Atlanta: A Peach of a Place

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Lake & Sumter Style Magazine.


Although I wasn’t born there, Atlanta was my adopted hometown for many years and is the place where I still return when I need a dose of sweet, Southern culture.

ATL-SkylineLike so many people who live and work in the suburbs of a metropolitan area, I didn’t go to downtown Atlanta as often as I would have liked — or should have. A recent whirlwind tour exploring some of the city’s best-known sites gave me a new perspective — that of a tourist. Many of the attractions have greatly improved since I left more than a decade ago and new ones are on the horizon, including a College Football Hall of Fame later this year. Atlanta is now as much of a family-friendly destination as it is a conventioneer’s town.

If all you know about Atlanta consists of changing planes at Hartsfield International Airport, you’ll be surprised at how much the capital of the South has to offer. Ride the MARTA rapid rail train north from the airport and check out these Hotlanta highlights:


HighMuseumComplexNo trip to Atlanta is complete for me without a stop at the High Museum of Art on Peachtree Street in mid-town. The High’s unique architecture by Richard Meier and Renzo Piano has evolved from one modernistic, light-filled building built in 1983 to an entire complex of galleries that opened in the last decade. On previous visits, I would dart in to see a traveling exhibition; this trip, however, I wanted to see how the permanent collection had changed over the years. And change it had with the addition of more than 40 American Neoclassical sculptures scattered throughout the third floor and the inclusion of more photography in the permanent collection which numbers over 11,000 pieces of art. “A Closer Look: Photography Comes of Age” captured my attention and kept me busy moving from Civil War photos by George Barnard to Florida’s own modern photographer Jerry N. Uelsmann’s “Apocalypse II” print.

MargMitchellHouseThe Margaret Mitchell House is within walking distance to the High Museum, and Gone with the Wind fans will enjoy will enjoy the tour where this petite and feisty writer perfected her craft. Mitchell lived in the bottom floor apartment during the 1930s but the entire house has been turned into a museum filled with her mementos. The Mitchell House is affiliated with the Atlanta History Center and the admission price includes both facilities.

Speaking of history, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site has expanded to 42 acres in downtown Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn district. I remember visiting the MLK monument during my first month in Atlanta. Today, visitors can see not only where King and his wife Coretta Scott King are enshrined but also MLK’s birth home and the recently restored Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was co-pastor with his father.


DolphinStatueThe High Museum of Art is my old, familiar friend but I now have some new acquaintances that are helping to attract 35 million visitors a year. High on the list is the Georgia Aquarium, a 10-million gallon playground where dolphins cavort with trainers and beluga whales glide across their football-field size tank to greet guests in a behind-the-scenes tour. In her recent book, actress Betty White described the “Beluga and Friends Encounter” one of the best adventures she’s ever had — and she’s returned four times to see those gentle giants up close. I enjoyed staying somewhat dry and watching “Dolphin Tails,” a glitzy multimedia experience featuring dolphins and their brave trainers.

CokeAroundWorldJust across Pemberton Place, a plaza named for Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton, is the new World of Coca-Cola, which opened in 2007 to replace the original Coke museum that had been adjacent to Underground Atlanta. I had allotted only an hour or so to see the new all-things-Coke museum because I had visited the original and wasn’t expecting so many “refreshing” exhibits. My favorite stops included a photo op with the company’s favorite mascot, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, and “Taste It!” featuring 70 different Coke products from around world.

CNN_InsideAfter a brisk walk through the nearby Centennial Park, I arrived at the CNN Center, the global headquarters for the Cable News Network. The digital information age has changed news coverage since my previous CNN tours in the1980s. One thing that hasn’t changed is the stair climbing… or I should say stair descending. The 55-minute Inside Studio Tour descends eight flights of stairs. Tours with elevator access are available, but they require reservations and sell out quickly.

Atlanta has no shortage of after-hours entertainment venues and restaurants, but I still wanted to be a tourist so I visited the Fernbank Museum of Natural History for its popular Martini and IMAX® event. The Friday night mix of culture and cocktails makes the drive to the Emory University area definitely worthwhile.


SwanHouse-AtlantaHistoryCenterThe Atlanta History Center turned out to be my favorite discovery as a tourist in my old hometown. The name is a misnomer because the 33-acre complex in Buckhead offers much more than Atlanta history. In addition to the Southeast’s largest history museum, the Atlanta History Center includes two historic houses, gardens and the Swan Coach House Restaurant. I spent most of my final day at the Atlanta History Center studying the highly regarded “Turning Point: The American Civil War,” permanent collection of Civil War artifacts, enjoying the Bobby Jones “Down the Fairway” golf exhibit, listening to old-time music in the well-organized Folk Art collection and reminiscing about Atlanta’s 1996 Olympics. I was so immersed in the exhibits, I missed my afternoon appointment to tour the Swan House, one of Atlanta’s most photographed landmarks.

I ended the day at the iconic Swan Coach House Restaurant, where I enjoyed a “Bubbly Atlantan” as planned my next visit. The jasmine liqueur and champagne cocktail was the perfect complement to my new role as a tourist in my former hometown.


• Get a four-day MARTA Breeze pass for $20. Atlanta’s rapid rail system has always been my favorite way to get around the city. No traffic congestion, no expensive parking. MARTA even has a mobile app that keeps riders up-to-date on schedules.

• Buy a CityPass to visit five popular venues, including the Georgia Aquarium, for $74… less than half what individual admissions would cost.

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