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Atlanta a National Geographic Traveler ‘Place of a Lifetime’

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National Geographic Traveler lists Atlanta's trees among its greatest features — one that landed us on the magazine's list of "50 Places of a Lifetime." These trees and runners are in Piedmont Park. AJC file photo

The October issue of National Geographic Traveler details “50 Places of a Lifetime,” and there’s Atlanta, hoisted up with natural beauties, ancient cities and little-known islands.

We’re one of only seven U.S. sites in this latest round, the only major city among them. We’re on the map with the island of Molokai, Hawaii, forests in California and Oregon, the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, the Piedmont of Virginia, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

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Sweet Auburn Springfest 2009. AJC file photo

I can’t help but think: why us? I don’t disagree — this city has been key to happiness in my lifetime — but Atlanta never makes a list of beloved geography without New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Seattle. (This new list is an expansion of an older project, which did include some other large cities.) So…why?

In exactly the response one expects a National Geographic publication to give, it first mentions our trees — “magnolias, dogwoods, Southern pines, and magnificent oaks.” Of course. They are pretty, aren’t they?

Then comes history, neighborhoods, Southern charm, art, shopping and architecture. (Highrises? “Sexy,” they say.) Atlantic Station, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola get a nod. The magazine seems to appreciate that Buckhead, East Atlanta Village and Virginia Highland are wildly different, but fun to visit.

Manners, sugar water and greenery did not decide our place on this list. I have to believe it’s because of the fun to be had here, a dynamic variety different from a forest, mountain, island — and other cities.

An accompanying essay by Emory University Associate Professor Lynna Williams gets into more specifics — CNN, Piedmont Park, Oakland Cemetery, Lenny’s Bar —  while admitting Atlanta’s “eternal love affair with its own bright future.” Atlanta is a place, she writes, where people “come in search of of past-as-prologue, and find it tucked into the modern city.”

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Oakland Cemetery. AJC file photo

I noticed this list posted at Decatur Metro, along with the astute observation that Atlanta’s “‘must visit’ attributes really aren’t things you can buy tickets to, but must experience collectively.” So true.

It seems National Geographic Traveler collected our very best features and presented them for travelers to pop in,  mark it off the list and leave with a panda T-shirt. (Sexy.) It’s not going to teach us anything.  Just try the quiz — you’ll get 100 percent, too.

The written introduction to the city acknowledges our size but not the traffic;  race, but not racism; political diversity, not division. We know it’s not all soft light, poetry and drawl-soaked chit-chat, but I love to read about the city this way. I like the reminder that all this is my place in this lifetime.

Is Atlanta among “Places of a Lifetime” for travelers? When you have visitors, what are the sites and activities they must see and do? Share your thoughts in the comments.

149 comments Add your comment

Aarens

April 30th, 2010
2:43 pm

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Amanda

October 26th, 2009
4:49 pm

oh boy – you guys make me nervous. I’m heading to Atlanta from Boston in 2010. I view Atlanta as any city, but look forward to living some place different for a change and have always heard great things about Atlanta. It has its good parts and bad. Same as any city.

Jim Ragan

October 21st, 2009
4:05 pm

The one big improvement that the Atlanta area could use is the development of the Chattahoochee River Waterfront area, primarily west of Atlanta in Cobb County. Imagine how great the river area would be with bicycle paths, walking paths, and shopping areas like the Forum Plaza in Norcross or the shoppes at East Cobb. A great example would be to see how a city like Columbia, SC developed its river waterfront west of downtown and how great it looks now.

[...] with any of the lists Atlanta shows up on, data rarely equals reality. This list mentions single gals who are searching, but doesn’t [...]

Mark in Texas

September 20th, 2009
6:43 pm

As a Georgia native having to endure the Dallas metroplex, here is one that appreciated the beauty and uniqueness while living in Atlanta, but who appreciates it all the more while living elsewhere.

Haters are everywhere and best ignored. I love that others have seen and recognize that Atlanta is truly a unique city with a million treasures to be found within its huge scope.

Atlantan

September 20th, 2009
4:50 am

Top 100 places to live – yes. One of the more liveable metro areas in America with tons to do and see.

Top 100 places to visit in a lifetime – that is a stretch. Great place to visit, but I can’t say top 100 in the world in a lifetime. The south with Atlanta as a destination point yes, but just the city – no. Chris and Suzie must be shut-ins – clearly they didn’t get out and about in the city.

Still great press.

Kevin

September 19th, 2009
2:49 am

I don’t understand why everyone trys to act like Atlanta is the worst place ever. like many people have already stated it’s going to have it’s problems just like any other city. but spending my whole life in Atlanta all I have is good memories of the place. Braves games, Centenial Olympic Park, Coke city, riding Marta, the Varsity. As bad as this sounds I enjoyed seein the bums they made our city too. I do find it kinda funny how a listing in the worlds 50 prettiest places or whatever got people arguing politics. I do also agree that the city has crazy potential. Also in Utah people aren’t nearly as nice as they were back home in Ga.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

September 19th, 2009
2:30 am

Marc – Clearly you’ve chosen to throw-in with us. Your English is ESL, is it not? Why second-guess yourself? With Bush’s Anti-Christ faction being beaten back, whose foreign branch probably runs whatever country you left, America shall once more be a Light to the nations, and Atlanta, “America’s Town,” is far and above the best.

I’ve been to essentially all “other places” in the U.S., and many around the world, so I know for a fact: It’s all downhill from here.

After Bush committed 9/11 and restarted the Afghan heroin trade Atlanta was turned into “the Wal-Mart for heroin for the Southeast U.S.,” with complicity of local corruption. My hope is that Mayor Borders won’t be a party to it and with the righteous president in the White House we now have, Atlanta will be the prime beneficiary of restored America following Dr. King’s Dream.

That you found your way here might just be Grace and you should relax and accept your good fortune, but “the Devil” has plans for us all and you might just need to meet your destiny elsewhere. Some place you think is “better?” Perhaps, like a scout, you could go there and report back?

All G-d’s chillun got wings and this is a Freedom Town for those who can be cool.

Our “Well” is pure and good. You try to put something else in Atlanta’s “Well” and you’ll find “the curse causeless shall not come” unto you.

Best of luck.

Marc

September 19th, 2009
1:16 am

This article is just hilarious, not as funny as the posts responses lol The best of all is when Sunshine said that “we are too busy here to hate” ROFL (since this is the capital of the prejudice of the United States) How clueless someone can be to rate a city that they don’t live at… Atlanta is even pretty but a huge small town, in mentality and things to offer… crime, drug scene and not related to the night life that the government killed…. The positive feedbacks are clearly from people that doesn’t know other places, or are too afraid or old to do it.