In the travel context, there is an unofficial expiration date for how well we know certain places. Cities are living things, they are dynamic and constantly changing, which means that an absence of several years results in an urban destination that has been redesigned in a variety of ways. I recently traveled to Atlanta with this mindset. Yes, it is true that I had visited before, but so many years had passed that I felt a full reintroduction was in order, from the most basic sights to some a little beyond that shiny surface. Even though I only had a few days, it was the ideal time to remind myself why visiting Atlanta is such a delight.
Every major city has museums, it’s not unique, but some of my favorite institutions of all time call Atlanta home. I love them because they are so unique, how unusual and powerful they are, and while some are not as scientific as others, they are great fun to explore. Note: CityPASS provided me with a free card that gave me access to all of these locations and more around the city and surrounding areas. As always, it makes the most sense to experience all that the city has to offer while saving money at the same time.
World of Coca-Cola
I’ve been a Coke fan all my life, and for me, one of the highlights of my time in Atlanta was spending the afternoon exploring the history and cultural implications of the world of Coca-Cola. Located in the cultural center of Centennial Park, the museum shows exhibits about the secret formula of Coca-Cola, a 4D film in which an intrepid scientist and his assistant wanted to find out the secret for themselves and give visitors the opportunity to taste various cola-sodas to taste flavors from all over the world. Of course, according to the COVID rules, the museum works a little differently, but the experience is still fun and even engaging. The highlight for me was the chance to try some oddly flavored sodas that I would never try otherwise, along with the ultimate gift shop for cola lovers at the end of the experience.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
In all fairness, spending time at this remarkable institution was the absolute highlight of my time in Atlanta. Opened in 2014, the museum is dedicated to the accomplishments of both the civil rights movement in the United States and the broader global human rights movement. The center hosts a number of permanent and temporary exhibits that tell not only the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, but how that period relates to more contemporary human rights struggles around the world. The museum currently contains three permanent exhibitions that the average visitor can experience in about 75 minutes. What cannot be properly conveyed, however, is the incredible impact the center will have on you, how meaningful an experience is, and how you will change for the better.
Another not-to-be-missed location in Atlanta’s Centennial Park is the star of the show for many, the Georgia Aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium is home to hundreds of species and thousands of animals in its seven major galleries, all of which are located in more than 10 million US gallons of fresh and salt water. It was the largest aquarium in the world from its opening in 2005 to 2012 when it became the third largest aquarium in the world after the Marine Life Park in Singapore and the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China. The Georgia Aquarium remains the largest aquarium in the United States and the Western Hemisphere. This is one of the perfect places for the whole family, and well worth spending most of your day exploring.
Like so many cities around the world, Atlanta has seen a foodie revolution that makes it difficult for the visitor to narrow down the options for meals and snacks. For early risers like me, be sure to check out Revolution Donuts for some of the best baked goods you will ever try. All lovingly hand-glazed with flavors like vanilla beans, cappuccino crunch, and key lime pie, it’s literally impossible to go wrong at this neighborhood establishment. But I wasn’t just on a donut hunt, I wanted to learn more about Atlanta through its food, so I found myself in front of the legendary Paschal’s.
Located downtown in the Castleberry Hill Arts District, Paschal’s has a rich history that dates back to 1947 when the Paschal brothers James and Robert Paschal opened their first location at 831 West Hunter Street in Atlanta, Georgia. The brothers decided that “fried chicken” would be the house specialty, and it was with that mandate that Robert created his “secret recipe”. Since opening their doors, they have welcomed a who’s who of the world, from political leaders to civil rights heroes to myriad others in between. After taking my first bite of their secret recipe chicken, I understood why everyone was telling me this was the only place not to be missed on an Atlanta food tour.
However, I wasn’t happy with my amateur approach to a food tour, I wanted an expert guide and luckily the food tour revolution hit Atlanta as well. Atlanta Food Walks was started by a friend of mine and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take her team for a stroll through the Grant Park neighborhood of Atlanta. As one of the most important neighborhoods in the city, we learned a lot about the city’s history, how much it was built on food, and of course enjoyed some amazing bites along with the scenery. It was the ideal reintroduction to the city and included some dishes that I know I won’t forget anytime soon.
I was walking back to my hotel one afternoon and noticed this piece of street art. I paused and thought about it. I’m sure it’s not on the official tourist board’s street art list, or maybe it is, but either way it’s an important message to share. No city, town, or village is perfect, far from it. Every place we visit is in a state of evolution, self-improvement and Atlanta is no exception. During my time in the city, I was impressed with their people, their experiences, their food, and that immaterial sense of satisfaction. I was comfortable in Atlanta, but beyond that, I was excited to learn more about the city and to know that I would be welcome to my heroics. Not every city is so open to discovery and that made all the difference to me.