In 1861, the beginning of the Civil War, Atlanta had a population of 9,000. Its location at the crossroads of two major railroads made it an important city for the Confederacy to hold on to. Which they did until the end of a four-month siege, the Battle of Atlanta, when on September 1, 1864, General John Bell Hood retreated laying the city open to General William Tecumseh Sherman. On November 11, 1864, Sherman, starting his march to Savannah gave the order to burn Atlanta to the ground.
Fast forward 154 years and Atlanta has risen from the ashes. Today the population in the city proper is 440,000, over 5 million people live in the greater metropolitan area. Along with being a transportation hub, it is a center of commerce, technology, education, and culture.
Get your kicks on the ride of a lifetime at the Porsche Experience Center’s off-road course with seventy-degree inclines. Or keep the tires on the ground with a 100 mph spin around the professional racetracks. These cars cost between $80,000 to $100,000 so all activities are done with a driving coach beside you. After catching your breath check out the museum filled with antique Porsches.
Spend a few hours at Stone Mountain Park walking or hiking 15 miles of trails through the park’s 3,200 acres. The Summit Skyride a high-speed cable car whisks you 825 feet above ground getting you up close to the Confederate Memorial Carving depicting Generals Robert E. Lee, Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson and Jefferson Davis.
A visit to the Stone Mountain Museum at Memorial Hall will give you the history of how the area developed from 12,000 years ago to present day. View the artifacts and learn about the ancient civilizations that lived here through the centuries.
The park also has gardens, historic houses, and rock climbing walls, rope walks, water slides, a petting zoo and miniature golf.
Looking like the surface of the moon Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area is known for its flora and fauna. In days gone by this was one of the largest granite quarries in Georgia. Intertwined through the preserve are miles of hiking trails. The most popular of these trails is the Arabia Mountain Path a hike or bike trail that runs past farms and streams.
The tiny town of Conyers is home to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit a community of 35 monks. The monastery was founded in 1944 by a group of Trappist monks from Kentucky.
On tours of the monastery, visitors learn the history of the Abbey Church and how the stained glass windows were designed and made by the brothers in the monastery’s stained glass factory. The Monastic Heritage Center has a boatload of exhibits detailing many artifacts made by the brothers and giving the history of what monastic life is like. Be sure to take a tour of the Abbey Garden Center to see the intricate and beautiful bonsai plants.
A network of wooded walking, hiking and biking trails crisscross the monastery grounds. This is one of the trailheads for the Arabia Mountain Path.
The High Museum of Art is a gem. With its extensive collection of American, European, African and Folk art it’s little wonder why it is the premier art museum in the southeast. For example, if you are a fan of the Hudson River School painters; Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand, and Albert Bierstadt you will enjoy the High’s impressive collection.
You can’t visit Atlanta and not go to the Margaret Mitchell House. In a 19th century, Tudor Revival building that in 1925 was the Crescent Apartments Margaret Mitchell wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gone With the Wind. She wrote it in her three-room apartment where she lived with her husband John Marsh. Guides tell you about her life in Atlanta while walking you through her apartment with original furnishings, her typewriter, and other personal belongings.
Atlanta’s Historic Parks
The Martin Luther King. Jr. National Historic Park is the embodiment of Dr. King’s life in Atlanta. The major buildings in the park are the visitor center, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King and his father were preachers, his birthplace and the King Center where Dr. and Mrs. King are buried.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights tells the story of turbulent times in America with dramatic pictures of Civil Rights movements. On entering the museum hall the left wall is the white world, the right wall is the colored world. As you enter the first gallery your eyes are immediately drawn to larger-than-life images of the four little girls; Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Carol Denise McNair and Addie Mae Collins the children that were killed when a group of white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama on September 15, 1963.
Turn the corner and you come face to face with pictures of Michael Schwerner, Alan Goodman, and James Chaney, three Civil Rights workers that were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan on June 21, 1964, in Meridian Mississippi.
In an upstairs gallery are 12,000 books, papers, essays and photographs belonging to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from when he attended Morehouse College.
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is a must-see. Why? Because you’re in Atlanta and he was governor of Georgia as well as being president. If you’re checking this off your list of presidential libraries you have seen then you know what to expect; a reconstruction of the Oval Office, Carter family memorabilia, his gubernatorial and presidential papers and his and Rosalynn’s books.
Staying in Atlanta
A stay at the Mandarin Oriental Atlanta in the trendy Buckhead neighborhood is worth every penny of your vacation budget. Everything here is top notch luxury, from the sumptuous rooms and suites to the gourmet restaurants to the sophisticated spa with its saltwater pool.
Also worth the splurge is the Loews Atlanta Hotel in the heart of midtown surrounded by shops, restaurants, and parks. Here rooms and suites are light-filled and airy with floor to ceiling windows. And, the hotel is dog-friendly.
At the Aloft Atlanta Downtown rooms are minimalistic in design and furnishings are as the younger crowd would say “hip”. The glass-enclosed lobby, billiard room and bar are hip as well.
Dining in Atlanta
Like its name suggests Southern Art & Bourbon Bar is all about bourbon, seventy varieties of it. They boast four private label barrels; Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Four Roses and Heaven Hill. Partner their signature bourbon cocktails with braised oxtails and black truffle potato mousse or salmon with red lentils, faro and bourbon glaze.
The rooftop of the Ponce City Market is the place for dramatic views of the Atlanta Beltline and downtown. Snag an outdoor table at Nine Mile Station and dine alfresco on boards of fresh charcuterie, some baby back ribs or, the big one, a 32 oz. tomahawk ribeye.
If Highland Bakery sounds familiar you probably saw one of its chefs on the Food Network, The café’s five locations; Midtown, Buckhead, Old Fourth Ward, Georgia Tech and Emory University show how popular it is with locals.
This article was written by Fran Folsom.
Disclosure: My trip to Atlanta was sponsored by JetBlue and the Atlanta CVB. All images are courtesy of the Atlanta CVB.