Atlanta Area Museums and Attractions
Ren Davis, December 2006
Atlanta offers a rich variety of cultural attractions, from history museums and art galleries to historic sites and gardens, many just a short distance from downtown hotels.
(Note: distances in parentheses are approximate from the Hilton Atlanta.)
1. APEX Museum. 135 Auburn Ave. (6 blocks.) Trace Atlanta's rich African American heritage through exhibits in this museum located in the heart of Sweet Auburn and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 1–5 p.m. Adults: $4, students/seniors: $3. Information: 404-521-2739; www.apexmuseum.org. MARTA: Peachtree Center Station.
2. Atlanta Cyclorama. 800 Cherokee Ave. in Grant Park adjacent to Zoo Atlanta. (3 miles.) The cyclorama movement was a European innovation of the late 19th century. A "cyclorama" was a building-sized painting on canvas hung "in the round" with the viewer located in the center. Today only two historic examples remain. Atlanta's depicts the apex of the July 22, 1864, "Battle of Atlanta" fought in the vicinity of the present-day Inman Park neighborhood and the Carter Presidential Center. The other extant cyclorama painting depicts the Battle of Gettysburg and is located at the Gettysburg National Military Park. The Atlanta "Cyclorama" (its official name) was brought to the city in the 1890s and placed in Grant Park. It has been described as a period-piece "treasure" and a city landmark. It is 42 feet high and 358 feet in circumference. Housed in the building with the painting are a museum of Civil War artifacts and the locomotive Texas, famed for its role in the 1862 "Great Locomotive Chase." Hours: 9:20 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily. Adults: $7, seniors: $6, children: $5. Information: 404-624-1071. MARTA: Five Points Station and Bus #97.
3. The Atlanta History Center. 130 West Paces Ferry Rd. (6 miles.) The Atlanta History Center (AHC), the home of permanent and temporary exhibits, as well as a library and archives, is situated on a 33-acre campus in Buckhead. Permanent exhibits include "Shaping Traditions: Folk Arts in a Changing South"; "Metropolitan Frontiers"—an exhibition conveying the story of Atlanta from 1831 to the present; and "Turning Point: The American Civil War." The campus also includes the Tullie Smith farm complex (c. 1840s); the elegant Swan House (1928) designed for a prominent Atlanta family by architect Philip Shutze; and several acres of garden trails. The AHC's archive has a dedicated collection on the Atlanta-based movement for gay rights. The gay community of Atlanta is a powerful political force in the city and a dominant presence in Midtown. Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sunday noon–5:30 p.m. Adults: $15, Students/seniors: $12, children 4-12: $10.
Information: 404-814-4000; www.atlhist.org. MARTA: Lenox Station and Bus #23. AHA annual meeting registrants are offered free admission with their badges. A shuttle bus will run from the Hilton to the center on Saturday, January 6.
4. Auburn Avenue Research Library. 101 Auburn Ave. (5 blocks.) Located at the foot of the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood and business district, the library is part of the City of Atlanta-Fulton County library system. It houses important archival collections and records related to the region's African American heritage. Hours: Monday–Thursday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 12–6 p.m.; Sunday 2–6 p.m. Free. Information: 404-730-4001 x199; www.afplweb.com/aarl. MARTA: Peachtree Center Station.
5. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Monetary Museum. 1000 Peachtree St. (2 miles.) Learn about the Federal Reserve System and trace the evolution of currency from ancient times to the present day through fascinating exhibits. Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Free. Information: 404-498-8777; www.frbatlanta.org. MARTA: 10th Street Station.
6. The Fernbank Museum of Natural History. 767 Clifton Rd. (4 miles.) Come face to face with the world's largest dinosaur, take a walk through time in Georgia, marvel at fascinating Spanish-era and pre-Columbian artifacts recovered from St. Catherine's Island off the Georgia coast, and enjoy thrilling shows in the IMAX Theater. Hours: Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 12–5 p.m. Adults: $12, students/seniors (55+): $11, children 12 and under: $10. Information: 404-929-6300; www.fernbank.edu. MARTA: North Avenue Station and Bus #2--Ponce de Leon.
7. Fernbank Science Center. 156 Heaton Park Dr. (4 miles.) Operated by DeKalb County Schools, the science center features science exhibits, an astronomical observatory with the Southeast's largest public telescope, the region's largest planetarium, and trails through 65-acre Fernbank Forest, virgin woodlands less than five miles from the heart of the city. Exhibit hours: Monday–Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 1–5 p.m. Forest hours: Monday–Friday, 2–5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 2–5 p.m. Free ($4 for planetarium shows). Information: 607-874-7102; www.fernbank.edu. MARTA: same as Fernbank Museum.
8. High Museum of Art. 1280 Peachtree St. (3.5 miles.) One of the leading art museums in the Southeast, the High is noted for its extensive collections of 19th and 20th-century American art; its expanding collection of African American art; and rich collections of modern art and photography. In October 2006, the museum opened a three-year traveling exhibition of works from the Louvre. The museum anchors the Woodruff Memorial Arts Center that includes the performance hall for the Atlanta Symphony, the stages of the Alliance Theater, and the studios, classrooms, and galleries of the highly regarded Atlanta College of Art. Hours: Tuesday–Wednesday and Friday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday 12–5 p.m. Adults: $15, student/seniors: $12; children: $10. Information: 404-733-4400; www.high.org. MARTA: Arts Center Station.
9. Historic Oakland Cemetery. 248 Oakland Ave. (2 miles.) Atlanta's oldest burial ground, established in 1850, is a classic example of the 19th-century "rural garden" cemetery movement and the final resting place for many of the city's earliest citizens, as well as notable figures like author Margaret Mitchell and golfer Robert T. "Bobby" Jones. Take time to stroll the old Jewish section with the tombstones in Hebrew, the Confederate Cemetery, and the ornate mausoleums of several Atlanta pioneer families. Hours: daylight; guided tours offered on weekends. Free. Information: 404-688-2107; www.oaklandcemetery.com. MARTA: King Memorial Station.
10. Jimmy Carter Library and Museum. 441 Freedom Pkwy. (3 miles.) Exhibits trace the path of the 39th president from his childhood years in Plains, Georgia to the White House. Explore the issues he confronted during his administration through videos and displays, and glimpse the Oval Office as he knew it. The museum and adjacent Carter Center are surrounded by tranquil gardens. Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–4:45 p.m.; Sunday 12–4:45 p.m. Adults: $7, students: $5. Information: 404-865-7100; www.jimmycarterlibrary.org. MARTA: Five Points Station and Bus #16. AHA annual meeting registrants receive 50 percent discount on museum admission with their badges. AHA event site and LAC tour site. A shuttle will run from the Hilton to the Carter Center on Saturday, January 6.
11. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. 450 Auburn Ave. (1 mile.) Trace the life of Dr. King and his leadership of the civil rights movement through personal artifacts and powerful exhibits in the Visitor Center. Complete the experience with a guided walk through his birth home, historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, and a moment at his tomb in the center of a tranquil reflecting pool at the adjacent King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. If time permits, take a stroll through historic "Sweet Auburn," the social and cultural center for Atlanta's African American community for more than a century. Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Free. Information: 404-331-5190; www.nps.gov/malu. MARTA: King Memorial Station or Five Points Station and Bus #3. LAC tour site.
12. The Michael C. Carlos Museum of Art at Emory University. 571 South Kilgo Cir. (6 miles.) With one of the largest assemblages of ancient art in the Southeast, the Carlos is renowned for its Egyptian art and artifacts, as well as extensive collections of Nubian, Near Eastern, Sub-Saharan, Greek, Roman, and ancient American art. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday noon–5 p.m. Free ($7 donation encouraged). Information: 404-727-4282; www.carlos.emory.edu. MARTA: Lindbergh Station and Bus #6.
13. The William Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum. 1440 Spring St. (3 miles.) The museum features two permanent exhibits: "Creating Community: Jews in Atlanta," telling the story of tensions between assimilation versus isolation, the Leo Frank case, the Temple bombing, and the civil rights movement; and "Absence of Humanity: The Holocaust Years," designed by a child-survivor of the Holocaust, Ben Hirsch. Hours: Monday–Thursday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sunday 1–5 p.m.; closed Saturday. Adults: $10, seniors: $6, students: $4. Information: 678-222-3700; www.thebreman.org. MARTA: Arts Center Station. Annual meeting registrants receive two-for-one admission to the Bremen and High museums Thursday, January 4 through Monday, January 8.
For the Family
14. Center for Puppetry Arts. 1404 Spring St. (3.5 miles.) Home to the nation's largest permanent collection of puppets, the center features museum exhibits, workshops, and a full schedule of puppetry performances for all ages. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. $12. Information and performance schedule: 404-873-3391; www.puppet.org. MARTA: Arts Center Station.
15. CNN: Cable News Network. One CNN Center (1 mile.) Founded in 1980 by Georgian Ted Turner, CNN was the first 24-hour-a-day cable network news channel. CNN pioneered the way news, entertainment, and information was transmitted around the world. The Atlanta-based CNN studio offers tours. Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Adults: $10, seniors: $8, children: $7. Information: 404-827-2300; www.cnn.com/tour/atlanta. MARTA: Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Station.
16. The Georgia Aquarium. 225 Baker St. (8 blocks.) In its first year of operation, the world's largest aquarium has established itself as one of the premier facilities of its kind. Enjoy exhibits of sea life from the Georgia Coast, freshwater rivers, and the planet's oceans. Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Adults: $22.75, seniors: $19.50, children: $17. Information: 404-581-4000; www.georgiaaquarium.org. MARTA: Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN or Peachtree Center Stations. Advance reservations strongly recommended.
17. Georgia State Capitol and Museum. 206 Washington St. (1 mile.) Modeled after the U.S. Capitol, the neoclassical building was completed in 1889. In addition to the building's architectural features, legislative chambers, and governor's office, it houses an eclectic array of historical artifacts from Georgia's colorful history. The dome is sheathed in Dahlonega gold, first applied in 1958 and re-gilded twice since. Hours: Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Free. Guided tours available. Information: 404-656-2844; www.sos.state.ga.us. MARTA: Georgia State Station. LAC tour site.
18. Imagine It! Children's Museum of Atlanta. 275 Centennial Olympic Park Dr. (5 blocks.) A delightful destination just for kids eight years old and under. The museum features interactive exhibits, galleries, play areas, games, and group activities. Hours: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Two years and older: $11; under two: free. Information: 404-659-5437; www.imagineit-cma.org. MARTA: Peachtree Center or Civic Center Stations.
19. Wren's Nest. 1050 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. (3.5 miles.) This quaint country cottage, built in 1870, was purchased in 1881 by writer Joel Chandler Harris who dubbed it "the Wren's Nest." Harris, a newspaper journalist and author, was best known for his Uncle Remus tales, considered among the finest collections of folklore in American history. Today, the house museum traces the life of Harris, as well as offering a full schedule of storytelling performances and workshops. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Adults: $7, seniors and teens: $6, children: $4. Information: 404-753-7735; www.accessatlanta.com. MARTA: West End Station and Bus #71.
20. World of Coca-Cola Museum. 55 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. (1 mile.) Located next to Underground Atlanta. Museum exhibits trace the history of the world's favorite soft drink from its Atlanta beginnings to the present day. Sample products that Coke produces for markets around the globe. In summer 2007, the museum will relocate to a new facility in Olympic Centennial Park. Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Adults: $7, seniors: $5, children: $4. Information: 404-676-5151; www.woccatlanta.com. MARTA: Five Points Station.
21. Zoo Atlanta. 800 Cherokee Ave. (3 miles.) From the Ford African Rainforest and the Asian Forest, to the Orkin Children's Zoo and the perennially popular panda exhibit, Zoo Atlanta is a popular destination for visitors of all ages. The zoo is in the heart of historic Grant Park, Atlanta's playground for more than a century. Hours: Monday–Friday, 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. Adults: $16.50, seniors: $12.50, children: $11.50. Information: 404-624-5822; www.zooatlanta.org. MARTA: Five Points Station and Bus #97.
Green Space and Gardens
22. The Atlanta Botanical Garden and Piedmont Park. 1345 Piedmont Ave. (3 miles.) The garden offers more than 30 acres of landscaped gardens, woodlands, and indoor exhibit spaces to explore. Do not miss the Dorothy C. Fuqua Conservatory, dedicated to preserving and displaying endangered plants from around the world and the whimsical Children's Garden. Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Adults: $12, seniors: $9, children: $7. Information: 404-876-5859; www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org. MARTA: Midtown Station, or Arts Center Station and Bus #36.
The garden is located within the historic 187-acre, Olmsted Brothers-designed Piedmont Park. The park has been Atlanta's "common ground" since the 1880s and was the site of the first football game in the South (Auburn vs. Georgia, 1892) and the 1895 Cotton States Exposition. In more recent years the park has welcomed visitors to the Atlanta Arts Festival, the Kool Jazz Festival, the 55,000 runners of the annual Peachtree Road Race, and a wide variety of other events. Hours: daylight. Free. Information: 404-875-7275; www.piedmontpark.org. MARTA: Same as Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Suburbs and Beyond
23. Booth Western Art Museum. 501 Museum Dr., Cartersville. (40 miles north.) Possibly the most comprehensive collection of historic and contemporary Western art in the nation, the museum also features extensive exhibits of Civil War art and a collection of presidential memorabilia from all 43 presidents. Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday 1–5 p.m.. Adults: $6, seniors: $5, children: $4. Information: 770-387-1300; www.boothmuseum.org. No public transportation.
24. Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site. 1 Public Square, Dahlonega (60 miles north.) Located in Georgia's oldest existing courthouse (c. 1836), this area was the site of the nation's first "gold rush" in the 1820s, and focal point for the tragic removal of the Cherokee on the infamous "Trail of Tears" a decade later. Dahlonega is a beautifully preserved village in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Adults: $4, children: $2.50. Information: 706-864-2257; www.gastateparks.org. No public transportation.
25. Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site. 813 Indian Mounds Rd., Cartersville (42 miles north.) For more than 500 years (c. 1000–1550 ACE), this site along the Etowah River was a thriving social, religious, and trading center for natives of the Mississippian Culture. Explore exhibits and view artifacts in the museum, then stroll among the preserved earthen mounds and along the river banks. Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sunday 2–5:30 p.m. Adults: $3, seniors: $2.50; children: $2. Information: 770-387-3747; www.gastateparks.org/info/etowah/. No public transportation.
26. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and Museum. 905 Kennesaw Mountain Dr., Kennesaw (25 miles north.) The battles for Atlanta began in earnest with a late June 1864 attack by Gen. W. T. Sherman's federal armies against Confederate General Joseph Johnston's forces, entrenched along the slopes and ridges of Kennesaw Mountain north of Marietta. The site is among the last vestiges of wilderness in the metro Atlanta area (3,000 acres). The museum offers exhibits about the battle; while roads and trails lead to significant sites. Hours: 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Free. Information: 770-427-4686; www.nps.gov/kemo. No public transportation.
27. Little White House State Historic Site. 401 Little White Rd., Warm Springs (90 miles southwest.) This simple, white frame cottage was built in 1932 by Franklin D. Roosevelt as his home while in Warm Springs receiving therapy for polio. Throughout his presidency, it became his retreat from the pressures of the White House and World War II. He died here on April 12, 1945 and the house has been preserved as it was on that day. In addition to the cottage, the site includes a new museum and restored hydrotherapy pools at the nearby Warm Springs Institute. The site is a short distance from Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park and world-famous Callaway Gardens. Hours: 9 a.m.–4:45 p.m. daily. Adults: $7, children: $4. Information: 706-655-5870; www.gastateparks.org. No public transportation.
28. Ocmulgee National Monument. 1207 Emery Hwy., Macon (90 miles south.) Archeological evidence indicates that this site along central Georgia's Ocmulgee River was first occupied by natives more than 12,000 years ago. As with Etowah, Mississippian mound-builders of a millennium ago erected the large mounds and excavated the earth lodge that visitors may explore today. Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Free. Information: 478-752-8257; www.nps.gov/ocmu. No public transportation.
- Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau: 404-521-6600/1-800-ATLANTA
- Georgia Department of Industry, Trade, and Tourism
- Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA): 404-848-5000
—Ren Davis, with Helen Davis, is coauthor of a popular walking guide to the city of Atlanta (Atlanta Walks, 2003) as well as a guide for hikers and bikers to Georgia's natural and human history. He is a member of the Local Arrangements Committee.