2015 Free Days at Atlanta Museums and Attractions

By Lesli Peterson

CallawayGeorgia offers a wealth of museums and attractions, with exhibits that range from space to dinosaurs and animals to gardens. We own a membership to several, but it can be financially daunting to visit all of them…especially with multiple kids. Thank goodness for FREE DAYS which allow us to experience new places.

Here’s a list of Atlanta Metro’s best museums and attractions, and the days they are available for FREE in 2015. Always check the website or call before you visit to inquire about cancellations, parking fees, and ID required for Bank of America and Fulton County resident free days.

Atlanta Ballet

Every Month: On the first of every month, Atlanta Ballet offers a free class day at all locations for its adult open division classes.

Atlanta Contemporary Art Center

Every Week: ACAC waives the $5 admission fee every Thursday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. You may be able to catch lectures, gallery tours, film screenings and more for free.

Atlanta History Center

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

November 1: Visitors are welcome to celebrate Day of the Dead.

Booth Western Art Museum

Every Month: Free admission on the first Thursday of each month from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Callaway Gardens

January 16 – February 27: Free Admission (except weekends and holidays – with the exception of Sat. Feb. 21)

February 21: Free admission on Founders’ Day, which honors the late Virginia Callaway, co-founder of Callaway Gardens.

March 26 – 29: Free Admission to the Plant Fair (through Beach gate.)

April 5: Free admission for those who arrive prior to 8 a.m. to attend Easter Sunrise Service. Attendees can stay in Gardens for the day.

June 1 – July 27: Free admission to Astronomy Night with Coca-Cola Space Science Center on Mondays at dark.

September 11: Free admission in honor of 9/11

November 6: Free admission on Founders’ Day, which honors the late Cason Callaway, co –founder of Callaway Gardens.

November 21 – December 30: Free day admission with the purchase of Fantasy In Lights admission at night.

Center for Civil and Human Rights

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

Center for Puppetry Arts

Every Month: Walk-up admission is free for Fulton County, Georgia, residents on the first Saturday of each month.*

Children’s Museum of Atlanta

New Exhibits: Fulton County residents are invited to buy one admission ticket and receive one additional general admission ticket for free on the opening day of each feature exhibit.

Every Month: On Target Free Second Tuesday, anyone can attend the Children’s Museum of Atlanta for free from 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm.

Free admission for all active, retired, and reserve military personnel are admitted for free, and their families receive a discounted rate on the following holidays:

Memorial Day, July 4, Veterans Day, Flag Day, and Armed Forces Day

Georgia Museum of Art

Admission is ALWAYS free during regular museum operating hours.

Georgia State Parks 

September: Georgia State Parks are always free, although is a parking fee.  Your State Parks Day is held each year in late September, which waives the parking fee at State Parks. Historic Sites are also free on this day.

High Museum of Art

Every Month: Walk-up admission is free for Fulton County, Georgia, residents on the first Saturday of each month.*

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

Michael C Carlos Museum

Free admission 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm on the following Thursdays:

January 22, February 5, March 5, April 30, May 7, and June 11, 2015

Museum of Design Atlanta

Every Month: On the 2nd Sunday of the month museum entrance is Pay-as-You-Wish. Enter for free, or make a donation. (Note: The museum is closed on the 2nd Sunday of April in order to change exhibitions.)

Tellus Science Museum

Every Month: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full weekend of each month.**

Additional ways to visit for free:

Georgia Aquarium offers free admission on your birthday.

Georgia Libraries offer free or discounted passes to families who check out certain materials. They can be used once per family. Participating attractions include the following: Zoo Atlanta, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, Go Fish Education Center, and Center for Puppetry Arts Museum

During Museum Day Live in September, Smithsonian magazine offers free admission to participating venues. Several Georgia museums are included. The 2015 list has not yet been released, but be sure to check the website as September draws closer.

A great number of Georgia museums are always free to the public. See a comprehensive list here: http://blog.exploregeorgia.org/free-museums-in-georgia/

Share your Georgia museum adventures using the #ExploreGeorgia hashtag on social media!


*Fulton County Free Saturdays: Tickets are subject to availability. Acceptable I.D. includes valid driver’s license, utility bill or student I.D. from a Fulton County school. Major funding is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners

**Museums on Us, Bank of America: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission on the first full Saturday and Sunday of each month. Discount offered for cardholder only.


5 Must-See Civil Rights Landmarks in Atlanta

MLK Birth Home - ©2015, Kevin Rose/AtlantaPhotos.com

MLK Birth Home – ©2015, Kevin Rose/AtlantaPhotos.com

Atlanta is known as the cradle of the civil rights movement, and as the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Walk in King’s footsteps along Auburn Avenue, reflect on the Dream at The King Center and relive the movement at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. There’s no better time than MLK weekend to explore Atlanta’s most inspiring civil rights landmarks.

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site: Start your journey at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, a 35-acre area encompassing historic landmarks including King’s birth home and Ebenezer Baptist Church. Start at the birth home and take in family stories of young King while imagining life in Atlanta’s bustling Sweet Auburn neighborhood during King’s day. Visit the church where Dr. King served as minister, Ebenezer Baptist Church. Hear audio of King’s sermons on love and nonviolence in the very pews frequented by the King family. Finish your visit by reflecting on the Dream at the tomb of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King. The couple’s massive final resting place is etched with the words, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”
  2. APEX Museum - ©2015, Kevin Rose/AtlantaPhotos.com

    APEX Museum – ©2015, Kevin Rose/AtlantaPhotos.com

    The APEX (African-American Panoramic Experience) Museum
    Atlanta’s APEX Museum traces history from prominent African civilizations to the period of slavery in America, and onto the civil rights movement. Much of the Museum is dedicated to the history of Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, the main thoroughfare for African-American business and civil life from the mid-1900s to the 1960s. Step inside the Museum’s replica of Yates and Milton Drug Store, one of Atlanta’s first black-owned businesses. After, step aboard the museum’s Trolley Theatre, a historic reproduction of the streetcar that ran up Auburn Avenue during the 1900s.

  3. Sweet Auburn Curb Market - ©2015, Jay Jordan/AtlantaPhotos.com

    Sweet Auburn Curb Market – ©2015, Jay Jordan/AtlantaPhotos.com

    Sweet Auburn Curb Market
    Sweet Auburn Curb Market is situated in the heart of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, King’s boyhood neighborhood and the hub of African American life in Atlanta during ‘40s and ‘50s. Established in 1924, the Market was segregated at its start with white patrons browsing inside and black patrons shopping at curbside stalls; a phenomenon that dubbed it the “Curb Market.” The surrounding Sweet Auburn neighborhood was so influential in subsequent years that it was named a National Historic Landmark. Today, Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a downtown hotspot frequented by local business people, students, creatives and foodies. Grab a bite from popular stalls like Bell Street Burritos and Grindhouse Killer Burgers. Take home an edible souvenir from Sweet Auburn Bakery.

  4. Paschal’s - ©2015, Paschal’s Restaurant

    Paschal’s – ©2015, Paschal’s Restaurant

    Paschal’s Restaurant: Brothers James and Robert Paschal opened Paschal’s Restaurant in 1947 on Atlanta’s Westside. At the time, it was a small, 30-seat diner. The restaurant grew to be Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Restaurant, a 120-room hotel, restaurant and lounge –a venue that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used as a home base for the movement. Paschal’s quickly became the place for leaders of the civil rights movement to eat, meet and strategize – the brother’s secret recipe fried chicken served as fuel for the activists’ bodies and souls. Today, Paschal’s has a new location in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill neighborhood and remains a mainstay for the city’s movers and shakers. Take a seat and feast on the famous fried chicken enjoyed by the likes of John Lewis, Dr. King and Jesse Jackson, to name just a few.

  5. Center for Civil and Human Rights - ©2015, J Glenn Photography

    Center for Civil and Human Rights – ©2015, J Glenn Photography

    Center for Civil and Human Rights
    The Center for Civil and Human Rights is the newest civil rights destination in Atlanta. The Center utilizes compelling exhibits paired with audio and motion to immerse guests in the journey of the civil rights movement. Sit in protest at a simulated lunch counter, or join in the march on Washington. Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection gallery which features a rotating selection of King’s artifacts, papers and hand-written notes. Complete your visit by learning about today’s movements from global human rights activists and challenge yourself to get involved.

Best of Atlanta Metro for Families with Preschoolers

Tellus Museum

Tellus Science Museum

Traveling with a preschooler comes with its own set of special challenges. You need engaging activities, with opportunities for kids to use all their senses.  Below are twelve picks for the Atlanta Metro, both for families visiting the area and for those that call Atlanta home.

Fail-proof options for vacationing families

  1. Tiny Towne (Alpharetta) Children ages 3-15 drive high-tech miniature cars in a realistic environment. Follow road signs and traffic signals, and have a fun time in the process.
  2. Dunwoody Nature Center

    Dunwoody Nature Center

    Dunwoody Nature Center (Dunwoody) Explore the boardwalk, play hide-and-seek in the treehouse, traipse the short trails, or play on the playground. On warmer days, the creek calls for frolicking, with shallow water and pebbles for tossing.

  3. Center for Puppetry Arts (Midtown Atlanta) Take in one of the masterful puppet shows, which always exceed expectations. A children’s puppetry workshop follows most shows. Kids will also enjoy the Jim Henson exhibit or the puppetry museum.
  4. Children’s Museum of Atlanta (Downtown Atlanta) “Shop” in a grocery store, catch fish, climb the treehouse, or explore machines with pulleys and levers. Rotating exhibits with hands-on kiosks add to the fun.
  5. Tellus Science Museum (Cartersville) It’s easy to spend hours in the My Big Backyard children’s exhibit. After that, walk with the dinosaurs, or pose with a replica of Sputnik. Kids are sure to enjoy fossil hunting and gemstone mining, free with admission.
  6. Yellow River Game Ranch (Lilburn) Meander the trail through this 24-acre park to see sheep, bunnies, cougar, bear, and more. The back meadow holds the largest herd of buffalo this side of the Mississippi! Pet the deer, and feed the sheep and other kid-friendly animals. Don’t forget your camera.

Must-do preschool programs for residents

  1. Atlanta History Center

    Atlanta History Center

    Magic Mondays at Atlanta History Center (Buckhead Atlanta) Once-a-month programs include crafts, games, stories, and a learning activity. Move at your own pace through the sessions, and be sure to finish with a visit to the farm!

  2. Theatre for the Very Young at Alliance Theatre (Midtown Atlanta) Professional performances that kids as young as 18 months will enjoy. Shows engage children and parents, allowing kids to become part of the experience.
  3. Adventure Cubs at Zoo Atlanta (Grant Park Atlanta) This monthly adventure features hands-on programs for three and four year olds. Take a Zoo tour, play at the learning stations, and meet a special animal ambassador.
  4. Southern Railway Museum

    Southern Railway Museum

    2nd Thursday Preschool Program at Southeastern Railway Museum (Duluth) The cleverly designed program includes circle time, songs, activities, and a craft. Each month’s topic covers a different mode of transportation including hot air balloons, ice cream trucks, and of course trains!

  5. Mommy and Me at Southern Museum (Kennesaw) Free with admission, Mommy and Me includes story times, crafts, and hands-on games. Every week offers a new topic.
  6. Booth Cahoots at Booth Western Art Museum (Cartersville) Kids learn about works of art on display at the “cowboy museum,” and make their own art inspired by those artists. Pre-registration is required, and participation is free with admission.


Lesli is the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration to local families. She is also the Official Family Travel Ambassador for the state of Georgia, as well as a freelance writer for several online publications.  She enjoys being a homeschool mom to two young boys and bonus mom to two teenagers. From her home base of Atlanta, Lesli spends her time life-learning with the kids one adventure at a time, and sharing her experiences along the way.


7 Unique New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Georgia

These New Year’s Eve celebrations put the Times Square Ball Drop to shame.

Photo Credit: Savannah Riverfront

Photo Credit: Savannah Riverfront

Up the Cup in Savannah: Countdown the final seconds of 2014 as Savannah raises a six foot to-go cup to the New Year. The “Up the Cup” countdown will start right before midnight followed by a firework display to officially ring in 2015. Admission is FREE and all ages are welcome.

Photo Credit: Perry Buzzard Drop

Photo Credit: Perry Buzzard Drop

Buzzard Drop in Perry: Enjoy live music from two bands, a Buzzard Boogie dance contest with a $100 cash prize and the 2nd Annual Perry Buzzard Drop! The buzzard will drop at midnight and will be followed by the release of balloons and confetti. Food and spirits vendors will be on site.  Admission is FREE and all ages are welcome.

Photo Credit: The Possum Drop

Photo Credit: The Possum Drop

Possum Drop in Tallapoosa: The residents of Tallapoosa, formerly know as “Possum Snout”, ring in each New Year by lowering a stuffed possum named “Spencer” from atop one of the city’s oldest buildings. The famous Possum Drop celebration begins in the afternoon with live music, the crowning of the Possum King & Queen and more. Admission is FREE and all ages are welcome.

Photo Credit: McDonough Tours via Flickr

Photo Credit: McDonough Tours via Flickr

Geranium Drop in McDonough: Dance the year away on the McDonough Square as the Geranium Drops! McDonough’s Mayor, Billy Copeland, will kick off the 4th Annual Geranium Drop at 8pm on New Year’ Eve. Admission is FREE and all ages are welcome.

Photo Credit: The Macon Cherry Blossom Festival

Photo Credit: The Macon Cherry Blossom Festival

Cherry Drop in Macon: The Cherry Blossom ball is made of recycled metal cherry blossoms decked out in pink lights, and its drop serves as the start of the official countdown to the Cherry Blossom Festival, March 19th – April 4th, 2015. Admission is FREE. There will also be family-friendly events from 7 P.M.-9 P.M. for those with young children, including a mini fireworks finale at 9 P.M.


Dropping of the Edelweiss in Helen:  Ring in 2015 with live music, food, dancing and the 2nd Annual Dropping of the Edelweiss at the Helen Festhalle! Admissions is $15 per person & $25 per couple. Children under 6 will receive free admission and children ages 6-12 will receive half price admission.

shamrockShamrock Drop in Dublin: Be awed as a brilliantly lit shamrock descends from atop the historic Fred Roberts Building in downtown Dublin, Georgia. Admission is FREE and children are welcome until 9 P.M. After 9 P.M., Jackson Street will host a 21+ street party featuring dancing, live music, vendors, food and beverage delights!

1470250_10201404779337586_897188189_nLauren Cleland is the voice of Explore Georgia on social media. She loves ice cold sweet tea, anything peach flavored, channeling Scarlett O’Hara in her daily life and sharing the wonders of her beloved Georgia with all of you!

5 Reasons to Ride the Santa Train in Blue Ridge


Santa Claus gives his undivided attention to each child on the Express Train round trip out of Blue Ridge.

Santa or his helpers show up a lot of places every December, but I had never met one with a big entourage until riding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

Train buffs might delight in the century-old depot or in knowing the tracks were first laid in this northwest Georgia town in 1886.

The rest of us can immerse in the magic of Christmas because this railroad crew believes too.


Look-alike Elf on the Shelf elves stroll the train cars, readily posing for photos.

“We wait all year for the Santa Train,” says cheerful conductor Ray Leader. “The other trains all year are delightful, but it’s the Santa Express and Night Train we love best.”

Mrs. Claus told me the same thing; Santa himself was too busy eyeball-to-eyeball with the little kids to entertain a question.

This Santa’s totally focused

Santa gave his undivided attention to each child on my train car, one at a time. He didn’t lump brothers and sisters together as a group to move on quickly. He also gives each one a jingle bell on a ribbon, keepsakes perhaps to hang on your own tree.

Babies in arms? Santa seemed skilled at cooing and comforting while brand-new parents barely focused photos because they were grinning so broadly.

Teamwork from this North Pole entourage

Elves dressed like Christmas trees or gingerbread men strolled about, chatting with children and the adults they brought with them.

Then they positioned themselves in that alluring open-air space where train cars are coupled, building readiness for the arrival of another character.

Skillful timing: just enough downtime to look out the windows at Toccoa River scenery, winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Children giggle with Rudolph on the Santa Train, but save their belief for Santa.

Rudolph doesn’t fool the kids—easy to see he’s a man with a costume but I got the feeling seeing him as pretend reinforced their faith in Santa.

Stories, songs and colors

“Twas the Night Before Christmas” became reason enough for children to gather in the center of the car with for a reading of the fabled poem.

A gift of individual crayons and coloring books, including traditional Christmas songs, lured many children to artwork, only to look up when the next visitors arrived—boy and girl elves that look like the Elf on the Shelf in many households.

That caused a ripple of recognition in the children around me, and requests for photos.

Keeping up with Santa

The young-boy elf sticking close to Santa’s elbow presented a candy cane to each child and Mrs. Santa guided little ones toward photo-friendly positions and comfortably chatted with adults awaiting their child’s turn.

Faith and hope like the Christmas message resonate with her, she said, after a 33-year career in juvenile justice.


Learning about train travel peering through the back window of car #549.

Experiencing the train

If you can possibly veer from the magic of Christmas, ride intentionally to show the kids what train travel was like for other generations, and how people get around on other continents.

Don’t just sit in your double-facing wide seats—look out the big windows at the passing countryside and cross into another train car. Some are climate-controlled, all enclosed, and some are open-air.

More about the train



1:00 pm and 3:00 pm rides through Christmas Eve

Train schedules every month except January and February.

Other special themes include Easter Eggspress, Firecracker Special, Pumpkin Pickin’ and New Year’s Eve.

Photo Credit: Jodi Broadaway Dunn

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.