There exists in the travel context an unofficial expiration date to how well we know certain places. Cities are living beings, they are dynamic and constantly in flux, which means that an absence of several years yields an urban destination that has remade itself in any number of ways. That’s the attitude with which I went into my recent trip to Atlanta. Yes, it is true I had visited before but so many years had past that I felt a total reintroduction was in order, from the most basic of tourist sites to some that go a bit beyond that glossy surface. Even though I had just a couple of days, it was the ideal amount of time to remind myself why visiting Atlanta is such a joy.
Every major city has museums, that’s not unique, but some of my all-time favorite institutions call Atlanta home. I love them thanks to how unique they are, how unusual and impactful and while some may not be as scholarly as others, they’re all a lot of fun to explore. Note: CityPASS provided me with a complimentary card which gave me access to all of these spots and more throughout the city and surrounding region. As always, it makes the most sense if you want to experience everything the city has to offer and save money at the same time.
World of Coca-Cola
I have been a fan of Coke my entire life and for me, spending the afternoon exploring its history and cultural impact at the World of Coca-Cola was one of the highlights of my time in Atlanta. Located in the cultural hub of Centennial Park, the museum features exhibits about the secret formula of Coca-Cola, a 4D movie where an intrepid scientist and his assistant set out to find the secret for themselves and allows visitors to taste different Coke-owned soda flavors from around the world. Naturally the museum operates a little differently under COVID rules, but the experience is still fun and even engaging. The highlight for me was the opportunity to taste some strangely flavored sodas that I’d never otherwise have a chance to sample, along with the ultimate Coke-lover gift shop at the end of the experience.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
In all honesty though, spending some time at this remarkable institution was the absolute highlight of my time in Atlanta. Opened in 2014, the museum is dedicated to the achievements of both the civil rights movement in the United States and the broader worldwide human rights movement. The center hosts a number of exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, that not only tell the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, but how that period is related to more contemporary human rights struggles around the world. The museum currently contains three permanent exhibitions, which the average visitor can experience in about 75 minutes. What can’t be properly conveyed though is the incredible impact the Center will have on you, how meaningful of an experience it is and how you will walk away changed for the better.
Another not to miss spot in Atlanta’s Centennial Park is what for many is the star of the show, the Georgia Aquarium. Georgia Aquarium is home to hundreds of species and thousands of animals across its seven major galleries, all of which reside in more than 10 million US gallons of fresh and saltwater. It was the largest aquarium in the world from its opening in 2005 until 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 in the Western Hemisphere. This is one of those perfect for the whole family spots and well worth spending the majority of your day exploring.
Like so many cities around the world, Atlanta has also seen a revolution in the foodie scene, making it challenging for the visitor to narrow down meal and snack options. For the early risers like me, be sure to head over to Revolution Doughnuts for some of the best pastries you’ll ever try. All lovingly made by hand with flavors like Vanilla Bean Glazed, Cappuccino Crunch and Key Lime Pie, it is literally impossible to go wrong at this neighborhood institution. I wasn’t only on a doughnut hunt though, I wanted to learn more about Atlanta through its food which is how 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 ‘Fried Chicken’ would be the specialty of the house, and with that mandate, Robert created his ‘secret recipe’. Since first opening their doors they’ve welcomed a who’s who in the world from political leaders to civil rights heroes and countless others in between. After taking my first bite into their secret recipe chicken, I understood why everyone told me that this is the one place not to be missed on a culinary tour of Atlanta.
I wasn’t content with my amateur take on a food tour though, I wanted some expert instruction and thankfully the food tour revolution has also hit Atlanta. Atlanta Food Walks was started by a friend of mine and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to join her team on a walk around Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood. One of the city’s most important neighborhoods, throughout the course of the tour we learned a lot about the history of the city, how it was very much built on food and of course enjoyed some amazing bites along with the scenery. It was the ideal re-introduction to the city and featured some dishes I know I won’t soon forget.
One afternoon I was walking back to my hotel and noticed this bit of street art. I paused and thought about it. I’m sure it’s not on the tourism board’s official 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, of self-improvement and Atlanta is no exception. Throughout my time in the city though I was impressed with her people, her experiences, her food and just that intangible feeling of contentment. I was comfortable in Atlanta, but more than that I was excited to learn more about the city knowing that I would be welcomed in my exploits. Not every city is so open to discovery and for me that made all the difference.