Greetings Internet Stranger! You’ve come to the right place if you want to know how to spend one day in Atlanta, Georgia. If there’s one state I’m qualified to write about, except my home state of New York, it’s the great state of Georgia. My mother’s father’s family lived there since the American Revolution. Then my father’s mother’s family moved to Atlanta before the First World War. And my father himself was born in Atlanta.
In addition, I spent every summer with my grandmother in Atlanta until I was 15. I know every attraction from the Georgia Aquarium to the Piggly Wiggly. Come with me and our one day in Atlanta will be full of creepy clowns, insane men or possibly bears pretending to be penguins, and the world’s most awful beverage. Welcome to the ATL, y’all!
One Day in Atlanta
Where to Stay?
Atlanta’s a big city with many different spread-out neighborhoods. But I like staying in Downtown Atlanta because it’s easy to reach many of the most popular attractions right away. Also it’s near the subway system, aka MARTA. Everyone likes to rag on MARTA, but it’s still better than Atlanta traffic!
Anyway, that’s why I recommend Hyatt House Atlanta Downtown. The rooms are huge, there’s a free breakfast spread every morning with many options, and the staff has that friendly Southern charm. Also it’s in a great, safe location. You can’t do better for one day in Atlanta in this price range.
One Day in Atlanta
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Atlanta is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
One Day in Atlanta
Morning: Georgia Aquarium
I’m a huge aquarium fan! (You can check out some of my other aquarium recs in places like Vancouver or Melbourne here.) The Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world. That’s right. Not in the United States. The world! Suck it, Tallahassee!
Such a massive complex takes a good amount of time to see properly. That’s why I recommend arriving at the Georgia Aquarium as soon as humanly possible. It’s also probably a good idea to buy tickets online, to avoid the gnarly lines that sometimes accumulate when the schools of fish are on vacation.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the Georgia Aquarium , so I’m happy to give some pointers with
Approximately top 5: Georgia Aquarium edition
1) Cold Water Quest
The Georgia Aquarium is divided into easy to understand galleries. Cold Water Quest is one of the most popular galleries because you can get this up close and personal with penguins. It is a scientific fact that penguins are the cutest birds in the world. And this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to them. Only a thin sheet of plastic was preventing me from shaking their adorable flippers. As an adult it can be difficult to get this close to the penguins because of all the kids rushing around. Just shove them out of the way and you’ll be fine.
2) Tropical Diver
Another popular gallery in the Georgia Aquarium is called Tropical Diver. As you can probably tell from the name, it is home to cases and cases of tropical fish. But my favorite part of this gallery is actually the jellies. Just look at the glorious creatures pictured above! How can anyone actually believe they come from this planet? Isn’t it obvious they come from one of Jupiter’s moons? I know I can’t be alone out there with this one. #jellytruther
3) whale shark
Of course, the bigger animals get all the attention at the Georgia Aquarium . Take the whale shark. Actually, you’ll have a hard time taking the whale shark anywhere because it’s the largest fish in the world. (Also, it’s not at all a whale.) The whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium were rescued from Taiwan where they were going to be eaten. That’s disturbing to read about because whale sharks are endangered. I can’t think of anything more creepy than someone wanting to eat an endangered species. Except for clowns. I guess a clown eating a whale shark would be the creepiest thing on earth.
4) Acrylic Tunnel
The Acrylic tunnel is absolutely the coolest physical feature at the Georgia Aquarium. You get to walk under it and see a manta ray floating over your head. It was like living out my childhood dream of being Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Apparently the water in these tanks was made with freshwater. Of course they had to convert it to saltwater for the marine life. So they used 750 2,000 pound bags of salt and presto! Your own miniature ocean in the middle of land-locked Atlanta.
PS. I’m pretty sure feeding someone 750 2,000 pound bags of salt would be a good way to instantly murder them.
5) Daily shows
There are special events taking place in the Georgia Aquarium every day. For example, I got to see a penguin show taking place featuring the tallest penguin I have ever seen.
I’m just now realizing that big penguin was probably a person or some other large animal dressed in a penguin suit. These are the real penguins. They get on out in the middle of the aquarium and dance for you. It is the most cutest thing imaginable. Now I believe Mr. Popper’s Penguins may actually be based on a true story.
Once again there will be lots of small children in your way. Just pinch them. They’ll start crying and their parents will take them away out of shame. Then you get the penguins to yourself. Or you get removed by security.
24 hour treat: Lunch at Aviva by Kameel
After all that swimming with the fishes, you’re going to want some lunch near the Georgia Aquarium. And I have the top-rated lunch restaurant in Atlanta for you! But don’t worry. Whale shark will not be on the menu. Aviva by Kameel can be a little tricky to find because it’s underground in the Peachtree Center. (Everything in Atlanta is named Peachtree. I even had a great-aunt whose name was Peachtree.) But the food is absolutely worth the trip.
The chef, Kameel Srouji, comes from Nazareth in Israel. He is often in the restaurant greeting the customers and asking him how they like their food. It really makes you feel at home. There are several choices, but I definitely suggest the chicken shawarma platter. Also, get all the sides that the staff will allow (probably that’s two). I chose a wonderful spicy eggplant and sweet stewed figs. The staff also threw in a free falafel, and I never say no to complimentary chickpeas. I like having a few different flavors on my plate. It keeps things surprising.
One Day in Atlanta
Afternoon: Center for Civil and Human Rights
I’ve been making lots of jokes about fish and pinching children, but now it’s time to get serious. One of the newest and most important attractions in Atlanta is the Center for Civil and Human Rights. It documents the fascinating history of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta, the South, and around the world. I’m going to set my joke meter to zero and share with you:
Three facts about civil rights
1) who are these terrible people?
There are many politicians in the history of the South who were hard-line segregationists. But if we’re talking about Atlanta, the most famous segregationist was Lester Maddox, former Governor of Georgia. He was also a restaurant owner and refused to serve African-Americans in his restaurant. According to the Institute, he would sometimes chase black customers away with a gun. President Jimmy Carter claims he got into politics to oppose Lester Maddox’s segregationist policies.
If most people outside of Georgia have heard of Maddox, it’s because he’s mentioned in Randy Newman’s song “Rednecks”. But I think more people should know about how many segregationist politicians were elected to office in this country. Maddox was voted in as Lieutenant Governor of Georgia as recently as 1970. There are people who say we don’t elect politicians like Maddox anymore, but I look at congressmen like Steve King and I wish I could be so optimistic.
2) who were the freedom riders?
Fortunately the museum dedicates most of its space to those who fought for civil rights, not those they were fighting against. One of the biggest exhibits is on the Freedom Riders. These brave young men and women rode around the South in an effort to protest the segregation of public buses. Many of them were jailed and beaten, but they refused to give up. If you visit bus stations around the South, like in Jackson, Mississippi, you can often see plaques dedicated to these heroes.
One especially vicious attack took place in Birmingham, Alabama. The Klansmen there beat the Freedom Riders with the permission of the segregationist Commissioner of Public Safety, Bull Connor. (I can’t think of a more ironic title for him.)
Some of the freedom riders even lost their lives in the attempt. The most famous murders were of Civil Rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Their murderer, whose name I will not mention on this blog, was finally convicted…in 2005.
3) why is charlton heston?
This picture was the most surprising thing in the museum for me. I had no idea that Charlton Heston had delivered a speech in the 1963 March of Washington. I just associate him with being an inveterate gun nut and ape-hater. But it goes to show you that every human heart contains multitudes. Also Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier all look really handsome in this picture. I’m not made of stone.
(And there, I broke my promise to not tell jokes. I guess there’s only so long a blogger can deny her true nature. Perhaps the reason I fear clowns so is because secretly…I am one!)
One Day in Atlanta
Late Afternoon: World of Coca-Cola
Usually I recommend spending the hours between 5 and 7 doing something relaxing. And what can be more relaxing for our one day in Atlanta than a nice glass of Atlanta’s number one beverage: Co’cola! In summer months, the World of Coca-Cola is often open until seven, so it’s possible to fit it into this jam-packed 24 hours in Atlanta. You get two free Cokes with your ticket, so I think it’s worth it. One Coke is just an ordinary choice between Famous Original and Diet. The other comes in a glass bottle for you to take home. You also get to learn…
Three fun facts about Coca-Cola
1) who invented coca-cola?
Coca-Cola was the discovery of Civil War veteran John Pemberton. He was attempting to create a concoction that would help alleviate the pain caused by his war wounds. Pemberton was using a drink made with wine, but when Georgia went dry, he needed something else. He accidentally mixed soda water with his syrup and found it delicious.
Unfortunately, Atlanta businessman Asa Candler also realized the potential of this drink. He bought the rights from the impoverished Pemberton and offered him a smaller sum of money with royalties, or a larger sum with no royalties. Desperate, Pemberton took the larger lump sum, which may be one of the worst deals in history. Asa Candler went on to become rich beyond the dreams of avarice, and also the Mayor of Atlanta. Pemberton died a penniless morphine addict. There! Now I hope you’ll think of this story every time you drink a Coke.
2) what’s with the olympic torch?
The best part of the trip to World of Coca-Cola is the free international plane ticket. The museum very nicely flew me down to Rio de Janeiro. Here I am relaxing on the beach! Thanks, World of Coca-Cola!
Okay, this is actually an exhibit about how Coca-Cola sponsors every sports exhibit that is, was, or ever will be. Because of all the money Coke gives to the Olympics, they naturally get to keep the torch. This is me posing with the Olympic torch from Rio. I’m finally living out my ridiculous dream of being an Olympic gymnast!
3) Do we get to drink any Coke?
The number one reason to visit World of Coca-Cola is not the imaginary free ticket to Rio. Rather, it is the opportunity to taste all the different flavors of soda Coca-Cola has created for international markets. But the most popular drink is Beverly, which was made as a non-alcoholic drink for the Italian market. I guess it was supposed to be like Campari with no booze because it is crazy bitter. I’m an adventurous eater, but I took one sip and was like, “BLORG!”
Even though it’s disgusting, you have to try it when you’re in Atlanta just to say you did. That’s an order!
One Day in Atlanta
Evening: Dinner at O Ku
We can get a little trendier for dinner in our one day in Atlanta than the most disgusting beverage ever invented by man. To end my 24 hours in Atlanta, my aunt and uncle took me to O Ku, a popular Southern-influenced sushi place not far from Downtown Atlanta. (To be more precise for all those pedants out there, it’s in West Midtown.) It has an open kitchen so you get to watch the chefs cook in front of you. Because I was dining with two other people, I got to try more dishes than I usually do. I guess other people have some use after all!
I always like to start my meals off with a cocktail. The Sakura Cocktail is a refreshing combination of sake, soju, pamplemousse, and lemon. I always get excited when I try a food or drink I’ve never experienced before. This was my first time with soju, which is a Korean spirit made from starch. The Internet tells me it is Korea’s national beverage, so I wonder how it feels about being mixed with sake. But the taste combination is delicious, so who cares.
24 Hour treat: lobster temaki
Temaki is just a sushi hand roll shaped like this: I>. (I apologize, my drawing skills are rather poor.) The Internet tells me it’s the next big thing, which I assume means that temaki will be passé by the time I post this article. But one thing that will never be passé is buttered lobster, which is what this temaki is stuffed with. So I feel confident in recommending this dish to you.
The next appetizer was a hamachi carpaccio with garlic ponzu and serrano chili. It was a good companion with the lobster temaki because it was both lighter and spicier. I speak very bad Japanese, although I studied it in college, so my knowledge of grammar concepts is pretty good. However, I speak Japanese food fluently because it is delicious and I eat it all the time.
Hamachi is Japanese yellowtail and ponzu is a Japanese sauce made with citrus. There’s nothing to be scared of if you see words on a menu you don’t know! Just Google them. That’s what I always do and I’ve never even once accidentally ordered Soylent Green.
24 Hour Treat: Sushi and Sashimi Moriawase
Moriawase means an assortment of sushi and sashimi. There’s no way I can tell you what to expect because I have no idea which fishies will look appealing to the chef on any given evening. But what I did like about this selection was how surprising it was. I got to try items like sea scallop and surf clam that I had never experienced as sushi before. I’ve really never met a sushi I didn’t like. Except discounted gas station sushi. Don’t eat that stuff.
Japanese restaurants aren’t always known for dessert. But if I see a dessert option on the menu, I need to try it. You know, for my massive readership. So I “forced” “myself” to down a molten chocolate cake with cardamom creme anglaise and coconut ice cream. Coconut ice cream makes any dessert seem lighter and fresher.
Cardamom isn’t necessary a common ingredient in Japanese food. But it did add a surprising and rich flavor to the chocolate cake, which counts with me more than authenticity. My belly is open to all types of fusion cuisine!
That’s a Perfect One Day in Atlanta!
What would you do with one day in Atlanta? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Atlanta right now? What kind of animal was lurking in that penguin costume in the Georgia Aquarium? And will you join my jellyfish truther movement? Please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in Atlanta. If you have another one day in Atlanta, add this itinerary. You could see this itinerary with Inman Park. Maybe try this Atlanta Itinerary with Grant Park. Or you could include an Atlanta itinerary with the most important Civil Rights sights.