It may be a landlocked city, but with the recent opening of the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta is now awash in more than 100,000 fish swimming in 8 million gallons of water. The aquarium—the world's largest—has state-of-the-art galleries, with themes such as Cold Water Quest and Ocean Voyager, housed in a building that resembles a ship. Despite the presence of five rare beluga whales, two other giants have become fan favorites: Ralph and Norton, the only whale sharks in this hemisphere. They were flown from Taiwan to their new home, where visitors can watch them from inside an acrylic tunnel that cuts through their vast habitat. Though these 18-foot-long sharks might seem dangerous, don't worry—they eat only plankton. Georgia Aquarium, 404/581-4444; www.georgiaaquarium.org; tickets $22.75 for adults, $17 for children 3–12.
Atlanta Lands a Big One | T+ L Family
WEB ONLY The Atlanta Lowdown: Where to stay and what to do in town with kids
Embassy Suites (267 Marietta St. NW; 404/223-2300; www.embassysuites.com; doubles from $199) Tops in convenience, in terms of its downtown location, next door to the just-opened Georgia Aquarium in Centennial Park. For all of 2006, the hotel is offering an Aquarium Family VIP package that comes with four tickets to the big fish tank for $140 a night.
Four Seasons Atlanta (75 14th St. NW; 404/881-9898; www.fourseasons.com/atlanta; doubles from $395) Land of cushy comforts: cookies and milk at bedtime, child-sized robes, and a toy chest at the front desk. There's also a teen concierge on duty year-round to advise discriminating squirts on how they might spend their days. The hotel is only five minutes by car from Centennial Park, plus there's shrimp and grits on the kids' menu.
The Glenn Hotel (110 Marietta St. NW; 404/521-2250; www.theglennhotel.com; doubles from $346) Atlanta goes boutique-y-The Glenn opened in January, and its sister hotel, The Twelve (see below), debuted in February. The CNN Center, where you can take a behind-the-scenes tour (see below), is across the street. But the big draw here is B.E.D., the hotel's restaurant, where fully made beds serve as the tables and chairs. On the menu: fruit-and-cottage-cheese "banana splits" for breakfast; ham and turkey on a pretzel bun for lunch. Don't worry, everyone leaves crumbs on the sheets.
The Twelve (361 17th St. NW; 404/961-1212; www.twelvehotels.com; doubles from $155) The cornerstone of the new Atlantic Station Mall, located in a refinished steel mill. All rooms are one- or two-bedroom suites, and have two flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, and a web-only-enabled computer on which you can check e-mail and order room service at the same time.
Westin Peachtree Plaza (210 Peachtree St. NW; 404/659-1400; www.starwoodhotels.com; doubles from $385) A landmark hotel with a cool pool on its ninth floor: the glass-paneled roof opens up during warm weather. After a dip, dine 73 stories up at the revolving rooftop restaurant, where you can peer out at the major Atlanta sights, like the Georgia Dome (home to the Falcons) and Stone Mountain Park.
The Atlanta History Center (130 West Paces Ferry Rd. NW; 404/814-4000; www.atlhist.org) It's not all Confederate money and Civil War rifles behind glass at this Buckhead museum-there are 33 acres of outdoor grounds to explore, too. You'll find a blacksmith pounding horseshoes, a 19th-century Georgian kitchen garden, and several antebellum mansions. In July 2006, the Centennial Olympic Games Museum opens in a new wing at the History Center. It will house Olympic torches and medals from the last century, film and photographs from the 1996 Olympics, and a virtual reality station where you can kayak your way to your own gold medal.
Center for Puppetry Arts (1404 Spring St. NW; 404/873-3391; www.puppet.org) The largest puppet museum in North America, showcasing familiar faces from the Muppet Show and The Lion King. Elaborate performances are staged six days a week.
CNN Studio Tours (One CNN Center; 404/827-2300; www.cnn.com/studiotour) Calling all aspiring Christiane Amanpours: get a real glimpse of the CNN studios and newsrooms. As part of the tour, you can try using a teleprompter, act out the part of a weatherman in front of a chroma key map, and if you're lucky, watch Kyra Phillips and Chuck Roberts do their stuff.
High Museum (1280 Peachtree St. NE; 404/733-4444; www.high.org) The huge Renzo Piano expansion in 2005 elevated this local institution to a world-class contemporary art museum. But not a stuffy one. There are free drop-in art classes for families every Sunday from 1 to 4 pm, and free workshops for parents and toddlers on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 am to 3 pm.
Margaret Mitchell House and Museum (990 Peachtree St. NE; 404/249-7015; www.gwtw.org) Margaret Mitchell and husband lived in this modest apartment building while she was writing Gone with the Wind. Today, their quarters are recreated with furnishings from the 1920's. Next door is the Gone with the Wind Museum, filled with memorabilia from the movie: Scarlett's bengaline honeymoon gown, the front door to Tara, and movie posters from around the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home (501 Auburn Ave. NE; 404/331-5190; www.nps.gov/malu) Much of the original 1930's furniture and housewares remain in this Victorian, where King was born and lived until the age of 12. It's in Sweet Auburn, the historic center of black Atlanta, just two blocks west of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin, his father, and his grandfather all preached. Since the site is a national park, kids can earn Junior Ranger badges by completing the activity book and agreeing to live by Dr. King's Six Principles of Nonviolence.
Tree Climbers International (290 Arizona Ave. NE; 404/377-3150; www.treeclimbing.com) It's your chance to swing-safely-90-feet above the ground, suspended from the limbs of a 100-year-old white oak tree. During the two-hour-long introductory course, instructors teach their harness-assisted method for climbing your way to the top-with a helmet, ropes, and carabiners. If you get serious, you can sign on for a full weekend in the trees.
World of Coca-Cola (55 Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. SW; www.woccatlanta.com; 404/676-5151) The company's giant salute to itself features classic TV commercials, a working Coke fountain (complete with soda jerk), and an exhibit of cola-inspired folk art. Best of all, visitors get to sample Coke products from exotic locales, such as Lychee Mello, a lychee-nut flavored soda from Thailand. A bigger fizz: The museum's new quarters, in Centennial Park next to the Georgia Aquarium, opens in 2007.