Cosmopolitan but Southern to the core, Atlanta has it all: shows, museums, funky downtown neighborhoods. And when you’re traveling with kids, you can make the family vacation super-simple by staying downtown and visiting the half-dozen attractions right off Centennial Olympic Park. Or explore further inside and beyond the Perimeter (that’s what locals call the interstate circling the city) to get to know the town even better.
You’ll probably need a car, unless you plan to stay near your hotel, plus a dose of patience for the sheer number of streets named “Peachtree.” The payoff is big, though. Huge, actually. The Atlanta metro area is second only to New York in terms of land size, so there’s plenty for kids to discover. Ready to take it on? Here’s what you can’t miss.
More from SheKnows
- Cute & Functional Lap Desks for Kids
- What I Learned While Driving A Mercedes-Benz Race Car At 100 MPH
- A Beginner's Guide to the Salem Halloween Experience
Not to say bigger is always better, but when it comes to aquariums, it can’t hurt. The 10-million-gallon Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium this side of the globe, has plenty of room for whale sharks, octopuses, manatees and beluga whales. Visit the touch tank to let the kids meet stingrays, starfish and anemones. Then try the Aquanaut Adventure, an interactive quest customized for different ages. Make sure to leave time in your day for the live shows starring adorable sea lions and bottlenose dolphins.
World of Coca-Cola
You can’t visit Atlanta without paying tribute to the city’s most refreshing legend at the World of Coca-Cola. It’s a nostalgic trip through old-time ads, international souvenirs and free hugs from the Coca-Cola Polar Bear. Kids will love the 4D ride that takes you on a fun if improbable journey to find Coke’s secret formula. Other exhibits let them mix flavors and play games. Of course, you’re really here for the finale, an unlimited tasting spree of Coke products from around the world. Bottoms up!
Children’s Museum of Atlanta
Education meets play at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. From the serious stuff, like anatomy and robotics, to the silly, like sandcastles and a massive indoor treehouse, it’s all about sparking kids’ imaginations. There’s even designated spaces just for toddlers and babies, built to their learning level.
Centennial Olympic Park
All three of the attractions mentioned so far have one thing in common: they each border Centennial Olympic Park. The 21-acre green space boasts two playgrounds, one focusing on accessibility so anyone can play, and a fountain made for splashing. You’re also walking distance from the Center for Civil and Human Rights, SkyView Atlanta Ferris Wheel and dozens of restaurants. Try Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria for build-your-own pie, hailed by Atlantans as the best pizza in town.
Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center
If you want to be in the middle of it all, it doesn’t get much better than the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center. You’re just steps from the Football Hall of Fame, behind-the-scenes tours of CNN’s headquarters and Centennial Olympic Park itself. The fun starts at check-in with the free Omni Kids Crew program. Young explorers get a backpack with an activity book, binoculars and other goodies, plus milk and cookies delivered to the room that night.
Atlanta History Center
This place has enough to keep families by for the whole day, from Native American artifacts to a posh 1920s mansion. Your Atlanta History Center ticket even gets you into the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown and the Atlanta Cyclorama, opening at its new Buckhead location in February. While you’re there, grab lunch at Souper Jenny’s, a colorful cafe with healthy options, like lentil kale soup or a turkey avocado wrap, varied enough to please even picky eaters.
One of Atlanta’s newer attractions in historic Old Fourth Ward, Ponce City Market is a hipster paradise with boutique shops and food stalls convenient to the pedestrian-friendly BeltLine. Take the freight elevator to the rooftop to show the kids what throwback carnival fun looks like at Skyline Park. After a rousing game of skee-ball, ring toss or mini golf, stay to watch the sunset for panoramic views of Midtown.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site
Nearby, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site preserves historic buildings like MLK’s birth home and chronicles the Civil Rights movement in a series of compelling exhibits. Kids 9 to 12 can participate in a unique way by promising to uphold Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence and being sworn in as official Junior Rangers. It’s all free, even the parking.
An Atlanta institution since 1928 and the world’s largest drive-in restaurant (though you can dine inside, too), The Varsity keeps their menu simple. Think fresh burgers, chili dogs and onion rings. This is not the place to skimp on dessert either. The hot fried pies and milkshakes have a well-deserved cult following among locals.
Stone Mountain Park
Just east of Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park is an agritourism destination built around the world’s largest hunk of exposed granite. There’s a farmyard, ropes course, splash park and four-level indoor playground where children can let their energy loose. The walk to the top of the mountain is fairly moderate and takes about an hour, but if you’re bringing a stroller, opt for the cable car instead.
The Center for Puppetry Arts
It’s so much more than Muppets. See a family show at the Center for Puppetry Arts and stay to tour the museum, showcasing marionettes and puppets from around the globe. Children as young as 2, accompanied by an adult, can even create their own puppet to take home, all included in the price of your ticket.
Beloved for its gorillas and twin toddler giant pandas (who are just as cute as they sound), Zoo Atlanta goes the extra mile for kid-friendly entertainment. They have events throughout the day geared toward youngsters. Check the schedule they give you to plan your day. Don’t forget a ride on the train and, always popular, tunneling through the naked mole rat playground.
Best of SheKnows
- Bye, 'Gran' — These Grandparent Nicknames Are Anything But Boring
- The Easiest Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online — & Put Your Panicked Mind at Ease
- Meet 7 Real Families Living Their Best #VanLife — With Kids