Travel Stories: Top 5 Must-See Stops in Atlanta

My journey through Atlanta: see the home of the Braves at Truist Park, explore the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, and dive into Atlanta's past at the History Center.

Travel Stories: Top 5 Must-See Stops in Atlanta
Photo by Ronny Sison / Unsplash

Atlanta is the kind of place that is the perfect meeting spot and a rich history. Its origins can be traced back to its establishment as a railroad stop in 1836, when it was chosen as a strategic location for a rail line to the midwest. As other rail lines from different parts of the country connected to this line, Atlanta flourished into a bustling railroad hub. The city's geographical position played a significant role in shaping its history. During the Civil War, Atlanta became a crucial stronghold for the Confederate South, and its aftermath saw the rise of Jim Crow laws. However, Atlanta also became the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement, marking a turning point in the fight for equality. Atlanta's contributions to the world are not limited to its historical significance. It has given us iconic brands like Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, and the Home Depot. The city also had the honor of hosting the 1996 Olympic Games, although it faced a tragic terrorist attack during that time, which deeply affected the nation. Since then, Atlanta has experienced exponential growth and development, becoming a vibrant and thriving metropolis. I have had the pleasure of visiting this remarkable city a few times, but in June of 2023, I flew down here to visit a longtime friend, and to also spend a few more days in this fine city.

Atlanta History Center

On my first full day, I stopped here as I thought it would be a great starting point. I was last here after a renovation was completed in August of 2016, and this time was just as impressive. As soon as you enter, you can't miss the grand Allen Atrium on your left, with a gift shop, and the exhibits on your right. I began my journey in the main “Gatherround” permanent gallery, slowly and deliberately walking through the main exhibits. The museum presents Atlanta's history in a truthful manner, covering everything from the Native American tribes that inhabited northern Georgia to its role in the Civil War, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and even the Olympics. I have always believed in learning from your mistakes, which is what history teaches us, and this center’s portrayal of the city is no exception. The permanent gallery also showcases numerous artifacts from Atlanta's established corporations and offers interactive exhibits in both electronic and physical forms.

The website describes the Gatherround permanent gallery as such:

This exhibition shares the stories of individuals of many different backgrounds and perspectives who helped create the Atlanta we know today through artifacts, ephemera, interactive media, recording booths, immersive experiences and dedicated spaces while setting the stage for Meet the Past museum theatre performances. It also examines how the metro area has been shaped by watershed political events and exceptional leaders while covering broad themes including Politics and Policy; Cultural Life; Family and Community; and Urban Growth.

The Atlanta History Center boasts several galleries, both permanent and temporary. One of the captivating permanent exhibits focuses on the life of golfer Bobby Jones. After achieving the remarkable feat of winning the Grand Slam of golf tournaments, Jones surprisingly left the sport to become a lawyer at his father's law firm. He also played a significant role in establishing the Augusta National Golf Club and eventually the Masters Tournament. Another noteworthy gallery is Turning Point, which delves into the history of the Civil War, although it may feel a bit outdated. Lastly, the Locomotion gallery is truly fascinating as it showcases a fully restored locomotive train that represents the ones that were prevalent throughout Atlanta's history.

Truist Park and The Battery Atlanta

My friend invited me to join him and a few of his local friends for a Braves-Mets game while I was in town. As a long suffering New York Mets fan, the pain was magnified even more walking through this breathtaking place, and i’m not just talking about the stadium. In 2017, Truist Park (formerly known as Suntrust Park) emerged as the new home of the Atlanta Braves, marking their departure from the iconic Turner Field. Turner Field holds great historical significance, having been originally built as Centennial Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Olympic Games. I was initially taken aback by the Braves' decision to leave such a historic venue, but constructing a new ballpark is an immense undertaking that often demands substantial maintenance costs. Thus, the team opted for a more cost-effective approach by constructing a brand new stadium exclusively for the Braves. Fortunately, Turner Field still stands tall, now transformed into Center Parc Stadium, serving as a football stadium for the Georgia State Panthers college football team.

Fast forward back to now, and Truist Park is one piece of a larger district. This very walkable open air area is known as The Battery Atlanta. The upper levels were adorned with apartments, while the lower levels were bustling with restaurants, bars, shops, and even co-working spaces. There’s a Coca Cola Roxy theatre, and two hotels, one attached to the ballpark! I was stunned, and still am. As a Mets fan, Citi Field is a gorgeous ballpark that unfortunately, stands out like a sore thumb in a dilapitated area. The surrounding area was home to “auto body shops” that have since moved on to bigger and better things, and there are plans to redevelop the area, but nothing has come to fruition yet. However, in other cities, you see development surrounding the ballpark and this is no exception. The stadium itself is absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of great views of the action wherever you are sitting.

There’s an Omni Hotel attached to the ballpark, with a stunning 16 stories sitting next to the field (and yes, you can rent rooms with a balcony looking out towards the ballpark….for a price!). The combination of the ballpark and its surroundings is truly awe-inspiring, and the fan experience is exceptional for Braves fans. Even as a Mets fan, whether on my own or with my friend, I felt very welcome here. Maybe they felt sorry for me? Who knows. I had front row seats with the Braves dugout right near me, so I had fun yelling certain phrases at the ballplayers! There’s tons of great amenities that you would expect at a normal major league ballpark (Fox Bros BBQ is my pick!). And as long as you’re asking, the Mets lost this game, but I still had a memorable night and an awesome time!

Old Mill Park

Being from New England, I have a soft spot for old brick mill buildings. They all have a unique character and a fascinating history. I love how some of them are being repurposed into modern living and working spaces. This park does a great job of preserving these buildings, along with a covered bridge and a lovely walking trail. It's definitely a hidden treasure that I'm grateful to have stumbled upon.

ExploreGeorgia has a terrific writeup on the former manufacturing site:

On the banks of Vickery Creek, ruins of the Roswell Manufacturing Company Mills can be found. Constructed in 1839 and 1853, these mills were burned by Union forces on July 7, 1864. The 1853 mill was rebuilt after the Civil War and used until destroyed by fire again in 1926. These mills were known as the Roswell Manufacturing Company. The waterfall created when the creek was dammed to provide water power as well as the original machine shop can be viewed from the interpreted trail. A covered pedestrian bridge over the creek connects the walking trail that begins in Old Mill Park to the Chattahoochee River trail system. The bridge and waterfall are favorite spots for amateur and professional photographers.

On a particularly warm June morning, I drove out to this park in my rental car. As I arrived, I couldn't help but notice that the parking lot appeared rather small and sparsely filled with cars. Normally, this would make me hesitate, but surprisingly, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. Equipped with my trusty sneakers, I confidently moved forward. Stepping into the park, I was greeted by a stunning overlook that offered a picturesque view of the mills, an old covered bridge, and the gentle creek. Old Mill Park was once a bustling working mill situated right by the creek. It was common for mills to be located near a creek or river, as they relied on water for power. After exploring the area, I crossed the charming covered bridge and ventured onto a dirt trail. I continued to explore the park, uncertain of where my journey would lead. Climbing a set of stairs, I suddenly found myself facing the tranquil creek. I can still recall the moment I stood by the water, completely captivated by its serene beauty.

The park had more surprises in store for me as I ventured further, leading me to a magnificent waterfall area. This waterfall was truly majestic, leaving me in awe of its beauty. Alongside the waterfall, there were several overlooks where I could pause and capture stunning photographs while gradually ascending the hill. The sound of the rushing water was both powerful and mesmerizing. Moreover, it was a bustling spot reminiscent of a beach, with many families coming together to soak up the sun and enjoy a relaxing day. Undoubtedly, this is a fantastic place to hike, unwind, and take a leisurely walk or hike.

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library

Deep within Atlanta lies the John Lewis Freedom Parkway, where you can find the presidential library of Jimmy Carter, a president who has sparked much debate regarding his mark on American history. From his beginnings as a peanut farmer in Georgia to his presidency as the 39th President of the United States, you can delve into his intriguing story here with plently of artifacts, and visuals. While the admission fee is quite affordable (only $12 at the time), the museum itself is in dire need of updates and appears quite neglected, which can be a bit underwhelming. Upon entering the museum, I had the opportunity to watch a brief film that shed light on Jimmy Carter's life. You'll also get to know him as a person and learn about his family. The most captivating part of the museum, without a doubt, was the build-up to his presidency, which provided fascinating insights into his "ground game" and featured a striking replica of his Oval Office. However, as it delves into his time as president, it loses some of its allure and becomes rather mediocre. All things considered, I must admit that this is one of the less impressive Presidential libraries I've had the chance to explore.

Chattahoochie Food Works and The WorksATL

If you’ve read my very long post on food, you’ll know that as a solo traveler, you have a wide array of dining options. This spot on the upper west side of Atlanta is a prime example of that, and it’s also a fantastic place to explore. It seems to be a renovated old factory complex that now houses a huge food hall, apartments, offices, restaurants, breweries, and even a self-serve winery, among other establishments as part of a larger complex. During my travels, I usually set aside a “chill day” to visit breweries and unwind, so after strolling over from a nearby brewery, I stopped by this location for some delicious food and drinks. I kicked things off at the food hall, where the selection was both overwhelming and tantalizing. From seafood to BBQ to street food from around the globe, the options were endless. I have a special fondness for Cuban sandwiches ever since my first solo trip to Tampa nearly a decade ago, and there are only a few places outside of Tampa that come close to an authentic “cubano”. CubanosATL came VERY close, and I HIGHLY recommend them if you ever visit this place. Otherwise, there’s plenty of other great places to grab a bite, and there’s plenty of seating. Adjacent to the main food hall is TheWorksATL, a cool area featuring a dog park, social gaming space, Fox Bros BBQ, Taste Wine Bar and Market, and Dr Scofflaw’s Brewing. When I was there, a local cover band was playing music on the lawn, creating a wonderfully laid-back atmosphere.

Honorable Mentions and Past Stops

While I did not stop at any of these places on this particular trip, I would be remiss if i didn’t mention them as I highly recommend making these part of your stops while visiting this fine city:

  • Monday Night Garage: I visited this place, also on the west end of Atlanta with friends for our Talledega race trip in October of 2019 and to this day, we still talk about it! This location is mostly a series of old factory buildings that have since been converted to restaurants, breweries and a distillery. We definitely took an Uber here, and for good reason! Monday Night Brewing is the main attraction here, and many of their beers are “barrel-aged” along with more sour-type beers. The selection and beers are really good here. We also visited the adjacent establishments including Wild Heaven Tap Room and Boxcar, and none disappointed.

  • World of Coca Cola: This was part of my first ever visit in 2013, and as “touristy” it is, I still loved it. The “taste it!” area is the best part, where you can sample the different types of Coca Cola sold around the world. One that always stood out to me was the “vegetable soda” that is sold mostly in Japan. You will also learn about the history of Coca Cola and its impact on Atlanta. Definitely worth adding to your list.

  • Ponce City Market: This is very similar to TheWorksATL/Chattahoochie Food Works in that it’s an old factory building repurposed with shops and a large food hall. I first visited this area in 2015 when I was on a friends weekend, and I fell in love with the place and the concept. I have been back since once or twice, and there’s constantly changing options for food that goes all over the world.

Closing Thoughts

I have been to Atlanta multiple times before. In 2019, I visited as a base for a fun-filled weekend with friends, attending the NASCAR race at the Talledega Superspeedway. I also had memorable trips with friends in 2013, 2015, and 2016. However, this visit was different as it was my first time traveling solo to Atlanta, even though I came to visit a friend. In the past, I often made pit stops at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport before reaching my final destination. Atlanta truly embraces its identity as a diverse city, attracting people from all over the United States to call it home. With its vastness and endless activities, every visit feels like a new experience. Although my trip only scratched the surface, Atlanta has something to offer for everyone. It has a fascinating history and has transformed into a true gem.

timelapse photo of highway during golden hour
Photo by Joey Kyber on Unsplash