One of the best things about visiting the South is that much of the year can be enjoyed outdoors. Start with a day at Stone Mountain Park. A monolithic gray-granite outcropping (the world's largest) carved with a massive monument to the Confederacy, Stone Mountain is a distinctive landmark on Atlanta's horizon and the focal point of its major recreation area, which includes 3,200 acres of lakes and beautiful wooded parkland. It's Georgia's number-one tourist attraction, and one of the 10 most-visited paid attractions in the United States. Although the best view of the mountain is from below, the vistas from the top are spectacular. Visitors with lots of energy and lung capacity can take the walking trail up and down the moss-covered slopes, especially lovely in spring when they're blanketed in wildflowers. The trail is 1.3 miles each way. Or you can ride the Skyride cable car to the top, where you'll have an incredible view of the city and the Appalachian Mountains. The best approach is to take the cable car up and then walk back down.
For a different perspective, check out the park from onboard a World War II amphibious vehicle -- the park's new Ride the Ducks Tour is a 40-minute adventure that moves from the land into the waters of Stone Mountain Lake. End your day at the park with Stone Mountain's Lasershow Spectacular, an astonishing display of laser lights and fireworks with animation and music. The brilliant laser beams are projected on the mountain's north face, a natural 1-million-square-foot screen. Bring a picnic supper and arrive early to get a good spot on the lawn at the base of the mountain. Shows are free with park admission.
Zoo Atlanta is another popular outdoor venue, with all the excitement these days surrounding the newest addition: a baby giraffe, Zuri, born last summer to proud parents, Glenda and Abu. In addition, giant pandas Lun Lun and Yang Yang and their two offspring are always a hit, and a third panda baby was expected as this guidebook went into production. Although the pandas' rowdiest period is in the afternoon, the family puts on quite a show most of the day: munching bamboo, tussling with each other, playing on their log swing, or climbing on the swinging ladder. When Lun Lun has had enough of Yang Yang's roughhousing, she heads for the water. In the summer, the two can be especially entertaining; if it's really sweltering, zoo officials give each of them a huge block of ice to help them cool off. Of course, there's much more to see at the zoo -- you can easily spend a full day here.
Baseball fan? The spectacular 50,000-seat Atlanta Braves stadium at Turner Field is a popular spot. The ballpark started life as an 80,000-seat stadium built to host the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996. Don't miss the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame, featuring memorabilia commemorating legendary stars and key moments in Braves history (take a gander at the bat Hank Aaron used to hit his 715th home run). Scouts Alley is designed to teach fans about the fine art of scouting. Fans can test their hitting and throwing skills, call up scouting reports on former and current Braves, play a trivia game, call a play-by-play inning of a game, learn about Hank Aaron's "hot" spot, and much more. Add to that a number of restaurants, the Cartoon Network's Tooner Field playground for kids, and lots of souvenir shopping opportunities, and you'll see that the stadium has something for every member of the family -- not to mention a great game of baseball. Stay for the fireworks displays that follow every Friday-night home game.
The delightful Atlanta Botanical Garden, occupying 30 acres in Piedmont Park, includes the 25,000-square-foot Fuqua Orchid Center, a children's garden, an education center, and the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory. In the Fuqua Orchid Center, a collection of rare high-elevation orchids, which flourish on cool, wet mountains in South America, are being grown in the warm Southeast. Typically, one would have to go to San Francisco or Seattle to see such plants. An "Olympic" olive tree presented by Greece in honor of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta resides in the botanical garden as well. There are flower shows throughout the year, along with lectures and other activities. Call or check the website to find out what's scheduled during your stay (www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org).
If you want to add thrills and excitement to your trip, Atlanta has a number of amusement parks, including Six Flags Over Georgia, the White Water water park, and American Adventures, a theme park that caters to younger children and families.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.