Atlanta has long been recognized as a home to global brands and Fortune 500 companies. With JetBlue’s new direct service from Boston, it is easy to discover the best the city has to offer with an Atlanta weekend getaway. Combining art, green space and history the city has emerged as a culturally rich destination for visitors from around the country.
Visible urban sprawl may remind some of Los Angeles and the traffic can be notorious, but the excellent Marta public transportation makes getting around fairly easy for visitors. Revitalization and creative re-use of space is drawing both young professionals and empty nesters into one of the hottest growing cities in the United States. This rapidly expanding southern gateway has not one, but three downtown skylines.
Festival season begins as soon as the first dogwood’s bloom in March and continues into the fall. With an average temperature that hovers close to 80 degrees and rarely drops below freezing, it’s easy to see why visitors enjoy The Big Peach of the South.
JetBlue’s new early morning flight from Boston had me there in less then 3 hours; I was anxious to hit the ground running-or in this case-racing. Buckle up! I’ll take you on an Atlanta weekend getaway of activities illustrating just how diverse this city can be.
Porsche Experience Center
The North American Headquarters for Porsche relocated to Atlanta in 2015. If you’re a car lover, speed freak or adventure gal like me who loves new experiences, don’t miss this one. I would have rolled my eyes and laughed had someone told me I would still be thinking about how much heart-pumping fun I had behind the wheel. Although the mpg of most Porsche vehicles isn’t exactly eco-friendly, I did manage to drive their hybrid Panamera and learn about the efficiency of the engines in high performance vehicles. The Center is one of two in the country for the well known brand synomous with driving luxury.
There is no denying the craftsmanship that goes into every vehicle. Owners are well known for their desire to keep their trinity of speed, efficiency and comfort humming on the road for as long as possible. The Classic Workshop on site has an excellent reputation for restoration and repair, and with good reason when you see some of the treasures on display in their Heritage Center and Gallery.
I had the opportunity to drive the car myself to see how it handles at high speed, go off road on a course where the car practically thinks for itself and take a thrill ride around the track with a professional coach behind the wheel. After my 90 minute bonding with the brand, I no longer find the concept of fast cars a mystery. Sexy, sleek and exciting, I’m not a convert to expensive fast cars, but can honestly say I now understand the allure.
Midtown is known as a cultural district and at the core is the Woodruff Arts Center, made up of the High Museum, the Grammy Award winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Tony Award winning Alliance Theatre.
The influence of Coca-Cola is evident throughout Atlanta and a visit to the High Museum is no exception. A grant in the 70’s allowed the architect Richard Meir to design a new space to house the ever growing collection. Adding to the new look in 2002, is an addition by Renzo Piano more then doubling the size and creating a space pleasing to both architecture and art lovers.
The permanent collection houses more than 15,000 works and features classic to contemporary. Outdoor public art and rotating exhibitions round out the experience.
Atlanta Botanical Garden-midtown
Give me a lush garden in the middle of an urban setting and I’m there. The weather in Atlanta makes it a perfect candidate for all that floral goodness. Combine lush blooms with some creative use of outdoor sculptures and a few killer glass artworks by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly and I have to say the Atlanta Botanical Garden quickly became one of my all time favorites.
Over 36% of Atlanta is covered with trees making it the most densely forested metro region in the U.S. Adjacent to the well known Piedmont Park, one visit to this area and you’ll agree that the nickname City in the Forest is well deserved. The new canopy boardwalk experience within the Garden takes the visitor over the Storza Woods, a rare example of a surviving urban forest. It’s hard to imagine you’er such a short distance from the city’s traffic and hustle bustle.
The tropical warmth of the largest orchid center in the United States must be even more heavenly when cooler temperatures arrive. Don’t miss the extensive edible garden and vertical herb wall that is often combined with demonstrations by local chefs.
Inventive plantings are many. Particularly special was The Maiden (above) with a waterfall pouring into the garden pool as I saw her during my Atlanta weekend getaway. Below is a shot from 2016 when she was planted for the season in all her glory.
Center for Civil and Human Rights-downtown
Centennial Olympic Park and the walkable ring of attractions surrounding it has something for everyone. Alongside the World of Coca-Cola museum, the Georgia Aquarium, and the Inside CNN tour, comes one of the city’s newest: the interactive, 42,000-square-foot Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The exterior curved architecture of the LEED-certified building reflects Atlanta’s role in cradling the protest movement. The roof is planted with grass for sustainable temperature control and water recycling.
There has long been a history of protest art for change and human rights. At the entrance is a dramatic collage of significant posters from around the world created by graphic artist Paula Scher. Like rays of sunshine, the poster slices surround a central hand which will no longer stand for oppression.
In another gallery, under glass, is a rotating selection of King’s personal artifacts, essays and manuscripts are on loan from the Morehouse College. One end of the room features a bookcase “as it would have existed” illustrating the thirst for knowledge Dr. King had and the breadth of philosophers and leaders who influenced his teachings.
Intentional design gives every space a purpose. Although the debate in Atlanta was more cerebral, it was not without violence. Interactive TVs allow the dial to be changed to hear actual news clips from the times of segregation. Close your eyes, grab a set of headphones and take a seat at the lunch counter. The simulation brought tears to my eyes. It is an emotional and very real journey, one of the best learning centers I’ve ever had the privilege to visit.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site-downtown
Complementing the Center for Civil and Human Rights is the National Park Service Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. View the civil rights leader’s birth home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church while you walk through the Sweet Auburn Community which seems preserved in time.
As you listen to a speech inside the church, try and remember that King was first and foremost a writer. He had to learn to be an orator, even though it is the skill we most associate with him. When you sit in a pew in the simple space, you can feel the energy that moved so many hearts and minds.
Behold,the sculpture by Patrick Morelli, is a prominent symbol in JetBlue’s Atlanta poster for good reason (feature photo at top of post). Commemorating the heroic principles that guided the life and work of Dr. King, the statue reflects the ancient African ritual of lifting a newborn child to the heavens and reciting the words: Behold the only thing greater than yourself. The sight is a dramatic one in front of the church; a reminder of the fight for equality, social justice and human rights.
Dr. King’s maternal grandfather initiated the leadership tradition of encouraging education and social activities in the simple Baptist church. Upon his death, Martin Luther King Jr. became pastor in 1931 and continued his teachings. King and his wife’s final resting place is just down the street from the Ebenezer church, where it all began in the Sweet Auburn community.
Every city has it’s own unique outdoor space. In Boston we have the Emerald Necklace and the Rose Kennedy Greenway that have connected, transformed and beautified downtown. New York has the High Line, forever influencing urban planners. One of the country’s most ambitious plans for an urban walkway is Atlanta’s twenty-two mile Beltline, encircling the city’s downtown core.
Using miles of abandoned railway beds, construction is well underway for running and biking paths, parks and even more greenery. Although the planned completion date is 2030, the finished pieces are already in heavy use by runners, bikers and friends taking advantage of the outdoors. The success of the Eastside trail can be seen from the views of Skyline Park with lots of early evening activity on the corridor that connects Piedmont Park to Ponce City Market.
Skyline Park-Ponce City Market-Highland neighborhood
Connecting two of Atlanta’s most popular city neighborhoods, Ponce City Market is housed in the restored and renovated 1925 Sears, Roebuck & Company building. This sprawling urban hub features a central food hall, an excellent retail experience, apartments and work space.
On top of all this bustling inner city magic is Skyline Park. Close your eyes as you come off the elevator and you might think you’ve been transported back to the fun and games of Coney Island or Atlantic City! The time capsuled activities are capped by the magnificent views of Atlanta’s one, two, THREE skylines and the generous green space of the Fourth Ward Park with views of the Beltline.
Michael C. Carlos Museum
A little further afield and on the campus of Emory University, you’ll find a gem of a collection at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Well known for the Egyptian Collection and significant funerary pieces, the museum garnered international attention in the late 1990’s for one of the mummies it housed. Careful research in partnership with Emory Hospital revealed it might indeed be the missing royal mummy of Rameses I. The piece was returned to Egypt in2003; an act of goodwill and respect, and can now be viewed in the Luxor Museum.
I am a big fan of finding the link between indigenous artisans and travel. While the entire museum is tightly curated and impressive, I was especially taken by the Collection of Ancient American Art representing the three cultural centers of the Americas: Mesoamerica, Central America and the Andes. The visitor is taken on a journey along a map painted on the floor and the grouping of traditional crafts and textiles is impressive.
The bright colors and linear patterns of the dulemola blouse were inspired by body art and the bark cloth skirts worn by the indigenous people of northern Panama. When missionaries introduced scissors and machine made cloth, the artisans used the techniques of quilting and embroidery the evangelists had brought and creatively transformed clothing into a completely new form of dress. Each piece was a reflection of the unique artist who created it.
Additional rooms and displays feature arts and artifacts from antiquity to the present and I can imagine provides an incredible teaching environment for interdisciplinary education for both student and visitor.
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Next up: My favorite spots to find the best Tastes in Atlanta.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of JetBlue on their inaugural flight from Boston-Atlanta and hosted by Atlanta CVB and Discover DeKalb during my stay. As always, opinions, views and experiences are 100% my own.