ATLANTA – Home to the world's most famous soda and largest aquarium, Atlanta is also known for its rich Southern history. The sprawling city offers many attractions and museums, but the best of Atlanta is tucked away in neighborhoods that can be enjoyed for little to no cost.
GETTING AROUND: The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is the best way to get around the city. The citywide bus and rail system is $1.75 per person and passes through the major tourist areas of downtown. MARTA also offers a $12 four-day visitors pass, http://www.itsmarta.com/howto/special/visitorfaq.htm, that must be ordered in advance. When traveling outside of the city's 12-lane interstate perimeter to attractions like Stone Mountain Park, car rental is best. Atlanta's traffic is legendary, so avoid driving if you can.
MUST-SEES: Stone Mountain Park, 20 miles east of the city, was voted the city's best public playground. It features a 1,683-foot-high granite rock carved with images of Confederate leaders. Although the mountain was once home to Ku Klux Klan meetings, it now is a family-oriented theme park with traditional outdoor playgrounds and an indoor foam playground.
Parking is $8, but once inside, you can hike to the top of the mountain for a beautiful view of the Atlanta skyline and to watch the sun set or rise. Walk through Crossroads for a trip back to the Antebellum Era. In the winter, take a driving tour of the park to see Christmas lights and 6-foot holiday greeting cards.
A One-Day Adventure Pass allows guests admission to many of the ticket-requiring attractions such as the Sky Ride to the top of the mountain and a scenic five-mile train ride for $25 for adults and $20 for children, http://www.stonemountainpark.com.
Centennial Olympic Park is Atlanta's lasting legacy from the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. The 21-acre park is located on Marietta Street in the heart of downtown, sandwiched between the Phillips Arena and the Georgia Aquarium. Four times daily, it has a Fountain of Rings show where synchronized water dances to music and lighting effects at an interactive water fountain on bricks. From November to January, the park is decorated with Christmas lights and has a temporary ice skating rink with $7 admission and $2 skate rental, http://www.centennialpark.com.
View the final resting place for Civil War soldiers and notable Atlantans like golfer Bobby Jones, novelist Margaret Mitchell, and former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson at the Historic Oakland Cemetery at 248 Oakland Ave. SE. Beautiful sculpture and architecture meet botanical preserve in the garden cemetery rich with Atlanta's history, http://www.oaklandcemetery.com/index.html.
NEIGHBORHOODS: The Sweet Auburn Historic District reflects the history and heritage of Atlanta's blacks. The area along Auburn Avenue between Courtland Street and Interstate 75/85 was once dubbed the richest black street in America, http://www.sweetauburn.com. Walking tour maps are available through the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, 404-222-6688. Sweet Auburn includes the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site — King's birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father preached, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and the civil rights leader's final resting place in The King Center at 526 Auburn Ave. NE, http://www.thekingcenter.org.
Castleberry Hill is Atlanta's historic art district with a trendy edge and dozens of art galleries, photography studios and restaurants, http://www.castleberryhill.org. Walk Peters Street SW between the railroad tracks.
Atlantic Station features condos, a 26-screen movie theater, restaurants and an outdoor shopping mall built on a concrete parking garage, http://www.atlanticstation.com After hours, many of the restaurants turn into evening lounges and dance clubs. The area encompasses 17th Street between Interstate 75/85 and Northside Drive.
DISCOUNT TICKETS: Tickets to Atlanta's newest and most prominent attractions cost a pretty penny, but several Web sites sell discount tickets to places like the Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coca-Cola, Inside CNN, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, High Museum of Art, Fox Theater and sporting events.
The Atlanta CityPass lets guests pick eight attractions for close to 50 percent of the combined admission prices. Atlanta CityPass is $69 for adults and $49 for youth ages 3-12, http://www.citypass.com/city/atlanta.html.
Also in the Underground Atlanta is the AtlanTIX booth which has half-price tickets to the pricier attractions in Atlanta, http://www.atlantaperforms.com.
NIGHTLIFE AND ENTERTAINMENT: The best of Atlanta's nightlife and restaurants is found along Peachtree Street, which runs from the heart of the city, north to the ritzy Buckhead area. There is a concentration of nightclubs in the high energy area of Midtown, like Sutra Lounge at 1136 Crescent Ave. NE, http://www.sutraloungeatl.com and Leopard Lounge at 84 12th St. NE, http://www.leopardloungeatl.com. Opera at 1150 Peachtree St. NE is a former opera house turned into the most exclusive club in the city, http://www.operaatlanta.com.
Underground Atlanta at 50 Upper Alabama St. has shopping, dining, entertainment and city festivals downtown, http://www.underground-atlanta.com. The mall-like area is hidden beneath the streets, but is the best place in the city for souvenir shopping. Return to Kenny's Alley in Underground Atlanta after dark for dance clubs and other entertainment.
Barley's Sports Bar and Lounge at 338 Peachtree St. NE hosts jazz bands Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. for the 21 and up crowd, with no admission. Barley's is also a great place to watch sports or play billiards.
Apache Cafe at 64 Third St. NW is a haven for performing and visual arts, featuring hip hop and neosoul jam sessions throughout the week and Monday night art sessions.
FOOD: What is a trip to the South without finger-licking soul food? Try Mae's Soul Food at 34 Peachtree St. NW. The mac and cheese and fried chicken is just like your momma's (that is, if your momma could cook).
Dine at Six Feet Under at 437 Memorial Drive SE, a seafood restaurant and pub that overlooks the Historic Oakland Cemetery, http://www.sixfeetunderatlanta.com.
Ru San's 1529 Piedmont Ave. NE has weekday lunchtime all-you-can eat sushi buffet, complete with miso soup, fried rice and stir fry, that is more than worth the price of $8 per person.
DeKalb Farmer's Market at 300 East Ponce De Leon Ave. in Decatur is the best place for an afternoon snack. Sample exotic foods in the 140,000-square-foot international grocery store or dine in the Market Restaurant where the buffet is charged by the ounce, http://www.dekalbfarmersmarket.com.