As the capital of Georgia and the center of the “New South,” Atlanta leads the way in innovative approaches to economic growth, cultural attractions and corporate hospitality in a Southern setting. The city that first claimed national prominence as a railroad hub in the 1800s was destroyed after it was burned during the Civil War. In the American tradition of reinvention, however, Atlanta rose like a Phoenix from the ashes in a resurgence that began more than a century ago and has evolved into an ever-strengthening force.
Host to nearly 19 million visitors and more than 3,000 conventions annually, Atlanta has racked up some admirable resources and attractions, not to mention worldwide recognition as a cutting-edge business and leisure destination.
Attractions: Atlanta’s tourism offerings range from historic venues to theaters to outdoor adventure. Many major attractions have undergone renovations and expansions in an effort to maintain the city’s reputation as a top vacation destination.
The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre is the city’s first major performing arts center to open in four decades. The 2,750-seat theater is specifically designed acoustically and visually for opera, ballet and touring Broadway shows, and is home to the Atlanta Opera.
With four tiers of “perfect” seating (the farthest seat is 160 feet from the stage), 14 box seats and six private lounges, the Cobb delivers a world-class stage experience. The facility also features a full kitchen and an internationally trained chef, so concession items will vary depending on the show and the clientele. Visit www.cobbenergycentre.com.
Visitors can have a taste of Coke –- both the product and the business -– at the World of Coca-Cola next to the Georgia Aquarium. The facility presents a history of the company through interactive displays, impressive visual effects -- including a 27-foot frosted replica of the famous contoured bottle – and, of course, taste testing. The attraction also includes more than four acres of outdoor space, including a large lawn, a reflecting pool and a plaza that pays tribute to Coke inventor John Pemberton. Visit www.woccatlanta.com.
Art enthusiasts have been enjoying the High Museum’s permanent collections and traveling exhibits for decades, but its recent expansion and partnership with the Musee du Louvre in Paris is giving patrons even more reasons to visit. The new facilities include three buildings surrounding a public piazza. The Louvre Atlanta involves a three-year exclusive partnership that brings rotating exhibits from the Paris museum to Atlanta, including paintings, sculptures, tapestries and cultural artifacts. Call 404-733-HIGH or visit www.high.org.
Sea lions, beluga whales and African penguins rule the roost at the Georgia Aquarium, which boasts the world’s largest collection of aquatic animals. Visitors will enjoy watching and learning about species ranging from sharks and fish to rays and coral reefs. Interactive displays, touch tanks, conservation stations and a children’s play area round out the fun. Call 404-581-4000 or visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.
Outdoors enthusiasts will want to “shoot the hooch” – try their hand at white-water rafting, kayaking or canoeing - in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. This 48-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee offers limitless opportunities for hiking, fishing or picnicking, as well as the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely day in the outdoors. Call Chattahoochee Outfitters at 770-650-1008 or visit www.shootthehooch.com.
Atlanta also offers myriad options for family entertainment. The No. 1 attraction is Stone Mountain Park, a 3,200-acre playland for outdoor and cultural adventure. The facility offers a skyride up the 825-foot Stone Mountain past a Confederate memorial carving to breathtaking views of the city skyline and the Appalachian mountains. Hiking trails, a ropes course and a rock-climbing wall add to the outdoor fun, while history and animal shows and demonstrations provide educational entertainment. Visitors can try a paddlewheel riverboat, miniature golf, or a ride on the Scenic Railroad or Ride the Ducks, a land/river mobile adventure. Seasonal festivals and events are scheduled throughout the year. Call 800-401-2407 or visit www.stonemountainpark.com.
Another attraction, Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts, is much more than a puppet show. It features two full-size theaters, daily workshops, and a museum dedicated to puppetry history and styles. It is the largest nonprofit organization in the country dedicated to the art of puppetry, and performances include a variety of shows targeted at children and adults alike, many of which are written and created specifically for this venue. Call 404-873-3089 or visit www.puppet.org.
Accommodations: Owners and operators of Marriott Hotels’ Renaissance brand have been busy in the Atlanta area over the last few years, with three hotels having undergone $18 million in improvements. Each property has transformed its lobby into a “great room,” an open and inviting space with a modern look and individualized zones for business, dining and leisure, giving it the feeling of a town square.
At the Renaissance Waverly (770-953-4500), adjacent to the Cobb Galleria Convention Centre, a renovated spa offers the full gamut of services, and the Medici restaurant offers Tuscan-inspired dishes in a sophisticated, warm atmosphere. Situated northwest of the city, away from the hustle of downtown, the Waverly has its own circle of shopping and leisure activities, including the Galleria mall of specialty shops. It is also close to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
The Renaissance Atlanta Hotel Downtown (404-881-6000) is the epitome of chic urban style, from the Art Deco design in the lobby to updated technology in the guest rooms, including iPod ports and ethernet connectivity. In addition, such special touches in the rooms as luxurious bedding, leather furnishings and terraces bring elegance to the experience. Located at the edge of midtown and downtown, the hotel offers breathtaking views of the city skyline, as well as proximity to such attractions as the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Park and the High Museum.
The term “airport hotel” does little to describe the Renaissance Concourse (404-209-9999). The hotel’s acoustical design minimizes noise while offering views of planes arriving and departing. Rooms open to an 11-story atrium and views of the “great room.” The Concorde Grille offers continental-style fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Dining: For an iconic Atlanta dining experience, there’s no beating the Varsity (404-881-1706). This diner opened in 1928 serving burgers and dogs. Today it’s the world’s largest drive-in restaurant. Slide up on a counter stool to a chorus of “What’ll ya have?” and order from a fast-food menu that includes barbecue, Philly cheese steaks, deviled egg sandwiches, onion rings and a frosted orange (a creamy frozen drink).
At Rosa Mexicano (404-347-4090), in the Atlantic Station shopping and dining complex, expect more than your standard burrito. From the salsa and guacamole prepared tableside to the freshly mixed margaritas, this is authentic Mexican cuisine at its best. Entrees range from fresh fish and grilled shrimp to shredded pork and grilled skirt steak. Enchiladas, flautas and ceviche all grace the menu, and even the traditional taco is presented with zest and flair.
Truly memorable for its atmosphere as well as its food is Two Urban Licks (404-522-4622, www.twourbanlicks.com). Guests enter an enormous open kitchen with a 14-foot wood-fire rotisserie where various cuts of meat rotate and sizzle. The environment is high energy and the food is imaginative, with the rotating menu including such dishes as bronzed scallops, maple leaf duck breast, and crawfish and crab ravioli.
For more information, call the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau at 404-521-6600 or visit www.atlanta.net.--Sara Sobota