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Destination Guide

While not quite up to Los Angeles standards in its aversion to walking, Atlanta is a town in love with wheels. Also, the areas sights and attractions are distributed throughout the city. Still, theres enough to see and do in any neighborhood to keep you well occupied for a day.

One of Atlantas chief selling points, for residents and visitors, is its moderate, year-round climate. Although the warm summers can be stifling at times, the rest of the year enjoys mostly fair skies and temperatures that rarely drop below freezing. Outdoor activities are popular in all seasons, and its not uncommon for the citys parks and sidewalks to be filled with joggers, roller-bladers, and happy strollers in short-sleeve shirts on sunny days in January.

Even if you're only in town for a day, hit the streets and take advantage of Atlantas welcoming weather. Whether you're looking to learn something about the town, find interesting diversions to fill your days and nights, or just stretch your legs a bit, the following itineraries will serve as a brief introduction to Atlantas colorful neighborhoods.

Downtown Walking Tour

Centennial Olympic Park is a good place to start any visit to Atlanta. The site of the tragic Olympic bombing in 1996, the park was re-opened after the games and now features a memorial, ringed fountains whose displays are choreographed to music, and a column of flags honoring nations that have hosted the modern Olympic Games. A Visitors Center dispenses information on tours and activities in the city.

From the park you can easily see the state-of-the-art Georgia Dome, home of the football Falcons and Super Bowl XXXIV, as well as the brand new Phillips Arena, where basketballs Atlanta Hawks and hockeys Atlanta Thrashers play their home contests. Tours are available of both facilities, and are worthwhile stops for any sports enthusiast.

Facing these two imposing structures is yet another, the CNN Center. Standing at the corner of Marietta Street and Techwood Drive, this tall building is headquarters to Ted Turners media empire. A 45-minute guided tour takes you behind the scenes of Americas first and best 24-hour news network. If you feel like seeing yourself on TV, join the audience for a taping of "Talk-Back Live," which broadcasts daily from the lobby.

Follow Marietta Street east to Peachtree Street, then walk south a few blocks to the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library. On the main floor, take in the permanent Margaret Mitchell Exhibit, which displays memorabilia from the authors life and work, including many of the resources she used to write "Gone With the Wind."

After your literary fix, its a short hop over to the corner of Capitol Avenue and Washington, where sits the State Capitol. Built in 1889, the 75-foot golden dome crowns one of the most beautiful government buildings in the Southeast. The 45-minute tour takes you to every corner of the building, and provides exhaustive background about the states history and politics.

Atlanta-based soft drink giant Coca-Cola is never really out of sight in the city, and nowhere is that more true than at the World of Coca-Cola Museum at Underground Atlanta, visible from the Capitol steps. Wander your way through this interactive museum, and don't forget to sample the cola colossuss diverse flavors as they are tweaked for sale to different cultures around the globe.

The rest of Underground Atlanta is worth a look, too. Opened in 1989 to promote downtown tourism and social activity, the enclosed 12-acre facility now boasts over 100 stores and restaurants. While you shop, keep an eye out for the marker that denotes the location of the original terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, from which the city got its original name: Terminus.

Complete your tour by choosing from among the many chain restaurants at Underground Atlanta, or wind your way back through the business district to choose among the many fine downtown offerings. The Hard Rock Cafe is always a good bet if you're traveling with kids, while Daileys, around the corner, is a favorite for more mature groups.

One word of caution. While downtown Atlanta is home to many of the citys most interesting and entertaining attractions, it remains primarily a business district. After dark, the area largely shuts down and the action moves toward Buckhead and other neighborhoods. While not explicitly dangerous, downtown at night is not the safest place to be.

Approximately 3 miles.

Virginia Highland Walking Tour

The great diversity of eateries in the Highlands make this neighborhood a great choice for lunch, which is a good time to start your tour. Begin at the northern extremity of the Highlands in the 1300 block of North Highland Avenue, near the intersection of Lenox Road. A nice collection of casual restaurants is amassed at this site on the edge of the encampment of Union forces during the Battle of Atlanta, in the Civil War. Choose from the Oriental fusion wonders of Doc Cheys Noodle House, tastes of Cuba at Mamba, a little Mexican at Caramba Cafe, or seafood delights at Indigo Coastal Grill, all within sight of one another.

After lunch, take some time to work your way through the several galleries and specialty shops, and make sure to hit the Eclectic Electric Gallery, which showcases modern art with a glowing twist. When your meal has settled nicely, point yourself south along Highland Avenue and enjoy a half-mile stroll through one of Atlantas most charming residential districts. Many of the houses date to the late 19th and early 20th century, and offer a glimpse into the architectural diversity of the city.

You may be tempted to wander off North Highland into this lovely neighborhood, but be forewarned: Atlanta streets, particularly those in the Highlands, are not mapped out on anything close to a grid pattern, and finding your way back is not always simple. If you get turned around, simply ask a friendly stranger to point you in the direction of North Highland, and you'll be back on track.

As you approach Virginia Avenue and the intersection that lends its name to the neighborhood, stop for a peek into some of Atlantas most charming and unique boutiques. Everything from folk art to high fashion is here for the asking, and while you won't find many bargains, the price tag on trendiness isn't quite as steep as in many other big cities. In warm weather, pause for a lemonade on the patio at Taco Mac, which commands a birds eye view of the busy intersection. If you're in the mood for something stronger, Taco Mac maintains one of the citys largest menus of domestic and imported beers.

Continuing southward on Highland, another three blocks will land you in the areas busiest section. The street is lined with restaurants, boutiques, beauty salons, and local hangouts. Of particular interest to music lovers is Blind Willies near the corner of Highland and Drewry. This diminutive blues bar plays hosts many up-and-coming and local artists, as well as an impressive lineup of some of the most famous blues legends.

While you're in the neighborhood, check out the menus at some of Atlantas finest and hippest restaurants such as Dish, Harvest, and Surin of Thailand, and perhaps leave your name for a return at dinnertime.

Staying on Highland will take you to the intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue, a direct line into downtown. If you feel like heading back to your downtown hotel at this point, its a good idea to call for a cab here. You could walk it, but its a pretty long haul and not the safest one.

If you're hungry for more local sights, continue on Highland one more block and stop in for some political chit-chat at Manuels Tavern. A longtime favorite watering hole of City Hall denizens, the heated tavern debates have also included such hometown heroes as Jimmy Carter, whose presidential library and museum is just another two blocks down the road.

The Jimmy Carter Center features 30 acres of gardens and lakes, which makes it a favorite hangout of local dog-owners and sun-worshippers. Take in a commanding view of the downtown skyline and appreciate the history of the moment; it was from this pleasant hillside that General Sherman oversaw the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.

Inside the museum, lose yourself in more than 27 million pages of documents, correspondence, photos and various memorabilia from the Carter administration.

Backtracking along Highland to Ponce de Leon, turn right and head east into one of Atlantas loftiest zip codes. Many of the mansions along Ponce have stood for over 100 years, and were narrowly spared when a fire trench was exploded between North Avenue and Ponce to stop the advance of the great fire of 1917. The fire destroyed over 70 square blocks of area homes and businesses. Pay attention to the streets, however, for when you hit Heaton Park Drive, you'll want to turn left.

Your final stop is the Fernbank Museum of Natural History at 156 Heaton Park, just half a block off Ponce. This unique building is set on 65 acres of wooded grounds and rolling lawns, and houses a planetarium, science center, and the finest natural history museum in the Southeast. Before beginning your exploration of the museum, check the show times for the on-site I-MAX theater. This five-story, 72-foot-wide screen features eye-popping documentaries on natural wonders from around the world, and is an Atlanta favorite.

Approximately 3 miles.

Stone Mountain Tour

Why should you climb Stone Mountain? Because its there, of course. But also because once you've scaled this 1,683-foot-high solid granite boulder, you'll enjoy a commanding view of the rolling hills of North Georgia, and a unique perspective on the city of Atlanta some 16 miles away.

Located a short half-hour drive from downtown, Georgias Stone Mountain State Park offers a broad range of activities for all ages. Of course, the park centers around its impressive namesake, which can be accessed via a short gondola ride up the steep North face, or by a hearty climb that covers about a mile and a half up the more gently sloping East face. But even if you never make it up the mountain, the park features enough attractions and exhibits to keep you occupied for several days.

More than 3,000 acres of natural woodland, lakes, fields, and trails are spread throughout the park, and provide opportunities for hiking, biking, or just communing with nature. The Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad departs regularly on treks around the base of the mountain, making various stops on its breathtaking half-hour run. The parks other attractions are pretty well spaced throughout the grounds, though, so if you plan on taking it all in, bringing a car is your best bet.

History lovers will want to visit the plantation museum, which features some 20 buildings recreating 19th century country life. After a few hours of walking through history, kick back for some serene floating aboard the Scarlett O'Hara, an authentic paddlewheel riverboat that offers tours of the parks lakes in style. And the kids won't want to miss Stone Mountains Wildlife Preserve and Petting Zoo, located just across the road from one of Atlantas most comprehensive museums on the regions involvement in the Civil War.

Feeling romantic? Opt for an old-time carriage ride, or take a turn through the Antique Car and Treasure museum, if your love interests run toward the automotive. Other attractions include a water park, several championship golf courses, tennis courts, restaurants and more.

Of course, the primary attraction at the park is Stone Mountain itself, and its not difficult to spend an entire day in quiet appreciation of this natural wonder. Be sure to get a look at the worlds largest bas-relief sculpture; carved into the flat North side of the mountain, it portrays three of the Souths most notable Civil War figures: Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and President Jefferson Davis.

The gondola line to the top of the mountain runs almost directly over the sculpture for a birds eye view, but its big enough to be easily observed from below. One of the most spectacular ways to view it is during the laser light shows, which are put on nightly during the summer months, and Fridays through Sundays in Spring and Fall. Pack a picnic and come early for a good seat on the lawn area facing the north side of the mountain, and prepare to be wowed.

Stone Mountain is easily-accessible by public transportation. Catch an East Line MARTA train to the Indian Trail station, from which point bus service will deliver you directly to the park.