Atlanta Family Weekend On the Cheap

Dad Chip Brantley shares how his family spent thirty-six hours in Atlanta on a $400 budget, with money to spare.
Chip Brantley

Saturday
Lunch On the Cheap at Grindhouse Killer Burgers: $17.24
I'd heard good buzz about Grindhouse's freshly ground burgers, and the place is right off I-75/85 at the funky Sweet Auburn Curb Market. My son, Angus, loved the turkey slider kid's meal ($4.50). The Cowboy burger with bacon, Cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce on a toasted potato bun ($6.25) is my new favorite. Liz went with a veggie burger ($3.99), and we split a drink-and-onion rings combo ($2.50).
Don't Miss: The Grindhouse sauce, which tastes like a blend of Russian dressing with white barbecue sauce.
Tip: E-mail the Grindhouse folks your favorite burger recipe and you may see it being served the next time you visit.

Entrance and a Show at the Center for Puppetry Arts: $49.50
Sadly, there are no discounts for kids. But for the amount of fun we had–and the couple of hours it took us to have it–the price of admission and the matinee puppet show ($16.50 per person) was a bargain. The center is home to a towering Big Bird and a motley crew of puppets and Muppets. (Warning: Seeing Gobo and Monkey will lodge the Fraggle Rock theme securely in your head.)
Don't Miss: The actual puppet shows. The incredible voice work and puppetry more than compensate for slightly corny scriptwriting.
Tip: Head upstairs after the show to a room where the kids can make their own puppets. Angus was so proud of his creation, made from pipe cleaners and a glue stick, that he didn't even notice the center's gift shop on the way out the door.

Picnic Dinner from Trader Joe's and Parking at Piedmont Park: $27.87
Trader Joe's is the place to stock up on supplies for a gourmet picnic dinner on the cheap. Asian rice crackers, a bag of cashews, grapes, dried mangoes, some good bread, and a hunk of triple-cream cheese. For the perfect plot of grass, we opted for the free attractions of Piedmont Park in lieu of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens (and its $19-per-person admission fee). After watching a pick-up soccer game, we let Angus loose on the miniature climbing wall at the Mayor's Grove Playground.
Don't Miss: Playscapes, a modern playground off Piedmont Avenue near 12th Street that was designed by the noted sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi. Here, grownups can sit while the kids burn off energy.

Hotel Room and Parking at Meliá Atlanta: $152.17
Even with a $15 parking fee, we still got a great rate at this new hotel. It's between Midtown and downtown, about 1 mile from Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia Aquarium. Prices will vary by season, so check online for available deals.
Don't Miss: The rooftop pool. It offers terrific views of the city's skyline.

Sunday 
Breakfast at The Flying Biscuit Café: $35.12
Like all popular breakfast spots, this place fills up early. We lucked out and just beat a wave of families to sit down without much of a wait. We tend to think of breakfast as a cheap meal, but all the extras–juice, a side of bacon, another side of bacon–can add up. So our breakfast strategy was to combine in our collective orders everything we might want: a standard two-egg breakfast, a vegetable omelet, and kid's pancakes. (We still ended up ordering a side of bacon.)
Don't Miss: The namesake biscuit; it's deservedly famous and easy to wrap up and save for later.
Tip: In a car-congested city like Atlanta, look for restaurants with nearby activites. After breakfast, we returned to Playscapes playground in Piedmont Park to walk off the biscuits and bacon.

Admission and Audio Tour Headsets at the High Museum of Art: $91.50
We found a $38.25/each online pass good for admission to both the High Museum and the Georgia Aquarium. The line to buy tickets was already long at the High, but having prepaid, we went straight in.
Don't Miss: The digital audio tour. By giving context, it enriches the experience.
Tip: If you go on Sunday, the meters behind the museum are off, so parking will be free.

Parking, Georgia Aquarium (admission, package with the High): $9
We went straight for the sharks. Then to the tropical reef, and on to the whales and penguins.
Don't Miss: The tunnel to the lookout station in the penguin habitat.
Tip: To make sure you see your favorites, start with what you really want to see and work backwards through the aquarium exhibits.

Lunch at Lee's Bakery: $16
Next to a laundromat in a nondescript strip mall on Buford Highway, Lee's Bakery is Atlanta's famed multiethnic food thoroughfare, and one of the city's top spots for bánh mì, the classic Vietnamese sandwich that consists of pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro, mayonnaise, pâté, and some form of protein–usually grilled pork but also ham, chicken, and eggs. It's been on my list to try for a while, so we made a small detour on the way out of town to stock up on sandwiches for the drive. Like most bánh mì joints, Lee's Bakery is dirt cheap. We ordered four sandwiches ($2.50 to $3 each), two soft drinks ($1), and a mango smoothie ($3). By the time we got home a few hours later, it was all gone.
Don't Miss: The mango smoothie. Creamy but not too dense, it's the perfect chaser for the savory flavors in the bánh mì.
Tip: Over order. This will be the best money you spend in a long time.