Atlanta is not a slow-paced southern city; it is a bustling metropolis. Each distinctive neighborhood united by an emphasis on arts and culture. The music, food, people, history, and public spaces earn it the moniker—Cultural Capital of the South. Aside from frequently hearing the term “y’all”, an abundance of sweet tea, and an absence of Pepsi, Atlanta seems geographically indefinable.
Atlanta has a rich, diverse history. A past marked by agrarian wealth, slavery, secession from the United States, reconstruction, commercial enterprise, civil rights activism, cultural creativity, social strife, and collective progress. Touring around the top Atlanta historic sites the city’s heritage unfolds.
Here are some of my favorite historical hotspots in Atlanta:
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site—Visitors see where Dr. King was born, lived, worked, worshiped, and is buried. The National Historic Site is comprised of several buildings, landmarks, and points of interest in the Sweet Auburn area of Atlanta. I recently wrote a blog detailing the vast site and the important history within: https://roaminghistorian.com/2021/01/31/trip-to-atlanta-mlk-national-park/
Oakland Cemetery—visiting a cemetery may seem like an odd vacation choice, but this one hosts a wealth of history in a peaceful, Victorian setting. With immaculate grounds, brick walkways, beautiful statues, lovely gardens, and a charming Romanesque bell tower that houses the Visitor’s Center, the cemetery is the city’s oldest landmark in continuous use. Opened in 1850, the graveyard has over 70,000 burials—some of them quite famous like golfer Bobby Jones and author Margaret Mitchell, some unknown like the 3000 Confederate soldiers marked by a lion statue. The cemetery is a rich historical and genealogical resource—its Jewish, African American, and Confederate sections shedding light on Atlanta’s social past.
World of Coca-Cola—it has been 130 years since Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John Pemberton, combined the coca leaf and kola nut to create a sweet, tangy syrup that when combined with carbonated soda created the fizzy drink known as Coca-Cola. Pemberton sold the drink for five cents a glass and averaged about nine sales a day until advertising genius Asa Candler came along and made it a national phenomenon. Today, the world guzzles the sweet concoction. Visit this Atlanta tourist attraction, to learn about the company’s history, see Coca-Cola artifacts, learn about production, and taste Coca-Cola products from around the world.
Other Atlanta Historic Sites
Atlanta History Center—Travel back in time to tour historic homes such as an early 20th century mansion, an early Georgia plantation house, and a wood cabin. Visitors can roam through vast gardens and learn more about Atlanta’s history at the museum. Admission includes the off-site
Margaret Mitchell Home where the author wrote Gone With the Wind. Although dedicated more to the movie than the novel, it’s fun to see the apartment she called “the dump.”
Rhodes Memorial Hall—a 1904 Romanesque Revival castle on Peachtree St. It has limited hours (Saturdays 10-2), but a reasonable price to tour this ornate mansion.
Herndon Home—Beaux Arts mansion of former slave, Alonzo Herndon—Atlanta’s first African-American millionaire. The home, which has limited hours, was built by local black craftsmen.
Grant Park—This vast park includes a historic district with Victorian mansions. Visitors will find Civil War history through a museum and Fort Walker. Also, one can visit pandas and other animals at Zoo Atlanta.
Piedmont Park—Olmstead Brothers (sons of the famed Central Park designer) created the park’s plan, which is located in midtown surrounded by arts facilities (Atlanta boasts over 50 visual arts facilities and more than 30 playhouses/theaters).
Center for Civil and Human Rights—a museum highlighting the American civil rights movement, as well as global human rights movements.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park—a Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign where General Sherman took Atlanta.
Surely all this sightseeing is sure to make you hungry, here are some Roaming Historian approved restaurants
Mary Mac’s Tea Room—I ate the best fried chicken I’ve ever had at this historic restaurant. Juicy, with perfectly crispy skin, it was really finger-licking good. I also enjoyed fried green tomatoes (with panko crumbs for extra crunchiness) and collard greens. Superb service rounded out our dining experience.
Flying Biscuit Café—One look at their biscuits online and I knew we had to visit this midtown eatery. We went at 10:30 a.m., which was perfect because there was a line when we left. I know why! The biscuit with cran-apple butter was both light and filling. It was flaky, but didn’t fall apart. I dream of it sometimes. The grits were creamy and aptly named dreamy. My buckwheat pancake with peach compote was nutty, sweet, and pretty much perfect. Our server was gracious—packaging our unsweetened iced tea (regionally hard to find) for us to take and writing down a list of his favorite art galleries for us to visit.
Meehan’s Public House—This downtown Irish pub gave a different take on comfort food. We ate there twice, since I enjoyed my bangers and mash so much that I had to stop back and try the meatloaf. I was not disappointed!
If you find yourself looking to explore American history on your next vacation, I strongly suggest visiting Atlanta, Georgia. It is a capital city filled with culture.
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