5 Reasons You Should Visit Atlanta Right Now (+ COVID Updates)

Today on Facebook someone asked a question about visiting the College Football Hall of Fame, and I saw a few responses that included “It’s a mess down there.” and “Are you sure it’s safe to take your kids?”

It broke my heart.

Our family visited in early October 2020 and had the best time. It was safe (even at night) and clean – and there are significant guidelines in place for COVID.

Atlanta is open, y’all. And now, more than ever, it’s time to visit. Here are five reasons we are encouraging people to make Atlanta their next vacation (or staycation) destination.

It’s still safe – and cleaner than ever

I can’t dance around it: Summer in Atlanta brought protests (both peaceful and violent), fires, looting and more. Regardless of how you felt about the activity, it left many local families wondering if Downtown was the right place to bring the kids for a weekend getaway.

Today, with a few small exceptions, you’d never know what happened here a few months ago.

Each of the attractions we visited showed no signs of broken glass, graffiti, trash, etc. Yes, even the Hall of Fame.

On our weekend away, we walked from one side of COP to the other (and back) in the evening with our kids on a weekend. There were no large gatherings, no disruptions…nothing that gave us alarm. Just gorgeous twinkling city lights, a light breeze, and lots of giggles from the kids.

CityPASS rules have changed – for the better

If you want to plan a trip Downtown – either as a multi-day getaway or just a few periodic day trips – then Atlanta CityPASS is a must. I know you usually think about CityPASS for tourists and non-residents…but things have changed.

Previously you had 9 days (just two consecutive weekends) to visit five of the seven attractions included with your pass. Now you have 30 full days to take in the sights…and yes, families still save as much as 40% off full-price tickets purchased separately.

All of the pass attractions are now open, also.

Not convinced it’s worth the savings? Think about this: An adult ticket to the Georgia Aquarium is $45.95…but for only $31 more you can access four additional museums!

Your 30 days does not begin when you purchase the CityPASS; it begins when you use the first ticket. This means you can purchase passes for holiday gift-giving, as well. The 30-day extension applies to any pass activated before 2/28/21

Get reacquainted with your hometown

Most people have not visited Atlanta’s beloved attractions since January or February, so you’ve missed out on all the NEW changes and upgrades. Here are a few highlights.

October 23 is the grand opening of the Georgia Aquarium expansion: SHARKS! Predators of the Deep. The 185-foot-long gallery will showcase several shark species with floor-to-ceiling viewing windows. And if you’re brave – I mean really brave – you can pre-purchase tickets for a shark cage dive starting in January!

World of Coke has a new exhibit, and it’s scent-sational! Scent Discovery is the attraction’s first new permanent exhibit in almost a decade and reveals that flavor is more than meets the tongue.

The experience takes you on an interactive deep-dive into the anatomy of smell — from reception to perception — and challenges you to identify a variety of sweet, fruity and spicy scents.

Like us, you’re probably wondering if this works with a mask, and I assure you it does. The boys enjoyed guessing flavor profile after flavor profile – and they were pretty good at it!

Fernbank is open, including the inside, the outside and the IMAX theatre. For the spooky season, you can enjoy the Woodland Spirits…but the kids will also enjoy two new exhibits: Amazing Animals: Built to Survive and Supernatural Science Fest.

At Zoo Atlanta, the first phase of the new African Savannah has opened! The old Cyclorama space has been transformed into a new event space called Savanna Hall, which overlooks new and expanded habitats for the elephants, giraffes, zebras and other African animals.

They’ve also introduced a third elephant named Msholo. He’s the only male and weighs in at 11,000 pounds! No, he’s not the new – ahem – “boyfriend” to the two existing elephants…but the larger habitat can now accommodate up to seven elephants, so who knows what the future holds.

Finally, the Center for Civil and Human Rights has not added any new exhibits, but they do have a new sponsor with Porsche. Be sure to snap a photo with the PRIDE-striped Porsche sitting out in front of the museum.

The local businesses need us

As if COVID wasn’t bad enough, Centennial Olympic Park is closed and people are wary about crowds and conditions in the Downtown area. For these reasons, businesses are struggling.

We see local shops that we love bringing in few customers, tour guides like ATL-Cruzers and Unexpected Atlanta following all recommended safety guidelines for only the periodic visitor, and restaurants once bustling with business trying to keep their staff and avoid layoffs.

YOU are the solution to this. If you love this city as much as we do, then go visit. Take in a museum, bring a family member on an electric-car tour, sip on a margarita as Dos Bocas or grab breakfast at Atlanta Breakfast Club.

No one else cares as much about Atlanta as we do – those of us who live here, who call it home, who know its magic. No one else is going to save her. It’s up to you. It’s up to me.

One of the best ways you can help is to turn your visit into a staycation, like we did. Use your CityPASS, ride SkyView, take a tour, eat at a few restaurants and stay in a local hotel.

We recommend Hilton Garden Inn Downtown. We’ve stayed here about three times (maybe more) and love the location right across the park from SkyView.

The staff here is always kind and goes the extra mile, and the hotel is impeccably clean from the lobby to the room. In fact, I love that even the buttons in the elevator are self-cleaning!

From our room we caught views of the city skyline, which were even more impressive in the evening. You can grab a bite at Dos Bocas, which is part of the restaurant (with the BEST queso ever and cool views of the Aquarium and Ferris wheel!).

Also within an easy walk is Der Biergarten, Johnny Rockets, The Food Shoppe, Park Bar, and more.

Atlanta is “tourist-ready” in the age of COVID

What about COVID measures, you might ask. I hear a smidge of bunk on random media channels about how Atlanta is handling the virus poorly.

From a travel perspective, hear me out. As a family that has visited six other states recently, I can tell you definitively that by far, the most strict and cautious COVID measures in place are those at Atlanta’s attractions.

Let’s take a look at what we experienced at several of the places we visited. Please also note that we did not list days and hours of operation, but that has changed for many places so please check before you go.

Zoo Atlanta

  • Timed entry means you must plan ahead to transfer your CityPASS into a timed-ticket for a specific day. You can do that easily from the CityPASS website when you are ready.
  • Everyone over 10yo must wear a face mask unless you are eating or drinking.
  • Most of the exhibits are open but there is only one way in and one way out, as the Zoo has carefully crafted a one-way route to minimize contact with others.
  • Yellow boxes are printed in front of almost all the exhibits, allowing every family to gather there while staying a safe 6 feet from another family.
  • More COVID info here.

World of Coca-Cola

  • Everyone must wear a face mask unless you are drinking at the Tasting Station.
  • You’ll follow the red dots (6 ft apart) in a one-way direction through the museum.
  • Yes, the tasting stations are still open-just in a new way. Your group will wind their way one family/group at a time through six stations featuring 2 samples each from 6 different countries. The staff pours and you enjoy.
  • You can get your photo with the polar bear..but he’s roped off to ensure you are 6 feet apart.
  • More COVID info here.

Georgia Aquarium

  • Timed tickets are recommended but not required.
  • Masks required for everyone 3 and older, and temperatures are taken before entry.
  • There is only one entrance, from the Ocean’s Ballroom. This helps them manage people coming and going, and is necessary since Centennial Park is closed.
  • The line begins in the parking garage (in an area with no car traffic, of course) with checkpoints for masks, temperature checks, photo ops (you can remove your mask safely here for pix) and ticketed entry.
  • Inside are 6ft markers at all the exhibits. Also, at the large viewing areas, there are tall plexiglass dividers set up into “family pods” so you can still take pictures and stay socially distant. And the see-thru nature of the pods doesn’t take away from the overall aesthetic.
  • You can still make reservations to see the sea lion and/or dolphin shows.
  • Make Coldwater Quest your last viewing gallery…it empties you right at the Ballroom exit.
  • The cafeteria is still open, as is the gift shop.
  • More COVID info here.

College Football Hall of Fame

  • Masks required for everyone 3 and older. The staff tells everyone when they walk in that they are VERY SERIOUS about the rule, too.
  • Temp checks happen for everyone upon entry.
  • The movie is being run with limited theatre capacity. Every other row is closed.
  • They also told us that if no one is in proximity to you (so they are way more than 6ft away) you can take off your mask to smile at the camera…you just have to put it back on right away.
  • The attached Chick Fil A is open and makes a great lunch stop. They don’t have breakfast items and the dining room is closed, but it’s easy to grab a sandwich and tea to eat outside.
  • More COVID info here.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights

  • Masks are required for everyone.
  • Temp checks happen for everyone upon entry.
  • Follow the arrows on the floor for a one-way direction through the museum.
  • The interactive exhibits are not available, with the exception of the lunch counter. There is someone there to make sure only one he oh o at a time sits at the counter, and the counter is disinfected between groups (with one-time use headsets).
  • The small gift shop upstairs is closed, but no worries. The best sellers and new offerings are available downstairs as in your way out.
  • More COVID info here

Fernbank

  • Timed-tickets are required.
  • Masks are required for everyone.
  • Movies are running at 25% capacity, and no 3D movies are bing shown because of the need for special glasses. Every other row is closed.
  • One-way pathways wind visitors though the museum.
  • More COVID info here.

Area Restaurants

  • Restaurants require masks upon entry, until you are seated and eating. Masks are required for trips to the restroom, etc.
  • Every restaurant we visited did not offer menus, but directed us to use their QRCode to open the menu on our phone.
  • Most restaurants are cashless now, only allowing payment with a credit card or gift card.

Atlanta Cruizers

  • Segways, trolleys and the electric car tours are all running. Want a “private” tour with a personal touch? The electric car is it!
  • The car is open-air but masks are a must.
  • The owner is tested regularly for COVID and taking all precautions to keep everyone safe!

A Final Word

Just a reminder: If you are in a high-risk group for COVID, have recently been exposed to COVID, feel unwell or are running a fever, or simply don’t yet feel ready to get out and explore…then by all means, stay home! We’re not in the business of pushing an agenda on anyone – we simply want to share our experiences with others who are ready to explore but have questions.

Also: The state of travel in any region around the world is changing more rapidly than ever. We’re sharing our experience, but if you have specific questions about an attraction or hotel then we encourage you to give them a call.

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Disclosure: Thank you to the Atlanta CVB for hosting my family and me on this adventure. Opinions, as always, are my own.

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