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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

Allie F.

September 18th, 2009
9:49 am

Who ever selected the top 50 places obviously did not spend much time in Atlanta! What a joke – we don’t even have sidewalks here! Traffic is horrendous. The economy sucks. Corruption runs rampid in city government. And the city is devoid of culture!

And, I agree with some of the comments, I have lived in several major metropolitan areas, including NYC. I have NEVER encounted the level racism and hate that is in this city.

A top place? I think not.

Will

September 18th, 2009
9:48 am

I was never so glad to get out of Atlanta, lived there 10 years and it was not a plesant experience, traffic, red necks, Republicans, and the government is so corrupt. It’s like a 3rd world country.

donna

September 18th, 2009
9:47 am

I have lived in Atlanta since 1989 and Atlanta is a great place to live with lots to do. Read the newspapers, listen to the radio, go to the mountains, lakes, parks, etc. Yes – there are lots to do here. However, since after the Olympics, Atlanta did change a bit. We have had an influx of over 350,000 people move in a matter of a three year span and continuing to move. Traffic is very bad but hopefully, plans are in the workings to change in the future. When it comes to mass transit, we need bus service expansion. We need more officers to patrol neighborhoods. But you know what! I love Atlanta. This is my home and no matter who says negative things about it, I still love it to life. Who don’t like it could leave it. This is a “free” country and you can move elsewhere.

MichaelinAtlanta

September 18th, 2009
9:34 am

I’ve lived here for most of my 56 years, and I have a pretty strong love/hate relationship with the place. I love the region, but sometimes find what people are making of the place–especially when they try to remake it in the image of some beloved somewhere else–is pretty saddening.

People who live in Atlanta may take for granted how extraordinarily green the city is. By contrast, it’s really pretty nice to see newcomers look with amazement at how completely the city is nestled in a forest. More and more, I also find the architecture is getting more interesting, though it strikes me that, regarding architecture, what the city needs most is more grand public spaces like the Woodruff Arts Center–not just grand buildings, but entire spaces that feed the spirit.

Piedmont Park and, to a lesser extent, Grant Park, are beautiful places, truly great places for people and for nature. Thinking about how wonderfully these parks work, I can’t help but think that much of what’s wrong with the city stems from the fact that planners have literally ripped its heart open by staging I-75/85 and I-20 in the middle of the city. Imagine what kind of city this would be if, instead of the downtown connector, we had a vast public park or, if not that, at least a network of forested neighborhoods matching the surrounding area. I think the fact that we live in a city with a damaged heart is part of what makes the city so inclined to identity silliness and flux.

As for crime and racism, I don’t think in either case we have problems anywhere near as bad as you find in other parts of the country. Large cities like Chicago and Miami are horribly polarized along racial lines, and the violence you find there and in other cities is largely worse than what you find here. Granted, the abject poverty in some parts of Atlanta is shocking and saddening, but there are far worse places.

I hope the city will grow more great public places like the Woodruff Center and Piedmont Park–and maybe that is what the Beltline will bring, if it ever gets built. I’m convinced that what makes cities great is the public spaces they offer; while we have a few wonderful public spaces, we have much to do to cultivate what we could here to make a really great city.

garcia

September 18th, 2009
9:31 am

Enter your comments here

My work and studies have taken me to far flung places over the past thirty years. I have lived in the most modern and metropolitan cities on earth and I have lived in third world countries. Without exception, every place on earth has is charms and challenges. I take the best from any place and make it my own. And, I feel sorry for people who can’t see beauty except for a narrowly defined ideal. I get the feeling that the negative posts in this thread are simply the work of narrow-minded simpletons. So be it, they deserve their place and have their voice.

As for me, I plan to finish my journey in Atlanta. I like to save the best for last.

WestSider

September 18th, 2009
9:25 am

Dear kw,

As a resident of West Atlanta, I can tell you with all assurance that you are dead wrong. You might have gone to Tech, but you don’t live near here. I live in one of the newly “gentrified” neighborhoods on the West side (or Midtown West…whatever you want to call it) and crime is definitely out of control. We had to hire private security because of day-time home invasions. Car-break ins and pedestrian robberies are a common occurrence.

So if you don’t know what you are talking about (and it is obvious from your rosy red picture of intown life…a life it would appear that you don’t even live) then please don’t call others out.

That being said I feel that Atlanta DOES deserve to be on this list. Things are taking a positive turn in this city because the people moving in are working hard to make things better. Crime is ever present, but facing up to it and combating it with every tool available will make the good things about this charming city even better. I love the Fall with its festivals (Candler Park, Arts, L5P Halloween, etc…) most of all!

levelhead

September 18th, 2009
9:24 am

Trash/Litter on the street every 20ft High weeds and grass. Have you all seen most of the on-ramps with all of the over grown weeds and trash not to mentioned someone or organizations asking for a hand out. Come to five points and have lunch then tell me what you think?

Vote For Pedro

September 18th, 2009
9:21 am

It’s a place of a lifetime because the life expectancy here is about 22 years!!!

CWILLI

September 18th, 2009
9:20 am

I’ve been many places in my life time, and lived a couple as well Chicago, Miami,and Roanoke,VA and originating from Oklahoma City, I came here in the early 80’s fell in love with it and it has been an affair every since. The reason for the haters they look for the bad and not the good. Don’t like just get to steppin but don’t try and distort some one else who may be thinking of visiting this great city, way to go NG.

Judith

September 18th, 2009
9:20 am

Life on MARTA,

I could not imagine this city without YBM. They are so handsome and they are hanging.