ATLANTA — Living in a community where having a car is a must, it is easy to overlook the public transit options that can make day trips more pleasurable.
Even the most unflappable drivers will likely avoid a leisure excursion to Atlanta because of traffic and parking and the feeling that you need to squeeze the visit between rush hours, Brave’s home games and an inevitable afternoon thunderstorm. Where’s the fun in that?
MARTA — Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority — is a viable alternative that connects many of Atlanta’s attractions, a number of which can be reached within just a few blocks of a station. Once you factor the number of places you can visit without having to move the car, not feeling rushed and the unexpected treats you may discover along the way, it is easily a good choice.
For visitors driving from the LaGrange area, the College Park Station offers over 1,800 free parking spaces, which even at 10 am on a weekday were still plentiful. Visit MARTA’s website, www.itsmarta.com for route maps, passes and a list of attractions near each stop.
Children under 48 inches ride free and other discounts are available. Below are a few highlights from a recent weekday outing inspired by my friend and writer Pattie Baker. Pattie rides her bicycle all over Atlanta in her daily life, highlighting bike-friendly routes and the interesting art and people she encounters every day.
Art Center Station
Thanks to a partnership between the Midtown Alliance and MARTA, riders exiting the station onto Arts Center Way can enjoy vibrant designs, a Free Little Library and even a functional piano before ever setting foot into the High Museum of Art.
The plaza outside the station is a nice place to enjoy a light snack before heading into the museum. Take a seat at the colorful tables or browse the books in the Little Free Library.
The artwork featured here leads to Tiovivo: Whimsical Sculptures by Jaime Hayon on Carroll Slater Sifly Piazza. This temporary exhibit is free and open to the public and is part of an ongoing initiative that also brought the hammocks and swings to the plaza a few years ago.
A visit to the High Museum is always a treat for all ages. The permanent collection features classic and contemporary art from all over the world and temporary exhibitions rotate throughout the year.
Currently, “I See a Story: The Art of Eric Carle,” illustrator of children’s books, is on exhibit through January 2017. Scavenger hunt materials and other children’s activities are available online and at the museum to enhance their engagement in the museum. To learn more about the exhibits and special discounts including free second Sunday admissions and free military entrance throughout the summer go to www.high.org.
For lunch, Colony Square is a short walk from The Woodruff Arts Center and offers typical food court options and a few full service restaurants. Also available on Wednesdays through summer are a variety of food trucks to enjoy while relaxing on the benches or tables along the shaded courtyard while enjoying the fun murals along the exterior walls.
If art isn’t on the agenda, or not favored by everyone in the group, the Art Center Station offers a free shuttle ride to Atlantic Station where there are unlimited shopping and dining options and The Millennium Gate Museum. The museum is host to the Glenn Gallery, which showcases the dramatic transformation the site has undergone since the late 1800s when it was home to Atlantic Steel.
Peachtree Center Station
Just outside the Peachtree Center MARTA station is an Atlanta Streetcar stop. The streetcar route includes a stop at Centennial Olympic Park for easy access to the Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coca Cola, the CNN Center and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta.
Also at this stop, the Center for Civil and Human Rights gives visitors an opportunity to explore the connection of American Civil rights to the Global Human Rights movement. To round out this cultural experience, continue on the streetcar to The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change — aka The King Center.
Most of the listed attractions offer cafes and quick dining options, but no ride along the streetcar would be complete without a visit to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, also called Municipal Market. The unassuming building belies the riches inside and is directly across from a streetcar stop of the same name.
Many of Atlanta’s popular restaurants got their start inside Sweet Auburn Curb Market, ranked 16th best food market by USA Today. Browse the book store, pick up necessities in the drug store, and enjoy lunch there or take it to go.
Return to Olympic Park for a picnic while watching kids and adults cool off in the Fountain of Rings.
Other MARTA attractions
There are a number of family and budget-friendly attractions that can be reached within a 10-minute walk of most of the MARTA stops, and even more if you take a connecting bus.
For an annotated list of attractions near each stop this website is useful, www.martaguide.com. Another list to help plan an itinerary is the National Park Service Register of Historic Places, found at www.nps.gov/nr.
Transfers from the train to the bus are generally included in the MARTA fare, with the exception of the Atlanta Streetcar. The passes and tickets for both MARTA and the streetcar can be purchased with cash or credit card at their respective stations.
Spending a few minutes on the MARTA website, and downloading their app for your mobile phone can help avoid frustration navigating the stations if you are new to MARTA. But even that mild frustration will be fleeting as you sit back and let MARTA do the driving.
Donna Weathers is a LaGrange native and former chief petty officer in the Navy who enjoys traveling in her spare time.