An Atlanta Christmas, Southern-Style
With temperatures averaging in the 50s and the smell of smoked turkey in the air, Atlanta is the perfect place for a southern Christmas celebration. Some of its biggest attractions are open and waiting with surprises, while many of its restaurants serve traditional holiday fare with a downhome twist.
Thank “SCUBA Claus” for the Gifts
After Santa’s biggest night, he likes to blow off some steam in the South before returning to the North Pole. You’ll find him downtown at the Georgia Aquarium, wearing a wetsuit and plunging into a 6.3 million–gallon tank, while hundreds watch from outside the glass. Ol’ Saint Nick isn’t bothered in the least by the whale sharks and manta rays swimming around him in the world’s largest aquatic habitat; instead, he chats amiably with onlookers through a special waterproof microphone.
Eat Some Southern-Smoked Turkey
At Atkins Park Restaurant and Bar in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood, the hugely popular Christmas dinner menu includes a platter of smoked turkey, and not just any smoked turkey. It's cooked "low and slow" on a Big Green Egg, an Atlanta-made kamado-style cooker with a huge cult following. Accompanied by caramelized apple and sage stuffing, and cider gravy, it's a Christmas meal with serious Southern cred.
Ride an Atlanta Landmark
One of Atlanta’s most photographed attractions, SkyView Atlanta soars 20 stories above famed Centennial Park in the heart of downtown. Hop on one of its 42 climate-controlled gondolas and take in the city’s best sights, including Stone Mountain 20 miles away. For a Southern splurge, opt for a VIP gondola with leather seats, a glass floor, and a longer flight time (30 minutes instead of roughly 12).
Forget Prime Rib; Feast on Shrimp and Grits Instead
At Southern Art, a Buckhead restaurant owned by Oprah’s former personal chef Art Smith, Christmas Day means jumbo Georgia shrimp served over creamy grits. Sop up extra sauce with cheddar cheese biscuits, and save room for the pecan tarts from the sprawling dessert buffet. (Bless your heart, didn’t you know? In the South, calories don’t count on Christmas.)
See Magnolias Illuminated by Twinkling Lights
Take advantage of Atlanta’s mild winter temps and check out Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Midtown. Though the event launched just five years ago, it’s already an area classic, drawing some 200,000 visitors annually. Two million energy-efficient lights illuminate the sprawling grounds filled with Southern magnolias, Chihuly sculptures, and a wide variety of orchids.
Before you go, don't forget to pick up a special gift to mark the trip.
Allison Entrekin is an executive editor with Southbound Magazine and the Georgia Travel Guide. She covers the Southeastern United States beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her @aweissentrekin.