Rediscovering Abundance in Atlanta: Some of My Favorite Places in Atlanta, Georgia

Over the years Atlanta has been one of those cities that has a certain draw for me and I can’t stay away forever. Unlike most other cities I go to, once just wasn’t enough when it came to Atlanta. I first went to Atlanta when I was in college in the late 90’s and I’ve been back a few times since then. I almost moved there straight after graduate school and most likely would have if I would have gotten a job offer there.

Still, when I go back (as I recently did) I’m always amazed at how much the area has grown since my previous visit. I read a projection that they expect the population of Atlanta to grow to 8.6 million people by 2050 (it’s currently just over half a million). Traffic is insane and you’d be well-advised to take the MARTA public transportation system https://www.itsmarta.com/, primarily the train system although there are buses and streetcars as well. Besides, even if you don’t mind sitting in endless traffic, parking is expensive and hard to find especially in the popular Midtown and Downtown areas.

The MARTA trains are abundant, clean, and safe for the most part. Just learn which line your stop is on and if you need to transfer stations and know which direction you need to go. It’s easy to figure out but I’ve always found friendly and helpful people to ask if I was confused about something or forgot something.

Where to Stay

There is an abundance of hotels, Airbnbs, Bed and Breakfasts, and even an Alpaca Treehouse with llamas, alpacas, bunnies, and chickens (https://www.alpacatreehouse.com/alpaca-treehouse). The most convenient and safest place to stay is in the Midtown or Downtown area although I’ve also stayed just north of Atlanta and that was fine albeit not quite as convenient. Prices range from the super-expensive Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Marquis, and St. Regis to the moderately-priced Doubletree by Hilton, Sonesta, Hotel Indigo, Radisson to the budget-friendly options like Econo Lodge, Days Inn, Motel 6 and so many more. Often the more expensive places to stay are located close to an array of shops and restaurants so the downside if you stay at a budget-friendly hotel you may have to drive or take public transportation for a bit longer than otherwise. Even more important than saving a few dollars, first and foremost make sure your hotel is in a safe area.

Favorite Places

Likewise, there is an abundance of things to do in Atlanta. Here are some of my favorites with a couple of others thrown in that are popular with other people but just aren’t my thing.

Atlanta Botanical Garden- I’ve been here a couple of times and on my most recent visit I discovered places that I hadn’t seen the first time. It’s funny because they even state on their website: “As the Garden evolves, it’s never the same place twice.” I can attest to that so even if you’ve been before, it’s worth going again. I love the “Garden Guide” feature that you can click, choosing specific things like Family Adventure, Flying Solo, Fresh Art and Music, and more, then click which garden (there’s another in Gainesville), how much time you have, and so forth. https://atlantabg.org/garden-guide/

This is definitely one of the best botanical gardens I’ve been to anywhere in the world and also one of the largest and most comprehensive. Tickets are on the pricey side, starting at $22.95 and up for adults but if you enjoy flowers and nature, I feel like it’s worth it. Most people spend a couple of hours here, especially if you don’t stop to have lunch or dinner at the cafe (which is good but also on the pricey side if you get table service).

Fernbank Museum– the tagline is “Where Science, Nature, and Fun Make History” and this is a perfect description of the museum. There are indoor exhibits such as Fantastic Forces, A Walk Through Time in Georgia, Curator’s Corner; outdoor exhibits such as WildWoods, Fernbank Forest, Rain Garden; and temporary as well as permanent special exhibits such as Sky High focusing on birds, Habitat where you can see sculptures and explore four different biomes. Plus you can watch a movie on a giant screen for a bit extra. As a scientist and nature- and history-lover, this place is just heaven to me and worth every penny for the $20 admission. https://fernbankmuseum.org/

The Fernbank Museum

Georgia Aquarium– this is the largest aquarium in the world, whether you’re measuring by number of fish or volume of water. I really like how their exhibits are laid out, for example take the Aquanaut Adventure: A Discovery Zone. This has 49 kid adventures, more than 15 species, and one rope bridge. Here you can learn about aquatic life in extreme environments. In other words, you don’t just walk by tanks filled with fish and other animals, you learn about the animals and gain an appreciation for aquatic animals and the research marine scientists do.

The Georgia Aquarium is heavily invested in research and conservation, a fact that I love. There are also several behind-the-scenes encounters you can pay extra for, which is great if you especially love, say, penguins, seals, or sea lions. Plus, there are many educational programs, both online and in-person, in addition to volunteer programs, programs for military and veterans, and even virtual yoga. Tickets for adults are $36.95 and includes access to all the Aquarium galleries, 4D Theater shows, general-seating Dolphin Presentation, Sea Lion Presentation and supports ocean conservation. https://www.georgiaaquarium.org/

Atlanta History Center– not only is there historical information on events that specifically took place in Atlanta, like the 1996 Olympics, but there are also displays on national events like the 19th Amendment, the American Civil War, and so much more. In my opinion, this is one of the best history centers in the United States and ranks up there with the Smithsonian museums as far as quality and quantity. The outside grounds are also worth checking out, with 33 acres of gardens, woodlands, and trails. You can also have lunch at the Swan Coach House on the grounds of the Swan Mansion and try some quintessential Southern fare like pimento cheese grit fritters, chicken salad tea sandwiches, mint juleps, and homemade pecan pie. https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/visit

Stone Mountain Park- located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, about 30 minutes from Atlanta is Georgia’s most-visited attraction. Located on 3200 acres of land, you can find trails that range from short and easy to longer and more difficult. One of the toughest trails is also one of the most popular, the Walk Up Trail; even though it’s only a mile, it goes straight up the mountain, much of it on stone, with the steepest parts near the pinnacle. If you’re not able or just don’t want to hike that steep of a trail, you can take a cable car to the top (Summit Skyride) for a fee.

Cherokeee Trail is one of the longer trails, at 5 miles and it meanders along past water views and through the woods. You can also see a 100-year-old Grist Mill (although you can’t go inside) and the Quarry Exhibit to see how the park was made with photos and outdoor displays plus there are extra activities for children that require a ticket. If you plan to just hike around the park for the day, entry is free except for the parking fee. There are a few options for staying inside the park, ranging from a campground with over 400 sites, Stone Mountain Inn, and a Marriott hotel. The MARTA public transportation stops about 1/2 mile from the park’s West Gate or you can take an Uber from Atlanta if you don’t have a car. https://www.stonemountainpark.com/

The bottom right photo is the very last section of the Walk Up Trail, straight up a rock face!

World of Coca-Cola– as you might imagine this museum showcases all things about the Coca-Cola Company. I’ll admit, I’ve never been here, as I’ve never been a big fan of Coca-Cola or any soda for that matter, but I know it’s popular. There are artifacts, a bottling display, a tasting experience (that’s been altered for COVID safety), and more. Most people spend a couple of hours here. Tickets for adults are $18. https://www.worldofcoca-cola.com/plan-your-visit/

Zoo Atlanta- with over 1000 animal species and the only twin giant pandas in the United States, this is a nice way to spend a morning, especially if you have young children but even if you don’t. You can find the usual zoo offerings like behind-the-scenes encounters, giraffe feedings, train rides, and wildlife presentations. The zoo is also actively involved in research and conservation programs around the world. Tickets start at $26.99 for adults and $20.99 for children. https://zooatlanta.org/visit/

Money-saving Tip: If you plan on doing a few of these activities, you should consider buying an Atlanta CityPass. For $77 for adults and $63 for children you will get entry to 5 attractions including Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and Zoo Atlanta plus 2 more attractions that you can choose from Fernbank of Natural History, College Football Hall of Fame, and National Center for Civil and Human Rights. It could potentially save you 45% off ticket prices if you purchased them separately. You have nine consecutive days to use the pass beginning on the first day of use. https://www.citypass.com/atlanta

Favorite Foods and Restaurants

I would be remiss to not include some of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. Again, there is an abundance of truly over-the-top restaurants scattered all around the Atlanta area. The ones I’m going to list here also rank high on lists like Yelp (because I know food choices can be subjective).

Let’s play “Find the item that doesn’t belong here”

South City Kitchen– Southern food at its best: shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, collard greens, Carolina trout are some of my favorites.

Local Expedition Wood Fired Grill– technically not in Atlanta but two locations on the outskirts, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta. Fresh, made-to-order at the counter with choice of protein, sides, rice or salad, or you can get wraps or salads. Great if you’re in a hurry but want something healthy.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken– besides Atlanta, locations in Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, and Las Vegas. I ate at one of the Nashville locations first and have since tried the Atlanta location. The chicken is tender and juicy and hot but not too much spice to be enjoyable.

Aviva by Kameel– Mediterranean food. Excellent shawarma, hummus, and falafel.

Atlanta Breakfast Club– need I say more?

Ice Cream Places- we seemed to get on an ice cream kick when we were in Minnesota prior to going to Atlanta recently. Some places we enjoyed include: Amorino Gelato (in Lenox Square), Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream (so creamy), and Frosty Caboose in a converted train caboose in nearby Chamblee (the green tea ice cream sundae with crystallized ginger and a fortune cookie on top is genius).

Atlanta is definitely a city where you can pop in for a long weekend or you could stay a week and there would still be plenty to do. Another thing of note is it does get hot and humid during the summer, as does the rest of the Southeast in the US. If you’re not used to sticky hot summer weather, the fall or spring would be more comfortable, or even the winter. The lows in the winter hovers around the mid-30’s and the highs are around the mid-50’s so it’s still not too cold to walk around outside.

Have you been to Atlanta, Georgia? If so, tell me about it- what did you do and what were some of your favorite things?

Happy travels!

Donna

Oh Yes, Omaha, Nebraska

What do you think of when you think of Nebraska? Farmland? Prairie land? Corn fields? Something else? Never really thought about it? Omaha, Nebraska and in fact the state of Nebraska isn’t exactly one of the most-visited areas of the United States. For those of you that don’t know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states and I recently ran the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraska was my 47th state and I was happy I had chosen a race in Omaha for my race in Nebraska. The city surpassed all of my expectations.

I read in a book (Judgmental Maps) in a bookstore in Omaha that Omaha is the “least Nebraska-like city in Nebraska.” I’ve only been to Omaha, so I can’t speak about the other cities in Nebraska. All I know is I really liked Omaha and was constantly surprised at just how much I liked it. There are so many restaurants with delicious food, all kinds of museums, and outdoor activities like a top-notch botanical garden for starters. It’s easy to quickly fill-up your days here. Omaha certainly gets a bad rap by people who have never been here, unjustly so in my opinion.

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Omaha is beautiful in the autumn!

Just some fun facts before I go on. Omaha is on the Missouri River and is the largest city in Nebraska. The headquarters for five Fortune 500 companies are in Omaha including well-known Berkshire Hathaway. CEO multi-billionaire for Berkshire Hathaway Warren Buffet calls Omaha his home at least part of the year. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is known for having the largest indoor rainforest in the world. The NCAA College World Series has been held in the city of Omaha for more than fifty years till present date.

So before I went to Omaha, I chatted with a local to get some suggestions for places to eat and things to do. He sent me a long list, way more than I could ever do in the few days I was going to be there but it was good because I had plenty of options. I’ll share here some of the things my family and I did and also some of the things that came recommended but we didn’t do. I realize Omaha, Nebraska isn’t at the top of most people’s list of vacation places, but honestly, I would go back if given the opportunity. There are several things we didn’t have time to do that I would enjoy doing. Who knows when you might find yourself in Omaha, Nebraska, and when that happens, you’ll have a long list of places to choose from!

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Lauritzen Gardens

Outdoor Activities

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a botanical garden, Lauritzen Gardens. I would imagine the gardens are especially beautiful in the spring and fall but thanks to a conservatory, you can even visit the gardens in the dead of winter, if you choose to do so. The gardens are on 100 acres and include several diverse areas like an English Perennial Border, Rose Garden, Tree Peony Garden, Woodland Trail, and one of my favorites, the Model Railroad Garden. A Japanese Garden is currently being constructed. There are even different types of garden areas within the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory. I also loved the sculptures and art work within the gardens.

Also mentioned earlier is Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. This zoo has the world’s largest indoor desert under the world’s largest geodesic dome, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, and North America’s largest indoor rainforest complete with waterfalls. In addition to all of those area, there’s the Hubbard Gorilla Valley, Hubbard Orangutan Forest, Cat Complex, Butterfly and Insect Pavillion, Expedition Madagascar, African Grasslands, Asian Highlands, to name some. Owen Coastal Shores, a one-acre new home for sea lions with a $275,000-gallon pool, will be opening in spring 2020. There’s also a train, tram, skyfari, and carousel if all of that wasn’t enough. You can find ticket prices, hours, location and much more information on their website, Omaha Zoo. One good thing to know is prices vary based on season, so they’re cheaper in the winter and fall than the summer. Another plus, outside food and beverages are allowed.

The Fontenelle Forest Nature Center including the Raptor Woodland Refuge is just a short drive (10-15 minutes) from Omaha, although it’s in the nearby city of Bellevue. This is a great place to walk on trails in Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods with a wide variety of ecosystems from wetlands to oak savanna to prairie to deciduous forest. For those wanting more adventure, there’s Treerush Adventure Park with zip lines, bridges, and swings. Fontenelle Forest invests heavily in conservation efforts in activities like habitat restoration and erosion control and volunteer opportunities.

Old Market

The Old Market is known as Omaha’s arts and entertainment district. There’s so much here you might want to find out what’s here first before you go or you could be wandering around aimlessly for quite some time. Here’s where you can find information on everything to do, eat, and shop plus hotels and business services:  Old Market. I found the area architecturally-pleasing and enjoyed checking out some of the cool buildings. There are several art galleries along with all of the pubs, coffee shops, and so many restaurants. Two of our favorite restaurants here are M’s Pub and Upstream Brewing Company. For a stroll down memory lane, The Imaginarium is absolutely stuffed with all of the dolls, collectibles, games, and about a million other toys that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. No joke, I even got lost wandering around in this store and had to go back out and come in again to find my family.

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Courtyard in the Joslyn Art Museum

Indoor Activities

If you like art museums, Joslyn Art Museum is a great one and even better, admission is free. The museum is divided into distinct sections including one for special exhibitions, American Art, American Indian Art, Asian Art, Modern and Comtemporary, just to name some. One of my favorite sections was the Asian Art area but I really enjoyed the other sections as well. There are also sculpture gardens outdoors and the Discovery Garden, an interactive  outdoor space. For small children, there is an interactive hands-on experience, Art Works, with nine activity stations.

The Durham Museum is a history museum in one of the coolest spaces I’ve seen for a history museum, Union Station. When you walk in, you’re surrounded by the massive former train station complete with bronze statues made to look like former train passengers and workers and interactive displays. There’s also a gift shop and soda fountain where you can order drinks like an old fashioned phosphate (I had to ask what that was because I had no idea), milkshakes, sundaes, ice cream sodas, malts, sandwiches, and other snacks. Most of the museum is actually downstairs, where you can find many different exhibits like the original Buffett Grocery Store that opened in 1915 in Omaha’s Dundee neighborhood, replicas of a former home, teepee, and a collection of things like coins, maps, and documents of historical significance. One of my favorite things we did there was walk through a train car that was decorated for Halloween, complete with skeletons, lights, plenty of spiders and spider webs, and other fun decorations.

Also in the Durham Museum when I was there were also two temporary exhibits, Louder Than Words: Rock, Power & Politics that has interactive displays, photography and artifacts to look at how music has both shaped and reflected our society on things like civil rights, LGBTQ, feminism, war, censorship, political campaigns, political causes and international politics. I liked checking out which musician or band was singled out and associated with each president, from Eisenhower through Trump and reading about the influence they each had on one another. My family and I had already seen the second current exhibit RACE: Are We So Different? so we didn’t spend much time checking that one out but it’s a good one as well. This exhibit encourages visitors to examine race from the perspective of biology, history, and personal experiences.

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Union Station of the Durham Museum

About 35-45 minutes from downtown Omaha in Ashland is the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum. If you’ve been to the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. and enjoyed the section there with aircraft, you will likely enjoy this museum. It’s an affiliate with Smithsonian and home to the U.S.’s largest collection of Cold War aircraft and artifacts. There’s a flight simulator, children’s learning center, and enormous collection of aircraft in 300,000 square feet.

For something a little different, there’s the Czech and Slovak Educational Center and Cultural Museum. According to this website Nebraska has “the largest number of Czech farmers of the first generation (born in Europe), or one-fifth of all who live in the United States.” At the museum, you can find a cafe with traditional kolaches, a gift shop, monthly movie night and conversational Czech language gatherings.

The Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters has local history and also offers free admission. Here you can learn about the migration of Mormons from Illinois to Utah. Winter Quarters is just one of 90 temporary settlements utilized by the Mormons along the Missouri River in Nebraska and Iowa. Although this was meant as a short-term home, many people established businesses here and published a newspaper. You can see many artifacts, paintings, photographs, and play around with an interactive map.

My daughter is way too old for children’s museums but had we gone to Omaha when she was younger, we definitely would have visited the Omaha Children’s Museum because it looks like a really fun place for young children. There’s a Super Gravitron ball machine, Zealand, Imagination Playground, a science and technology lab, art studios, a grocery store, car repair center, splash garden, carousel and train, plus more. In addition to permanent displays there are special exhibits and special events.

Restaurants

In addition to the ones in Old Market that I talked about earlier, we also went to Spezia’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant with a brunch on Sunday. I could eat to my heart’s content after the race, so it was wonderful! There were so many delicious options to choose from from healthy options like salads, fruits, and vegetables to pastas and deserts and many things in-between.

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Some falafel cakes at one of our favorite restaurants, M’s Pub

Some of the many restaurants that came recommended but we just didn’t have time to go to include:  Cascio’s, Johnny’s Cafe, and the Drover all for their steaks and meats; Benson Brewery and Zipline Brewery; Hook and Lime, a Taqueria and Tequila bar; Lo Solo Mio and Spaghetti Works for Italian; Oasis Falafel for Mediterranean food; eCreamery, Coneflower Creamery, and Ted and Wally’s for ice cream; Cupcake Omaha, Olsen Bake Shop, and Petit’s Pastry for bakeries.

Now are you convinced that Omaha, Nebraska is a pretty cool city with tons of things to do and really great restaurants? Of course this just scratches the surface of the highlights, too!

Have you been to Omaha, Nebraska? If so, what did you think of it? What did you see and do?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

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