From Buckhead to Sweet Auburn and from Virginia-Highland to Grant Park, Atlanta is a patchwork of tree-lined neighborhoods not always easily navigated — the city’s MARTA trains run on a notoriously narrow grid — but full of fascinating historic, cultural and culinary stops for visitors who stroll their streets. One downtown neighborhood that is easily traversed on foot, however, is the burgeoning Centennial Park District, which has emerged in recent years as a walkable destination brimming with the greatest concentration of attractions in the city.
Anchored by Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN Center, the Centennial Park District is the perfect base for the first-time visitor to ATL. We recently explored the neighborhood’s latest additions, which include a stop on the city’s brand-new streetcar line, to bring you the can’t-miss things to do, places to eat and hotels to call home.
What To Do
Just north of Centennial Olympic Park, Pemberton Place (which takes its name from Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton) is a 20-acre plaza and green space connecting three of the Centennial Park District’s best attractions: World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which opened in the summer of 2014. It would be hard to underestimate the influence of Coca-Cola on Georgia’s capital city, particularly downtown, where both the aquarium and the Center for Civil and Human Rights sit on land donated by the company.
That sound you hear as you crisscross Pemberton Place? That’s the familiar rush of an ice-cold Coke being poured, broadcast over outdoor speakers. Of the trio of sights here, the new Center for Civil and Human Rights is inarguably the most powerful, with three floors of interactive exhibits and a focus on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Be sure to leave time for the quiet but fascinating ground floor, dedicated to a rotating collection of papers from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Another 2014 newcomer, the College Football Hall of Fame, delivers a hands-on experience for sports fans. Try for touchdown passes and field goals on the 45-yard replica football field, or stick to the sidelines and explore the myriad displays that cover everything from bowl trophies and the evolution of equipment to the history of tailgating and fight-song karaoke. Your visit will be tailored to your own team loyalties, thanks to the personalized pass you receive when you register at check-in.
Music lovers should sample Atlanta’s concert scene at The Tabernacle, which opened in 1910 as a church and infirmary, and did a stint as the House of Blues during the 1996 Olympics. With its unique arches and balconies, it’s not a stretch to imagine the building’s past lives. Beyond the great sounds — Willie Nelson (February 27), Bush (March 7) and Damien Rice (March 31) highlight the upcoming calendar — The Tabernacle welcomes comedians, too; you may have seen Conan O’Brien host his show here during the 2013 NCAA Final Four tournament at the nearby Georgia Dome.
SkyView Atlanta added a bit of circular interest to the city’s skyline with its debut in 2013. The Ferris wheel, located across from Centennial Olympic Park’s iconic Fountain of Rings, offers bird’s-eye views of Atlanta from 42 climate-controlled gondolas, including No. 42, a VIP car outfitted with Ferrari leather seats and a glass floor. It’s open daily until 11 p.m. or midnight, making it a great after-dinner or post-concert stop.
Where To Eat And Drink
It’s likely the aroma of the new Twin Smokers BBQ will draw you in from Marietta Street. Brisket, sausage, pork rib and chicken are smoked over Texas mesquite, post oak, white oak and hickory woods for a mouthwatering taste of Texas- and Southern-style plates. Save room for sides; the potato salad with tomatoes is the perfect creamy, cool accompaniment to your main, as is the boozy Double Trouble milkshake crafted with local High Road ice cream and Bulleit bourbon.
If it’s time for kickoff, tip-off or the first pitch, the place to watch the game is Stats, where the main attractions are six tap tables that let you pour your own pint. Five bars and 70 high-definition TVs complete the scene. Like many of the historic buildings in this area, this sports pub has an Olympic tie-in, having served as Adidas’ headquarters during the 1996 Games. Today, the restaurant’s Adidas Room nods to that time with a mural on its brick walls honoring the iconic athletic brand.
For an upscale evening, reserve a table one block away at Asante, which opened in December 2014 with a coastal soul cuisine concept from toque Marvin Woods, TV host and lead chef for the White House’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. Go for global seafood dishes — think Bahamian conch fritters or piri piri Nigerian king prawn — in the elegant dining room.
After dinner, there’s one thing left to do: Head to SkyLounge at The Glenn on the 11th floor of the boutique Glenn Hotel for cocktails and panoramic views of everything you’ve explored so far.
Where To Stay
The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta sits a few blocks east of the Centennial Park District, but it’s worth the short walk or drive for the Southern hospitality you’ll find at this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel. The décor strikes the right balance between classic and contemporary, with plenty of places to settle in for a long conversation or excellent people-watching, including under the giant red chandelier in the lobby lounge or on the wrought-iron veranda of Atlanta Grill. After a good night’s sleep in your plush guest room, pop into the hotel’s just-opened Jittery Joe’s, a coffeehouse import from Athens, Georgia, and start your day with the Eighty-Four Pour, the signature coffee blend that references the hotel’s 1984 opening.
A second contender is the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended all-suite TWELVE Centennial Park. A nice option for families, each suite includes a gourmet kitchen, satellite TV and in-room technology for all of your requests — you’ll never have to pick up the phone here, even when you order something from 24-hour room service. Visit in summer to enjoy the rooftop pool deck. Like the rest of the hotel, this area is set up with complimentary Wi-Fi, so you can work remotely, or simply book your dinner reservations, from your poolside perch above all of downtown.