When you’re visiting Atlanta with kids, there are really only two things that are must-dos, according to my kids: The World of Coca-Cola and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site. That’s not to say that Atlanta doesn’t have anything else to offer, just that these two are head and shoulders above the rest.

vintage vending machines at the world of coca-cola


The World of Coca-Cola


Coca-Cola was born in Atlanta and grew up to support its mother city in a big way. Never ask for Pepsi in Atlanta unless you want to be seen as an eccentric outsider.
We’ve spent years telling them how bad soda is for them, and here my children learn all about how magical this syrupy brown stuff is. If you are at all skeptical about the influence of advertising on human brains, you will be amazed at the amount of propaganda here. You will start to enjoy all the pretty Coca-Cola-inspired artwork in The Lobby, and get nostalgic looking at the advertising when climbing through The Coca-Cola Loft, and then you’ll be perplexed by the 6 minute show in the Happiness Factory™ Theater, and if you don’t get downright teary when learning about the impact of Coca-Cola on poor people around the world at the Live Positively® Portrait Wall, you know you’ll break down at the classic Mean Joe Green commercial in the Perfect Pauses Theater. They’ve got you right where they want you. And then they set everyone loose in the tasting room, where more than 60 different sodas from around the world are on tap in a United Nations of sugary goodness (except for the bitter Italian soda – you’ll know it because the floor is sticky from everyone spitting it out). With everyone hopped up on high fructose corn syrup, they seal the deal by handing each and every person a freshly bottled Coke as a souvenir as they exit. Whatever your thoughts on Coke when you enter here, they will most likely be confirmed by this visit.


Address: 121 Baker Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30313-1807
Fee: Adults – $16, Children (3-12) – $12, Children (2 and under) – Free
Website: www.worldofcoca-cola.com


Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site


All of our children learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in school, so to bring them here is a really special experience. The historic site comprises Ebenezer Baptist Church, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and the birth home of Dr. King. Ebenezer Baptist Church has been restored to its 1960-68 state when Dr. King served as pastor with his father. The grounds are largely self-guided, so you will walk from the Visitor’s Center, to the church, and then pay respects at the crypt of Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King. The exhibits in the Freedom Hall may not hold the attention of the littlest visitors.


Address: 449 Auburn Avenue NW, Atlanta, GA 30312
Fee: FREE but to tour the birth home of Dr. King, you will need to register on the day of your visit.
Website: http://www.nps.gov/malu/index.htm, http://www.thekingcenter.org


The Varsity


The world’s largest drive-in, the Varsity is always hoppin’, especially when there’s a Georgia Tech game going on downtown. The carhops traditionally sang the menu to you, and were an important part of the Varsity experience. Burgers, chili dogs and fries or onion rings are the standard fare. Fried pies and homemade ice cream top things off. Check out their website for the right lingo to use when ordering. Order a “P.C.” for a plain chocolate milk – but it’s always served over ice.


Address: 61 North Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30308 and 5 other locations
Fee: Burger, fries and a small Coke under $5
Website: http://www.thevarsity.com/


Little 5 Points

After the World of Coca-Cola, this was my tween twins’ favorite stop in Atlanta. A funky neighborhood full of little shops – thrift stores, record stores, lots of restaurants – perfect for wandering on a lazy afternoon. My kids’ favorite shop was Bang-On, where they could customize a t-shirt on the spot.


Address: Centered around the intersection of Moreland and Euclid Avenues between Inman Park and Virginia Highlands
Fee: Free to walk around! Bring your wallet to shop.
Website: http://littlefivepoints.net/


Olmstead Linear Parks


Because sometimes the little ones just need to run – what we call around here a “frolic attack” – you might want to head over to Atlanta’s loveliest urban park. When the massive neighborhoods of Druid Hills were being developed in the late 19th century, the developer called upon Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, to create some parkland for the area. The resulting linear parks run along either side of Ponce de Leon Avenue and are a favorite for runners.


Address: Along Ponce de Leon Avenue near Moreland Avenue
Fee: Free
Website: http://www.atlantaolmstedpark.org


Check out this post from Val in Real Life about the Center for Puppetry Arts in midtown Atlanta!

Getting there:

By air: Atlanta is within a two-hour flight of 80 percent of the U.S. population, so what are you waiting for? Atlanta’s airport is one of the most efficient and well-designed in the world, which is a good thing, because it’s also the busiest. From the airport, the MARTA rail system can take you to its hub station in Little Five Points in only 17 minutes.

By train: Amtrak’s Crescent line runs through Atlanta from New York City to New Orleans. This is much less romantic than it sounds.
By car: You’re going to need a car to get around Atlanta, so why not just drive there? Do you really need me to give you directions? You’ve got a computer – map it yourself!