By Lisa K. Berton
Updated March 30, 2018
Rich with history, culturally blended, and offering up the exact attractions that friends and colleagues recently gushed over, Atlanta, Georgia became my next solo travel destination. As a birthday gift to myself, I booked the essentials; airfare, hotel, and a rental car. Armed with a notebook, I jotted down places of interest including addresses, hours of operation, and ticket prices to keep spending in mind. Here's a recap of my vacation.
Center for Puppetry Arts is a museum that boasts a large collection of Jim Henson's work. They also showcase a history of puppetry from around the world. Sure to make your inner child happy are your Muppet friends. Along with them are Fraggles and characters from The Dark Crystal. During my visit, a temporary exhibit celebrating the movie "Labyrinth" presented costumes, props, and creatures.
In need of rest, I checked into the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Perimeter at Villa Christina. The staff at the hotel proved to be some of the friendliest and helpful folks I've ever met. Hopefully, you will have the chance to meet the dashing Jones in his bow tie and matching handkerchief. The gentlemen at the front desk will escort you to the elevators. They can offer suggestions of where to eat and what to do in town.
You'll find an assortment of family-friendly things to do in the downtown area. Starting in Pemberton Place, my first stop was World of Coca-Cola. After I tried to avoid entanglement in a class field trip, I found myself misguided by workers who put me into the wrong line. I was lumped in with a school group. After asking the right questions and some small talk, I was given the free bottled soda I bypassed at the entrance, stickers, and a Happy Birthday lanyard. I literally had a Coke and a smile. You'll be entertained for a couple of hours with movies, history, and schmaltzy memorabilia. Start your visit by sipping sodas from around the world. Then visit everything else including restrooms. Once you walk into the gift shop, you can't return to the rest of the building. The closest bathrooms are across the lawn.
A 5 minute walk brought me to CNN Center. The only way to go beyond gifts shop and the food court is to take the behind-the-scenes tour which also serves as your workout for the day. This quick-paced tour starts with an escalator ride that is not for people with a fear of heights. If seeing news rooms and mock sets appeals to you, take the tour. If (like me) you only wanted to find Xavier Serbia, no one in the office will notice you peering through the windows at CNN en Español. Go to the employee check-in/customer service desk on the main floor and ask if he's there before paying for the tour.
Across the street is SkyView Atlanta, a large Ferris wheel with enclosed cars, tinted windows, and a call button in case you want out. The bird's eye view of Centennial Park is nice. Unfortunately it's mostly buildings on the other side, limiting the direction of panoramas but don't let that deter you from enjoying the ride, it is quite nice.
Up and at it early to arrive at Zoo Atlanta just after opening. It's a mid-size zoo with a variety of large animals from near and far to adore and learn about including pandas, gorillas, elephants, and orangutans. Plan on spending 3-4 hours here. Bring a camera with a zoom lens to take photographs. Pandas are a huge draw, so plan on possibly waiting to see them. Check out the nearby gift shop with lots of cute and cuddly panda merchandise. Zoo Atlanta offers the chance to meet animals up close. See their website for prices and rules. Be sure to tell the box office you're celebrating a birthday for a surprise.
On the way to Plaza Fiesta, I accidentally found Mercado Fresco Farmer's Market, a grocery store like nothing I'd ever seen. Aisles upon aisles of Latin food brought in from Mexico, South and Central America and a bakery with arepas they'll warm up for you. Plaza Fiesta, a shopping mall/indoor flea market is also like nothing else I've seen. There's a small food court, video games, a play area, and a mock village complete with a fountain. It's a great place to check out when you need air conditioning and snacks.
An easy return to Downtown Atlanta for a day at Georgia Aquarium. Lesson learned, buy your tickets online. Not only will you save time waiting in line but you can save $14 or more per ticket. Between shows, tanks, films, and touch tanks, one can quickly fill a 6-hour visit not including the gift shop. Staffers are exceptionally helpful. Georgia Aquarium is across from World of Coca-Cola and Center for Civil and Human Rights.
When in Atlanta, take the time to see The King Center, dedicated to the civil rights work of Martin Luther King Jr and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Admission is free as is parking. Learn more about the history of Americans from the 1940's - 1970's and how Jimmy Carter made a difference before becoming President of the United States.
While I wasn't able to see everything I'd hoped to, my days were filled with new experiences, conversations with strangers, and relaxation.
What I spent: car rental $171, hotel $98/night with AAA discount, Center for Puppetry Arts $11, World of Coca-Cola $18 w/ tax, CNN tour $15 w/ tax & college ID, SkyView $13 w/ college ID, Georgia Aquarium $40 + tax. Zoo Atlanta reciprocal admission. Parking cost anywhere from 0 - $20.
Zoo Atlanta offers discounted tickets online starting at $17 for kids 3-11, $19 for those 65+, and $23 for adults. Military members get in free.
These businesses were on opposite sides of the street but now have the same address. The grocery store may have moved since my visit in March.
Plaza Fiesta, 4166 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30345
Mercado Fresco, 4166 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30345