When I travel to other cities, I dork out with the travel books, marking all the must-see spots so I don’t miss anything. Yet it has taken me a dozen years living in Atlanta to work my way through this city’s list of hot spots. I think this is true for a lot of us; we are too busy to really see our own cities. However, with a recession looming and gas prices on the rise, now is the perfect time to stay close to home. We in Atlanta are lucky—our city is teeming with culture, great shopping, affordable-but-tasty restaurants, and many charming neighborhoods worth exploring.
1. Atlanta Botanical Garden
This is one of my favorite spots in Atlanta. It’s ideal if you have children; there’s an extensive play area including a fountain (bring the bathing suits!). The lavish gardens also make for a romantic stroll. A special Sculpture in Motion exhibit in summer 2008 features creations powered by the elements by sixteen different artists.
2. The Westside
If you live in Atlanta, you’ve no doubt shopped its well-known malls, Phipps Mall and Lenox Square. But there’s plenty of other good shopping, including on Atlanta’s West Side, a funky industrial area that has enjoyed quite a renaissance in recent years. I like Bungalow for home furnishings, Sprout for hip kids’ stuff and G. Gilbert for women’s fashions. When on a tight budget, I settle for browsing, as these places are pricey. However, I just heard about a furniture consignment store called The Savvy Snoot—what a great name! I can’t wait to check it out! The Westside is also home to Taqueria del Sol—one of the best spots in town for “cheap eats.” Get the fish tacos—and a margarita (you are on staycation!). For dessert, stop into Star Provisions, the bakery that is part of the amazing (and amazingly expensive) restaurant, Bacchanalia. For those of us who can’t afford dinner there, a cupcake on the go is a scrumptious alternative.
3. Martinis and IMAX
If you feel like shaking it up a bit, head to the Fernback Museum of Natural History on a Friday night. Inside the museum’s cool atrium, there’s a bar and appetizers followed by a viewing of an IMAX movie, which will transport you to another place (even if you are on a staycation!). Check their schedule for Friday night showtimes.
4. Ebenezer Baptist Church
Atlanta is known as the capital of the civil rights movement, and attending a service at Ebenezer is a great way to visit one the landmarks of this era. Ebenezer was the spiritual home for many of Atlanta’s civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached his message of nonviolence from the pulpit in the church’s Heritage Sanctuary. Every Sunday, hundreds of people, both members and visitors from around the world, attend services, which are held at 7:45 a.m. and 11 a.m.
5. Margaret Mitchell House
Feel like an intellectual evening? The Margaret Mitchell House in midtown—where, in apartment #1, Margaret Mitchell wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Gone With the Wind—hosts authors regularly. The writers talk for about a half hour and then entertain questions from the audience. The crowds are relatively small, creating an intimate evening for literary fans. I’m looking forward to hearing Andres Dubus III later this summer.
6. Oakland Cemetery
I’ve always been fascinated by old cemeteries and can spend hours reading the grave markers and imagining the people living in another era. Oakland Cemetery, established in 1850, is an eighty-eight-acre oasis of calm in the midst of a busy urban center. Twenty-five mayors are buried there, as well as Margaret Mitchell and famous golfer Bobby Jones. After touring the cemetery, stop by Six Feet Under on Memorial Drive. You can enjoy a cold beer on the rooftop patio, which offers a nice view of the cemetery.
7. Zoo Atlanta
Our Zoo is best known for its pandas, but it has plenty of other animals to see, including a new litter of baby lions. After checking out all the animals, it is fun to ride either the carousel or train and finish up with a stop at the brand new playground. My kids love it. My advice—go early. If it feels hot in Atlanta, it will somehow feel way hotter inside the zoo.
8. Piedmont Park
I love to visit parks in other cities, whether Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or Central Park in New York. Yet I don’t make it nearly as often as I should to Atlanta’s premier park, which is only a few miles from my home. My family went recently and we had a great time. We found a lovely grassy spot. The older kids rode their bikes. My husband and his brother tossed the frisbee. I lounged on a blanket with the younger children. I only wish we’d packed a picnic. Talk about fun on a budget!
Hey suburbanites, if you haven’t made it to the city’s core lately, get down here. Downtown is home to star attractions including the Georgia Aquarium, Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and the new World of Coca-Cola museum. These attractions are expensive, so I suggest that you pick one, and then top the day off with a visit (free!) to Centennial Olympic Park. Kids (and kids at heart) can frolic in the fountain, shaped like the Olympic rings, a great way to beat the Atlanta heat. For an evening activity, the park hosts Screen on the Green, free showings of movies through the end of June. I can hardly wait for the last two of the year, both of which I loved growing up: ET and Footloose.
10. Silver Comet Trail
If you feel like an active staycation, I suggest checking out the Silver Comet Trail, a sixty-one-mile paved trail that starts in Smyrna and ends near the Georgia-Alabama line. It is a great place to cycle, jog, or rollerblade, all while enjoying (free!) nature. Every time I go there, I feel like I’m a million miles from home. That’s the beauty of the staycation—with a little effort, you can feel like you’re a million miles from home without needing to spend a million dollars to get there!