Family Fun for Under $10
Atlanta's Top-Rated Low-Priced Places
by Emily Horton
For only $10, you can get an up-close view of newsroom grit and glory at the CNN Center Studio Tour, where you'll see behind-the-scenes coverage of news in action. Even if you're not up for organized fun, meander through the center's lofty atrium and its countless shops and restaurants (www.cnn.com/StudioTour, 404-827-2300).
At the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, pay tribute and learn a thing or two about one of the nation's–and the city's–greatest leaders. Access to the Birth Home and Ebenezer Baptist Church museums, as well as to all other exhibits and museums at the site, is free (www.nps.gov/malu, 404-331-5190).
Celebrate one of the South's most renowned literary works at Marietta's Gone With the Wind Museum, where Dr. Christopher Sullivan's expansive collection of memorabilia related to the regaled novel and movie is housed. ($5, www.gwtwmarietta.com, 770-794-5576).
Out of the ordinary but undeniably interesting, the American Museum of Papermaking, on the campus of Georgia Tech, showcases a remarkable 10,000-item-plus collection, from intricacies of the invention of paper to watermarks. (Free admission, ww.ipst.gatech.edu/amp, 404-894-7840).
The Center for Pupp etry Arts Museum houses a fascinating collection of puppets that portray the amazing diversity and cultural significance of puppetry across the globe. ($5, www.puppet.org, 404-881-3391).
If you'd rather ogle more conventional exhibits, Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum (www.carlos.emory.edu, 404-727-4282) showcases a bevy of historical gems; downtown's Atlanta International Museum of Design (www.atlantainternationalmuseum.org, 404-688-2467) an affiliate of the Smithsonian, routinely brings inspired collections inside its walls. You can wander either of these free of charge.
Want more visual stimulation? The Fernbank Museum of Natural History boasts an IMAX Theatre worth raving about, and its Friday Martinis & IMAX events ($10 per ticket) are a great escape from the routine (www.fernbank.edu, 404-929-6400). If you're ready for another round, the planetarium at the Fernbank Science Center, one of the largest in the world, offers riveting explanations of the Earth's canopy for just $4 (http://fsc.fernbank.edu, 678-874-7100).
Theater may be a splurge for anyone on a serious budget, but there are plenty of fantastic citywide learning experiences to be had for next to nothing.
One of the city's greatest deals for avante-garde theatre can be found in one of Atlanta's most eclectic neighborhoods, Little Five Points. At 7 Stages, catch the opening night production, when tickets are priced at an economical $10. (www.7stages.org, 404-523-7647).
You can also find a deal at the landmark Fox Theatre when classic film features are offered in-house. Tickets are generally under $10. (For calendars of events, visit www.foxtheatre.org).
Classical music productions can run up a hefty tab, but at downtown's charming Rialto Theatre in the Fairlie-Poplar district, Georgia State University students offer up their talents for free. (www.rialtocenter.org, 404-651-4727).
If you'd rather chill out to more current tunes, a number of Atlanta's bars and low-key music venues offer refreshing respite from the stereo and cater to music tastes across the board. For bargain admissions, try Smith's Olde Bar (www.smithsoldebar.com, 404-875-1522) or Redlight Cafe (www.redlightcafe.com, 404-874-7828) in Midtown, Westside's Northside Tavern (www.northsidetavern.com, 404-874-8745), The EARL (www.badearl.com, 404-522-3950) or Echo Lounge in East Atlanta (www.echostatic.com/echolounge, 404-681-3600).
Up for a quieter cultural excursion? Callanwolde Fine Arts Center's poetry readings, held the first Wednesday of every month, often host nationally and internationally-recognized poets. An evening of poetic insight is a mere $3. For the same price, the center's monthly storytelling sessions celebrate the best of Atlanta's storytellers (www.callanwolde.org, 404-872-5338).
The Great Outdoors
One of your best bets for finding low-cost entertainment is to venture out of doors. Only outside are you sure to find the greatest natural beauty Georgia has to offer. In most cases you'll have to pay only a parking fee, or in some cases, an entrance fee.
In Smyrna, you'll find easy access to the Silver Comet Trail, a paved, fairly level and increasingly expansive rails-to-trails project that now runs continuously for approximately 40 miles. Once complete, the trail will eventually measure 60 miles long. The scenery alone, with its tree canopies, winding bridges, trestles and serene rivers, is almost enough escape, but for further enjoyment, bring your bike, roller blades, or even your running shoes, Parking is free. (www.trailexpress.com/silvercomet)
Georgia State Parks are excellent candidates for outdoor exploration. Pay a $2 to $4 parking fee for access to walking and hiking wonderlands--Amicalola Falls, Cloudland Canyon, Sweetwater Creek, Tallulah Gorge and Unicoi among the most notable. For details on individual state parks and historic sites, visit www.gastateparks.org.
Closer to Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a haven for intowners looking to avoid the city's ever-present traffic. Check out the Cochran Shoals trail, where a $2 parking fee grants you access to its three-mile, packed-dirt loop. Perfect for running or walking your dogs or yourself; the main trail's off-road routes are ideal for trail running or easy hiking. For maps, visit www.nps.gov/chatt. (Visitors' center: 678-538-1200).
Some of the city's greatest events are fleeting seasonal specialties, but offer a unique peek into Atlanta's culture and are often incredible deals. Catch them while you can.
During spring and summer, get to know the local music scene free of charge at Centennial Olympic Park, where reggae, jazz, blues, folk and bluegrass fire up the mood. Wednesday WindDown offers mid-week tension relief; Music at Noon gives downtowners a break from the grind mid-day on Tuesdays and Thursdays (www.centennialpark.com, 404-222-7275).
Even film enthusiasts can take their pastime outdoors during the summer when Piedmont Park highlights the best of classic film with Tuesday evening outdoor showings. The annual Screen on the Green series is free. (www.piedmontpark.org, 404-876-4024).
But lovers of arts, crafts and kitsch may get the best deal. Arts festivals and markets scatter the city year-round, culling talent from across the southeast–and sometimes farther–for giant community cultural affairs. Here some of the most buzzing: Piedmont Park's Dogwood Festival, April 8-10 (www.dogwood.org, 404-329-0501); Inman Park Spring Festival and Tour of Homes, April 22-24 (www.inmanpark.org, 770-242-4895); Decatur Arts Festival and Garden Tour, May 15-30, (www.decatur-ga.org, 404-371-9583); Roswell Arts Festival, September 16-18, 770-641-3705; Virginia-Highland Summerfest, June 4-5, (www.vahi.org, 404-222-8244); The Urban Market on Means Street, March 18-20, (www.urban-market.com, 770-481-0280).
Then again, some of the most exciting excursions are the most unstructured, lending the most flexibility to craft your own adventure.
In the name of whimsy, bring a loaf of Sunmaid and feed geese in a local park, or bone up on the books you've been avoiding and settle in with a blanket and some literature instead.
If you're up for people watching, head to edgy Little Five Points, grab a slice of pizza and a beer. Savage (www.savagepizza.com, 404-523-0500) is a good bet for well-made pies and a window seat.
If you'd rather roam, wander the spirited streets of Virginia-Highlan d and Morningside for window shopping–and don't forget to pick up a cup of ethereally good gelato from Paolo's (404-607-0055) or What's the Scoop? (404-724-0444) on your way.
Try Castleberry Hill's bourgeoning arts district or long-time favorite Bennett Street for gallery browsing--though keep close tabs on your wallet, or we can't promise you'll stay under budget.
Branching Out: Bargains around the State
If you've tired of the local scene or just feel like getting some fresh air for a few hours, Georgia has plenty to keep you occupied.
One hour north of the city in the North Georgia foothills, Dahlonega's rustic appeal lures visitors with its cozy historic downtown and a fantastic array of adventure potential–think horseback riding, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, rafting or mountain biking. (www.dahlonega.org, 706-864-3513).
The University of Georgia, one hour northeast of Atlanta, is home to one of the South's greatest music scenes, a number of excellent restaurants–including chef Hugh Acheson's renowned Five and Ten–and a low-key college vibe that might just persuade you to take up a few classes. Take the campus tour to get your bearings, and don't miss the Georgia Museum of Art, the State Botanical Garden or the Museum of Natural History. (www.uga.edu, 706-542-0842).
Oenephiles can make a day of sipping at Georgia's wineries, most of which charge nothing or only a nominal fee for tours and tastings. Though the state isn't especially known for its viticulture quite yet, a handful of Georgia's estates are underrated gems producing some fantastic bottlings. For information on individual wineries, consult the Winegrowers Association of Georgia. (www.georgiawine.com 706-878-9463.
Check out the best of southern artwork at Augusta's Morris Museum of Art, where a $3 ticket gives way to the museum's collections, including its expansive array of paintings by southern artists, as well as to its current exhibits (www.morris.org 706-724-7501).
Aero buffs should make it a point to drop by the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, the 4th-largest in the country, where 93 aircraft are displayed with a bevy of awe-inducing exhibits. Admission is free. (www.museumofaviation.com, 478-926-6870)
It's in Fayetteville, though, where you can really cut loose at one of the area's more affordable theme parks. Test your putting skills on DixieLand Fun Park's miniature golf course for $6, or take a spin on the bumper boats or go-karts for $5. You won't have to put a suit on again until Monday. (www.dixielandfunpark.com, 770-460-5862).
History and Culture
More historic and cultural sites to suit your tastes and please your pocketbook.