This big city, famous for great shopping, CNN, and peach trees, offers many fine attractions that are accessible by train or bus.
By Phil Philcox
“South of the North, yet north of the South, lies the City of a Hundred Hills, peering out from the shadows of the past into the promise of the future.” W.E.B. DuBois wrote these words almost a century ago about Atlanta, and they still ring true today.
Atlanta is perhaps confused about its identity. You hear about peaches, Coca-Cola, dogwood trees, cozy neighbors, malls, and 12-lane highways, all terminating in a downtown area that is alive with activity. But where are the peach trees? Nobody really knows. You can find a few along Peachtree Street between 10th and 14th streets, but for the most part, there are none in town. An old debate has been raging for almost 100 years over whether Atlanta’s residents were bragging about peach trees or “pitch” trees (pine trees) when the word became popular. Suffice it to say, there are many pine trees in and around Atlanta, but not many peach trees.
Relatively flat, with mountains too far to the north to interfere and a coastline too far to the east (280 miles at Tybee Island) to offer the smell of seawater, Atlanta and its suburbs have a population of around 3 million, so it’s certainly a cosmopolitan city with all of the trappings. Once an 1837 railroad terminus, it has grown into a sophisticated metropolis, with 41 public golf courses, 54 public parks, the largest shopping mall in the Southeast, more shopping center space per capita than any other city except Chicago, and, at 55 stories high, the largest building in the Southeast. Weather-wise, Atlanta occasionally gets an inch of snow (during January and February), but for the most part it’s mild, rarely below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, occasionally reaching into the high 80s. March is the rainiest month; October the sunniest.
The problem motorhome travelers have with visiting big cities the size of Atlanta is bulk. When you try to maneuver all of that length, heft, and width down the streets of a metropolitan area, you’re surrounded by a potpourri of potential problems, both stationary and moving. What with pedestrians, cars, delivery trucks, taxis, buses, and the occasional trolley car, one’s progress can be pretty slow in a motorhome, not to mention dangerous. Plus, when you see something interesting alongside the street, you just can’t pull over to the curb and park. Certainly alternatives are called for.
“Whenever we visit a major city, we get information on what’s available as close to the downtown area as possible,” said Lyman Pooler of upstate New York. “We set up home base as close to the center of activity as possible and commute in and out of the city using our towed car or public transportation when it’s available.”
That is the ticket. In Atlanta, the solution is MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), which offers buses, trains, and other vehicles that travel in and around the city and surrounding areas, providing access to every point you’re likely to visit. Cobb Community Transit is the MARTA link that reaches out farther into the surrounding areas. Information on where MARTA operates and the bus schedule is available by visiting www.itsmarta.com or calling (404) 848-5000.
Prior to arriving in Atlanta, call the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau information center at 800-ATLANTA (285-2682). Personnel can answer your questions and send you literature and information about everything there is to do, see, and experience in the area. The free “Atlanta Now Visitors Guide” contains some good maps of the area, including a public transportation map, and a host of names and telephone numbers. This info is available on the Web site also: www.atlanta.net.
Traffic can get brutal in the area during work hours and rush hours, so avoid these times if you can. You can monitor the traffic reports on radio (WGST 640 AM, Viva 105.7 FM, and WSB 750 AM). Just short of the Atlanta city limits sign, you can check into a campground, set up house, and commute in and out of the city. (See sidebar for listings.) Several of the campground owners provide campers with a free ride to the nearest public transportation facilities, but they don’t advertise it. Try asking and see what happens. During a recent visit, we rented a car for use during a six-day stay and by shopping around we found one for $99 with unlimited mileage. We drove back and forth from the campground at our convenience and felt the investment was worth it.
Once inside downtown Atlanta, you can travel around by foot and see much of what’s available with only a few distance restrictions. From Omni Station or Five Points in downtown, you can walk to a wide assortment of shops and restaurants and a few of Atlanta’s landmarks. When you’ve seen everything there is to see, you can climb aboard a MARTA train or a bus and head for another section of town.
The MARTA trains meet in the heart of the downtown area. From this point, you can hop aboard and travel in every direction. Fares change, but generally run about a dollar or two. You can buy tokens and tickets at stores or the rail station. Cobb Community Transit (404-427-4444) operates a public bus system with five local routes providing express service from Cobb in Marietta to MARTA stations in Buckhead, downtown, and midtown Atlanta. There are campgrounds in Marietta. The high-priced solution is taxis, and you can call for one or pick one up almost anywhere in the city.
Where to go …
One must-see attraction is Underground Atlanta, which boasts more than 130 shops, restaurants, and clubs right in the heart of the city’s historic birthplace, all located under and over the city’s streets. The place began because of the city’s reliance on railroads more than 100 years ago. To keep people safe and away from the tracks, viaducts were built over them, and the city moved upstairs. The old part of the town below was rebuilt in the 1960s, and Underground Atlanta was born. Informative plaques contain various historical notes throughout this six-block area.
Another interesting shopping, dining, and entertainment district is Buckhead. This super-fashionable section of town features boutiques, markets, nightspots, and restaurants.
If you like to look around, self-guided and guided tour information, with pamphlets and maps for historic walking tours, are available from the Atlanta Preservation Center (404-688-3253, www.preserveatlanta.com). Choose from one of eight guided tours of various historic districts in town.
The Atlanta tourism office suggests touring town by car. What with traffic and all, this might be an understatement, but for those willing to accept the challenge, you can explore Atlanta in approximately 30 minutes to 2 hours along a 27-mile loop that starts at Techwood and Mitchell streets and winds through the city, ending at Peachtree Plaza. Along the route you’ll see the CNN Center, The Omni, The Georgia Dome, the state capitol, city hall, Atlanta University Center, the Coca-Cola museum, Inman Park, the Carter Center, the Governor’s Mansion, and a host of other famous and not-so-famous sites. A map of this tour route is available free from the tourist office.
The Atlanta CityPass ticket booklet is a must if you want to save time and money when you tour the town. It has half-off admission prices to the city’s most popular spots, plus tips, maps, and more. For the cost of this book you get admission to six of the eight featured attractions: Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, High Museum of Art, Inside CNN Atlanta Studio Tour, and your choice of either the Atlanta History Center or Zoo Atlanta, and a choice of either the Fernbank Museum of Natural History or the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The ticket booklets cost $59 per adult and $45 per child. If you bought tickets separately, you’d pay $112.43 just for one adult. On the back of each ticket is information about the facility’s hours, special features, and even info about which MARTA train or bus takes you there.
Atlanta CityPass booklets can be purchased in several locations around town, including most of the museums and attractions that it covers. For more information, call (888) 330-5008 or visit www.citypass.com. Following is more information about the eight popular attractions:
- The Georgia Aquarium contains more than 8 million gallons of fresh and marine water and 100,000 creatures. Habitats include ocean, river, tropics, cold water, and more.
- World of Coca-Cola explores the heritage of the popular soft drink and related products. Visitors tour a massive collection of memorabilia and sample different Coca-Cola beverages.
- The High Museum of Art Atlanta has folk, decorative, African, and European art and much more in its collections, as well as special exhibits.
- Inside CNN Atlanta Studio Tour takes visitors behind the scenes on a 55-minute guided walking tour for a glimpse of newsgathering and broadcasting in action.
- The Atlanta History Center in downtown Atlanta features a history museum; the Centennial Olympic Games Museum; historic garden tours; and tours of two historic homes, Swan House and Tullie Smith Farm.
- Zoo Atlanta maintains a collection of more than 700 specimens representing more than 200 species from places such as the African plains and the Asian forests.
- Fernbank Museum of Natural History is a 150-acre environmental educational complex that includes a museum of natural history, a science center, a planetarium, and a forest.
- The Atlanta Botanical Garden is open regardless of the season, with indoor collections of desert and tropical plants, orchids, and more, as well as an outdoor collection. It also harbors a variety of related creatures, such as birds, frogs, and tortoises.
So much more
Other sights in town include the state capitol on Capitol Square, with its 237-foot dome topped with native gold. Inside is the Georgia Capitol Museum, which interprets the history of this venerable building.
The Federal Reserve Bank Monetary Museum houses a collection featuring various forms of currency from earliest times to the present. Gold coins minted in Georgia are included in the exhibit.
The Georgia Department of Archives and History is a 17-story windowless building built of marble housing records that date back to the early 1700s.
Speaking of history, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which covers a two-block area, memorializes the famed leader of the civil rights movement and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. King’s birthplace at 501 Auburn Ave. also is open to the public.
The Oakland Cemetery is the burial ground for Confederate and Union troops, Georgia governors, Atlanta mayors, and Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind.
Many other things are available to see and do in the Atlanta region. For example, the Atlanta State Farmers Market is in Forest Park, at exit 78 off Interstate 75 South. This 146-acre market, one of the largest of its kind in the world, offers fresh produce, eggs, meats, and bottled specialties of the region.
Another must-see is Stone Mountain Park in nearby Stone Mountain. The Lasershow Spectacular, a tradition with lasers, fireworks, and special effects choreographed to popular and patriotic music, starts anew for the season on March 17. That’s in addition to a lift ride to the summit of the mountain; Memorial Hall Stone Mountain Museum; a reconstructed antebellum plantation and farmyard; an antique car and treasure museum; and paddle wheel riverboat rides. Not to mention a campground.
With all these reasons to see Atlanta, and ways to get around, be sure to visit soon.
Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau
233 Peachtree St. N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30303
(800) ATLANTA (285-2682)
Within a 40-mile radius of Atlanta are several campgrounds in towns such as Marietta, Kennesaw, Austell, and Buford. These are only a few, so please check your favorite campground directory or the Business Directory of FMCA member campgrounds, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com, for additional listings.
Atlanta West Campground
2420 Old Alabama Road
Austell, GA 30168
Brookwood RV Resort Park, C7224*
1031 Wylie Road
Marietta, GA 30067
John Tanner State Park
354 Tanners Beach Road
Carrollton, GA 30117
Stone Mountain Park
U.S. 78 E., Exit 8
Stone Mountain, GA 30087
*FMCA commercial member
How Much Do You Know About Atlanta?
Here’s a quiz about Atlanta now and then. If you can answer 4 out of the 8 questions (without peeking at the answers on page 100), the citizens of Atlanta say you’re free to pay a visit.
1. What one word is included in more than 40 Atlanta street names?
2. The largest fast-food restaurant in the world is located in Atlanta. What is its name?
3. In what year was the movie Gone With The Wind released?
4. Who purchased the Atlanta Braves baseball team in 1976?
5. Coca-Cola was born in Atlanta. How many secret ingredients were in the original recipe?
6. Atlanta was home to what famous civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner?
7. What three major sports teams call Atlanta home?
8. How long was the original version of Gone With The Wind? (Choose: 2 hours 52 minutes; 3 hours 52 minutes; 4 hours 26 minutes)
Answers (see quiz on page 101)
2. The Varsity
4. Ted Turner
6. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
7. Atlanta Braves (baseball), Atlanta Falcons (football), and Atlanta Hawks (basketball)
8. 222 minutes, or 3 hours, 52 minutes