Experiencing your city as a tourist
Circumstances can sometimes make travel difficult. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a vacation at home. Opting for a staycation will not only allow you to save money for a future dream vacation, it will give a greater appreciation for where you live.
When planning your staycation, approach it as though friends from another country were visiting your city for the first time and want your help in planning their itinerary. Which historical sites or museums should they experience? Are there any tours they might find fun and interesting? Which parks might they enjoy exploring? Are there any unique or iconic restaurants that would give them a taste of the local culture? What kinds of recreational activities are available? Where would you recommend they stay to make the most of their time in your city?
By answering theses questions as though you were planning a vacation for someone else, you will have the framework for a great staycation for yourself. If some of your answers include things that you’ve done thousands of times, looks for alternatives. The best staycations involve new experiences where you see your city as a tourists rather than as a local.
As an example, Sandi and I took a his way/her way approach in planning a staycation in my home town of Atlanta. We each selected two itinerary items for each category. You will see that we each answered the questions quite differently. But therein lies the beauty of a staycation—you can experience the same city in multiple ways. Here’s how each of us planned an Atlanta staycation.
Finding ways to connecting with your city’s past will make your staycation more meaningful as you’re almost guaranteed to learn something. Atlanta has a rich and colorful history to explore.
- The World of Coca-Cola is a museum chronicling the history of the world’s most popular soft drink which was first concocted in Atlanta. In the tasting room, you’re allowed to sample Coca-Cola products from around the world until your bladder cries for mercy.
- Oakland Cemetery was founded in 1850 and is the final resting place of notable Georgians like Gone with the Wind author, Margaret Mitchell, and golf legend, Bobby Jones—along with governors, notable politicians, civil rights leaders, and even confederate soldiers. This historic garden cemetery is shaded by giant magnolia trees features winding paths, elaborate mausoleums, and impressive architecture.
- The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site includes a civil rights museum, Ebenezer Baptist Church where King pastored, his birth home, grave site, and the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
- Frankly my dear, I would visit the Margaret Mitchell House where the Pulitzer-Prize winning author penned, Gone With the Wind.
Visiting museums give you the get in touch with the art, history, and culture of your city. Atlanta is blessed with a wide array of museums, many with rotating exhibits.
- The Delta Flight Museum is a history lesson in commercial aviation, showing Delta’s evolution from a crop dusting service to a major commercial airline.
- Southerners are as passionate about college football as they are fried chicken and sweet tea. So, no staycation in Atlanta would be complete without a visit to the College Football Hall of Fame.
- The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum has two floors of Civil War artifacts and is home to the world’s largest painting, a 42 feet tall and 358 feet circumference masterpiece depicting the Battle of Atlanta.
- The High Museum of Art is ranked among the top 100 museums in the world. Rotating exhibits assure that you’ll see something each time you visit, whether it is paintings of a grand master, decorative art, photography, or something modern and contemporary.
Hanging out in a park is a great way to chill out, relax, and enjoy a leisurely afternoon.
- Stone Mountain Park is home to the world’s largest piece of exposed granite, and the Confederate Memorial Carving on its face happens to be the world’s largest bas-relief sculpture. The park has miles of trails, campsites, lakes, and numerous outstanding attractions.
- Centennial Olympic Park is located in the heart of down town. The park was constructed for the 1996 Olympics. The Fountain of Rings is a great place for people watching as many get soaked from the seemingly random eruptions of the fountain.
- If you’re an animal lover, you’ve got to visit Zoo Atlanta where there are over 1,500 animals from around the world, and it’s one of only four zoos in the United States with giant pandas!
- In addition to an amazing array of plant life, the immaculately landscaped, 30 acre Atlanta Botanical Garden has a conservatory, a orchid center, a canopy walk, edible gardens, an outdoor kitchen, and a concert venue. It’s the place to go for inspiration for your home landscaping.
Since it’s not something that you might regularly do, taking tours is a great way to make a staycation seem more like a vacation.
- It’s not a staycation without beer. The Atlanta Brews Cruise takes you to three of Atlanta’s most popular breweries so you can get a taste of some great local brews.
- The Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in North America and has over 100,000 animals, including whale sharks, beluga whales, dolphins, and penguins.
- CNN Tour is a must for news junkies as it offers a behind-the-scenes look at the history and operations of the world’s first 24 hour news channel.
- The Southern Food Walking Tour is a great way to experience some Atlanta culture and history by sampling classic southern dishes at a number of popular Atlanta eateries. Best of all, walking helps burn some of the calories between each stop o the tour.
One of the best things you can do to make a staycation seem more like a vacation is to spend at least one night away from home.
- The Westin Peachtree Plaza is located in the heart of downtown on Peachtree street and is in easy walking distance to many attractions. As one of Atlanta’s tallest buildings, it offers spectacular views of the city from the Sundial restaurant on the 73rd floor.
- Pitch a tent in your back yard. My wife and I did this with our daughters when they were younger. Not only did it really felt like we were away on vacation, we have lots of fun memories from the experience.
- The Ritz Carlton, Buckhead is in the trendy Bulkhead neighborhood which is the hub for some of the best shopping and and dining experiences in the south! Sure it seems a bit pricy but if you’re just staying a night or two, go ahead and splurge – you’re on staycation.
- The Georgian Terrace is a grand Atlanta hotel built in 1911 and was home to most to the cast of Gone with the Wind during filming in the 1930s. In the heart of Midtown, it is in easy walking distance to several attractions.
A staycation is not sitting at home and binge watching House of Cards on Netflix. It involves getting out and doing something. Fortunately, there’s plenty to do in Atlanta.
- Take in a Brave’s game. There’s something about the atmosphere of a major league baseball game that has a festive feel that makes drinking beer and eating overpriced hotdogs seem like an act of patriotism.
- Walk the Atlanta Beltline. When finished, the Atlanta Beltline will be a 22-mile paved pedestrian/bicycle trail with green space connecting 45 Atlanta neighborhoods. Right now only a few miles are completed but it is a great way to experience the city and burn calories.
- Catch a show at the historic Fox Theater. The Moorish and Egyptian architecture of the theater provide an excellent backdrop for concerts, movies, musicals throughout the year. The theater’s pipe organ, “Mighty Mo,” is the second largest in the country and is sometimes played for audience sing-alongs before movies.
- I consider shopping to be recreational so I recommend that you go Shopping in Buckhead. In addition to being home of Lenox Square and Phipp’s Plaza, two of the most prestigious malls in the south, the Buckhead neighborhood has miles of antique stores and upscale boutiques awaiting you and your wallet.
There’s no better way to bond with a location than through its food. Fortunately with Atlanta’s emergence as an international city, the food scene has exploded and there are tons of incredible options.
- Atlanta’s most iconic restaurant is The Varsity. As the world’s largest drive-in restaurant, you don’t go there for the food, you got there for the experience, though I do admit to loving a chili slaw dog and greasy onion rings.
- The Vortex is baker bar/burger joint located in the artsy Little Five Points neighborhood. The menu is quite humorous and has unique names for it’s entrees, like The Carnivorgasm, The Double Coronary Bypass, and The Fat Elvis which is a burger with peanut butter and fried bananas. It’s great food and a great experience.
- The Southern Art & Bourbon Bar offers farm to table cooking with an upscale twist to traditional southern comfort food and soul food. Executive Chef Art Smith was Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for 10 years.
- Located in easy walking distance from Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, the Flying Biscuit Cafe on Piedmont Avenue serves southern inspired recipes like the Southern Style Biscuit Benedict which consist of pimento cheese, turkey bacon, eggs, and hollandaise sauce on biscuit with a side of grits. It’s one of the few places that has vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menu options in addition to southern comfort foods.
What you you do for a staycation on your city?
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