You sit in traffic day in and day out, staring into the taillights of a modest-yet-practical sedan contemplating the bigger picture. What’s it all mean? Why am I even here? Should I buy a plane ticket when I get home and fly to the Bahamas? Should I get a boat? No. There’s absolutely no need for you to jump on a plane just yet or blow your savings on a pontoon. Between diverse neighborhoods, hidden gems, interesting Civil Rights history, and beautiful architecture, you can relax right here in The A. Get to know your city a little better by jumping on the Atlanta Streetcar -- or a bike -- and checking out these attractions you have to see before you kick the bucket.
Midtown An estimated 750,000 people visit the Fox Theatre every year. Located in Midtown, the iconic historic site is bursting with elaborate details and a storied history (did you know that it was almost demolished in the ‘70s?). Catch a show so you can fully experience its grandiosity, which can only be encapsulated by the intricate Moorish architecture, the dreamy starry sky that adorns the ceiling near the stage, and the remains of Old Hollywood premieres, like The Phantom of the Opera. You can also do tours if the current shows don’t suit your interests.
Edgewood While The King Center (his home) is currently closed for renovations, you can still visit the National Park nearby to learn more about the icon who was an essential part of the Civil Rights Movement. After your self-guided tour of the site, check out the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was baptized as a child. If you’re interested in learning more about Atlanta’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, sign up for a tour via Civil Bikes for a great way to learn a little bit of history and see the city on two wheels.
Arts District The High Museum of Art boasts some of the most prestigious works in the Southeast. With more than 15,000 pieces of art in its permanent collection, the museum has an expansive collection of 19th- and 20th-century art. The permanent collection includes Renaissance and Baroque artists like Bellini and Tiepolo, French impressionist artists like Monet, plus folk art, photography, and more modern works by Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and Tony Smith. Presently, the outside sculptures (done by Spanish artist Jaime Hayon) are part of an outdoor installation series intended to bring the community together.
Downtown A relatively new addition to Pemberton Place, the Center for Civil and Human Rights shares stories about great achievements in civil and human rights in our country and around the world. It’s a powerful but necessary visit, as it inspires visitors to look back and reflect on our mistakes as well as current world tragedies. The exhibitions include a look at dictators like Hitler and Pinochet versus modern activists working to bring rights to women and LGBT individuals; and another exhibition shows an interactive gallery that opens with examples of segregation in the United States (i.e. Jim Crow). Don’t miss the architectural details of the building envisioned by renowned architect Philip Freelon, like the outside fountains with inspiring quotes and green space surrounding it. It’s a serene experience in the middle of the bustling city.
Midtown Located in Midtown and adjacent to Piedmont Park, the 30-acre garden boasts an outstanding plant collection, including a rare throng of high-elevation orchids never before grown in the Southeast, inside the Fuqua Orchid Center. There’s also a walk through the treetops on the Kendeda Canopy Walk, a skywalk where you can see one of the city’s last remaining urban forests from 40ft in the air. Keep an eye on the latest blooms by season, visit the large greenhouse housing hundreds of plants, and don’t miss the current "Chihuly in the Garden" installation, a collection of large vibrant glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly inspired by the garden’s natural beauty.
West End The Wren's Nest is Atlanta's oldest house museum, and is located in the historic West End neighborhood. The house belonged to Southern wordsmith Joel Chandler Harris (who created the Uncle Remus stories). The museum is a time capsule of Harris’ life, including the preserved furniture and architecture. Gather around for story time after your tour, as the Wren’s Nest Ramblers bring Harris’ stories to life with electrifying voices and animated gestures that grab your attention and truly submerge you in the tale.
All around Atlanta Since 2010, Living Walls has hosted artists from all around the world to change the urban landscape of our city and make it more colorful via giant street art murals that encompass entire buildings… like ROA’s giant alligator on Forsyth St, or the floating children by artist Fintan Magee in Old Fourth Ward. The nonprofit has helped elevate often forgotten areas of the city -- like South Downtown -- in an effort to bring more opportunities to the area and promote public spaces. While the murals aren't an attraction per se, you can rent a bike and tour around the city by using their iPhone app (or this map). It’s a great way to explore the city’s diverse neighborhoods that you might’ve missed while you were stuck in a car.
Decatur While not affiliated with the Fernbank Museum -- also a great stop for any science buff -- the Fernbank Science Center features a planetarium and observatory that are accessible to the public. The planetarium recently got a 4K Laser projection system upgrade for a more visually stunning experience in which you learn more about planets, aliens, and new horizons we hope to explore. If you’re more into actual stars, head over to the observatory next door on Thursdays and Fridays, weather permitting, for a free lesson from an astronomer on what’s going in that big ol’ sky.
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Muriel Vega is a freelance writer and considers herself a one-person PR campaign for Atlanta. Need recs? Ask her where to go at @murielvega.