Saturday, June 13, 2015

Summer in Atlanta: What to do with Toddlers.

It's another fun summer in Atlanta. I always forget how much great stuff there is to do here. I'm rediscovering the city with H, my three year old,  and O, my one-year old in tow.

If your still in the "contemplating the trip" phase there are some wonderful blogs and kids pages that you should check out. Occupy My Family has a wonderful list of current events going on in the city, their Facebook page  and Twitter account are quite active. If your here for an extended stay, or want to get an idea of the types of events going on, add it to your feed. Red Tricycle has an Atlanta Page that is great for seeing what is going on for specific dates. Atlanta with Kid is a great blog about just that.

Here is a run down of what we have been doing. We hope you find some things to enjoy as well. (If your reading this summer of 2015 its being updated as we complete activities so check back.) 


Dekalb Toy Park. This is your regular run of the mill park, except people leave their old plastic toys here for other kids to play with. They have it all. . The park has a paved path that runs all the way around it and is lined with ride on toys - trikes, cozy coups, push cars - they are all there waiting to be ridden. The playground is almost lost among the piles of construction toys. Kids have formed small villages with the play houses. This is the most crowded park we have been to (on a weekday) but all the parents (save one) were involved, friendly and playing with all the kids. This park is walking distance from most of downtown Decatur. Plenty of coffee or lunch options. There is also ample street parking. 

Piedmont Park.  Piedmont Park is one of my favorites. Parking used to be a problem, but they have added a nice (paid) parking deck that really makes things easier. We went right after breakfast and loaded the kids into the stroller for a morning of walking and playing. The park has two great playgrounds  - one by the public pool, and one by the Piedmont entrance. The playground by the pool is the most popular and can entertain my kids for an hour, easily. The community garden, orchard and dog park are also highlights on our walking adventure.

The Legacy Fountains, though are our favorite. This fountain play area are like the ones down at Centennial Olympic Park, except much tamer. My one year old was happy to walk around in the fountains. Going early in the day means less sun and you'll have the place virtually to yourself. There are bathrooms that are always relatively clean. (I don't feel grossed out changing in them, but it is a park bathroom.) Plenty of seating and places to park your stroller, plus a big lawn for laying towels or a blanket out make this a perfect spot for kids of all ages. 

We grabbed lunch at Willy's on the park corner at Piedmont for the perfect lunch treat. They also offer King of Pops here if your looking for a cool treat.  You can spend all day in the park or combine it with a trip down the East Side Trail or Botanical Gardens, as both are adjacent to the park. We, however, headed home for naps for everyone. 

Peachtree Dekalb Airport Park. I have never seen so many dad's as I did at PDK Airport Park. My transportation crazy kids love this place. This park is all about location! This run of the mill playground is located on the airport property in the shadow of the control tower.Picnic tables are covered by a small airplane hanger, adding to the theme. There is a small amphitheater that gives the kids enough height to see the whole airport. The airport is busy enough that every few minutes something is taking off or landing. We saw a plethora of planes take off and land as well as several helicopters. Parking is plentiful and clearly marked.

Just down the road is a bunkhouse for the Southern Railway. Engines are almost always parked outside the bunkhouse and trains roll through frequently. The MARTA line is also visible, running parallel to the train tracks on an elevated platform, so you are sure to see a few of those too. The best viewing spot is behind the Frosty Caboose. Grab an ice cream or hot dog and enjoy some quality train viewing. There are actually a variety of restaurants that have opened up on the other side of the street that look good, but we have not been to any of them.

Old Fourth Ward Park & Splash Pad. I've blogged about this one before. It was even more of a hit this time around. H was able to run around in the splash pad on his own and little O loved touching the water, but was not interested in playing in the splash pad itself. We visited on a really hot day, so it was crowded.

Tanyard Creek Park. 

Tanyard Creek Park. This cute little park is actually part of the belt-line. This park has it all, a field to play in, two great playgrounds, a bridge over the creek with ducks and turtles and a train bridge. This is one of the boys favorites and they refer to it as the "train park" since we almost always get to see a train while we are here.

Centennial Olympic Park. Centennial Olympic Park are probably best known for the fountains on the south side of the park that you can play in. We tend to avoid these with the toddlers as they are usually over run by larger kids. Little ones end up run over or scarred by the powerful jets. When we walked through the park at 9:30am, there was absolutely no one in the fountains.  On the north end of the park are two great playgrounds side by side. Our kids played here for over an hour running between the two.


Atlanta Botanical Garden - The Atlanta Botanical Garden has so much surprising programing. The gardens themselves are lovely and always evolving.  The gardens are closed on Mondays, but the rest of the week feature family programing like story time, stroller walks and treasure hunts. We dropped in on one of the weekend family workshops where for $6 (no registration required) we made a terrarium to take home. 

There is a children's garden complete with splash pad and small play structures that will occupy kids while surrounding them with plants. We also love the canopy walk. Its usually pretty quiet and plenty of space for H to run a bit ahead of us. The whole garden is stroller friendly. 

I also had the chance to leave the kiddos at home and attend one of the cooks in the garden series. Chefs from around Atlanta prepare a meal inspired by what is growing in the herb and vegetable garden. There is an outdoor kitchen so you get a cooking lesson while you enjoy the food and wine. As an added bonus on your way out you can peek at the lights in the garden, the current nighttime display that requires a s

Atlanta History Center. Note theAtlanta History Center is currently under major renovation to make room for the Cyclorama. The History Center is also part of the Blue Star Museums program, so its free to visit for military. The current exhibits are not particularly toddler friendly, so we blitz through the museum. (I figured even if just a few things peaked his interest its something... right?) The three year old actually enjoyed the section on the 1996 Olympic Games, but was otherwise non engaged. The gardens and other buildings are a different story. We spent the bulk of our time exploring the grounds. There are formal gardens around the Swan House, a working farm and a log cabin to explore along with a meandering path through the woods. We spent most of the morning here and had the place basically to ourselves. 

Zoo Atlanta. Zoo Atlanta is a family favorite and every trip home involves at least one visit.  We ended up getting a membership since we were going to be here all summer. It has already paid for itself. In addition to just visiting the zoo - which is one of only three places in the US that you can see Pandas - there is a variety of kids programing that goes on. We visited during Art Week and were able to watch local artists painting the animals. They also had stations set up for the kids to do art. H got to try painting like an elephant, with a paint brush in a pool noodle.

Zoo Atlanta offers classes for kids of all ages. We have O registered for Stroller Cubs (ages 0-2) and H registered for Adventure Cubs (3-4). I almost always bring O to H's class, but try to leave H with the grandparents for O's classes. The June adventure cubs focused on Animal Dad's. The kids got to meet a few animals up close, complete a craft and then go see some animal dads in the exhibits. These classes are available to non-members and include admission, so you can stay after to explore.

High Museum of Art.  The High Museum was one of the biggest surprise "wins" of our visit.  They offer a weekly Toddler Time (thursday) and weekend family tours,  so I thought we would check it out.

Toddler Time is self lead. We received all the materials to make our Knuffle Bunny Puppet and found a seat to work on our own. Once we were done with our craft we worked our way over to story time in one of the galleries and into the family area for some fun play and drawings.

In addition to family programing they currently (June 2015) have a Mo Willems exhibit that is hung at kid level. The Spinning Tops exhibit on the lawn also turned out to be very kid friendly. I did bring the stroller along, allowing us to browse the other galleries. H enjoyed pointing out things he liked or that looked like his friends. We actually ended up spending most of the day at the museum. H even announced he would like to go back! 

Fernbank Museum of Natural History. So.. we were a bit underwelmed with Fernbank. I had wonderful memories of visiting and the website made it seem like they had added all sorts of fun activities for the kids. They do offer a military discount and we did not opt to do the IMAX.  

We arrived at opening (10am) and other then one large group basically had the place to ourselves until we left around noon. NatureQuest, the children's touch and play area, was fun but smaller then I thought it would be. H did play here for about 30 min so it was worth the visit, but we have seen better.  The other exhibits were all a bit over the kids heads. We walked through them all, H's favorite being "A Walk Through Time In Georgia" that features walkthroughs of different geographic areas in Georgia. 

The Georgia Aquarium.  The Georgia Aquarium is always one of the big splurges when we visit Atlanta. Its expensive but the kids love it. One of the exhibits is currently under renovation but there is still plenty to do. We booked our tickets, including parking online and saved ourselves a few dollars. If you go right when it opens (~9) you will have the place basically to yourself until around 10:30. All the kids loved standing in front of the two big tanks and watching the animals and divers. We hung around for the dolphin show, which is more show then dolphin performance. It also takes FOREVER for the theater to empty out. Upstairs there is a great new interactive exhibit. Our kids were too little for the ipads, but they still had fun playing with a few of the exhibits.

Children's Museum of Atlanta.  The museum is closing in August 2015 for a massive overhaul and the pictures look fantastic. I won't really talk about what is offered though other than to say my kids are obsessed with their train table! Parking is a problem, you will nee to finding parking in one of the pay lots and walk. This is easily combined with a trip to Centennial Park and one of the parks best playgrounds is just across the street from the museum. We've been to a lot of Children's Museums and the staff here is the best around. They are all around the museum, not timid to engage kids or ask kids (um.. or parents) to follow the museum rules, and they are constantly restocking and putting things away. I assume none of this will change with the renovation. Can't wait to check out the new renovation!


Woodruff Arts Center - The Woodruff Arts Center is home to the Alliance Theater and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. If you think that this sounds too advanced for your littles you would be wrong.

All summer the Woodruff Arts Center is hosting Sunday Arts Festivals for families that are worth checking out. They are free but you need to register online or once you arrive. Our three year old loved the activities which included an "acting workshop," a family photo scavenger hunt, music and a craft.

The Alliance Theater has the Theater for the Very Young that brings in tons of shows geared at little ones. I took our three year old to see Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical as his first real theater experience.  Later in the summer we have tickets booked to take our one year old to Blub, Blub, a play designed for kids 0-2. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has family performances designed for young children, although they seem to be on a break for the summer. The events are always changing so make sure you check out the webpages to see what is going on when you are visiting.

*I took our one year old to "Blub Blub" and it was amazing. They limit the number of attendees so each child truly gets to participate in the show.

Center for Puppetry Arts. The Center for Puppetry Arts is in the middle of a large museum expansion (that looks amazing!) Our summer visit was limited to seeing a performance of "Click, Clack Moo: Cows that Type" and the corresponding "Make A Puppet Lab" included with the performance. They also show films featuring "puppets on the large screen." If your visiting Atlanta with little ones it is worth checking out the performance schedule. Our three year old loved the show and they always spend time explaining how the puppets work afterwords. We left the one year old with the grandparents, although there were plenty of babies in the show. 


(There are so many great places to eat in Atlanta. This is simply the list of where we went this trip.)

Municipal Market.  If you happen to be anywhere downtown hop on the street car (free till 2016) and take it to the Sweet Alburn stop. Cross the street into the market. You will find a wide variety of produce, meat and food options. Our group could not agree on just one place. We split up an enjoyed a few of the tasty options they have here.

Fellini's Pizza (Pizza)  -  I think i recommend this place in every blog post about Atlanta. Its my go to favorite place to grab a slice of pizza. I always get a salad and mix up the type of slice I get. My kids love it too. Ask for the kids slice to have a "kids cut" and its cut into small pieces. Our favorite location is in Candler Park, but you can't go wrong anywhere you go.

Willy's (Mexican)  - Willy's is another perennial favorite.  Everything is good but everyone knows the Quesidilla is the best item on the menu. Whatever you order add a side of the white cheese sauce. I thought white cheese sauce was a thing everywhere, but after moving away I discovered that was not the case. Get some while your here because its the local thing to do. Again, you can't go wrong with an Atlanta location, but the one on Howell Mill has a margarita need to say any more.

Bell Street Burritos - We frequent the Buckhead location. They have every type of burrito you can imagine and they are pretty hearty. Its a favorite for pool night dinners. I haven't tried the chillies, but they area available only on Friday's and come highly recommended.

Dancing Goats Coffee - Plenty of outdoor and patio seating are the hallmark of this coffee shop at Ponce City Market. The coffee and muffins were delicious. The kids loved digging in the gravel pit and sitting on the oversized chairs. We parked at the Old Fourth Ward Park and walked down the path to the coffee shop and market.

Grant Central Pizza -  We were at an evening event at the zoo with the kids and decided we wanted to try this place for dinner. Service was slow but the pizza was so delicious and cheap! It was full of families so my kids being slightly cranky was not an issue.


Street Car in Atlanta

Atlanta Streetcar.  The streetcar makes a loop that is easily walkable. Combine the free ride in the air conditioning with my train obsessed kiddo and you have a win! We enjoyed the ride and even got to chat with the driver.  The cars run every 10 minutes ish. The Streetcar is free until 2016. We hopped off at Sweet Alburn and grabbed lunch at the Municipal Market. The MLK Historic Site is another popular stop. The streetcar is assessable by MARTA

View from Skyview Atlanta 

Skyview Atlanta.  Skyview Atlanta is the enclosed ferris wheel in downtown. We found a Groupon for it and decided we needed to try it out. I was pretty sure it was going to be silly, how much can you see when there are tall buildings all around? Turns out, you can see quite a bit. We could not get the audio in our car to work. We are plenty familiar with the city though. The wheel gives you lovely views of Centennial Olympic Park, Downtown Atlanta and much of  Georgia Tech. The ride lasts about 20 min. The kids thought it was great and we enjoyed the view from on high. 

Home Depot Workshops - The Home Depot on Ponce offers these every Saturday (most stores nationwide offer them one Saturday a month.) They set up outside when the weather is nice and start at 9am. Its a great little morning activity. You get to take home the craft, an apron with the kids name on it and a pin for each craft completed. Its also completely free! 

Public Libraries - Public Libraries are usually a go to for kids fun when we are traveling to a city. They are just not a hallmark in Atlanta. We checked out the Buckhead location, which is plenty big with a wide selection of books. The books are generally in poor condition, at least compared to our Colorado "home" library. The event list is minimal, with most activities occurring out in the suburbs.

Legoland Discovery Center. We bought our tickets online and signed up for Toddler Time, a guided story and building activity. Toddler Time was great. The kids loved listening to the stories and learning to build  the story characters.  After that our visit went downhill. The discovery center itself has lots of fun activities - two rides, a soft play area, a theater and lots of places to build with legos. Our problem was it was completely overrun with camps. There were easily 6 different groups there of varying ages making the ride lines prohibitively long and my little guys could hardly get into build anything. It was crowded to the point of being dangerous for the littles. The staff (other than the guy that ran Toddler Time, who was great with the kids.) seemed completely disinterested. I attempted to inform a staff member we had been waiting in line for a ride for 20min because the camp group kept re-cycling through to pair taller kids with smaller kids, and was told I was free to get out of line.  We ended up sticking mostly to the small toddler area. The kids had fun, but I was annoyed. I attempted to call a manager there to let them know I was dissatisfied, but no one ever answered the phone and although I left a message I never received any sort of call back. 

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