Under the auspices of the National Park Service (NPS), this area of about 2 blocks around Auburn Avenue was established to preserve the birthplace and boyhood surroundings of the nation's foremost civil rights leader. Designated a national historic site, these blocks include King's boyhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King's father and grandfather were ministers and King served as a copastor. Free tours of King's birth home start at Fire Station No. 6, which was recently restored by the NPS; tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the National Park Service Visitor Center, 450 Auburn Ave., across from the King Center.

Other Auburn Avenue attractions, not under NPS auspices, include the King Center, where King is buried , and the APEX Museum. Several additional surrounding blocks have been designated as a preservation district; this area is known as Sweet Auburn. John Wesley Dobbs, maternal grandfather of former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, is the person who first called it such, after Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, the first line of which reads, "Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plains." Mayor Jackson says his grandfather called the area "sweet" because the keys to black liberation existed here in the form of "the three Bs -- bucks, ballots, and books."

The NPS Visitor Center provides a complete orientation to area attractions and includes a theater for audiovisual and interpretive programs, interactive exhibits, and a bookstore. It's fronted by a beautifully landscaped plaza with a reflecting pool, King's crypt (which his wife had returned to the site several years ago), and an outdoor amphitheater for NPS programs.