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Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park: The Center of it All
When you travel with children, it’s useful to have a place to relax, kick off your shoes, and grab refreshments, if necessary. Bonus points are awarded for guaranteed kid-pleasing activities and proximity to sightseeing draws.
In Atlanta, Centennial Olympic Park is just such an oasis.
Occupying 21 acres (8.5 hectares), the park was originally designed to revitalize a less-than-desirable section of Atlanta’s downtown and be a gathering place for the 1996 Olympic Games. Once the games were over, the park was redesigned and re-introduced in 1998 as a beckoning destination for residents and tourists alike.
During a springtime visit to Atlanta, my family and I found ourselves in the park on multiple occasions: the start of our day, when we strolled through from a cheap parking lot (on the southern edge) toward our destination; the middle of our day, when we craved food that wasn’t typical museum fare; and the end of the day, when we needed to play while waiting for rush-hour traffic to clear.
With the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola at the northern edge of the park, CNN Center (and the Inside CNN Studio Tour) at the southwestern corner, and Peachtree Center a few blocks to the east, the park is well-situated for multiple activities. Additionally, restaurants to suit various palates and pocketbooks surround the park – everything from upscale seafood and steaks (McCormick & Schmick’s and Ruth’s Chris Steak House) to sub shops, Mexican, and all the fast food you could want in the CNN Center.
Plus, the park itself has a powerful draw for kids in the Fountain of Rings, a pop-up water feature in the shape of the intertwined Olympic rings (with another eatery only steps away). Somehow, in planning our trip, I had overlooked this gem. Imagine our surprise and delight when we stumbled upon one of the fountain’s four daily shows, where the water spouts in time with music. Watching gave my sons a chance to drip dry before we headed to our friends’ house for the night.
If you don’t want the water, just keep the kids at the north edge of the park, where a modern playground (with padded surface) invites gross motor play while the adults watch from benches ringing the perimeter. It’s even better with homemade ice cream from a nearby shop on Luckie Street.
For us, Centennial Olympic Park was a real surprise – one of those happy accidents that make travel worthwhile.