the best summer outdoor activities in atlanta
spend a summer in georgia the right way.
Published Apr 28, 2016 5:00 AM
by Cora L. Diekman
Atlanta has long held a reputation for being less than pedestrian-friendly (okay, serious understatement), but this is finally on the mend thanks to the Atlanta Beltline Project. In an effort to fight sprawl and ease traffic congestion, 22 miles of defunct rail lines are being transformed into a series of interconnecting pedestrian trails that link to shops, restaurants, parks, and eventually 45 intown neighborhoods. Walk, skate, ride bikes (rental shops on site), and just enjoy being outdoors in this surprisingly lush stretch of green space that’s still within view of downtown.
Rich with history, Piedmont Park is an island of multi-use park space at the center of Atlanta’s Midtown district. This 211-acre epicenter is busy year round, but draws its largest crowds in the summertime when activities include more than your typical park experience – think music and art festivals, a green market, and charity walks just to name a few. The park also offers a newly renovated dog park, swimming, fishing, tennis, volleyball, playgrounds, and a large sports field for soccer and softball. For history buffs, the Park Conservancy offers tours. Or, if your idea of being outdoors includes a cold cocktail in hand, stop by Park Tavern – a popular restaurant found within the park that serves food and drink with amazing views view of Atlanta’s Midtown skyline.
Crash a Film Set
Georgia’s film industry in on fire, and there is no shortage of TV and movie sets to crash this summer. At last count, 39 productions were currently filming (not counting those on hiatus). Take a film tour, become an extra, or visit a location where one of your favorite films was shot for the ultimate fan experience. Senoia (just south of the city) is a popular film locale that has hosted many productions over the years – from Fried Green Tomatoes to The Walking Dead – but filming can be found all over the city year-round. Visit Tour Georgia Film to see an updated list of projects currently underway, and get answers to film FAQs (like how to become an extra on an upcoming shoot).
This surprisingly small piece of real estate is almost like a city unto itself – an island wedged between Midtown, West Midtown, and Buckhead. It’s super pedestrian friendly (in fact, it’s not even worth the trouble to drive street level) and packed full of trendy shops and restaurants. Atlantic Station also has a large IMAX movie theater, hosts a variety of events throughout the year (like concerts, Cirque du Soleil, and the Bodies Exhibit), and various smaller fairs and single weekend events within the central common area. Come for the shopping, grab lunch, or just stroll through the streets and enjoy the summer weather in one of the few urban areas where pedestrians reign supreme.
It may seem like an unusual place to spend the day, but Oakland Cemetery is packed full of outdoor activities, including concerts, guided historical tours, ghost tours, and even hosts private events. Easily accessible by Atlanta public transportation (MARTA), Oakland is a beautiful green space that’s close to downtown, but also surprisingly lush and serene. History buffs will love exploring the cemetery’s many famous residents, like Margaret Mitchell and Civil Rights pioneers – or simply take a stroll and admire the unique architecture found within Atlanta’s third largest public green space (picnics and dogs welcome).
Ponce City Market
This newly renovated live/work community is buzzing with Atlanta’s hottest eateries and shops. What began as the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co building has been completely revamped as an urban oasis with plenty to offer on a summer day. Eat, shop, and enjoy walking amongst the vast spread of storefronts found inside and out – the perfect way to spend an afternoon when the weather is at its best. Tip: Avoid the street traffic, and take the Beltline instead – a short pathway offers direct access from the Eastside Trail.
Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site
Much more than a single location, this ‘site’ is actually a 35-acre area in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Historic District with plenty to see. Tour the home where the Civil Rights Leader was born in 1929, visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he began his career, and visit his final resting place in a tomb found just outside of The King Center. Great for exploring by foot, plan to spend the day touring the area when the weather is warm and rain-free. Tip: Begin at the Visitor’s Center for a map, and come hungry – there are plenty of delicious eats nearby.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
While not as popular as Piedmont, Sweetwater Creek State Park shot to fame when The Hunger Games franchise filmed some of its famous scenes among the park’s iconic creekside ruins. Enjoy a bevy of outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, fishing, or rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboard, or pedal boat for the afternoon. With a view of the creek’s rapids, the Civil War-era New Manchester Manufacturing Company Mill ruins are easily accessible via a moderate mile-long hike – or take the guided tour for the full experience, including juicy historical facts.
Six Flags Over Georgia
Amusement parks are the quintessential summertime thrill, and SFOG does not disappoint. With 16 thrill rides, water park rides, live shows, and plenty of entertainment for kids, there’s no reason NOT to visit this summer. Tip: If you plan on visiting more than once in a season, purchase a season pass, and ALWAYS purchase tickets in advance (including single day passes) since prices are higher at the gate.
Spend the day winding between the lush tropical greenery of Zoo Atlanta (and see some amazing animals, too). Flamingos, elephants, pandas, giraffes, and lions are just some of the creatures on display. Located in historic Grant Park, there is ample parking, so no worries there. Visit on a sunny day and rest assured there is plenty of available shade to relax under between exhibits.
Atlanta is making great strides in offering a wider variety of pedestrian-friendly shopping venues. There are now several locations to choose from, in addition to Atlantic Station (which can be overcrowded at times as it also hosts large events). Depending on your preferred locale, enjoy a little al fresco shopping time in Virginia Highlands, The Shops at Buckhead, The Avenue (various locations), Little Five Points, and others. Bonus: you’re sure to also find lots of tempting eats, so make a day of it and grab lunch or dinner too.
Stone Mountain Park
In the last decade, Stone Mountain Park has undergone a major revamp, adding a lot of family-friendly activities in hopes of drawing even more crowds (most notably Snow Mountain in the winter months). In the summertime, however, the park’s old standbys are an annual tradition for many locals, and have been for more than 50 years. Climb the mountain for a view of the Atlanta skyline, explore some of the 3,200 acres of beautiful park space, swim in the lake, or pack a picnic dinner and grab some space on the lawn for the infamous laser show – projected onto the side of the mountain after dark – for the ultimate summer in the park experience. Tip: The laser show is seriously popular and lawn space fills fast. Arrive early for the best spots.
Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark
While only recently opened, this is Atlanta’s first public skatepark, and it started with a bang. Skating legend Tony Hawk made an appearance on opening day, and through his foundation donated $25,000 towards its construction. But, don’t be fooled – these grounds are much more than a skaters-only playland – you’ll also find a large playground, multi-use athletic field, and it’s only steps away from the Beltline’s Eastside Trail with views of the Atlanta skyline. Whether you’re participating or spectating, there is plenty to do and see, and when it’s all over you’re only a short walk to Krog Street Market where delicious food and drink await.
Tour by Bike
Bikes have exploded onto Atlanta’s scene in recent years, thanks in part to the Beltline. And, yes, the Beltline does offer an ideal venue for biking on summer days, but don’t stop there. Consider a bike tour, which can take you beyond parkspace and into local neighborhoods where you’ll find plenty of eateries, watering holes, and shops to explore. Bike lanes are more prevalent than ever, so accessibility is simpler and drivers are more aware. And, you don’t have to join an actual tour group to enjoy this experience – websites like Bikeabout offers printable maps with tested bike routes, and even include sources for renting a bike if needed.
Porsche Experience Center
New to the Atlanta scene, the Porsche Experience Center is the ultimate thrill for sports car lovers. Dubbed the ‘Porsche Playground’, this collection of tracks (on and off road) allows curious drivers to experience the full capabilities of a Porsche – handling, agility, lane-changing, off-road challenges, and (of course!) speed. Serious enthusiasts can even take one-on-one driving courses with specially trained Porsche Driving Consultants. Bonus: if this sounds like the ideal experience for someone in your life (but not necessarily you) they also offer gift certificates.