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.
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.”
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.