Atlanta is better known for airport madness and traffic jams than for family fun, but it’s a fantastic place to spend a few days with the kiddos. I grew up there and still live close enough to visit regularly, so I always have a great time playing tour guide and showing my son around town.
Of course we’ve hit all the marquee sights, such as the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola. But I get a bigger kick out of taking him to the lesser-known spots that I loved when I was his age. They’re still going strong, and they’re still great bets for a family day out. Here are my perennial picks:
After the big-name attractions, the Atlanta History Center is my top suggestion for visitors. Its showpiece is the Swan House, a 1920s mansion built by renowned architect Philip Shutze. While I wouldn’t necessarily take a toddler, you’ll be surprised by how much older kids enjoy it.
Docent-led tours offer lots of interesting tidbits, and there are gorgeous gardens to run around in. Hunger Games fans can take a special tour of the rooms used to film one of the movies. Stop by the onsite tearoom afterward for a charmingly old-school lunch (think cheese straws and frozen fruit salad).
The adjacent Smith Family Farm, a 19th-century plantation house that was transported from rural Georgia, brings local history to life for kids via costumed characters and guided tours. The History Center also has a museum dedicated to the 1996 Olympics, permanent and traveling exhibitions, regular kids’ programming and more.
Right next door to the High Museum of Art in Midtown, the Alliance Theatre always has excellent family performances in its season lineup, including shows designed just for small kids. The grand 1920s Fox Theatre downtown draws productions such as the stage version of The Little Mermaid and offers a summer movie series with a number of kid-friendly classics. Book a guided tour of the theatre if it’s available during your visit — kids will goggle at the over-the-top Moorish design.
If Atlanta has an answer to Central Park, this is it. Locals flock to Piedmont Park to picnic, toss Frisbees, ride bikes, feed ducks at the lake, take a scavenger hunt, and more. In hot, humid weather (i.e. at least half the year), you can cool off at the new Aquatic Center or splash in the Legacy Fountain. Don’t miss the Noguchi Playscape, designed by the master sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi — how many works of art are intended for kids to climb on?
I have fond memories of school field trips to Fernbank Science Center. All these years later, it’s still a nice outing, with a planetarium, a small but interesting melange of life and earth science exhibits, and beautiful nature trails to walk. And it’s free, though opening hours can be quirky; call before you go. The newer Fernbank Museum is a mile or so away and has gargantuan dinosaur casts, fossils and other fun collections, plus an IMAX theater and kids’ events.
This lovely neighborhood on Atlanta’s eastern edge makes a wonderful spot to hang out for an afternoon. Downtown Decatur, which has a tree-lined square that’s perfect for burning off energy, bustles with independent shops and some of the city’s best restaurants. Even better? This area is family central, so kids are welcome at all of them. Swing by Revolution Doughnuts for a pick-me-up and try one of their fresh peach sliders — delish.
I usually recommend basing in Midtown, which is lively, walkable and convenient to most of the major sights. My son and I recently spent a night at Loews Atlanta and loved it. It’s super-hip and the lobby lounge is a hot spot, but the signature Loews Loves Kids programming makes it far more kid-friendly than it appears on the surface. Age-appropriate gifts at check-in, games and activities, menus designed for little palates, and other amenities ensure that kids feel like VIPs.
Decor in the rooms is sleek but soft, with cozy sitting areas and unbelievably comfortable beds. My favorite feature was the floor-to-ceiling window wall with a beautiful city view; like a typical 8-year-old, my son voted for the flat-screen TV in the bathroom. Although a standard double room worked perfectly for us, various suite configurations — some with kitchen facilities — give larger families the space they need.
Loews Atlanta welcomes four-legged family members too, with special pet beds, room service meals and more. I was nervous about bringing our excitable Lab into such a high-end hotel, so he didn’t make the trip with us, but as soon as I saw the giant water bowl at the front entrance I knew he would have fit right in. Next time!
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