Atlanta is considered the de-facto capital of the South, but if you go there you won’t find the antebellum fairy-tale lifestyle and sceneries of the South that has often been portrayed by television and the movies. While Atlanta has certainly retained its southern charms in various ways, such as the friendliness and helpfulness of its residents, it is foremost a modern metropolis with an international energy and beat. The city is always on-the-go, looking forward and not backwards at its past and traditions. At the same time, while Atlanta residents are some of the most hard-working people in the U.S., they are also more relaxed and laidback than people from, say, New York. All of this gives the city a distinct feel and character; somehow it is almost but not quite like every other major city in the U.S.
The city of Atlanta encompasses more then 135 square miles of land while its metropolitan area sprawls over 20 counties, making up hundreds of cities and towns. Its neighborhoods are diverse and also dotted with lush, green parks throughout, including the 180-acre Piedmont Park, which attracts runners and leisure strollers.
Geographically, Atlanta is one of the most elevated cities in the country, behind only Denver. Its landscape is painted by rolling hills wedged between the rugged Appalachian Mountains and the flat plains that extend towards the Atlantic coast. In addition to the Appalachians, the city’s skyline is decorated by the Kennesaw Mountain to the north and the granite Stone Mountain to the east, while traversed by the Chattahoochee River and the Nancy and Peachtree Creeks.
Today, Atlanta is as much a city of business, home to monolithic companies like Coca-Cola, CNN, Delta Airlines, UPS, and Home Depot, as it is a crossroads town; railroads and three major interstate highways pass through the city. Its airport is also one of the busiest in the world and the hub for Delta Airlines. Because of Atlanta’s convenient accessibility and its warm southern weather, it is one of the most popular destinations for business and trade conventions.
The climate in Atlanta is generally warm. While it is hot and humid in the summers, winters are cold and snow does fall on rare occasions. The autumns and spring months are usually temperate. The best time to visit may well be March and April, as the city transitions from spring to summer. During this time of year, the azaleas and dogwood trees are in full bloom, making Atlanta a colorful scene.
Atlanta was originally Cherokee Native American territory, but the Cherokee were forced to relocate to Oklahoma as a result of the Indian Removal Act signed by President Jackson. More than 25% of the Cherokee population died during their westward journey.
Atlanta only developed into a sizeable town after three railroads were built, connecting the city to the rest of Georgia and to Chattanooga, Tennessee. By 1861, before the Civil War began, the city had become a major transportation hub and regional manufacturing and supply center. The war, however, destroyed Atlanta – its railroad infrastructure, residences, and businesses were burned in 1864 by General William Sherman.
Atlanta, however, was made the capital of Georgia shortly after the Civil war ended. The city launched an aggressive campaign to bring new business. In 1886, a local drugstore called Jacob’s Pharmacy began selling a drink called Coca-Cola. Asa Candler purchased the rights to the drink and founded the Coca-Cola Company in 1891, which remains in Atlanta today and is one of the most valuable and profitable companies in the world.
Despite racial and ethnic tensions in the early 20th century, which included the scar of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riots, Atlanta played an integral role in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Born and raised in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used his hometown as a major organizing center for the movement. In 1961, the city’s mayor Ivan Allen Jr. was one of the few in the South who actually supported desegregation of the public schools. Allen was also the only major to testify before Congress in 1963 in support of the Civil Rights Bill.
In 1996, Atlanta hosted the Centennial Summer Olympic Games. The event triggered a massive undertaking of construction projects to clean up blighted areas and overhaul the city’s old buildings, sports facilities, parks, and transportation system. The Olympics has sparked not only a real estate boom and a revitalization of the city’s downtown area, but also a tourism boom that persists to this day.
Atlanta is chalk full of tourist attractions, most of them located north of Interstate 20 within the Perimeter cluster in the northeast. The city hosts major art, natural history, archaeology, science, and nature museums. It also harbors a thriving performing arts community with great theatre, symphony, ballet, opera, jazz, and musicals.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site
Perhaps the biggest attraction of Atlanta is the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, which is part of the Sweet Auburn Historic District – its 10 blocks along Auburn Avenue being the boyhood streets of Martin Luther King, Jr. At the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, you’ll find the civil rights leader’s childhood home at 501 Auburn Avenue, which is open to the public for free tours. The house is a late 19th century structure that was bombed and destroyed during the Civil Rights Movement. Also a part of the historic site is the Ebenezer Baptist Church. This is the church Martin Luther King, Jr. led as Senior Pastor from 1960-1968 and also the same church where he was baptized. The church is open to the public and occasionally used for special services. The historic site also features a museum called the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. It is housed in the Freedom Hall and is the site of the civil rights leader’s crypt located by a reflecting pool. The Sweet Auburn Historic District itself was the frequent congregation of civil rights leaders, especially at the diner and motor inn of Paschal’s, which was a favorite restaurant for “colored” people at the time.
The Georgia Aquarium at Pemberton Place is one of the city’s newer attractions. It is the world’s largest indoor aquarium featuring over 100,000 marine animals, highlighted by two whale sharks and four long beluga whales. You’ll also find sea lions, penguins, cuttlefish, seahorses, spider crabs, among other marine delights. Staggeringly, the aquarium contains more than 8 million gallons of water.
World of Coca-Cola
The World of Coca-Cola is located next to the Georgia Aquarium at Pemberton Place, which is a complex encompassing 20 acres. The museum attracts about two million visitors every year, and houses one of the world’s largest collections of Coca-Cola bottles. There are also various old advertising artifacts on display, including an 1888 packing slip of Coca-Cola’s sales figures. You’ll also find film presentations, a functioning bottling line, a gallery devoted to the infamous “New Coke”, and rooms where you can sample more than 70 varieties of different-flavored cokes.
The Underground Atlanta is a historic shopping district located underground in downtown Atlanta. The complex is packed with restaurants, retail shops, bars, and nightclubs. In fact, most of the happening nightlife joints are at Underground Atlanta, which has a later closing time (4:00AM) than the rest of the city.
The Atlanta Cyclorama is an American Civil War museum that features the Atlanta Cyclorama, which is a cylindrical painting. The Cyclorama happens to be the largest oil painting in the world, measuring 358 feet high by 42 feet wide. It depicts the 1964 Battle of Atlanta when the Confederate army failed in their attempt to counterattack the Union soldiers. The painting was commissioned by John Logan, who was one of the Union commanders and wanted to use the painting to emphasize his role in the battle as part of his Presidential campaign. In addition to the Cyclorama, the museum also exhibits Civil War artifacts including steam locomotives like the Texas, which was used in the war to capture the General.
Stone Mountain Park
Stone Mountain Park is home to the Confederate Hall, which is a museum that traces the ecology and geology of Stone Mountain as well as the history of the Civil War in Georgia. In addition to the museum, the park offers biking and hiking trails as well as areas for camping and picnics. Visitors can also enjoy fishing and golf at the park in addition to a scenic ride on the steam locomotive, the Dinkey, which loops around the mountain. Scenic cruises are also offered on Stone Mountain Lake aboard the Mississippi riverboat.