Weekend Family Fun
Exploring family favorites all around Atlanta
Whether you are visiting Atlanta from afar or you live right outside the perimeter, there is always fun for families. My family of six has spent 14 years living in Atlanta, experiencing big city excitement whenever we want, while also being able to retreat to our quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. I find there’s an intriguing uniqueness about Atlanta which draws us in. It’s a major metropolis but people still lazily wave from their porch as you drive by. Atlanta has strong Southern roots, with all the history that entails, but still carries the vestiges of “the city too busy to hate.”
Atlanta is comfort food and Black excellence. It is a cool breeze on a sultry summer day and the aroma of homemade peach cobbler luring you into a diner. It’s a slow and steady city, progressive with enough historical context around to keep it honest. Visiting Atlanta for a weekend (or longer)? Check out some of my family’s favorite things to do in our adopted hometown.
Maria Smith is a wife and mom of four children ranging in age from 8 to 13 living in Smyrna, GA. In her pre-kid life, she was a TV producer, producing The Oprah Winfrey Show among others. Now, she is a freelance writer, blogs at MamaliciousMaria.com, and spends her time playing tennis, coaching basketball and carpooling her kids.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park
A visit to Atlanta should always, ALWAYS include the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. We visit to pay homage to an American hero, to learn something new, and also to be part of the thriving community that surrounds the historic site. The King Center, an indoor museum, offers an immersive experience for people of all ages. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s demise, but it frames things in a hopeful way that lends itself to productive discussions. To burn off some energy, and to just be kids, my four children adore the sweet playground behind The King Center. It is the living embodiment of Dr. King’s vision, with kids of all ethnicities playing together. The gravesites of Dr. and Mrs. King, the King family home, and Ebenezer Baptist Church are part of this national historic site as well. Everything is free and within walking distance of each other. Jump on Atlanta Streetcar to get here from Downtown hotels.
Costing only $1/trip with up to 2 kids riding free, it is super cost-effective too.
The Municipal Market (Sweet Auburn Curb Market)
After walking around the MLK site, you’ll probably be getting hungry. Your nose may lead you directly to The Municipal Market (locals still call it Sweet Auburn Curb Market) a few blocks away. Situated on Auburn Avenue, once called the richest Negro street in the world, Market is filled with history and soul food. It was called the curb market because, prior to integration, Blacks were only allowed to sell their products on the curb outside. Today, this is where you go to buy a large bag of washed greens, a pound of pickled pigs’ feet, a gigantic turkey burger “all the way” and snow crab clusters bigger than your head. You can find a variety of fresh ingredients as well as ready-made meals. The scents of oxtails, etouffee, Pho and down home, butter-slathered soul food all blend together in the most delicious way.
I felt a strong sense of belonging upon walking into the Market, as well as around the Historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood. There were conversations surrounding me in English, French, Spanish and African dialects I couldn’t pinpoint. Some haggled for the best price of fresh fish and others simply chatted with friends while waiting for their orders. It was fantastic to be able to show my kids the cornucopia of cultures represented at this destination. As we wandered through the cavernous Market, trying to decide on our best bet for lunch, I realized I was sharing a little bit of the world with my brood. Telling children about different cultures is good, but showing them how you interact with people of different ethnicities is even better. Similarly, having kids read history books is fine, but taking them to a place where history is alive and all around them is so much better. We found the Municipal Market to be empowering as well as educational, and offered up some of the best food in the city too!
The Market will validate parking for 1 hour and offers limited seating.
Starlight Drive-In Theater
Head a few miles southeast to Atlanta’s only permanent drive-in theater, Starlight Drive-in. It’s a throwback to the 1950s but with the technology of today. Going to Starlight is not just about seeing a movie, it’s about having a family experience. Recently, we bundled the kids up in their pajamas and loaded the car with snacks and Cokes. Everyone got comfortable in our minivan as we pulled into Starlight shortly before dusk. We watched the movie through the windshield and listened to it through the FM stereo. Starlight offers concessions and bathrooms if you need it, but we had the whole experience without leaving our car. Our 8-year-old wrapped himself in a blanket and promptly fell asleep before the 9 p.m. feature even started. The rest of us enjoyed the movie, talking over it when we wanted, as the soft not-quite-fall breeze floated through our open windows. The kids said it was exciting, but I thought it was the most relaxing movie we’ve seen together in a long time.
Ticket prices for kids ages 5-9 is only $1, and $10 for ages 9+.
Atlanta History Center
Atlanta History Center is centered among the eye-popping mansions in Buckhead, Atlanta’s toniest neighborhood. It is where I married my husband back in 2006! We showed our out-of-town guests the best of Atlanta during our wedding at Swan Coach House and they still talk about the frozen fruit salad and homemade cheese straws. Open daily for lunch, this fancy-but-comfortable cafe screams Atlanta and the South.
Atlanta History Center includes several indoor museum-like exhibitions, such as the interactive Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta permanent exhibit. However, it’s the outdoor offerings that keep families flocking to this destination. Kids can run, jump and play on 33 acres of enchanting gardens and trails, as well as participate in various crafts and demonstrations offered seasonally. Visitors can walk through the well-preserved 13,000 square foot architectural marvel, Swan House. Or, a short walk away, the Smith Family Farm gives families a glimpse into how life at a pre-Civil War slaveholding farm would look. My kids were fascinated by the sheep and other animals as well as the working Blacksmith’s Shop. They were awed into silence upon entering the slave cabin.
My sons saw the sign asking visitors to “help pick cotton” and wanted to participate. I held them back, tightly. We then had an engaging conversation about who picked cotton on this farm and the heavy burdens they carried with them from sunrise to sunset, from birth to death. The discussion was necessary and open-ended. The evils of slavery are not discussed explicitly, however, the History Center can be an impetus for all families to discuss slavery in age-appropriate ways.
For families looking to visit, Atlanta History Center offers complimentary parking and free admission several times during the year, including MLK Day.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is where you go when you desperately want your kids to understand the plight of Blacks in America but aren’t quite sure how to tell that story. Through interactive exhibits, videos and photos, visitors can get an idea of the fight for civil rights and how the struggle altered the direction of the country. It opened in 2007 adjacent to World of Coca-Cola and Georgia Aquarium. This family-friendly destination is designed to bring history to life and make it applicable to today. If possible, try to catch one of the Center’s diverse presentations. From discussions to author meet-and-greets to children’s story time, there are a variety of extra activities offered throughout the year. I challenge you to take a seat at the lunch counter display, put on the headphones and close your eyes to really experience what it meant to join in a 1960-style lunch counter protest. You feel the kick of a steel-toed boot on the back of your seat. You hear the most vile words used in such a common, off-hand way. I dare you to experience this and not have it change you. This is the only exhibit I wouldn’t recommend for younger children, though it was everyday life for kids living just a generation ago.
Coca-Cola, Delta and Porsche have all sponsored free admission days at The Center for Civil and Human Rights, so look for any discounts prior to buying tickets.
Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame
You will have fun visiting Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame even if you know nothing about football. You don’t even have to like football. It’s that good! You can kick, run, jump and throw. You can watch inspirational movies using immersive 3-D goggles. You can sing along with your school’s fight song, relive the glory days of your parents’ alma mater or try your hand at sportscasting with the GameDay crew. (It’s not as easy as it looks!) I love having the ability to just play with my kids and get a little sweaty together. If you are a football fan, then the Hall is a no brainer for you. You can jump up and pound Notre Dame’s “Play Like A Champion” sign or watch Warrick Dunn darting in for a touchdown at Florida State. I appreciate that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are all represented, including my husband’s beloved FAMU. There is a Chick-fil-A concession stand (and full restaurant) in the Hall. If you visit on a weekend, look for live college football games on giant movie-sized screens.
Parking is available in nearby garages and averages $10-$20.
Porsche Experience Center
Atlanta is home to some of the most iconic American companies including The Home Depot, Delta Air Lines and Porsche. Now you can experience one of these companies in a unique, exciting way. Get some fast-driving thrills at Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta. Located near the airport, Porsche Experience Center is a family destination that mom and dad may like even more than the kids. It is the epitome of a luxe family outing.
The Experience Center features a 1.6 mile driving circuit where the incredible performance of Porsche cars can be experienced in all their glory. You can smell the rubber of the tire screeching around a turn and run your hand over the beautiful lines of your dream car. There are driving experiences to match your comfort level, including the off-road circuit and demo-car laps you can experience from the passenger seat. Kids under 16 can’t go on the track, but they can watch from a shaded seated area. If they are over 5 ft tall they can also experience the simulation lab, which is perhaps just as fun. When we visited Porsche for Father’s Day, only my husband drove. My kids and I watched him and the other drivers, and took in the posh surroundings. We had as much fun as my husband did! If your budget allows, make a reservation for Restaurant 365 for a track-side fine dining experience that will wow everyone.
If you have a teen driver, look into the half-day $800/person driving school to give them the driving skills you hope they never need.
Atlanta is a vibrant town with an open smile hoping to welcome you in. There is fun to be had for every family. The biggest question will be which attractions to visit first.
Get to know Atlanta, and discover the best things to do around the city.