first six months. ©2006 AtlantaPhotos.com

Before You Go
For more information, contact the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-Atlanta (800-285-2682) or visit www.atlanta.net.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

More Atlanta developments

Here are a few newly opened or upcoming attractions and hotels visitors to Atlanta may encounter.

• The Atlanta History Center (130 West Paces Ferry Road NW) on July 15 opened its new museum dedicated to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Located in the new Fentener van Vlissingen Family Wing, the exhibits will look at everything from the games’ inception in ancient Greece, to the history of the modern games in 1896 and the 17 days of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. For information, call (404) 814-4000 or click on www.atlantahistorycenter.com.

• Callaway Gardens, a 13,000-acre resort and gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., is working on The Lodge and Spa, a 150-room hotel with large spa and health club. Rooms start at $150. The Lodge and Spa is expected to open this fall. Callaway Gardens is an hour southwest of Atlanta off state Highway 18 (205 N. Cherry Ave.). For information, call 1-800-225-5292 or see www.callawaygardens.com.

• The World of Coca-Cola next summer will move from its Underground Atlanta site to its new location next to the Georgia Aquarium. The 75,000-square-foot attraction will continue to offer exhibits about the soft drink’s history. For information, call (404) 675151 or click on www.woccatlanta.com.

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