Being a competitive ballroom dancer I am able to explore new cities all the time. I recently competed at the Atlanta Open in none other than downtown Atlanta, Georgia. I had never competed in the Atlanta Open before or even been to the South, so my mother and I decided to take a few extra days after the competition to explore the 1996 Summer Olympics host city with our own Atlanta, Georgia walking tour.
We checked into the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta late on a Thursday evening. Because of the time I expected the hotel to be quiet and the check-in process to be quick and easy. The check-in went smoothly but the hotel lobby looked as if it was hosting its own party. The entire lobby was packed with guests, the hotel’s restaurant Sway was closed but the bar Twenty-Two Stories was full of chatty businessmen, dancers and Atlanta natives.
The hotel had a large open concept with four elevators that looked as if they came right out of the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The all glass elevator allowed us to watch the people in the lobby get smaller as we ventured up to the 19th floor.
Of course room service was available for us in the morning, as we tend to cozy up in our beds in the morning rather than get dressed up to dine in the restaurant downstairs. The menu from Sway was filled with Southern comfort food. Grits, a Georgia delicacy I had never tried, along with Georgia Peach yogurt parfaits, cornbread, warm biscuits and gravy were all potential options for our morning feast. Of course we did not try everything in one meal but eventually we got around to tasting every bit of the South that we could.
Discovering Atlanta, Georgia
We had hoped to visit the historic Sweet Auburn Village but our cab driver accidentally dropped us off at the opposite side of town. Being the spontaneous women that we are, we decided to walk around the area for a bit, that small walk turned into a 3-mile trek back to our hotel. If the hot sun and humidity is something you can handle throughout the day it is completely worth venturing through downtown and midtown Atlanta. We saw almost ever nook and cranny of the Atlanta streets that one would completely miss by catching a cab. Historic treasures such as the Georgian Hotel, Fox Theatre and the Margaret Mitchell House (the place Gone with the Wind was written) were just some of the old Victorian buildings that were hidden by modern-day skyscrapers.
Atlanta Southern comfort
After our hike through downtown, the only energy we had left was used to walk across the street to a five-star restaurant where we could rest our feet. White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails, located on Peachtree St., is a gourmet Southern Comfort restaurant. The atmosphere is that of a rustic yet classy Southern home. We dined on braised beef, homemade tomato soup and warm whole-grain bread for our appetizer. Since we were celebrating Mother’s Day, my wonderful mother decided to treat herself to a Filet Mignon steak, which was perfectly cooked and full of savory flavors. A side of mashed sweet potatoes was served in a small cast-iron skillet along with her meal. I ordered the baked chicken, which was yet again perfectly cooked and full of sweet Southern flavor.
CNN studio tour in Atlanta
Our next day of adventure included the renowned Coca-Cola Factory, a tour of CNN and a walk through the Olympic National Park. We arrived at the Coca-Cola factory at about the same time as 100 elementary school children. We felt as though we had just become chaperones on an end of the year field trip. We quickly escaped the crowd of little humans and ventured through the factory on our own. Filled with copious amounts of historic Coca-Cola memorabilia, an inside look at the bottling process, a small museum on the history and even a tasting room, this Atlanta staple is a not to miss attraction. The tasting room was where we found all of the children so we ventured back down to the museum where we both got to hold the 2014 London Olympic Torch, as Coca-Cola is the Olympics’ largest sponsor.
For a more serious tour, thinking it wouldn’t be filled with more children, was the Inside the Studio CNN Tour. Being a journalism major myself, you could imagine my excitement as I walked into the international epicenter of news. I assume I felt the same way those kids did in the Coca-Cola tasting room. Walking into CNN you can feel the buzz of a newsroom, but the tour is where we really got a feel for the news station. We toured three of the recording studios, took a turn reading off the teleprompter, viewed the news rooms of CNN and HLN and even saw Monte Ball recording his “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” top picks for the season. Because of our love for 24/7 news, my mother and I decided to have lunch at CNN, underneath the giant TV screen and pretended we were journalist, just for the afternoon.
Atlanta’s Olympic National Park
We ventured out once again into the sticky Georgia air to end our day with a stroll through the Olympic National Park. On our way there we couldn’t miss the Atlanta Skyline Wheel of Excellence, 3-story Ferris Wheel. Our quick decision to ride the Ferris Wheel came as we noticed storm clouds rolling in and realized we had a short time frame before we were stuck in a glass bubble 40ft off the ground during a thunderstorm. Once my mother got over her brief fear of heights, we saw Atlanta in a way I would have never imagined. Just the other day we were walking down every street in downtown and now we were seeing the whole city from the sky. Located next to the National Olympic Park, the Wheel of Excellence gave us a more than perfect view of the architecture of the park that held hundreds of Olympians only 18 years earlier.
With its rich history, unique culinary taste and importance to the entire nation, Atlanta was truly a city to experience. Even after four days of an Atlanta, Georgia walking tour, there was still so much more to discover in this sweet southern city.