With the coronavirus keeping us home for most of this year, I’ve been reminiscing on previous trips I’ve taken with my kids. Back in 2018, I took my older son to Atlanta for a long weekend. There are lots of things to do in Atlanta for families, more than you might expect. Downtown has a handful of great attractions.
As is typical, the trip was made possible by miles and points. We jumped on a fantastic fare deal that perfectly used a $300 United voucher I’d been holding. We paid only ~$7 out of pocket for our flights, and our hotel was primarily paid for using points as well. This left us only footing the bill for our activities and sightseeing. Here are five of the best things to do in Atlanta for families:
Centennial Olympic Park
This tops my list of best things to do in Atlanta for families. Why? It’s free! And it gives you a good feel for the city and attractions around you. I suggest you start here.
We walked through Centennial Olympic Park every day. You can basically stand in the middle and point at 4 or 5 other popular downtown attractions, so you really can’t avoid visiting Centennial Olympic Park.
Whether it was the ring fountains or the playground, I found myself there with my 7-year-old for at least a part of each day.
We enjoyed the musical Olympic Rings fountain multiple times. The fountains are programmed in sync with an variety of different songs, and shows are regular. We enjoyed a couple songs on multiple occasions when just passing through the park between the downtown attractions and the American Hotel Atlanta Downtown where we were staying.
My son and I visited with the “Mommy and Me” pass, which is an incredible deal if you’re a parent flying solo with your kids. The ticket was $44.95 plus tax, and it covers one adult and up to 4 kids. This is an incredible deal for larger families. It was available for several weeks at the tail end of the summer and into the fall, and I hope it comes back again.
The Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the United States by volume of water contained. It has a massive main tank in the Ocean Voyager section, where the aquarium has its whale sharks. The Georgia Aquarium acquired these before a capture of the species was banned. Whale sharks are found in multiple tropical areas, and those at the Georgia Aquarium were obtained from Taiwan.
There is a ton to see here. We visited the aquarium for several hours and didn’t see everything. If your kids really like aquariums, this is an all day excursion.
Center for Civil and Human Rights
While not geared toward younger kids, the Center for Civil and Human Rights is a place that you should consider for tweens and teens. They are old enough to understand the background and ramifications of the civil rights movement and history since that time. My son enjoyed a couple sections, but given the style of the exhibits (and not much of a grasp of U.S. history at that point as an international adoptee), he wasn’t keen on it overall.
Still, kids from 10-17 should be able to get a lot out of the museum. One of my favorite (I guess?) parts was the lunch counter experience. You have to sit at the counter with your palms down, listening to people verbally assault you through the provided headphones. The purpose of this is to directly experience what the protesters did at the lunch counter sit-ins at Woolworth’s and other stores.
The World of Coca Cola
I have to admit…I approached this attraction with my cynical side on high alert. It was going to be one giant marketing scam, I just knew it. And it sorta was. But it was also my son’s favorite attraction after the Delta Flight Museum, go figure.
I suggest you walk into the World of Coca Cola with eyes wide open as to what it really is (i.e. an add for Coke that you willingly pay for). The kids will enjoy many parts, including the 3D film and maybe even the “secret recipe vault”. Just endure.
The best part comes at the end. You’ll get to try a ridiculous number of Coca Cola product flavors from around the world. I hardly ever drink soda, but this was rather fun. The Chilean Manzana Lift is the solid winner. Apple flavor and not too sweet. It’s about as good as it gets until you wander outside of the Coke and Pepsi world into craft soda.
Did you just pay $17 per person to try some soda. Yes, yes you did. But the kids had fun, and that’s what counts. At least that is what you’re going to need to tell yourself, as they will probably love this attraction 100x more than you.
Stone Mountain Park
This was one Atlanta attraction I was bummed to miss, but it simply didn’t fit well into our plans. Note that this recommendation doesn’t come from personal experience, but it has been highly recommended to me. It looks like a great choice based on the research I’ve done. The park is centered around a large stone monolith with a Confederate memorial engraved into the side. There are other attractions on the grounds, including a gondola ride to the summit and a railroad.
Unlike the other top Atlanta attractions for families, Stone Mountain Park is located a good distance from downtown Atlanta. This was the main problem for us, as I’d need to rent a car to get there for the day.
I was still ready to do for our final day, but the cost and time factors sealed the deal. The whole park isn’t open on many weekdays. It would have cost us a $45 rental car, $15 parking, and $30 for tickets, and we wouldn’t have gotten to see or do most of what the park offers. It’ll have to be next time.
I personally enjoyed the Center for Civil and Human Rights. My son wasn’t quite as thrilled. His English reading skills are still very poor, and anything that wasn’t interactive or a movie failed to capture his attention. I did my best to engage him and explain as much as I could through the museum. It was a unique experience trying to explain both the history and. If you do visit, make sure you and your older, mature kids experience the lunch counter.
We skipped the CNN Studio Tours, Atlanta SkyView and the College Football Hall of Fame. None of these really appealed to me. The Children’s Museum of Atlanta gets a mention as well, but the cost would be brutal for a family. It would be nice if they added visitor rates, as the current entry fees really push you toward a membership. Pretty useless for someone out of state, but not a bad deal if you live in Atlanta.
The best part about Altanta is that aside from Stone Mountain Park, all of these attractions are withing walking distance of plenty of hotels. You can easily get to any of them, or a couple of the others that didn’t make the top 5 things to do in Atlanta list, on foot. I highly recommend heading out to the airport as well to the Delta Flight Museum, which is another excellent area attraction. On the whole, we really liked Atlanta and would consider it again for a vacation.