A Perfect Rainy Day
My dream vacation involves a trip to New Zealand to take a 9 day underwater photography course to swim with humpback whales. Every year humpback whales gather off the coast as part of their annual migration. You can sign up for this tour package where a company takes you to where the whales are chilling and give you special gear to swim around with them. The whales hang out there every year to let the younger calves fatten up for colder waters. It’s totally kickass.
Humpback whales are what I call a “bucket list animal”. A bucket list animal is an animal I hope to see before I die. I spend most Sunday mornings cooking breakfast and watching nature documentaries, so it’s safe to say I’m really into wildlife. Visiting Atlanta I had no idea I would see two bucket list animals. It might seem obvious, but planning this trip I was unaware that ATL had one of the best aquariums in the world. Like literally, number 1 in the country and number 2 in the world. And I say “obvious” because of the name… Atlanta – Atlantis – it seems obvious now.
Day 2 in Atlanta was wet, a rainstorm developed and threw a wrench into my plans. In the last post, I wrote about how I like to plan trips around a concert or big event. I have to admit, I really like the planning phase of a trip; I get into it. I do my research, watch videos, read articles, check out local news sites, and area subreddits. I come up with plans and backup plans. I look for clusters and areas I can hit multiple things all in one place to maximize fun and minimize time wasted traveling between things. I get into it. This rain changed all those plans and I couldn’t be happier about it. Day 2 was awesome.
After the show the night before, Magic City, and the tequila shots with our local contact we were hung over. I woke up before everyone else and before the rain. Padilla was vibing with me and we decided to trek out to pick up breakfast for the crew. We got dressed, hopped on a couple of Bird scooters and started out. Less than three blocks out from the Airbnb we stopped when we noticed Martin Luther King Jr’s home and just took in the historical significance for a few minutes. Back on our way, we navigated the city taking in the scene. When we got to the donut shop there was a line out the door.
Revolution Donuts and Coffee
We parked the scooters and waited in line. The queue gave us time to look at the selection and decide what we wanted to get. The line moved quickly. With a name like “Revolution” you really have to step your game up in the donut world and this place delivered. They have the classics, chocolate glazed, cake, apple fritters, but they also had gluten-free, and vegan offerings.
We ended up getting a dozen random donuts including Orange Pistachio, Shredded Coconut Cake, Jam Filled Round, Banana Crumb Cake, Vanilla Bean, Toasted Almond Cake, Cream Filled Round, and 4 of the best things I’ve ever eaten. A creation called the Crunch Mister. This thing was a cross between a croissant, donut, and a ham and cheese sandwich. Donuts alone aren’t much of a breakfast so adding in the ham and chee cronut was a must. Donuts and coffee in hand we ordered an uber and went back to the pad. We woke everyone up and had a sugary feast to fuel the rest of our day.
The rainy forecast in mind we settled on an indoor activity for the day. Most of the locals we had chatted up on day 1 had mentioned the aquarium so it was a no brainer. We got soaked walking up to the aquarium. Purchased tickets from the wall of self-service machines, went through the music festival style security, went through the entryway and were in awe. And this is coming from a guy who grew up in San Antonio down the street from Seaworld in the era when trainers would actually get in the tank with killer whales and do crazy stunts.
We hit the tropical diver, coral reef exhibit first. At first, it’s underwhelming, you see things you’ve probably seen before, then it happens. You make a final turn in the tunnel and see a tank that looks like the large garage door that curls up over you. You look at a coral reef with dozens if not hundreds of species. They simulate waves and sync up the music for maximum emotional impact. We knew then that we were in for a special experience.
From there we went to the rainforest river thing and watched the live piranha feeding, then went upstairs and explored the educational stuff geared towards younger audiences. That lead into the Cold Water Quest where they had a 2 story floor to ceiling tank with 4 or 5 beluga whales, sea otters, penguins, and a really cool whale skeleton.
We missed the dolphin arena show but managed to find seats in the sea lion Pier 225 presentation. The short 15-20 minute show was a nice break from the walking we had been doing.
We saved the best for last. The Ocean Voyager experience was the crown jewel of the aquarium. You enter the exhibit to and see some cool stuff, but the real show starts when you step onto the moving sidewalk. The moving path takes you through an indescribably cool glass tunnel. I really don’t even want to try to describe it, go look at the pictures below. I will say, here is where the BLA (bucket list animals) come in. Whale sharks and giant manta rays swim overhead and on either side of you. Other large ocean fish and sharks are also here. It was unbelievable, but the show isn’t over yet. You round a final corner and see an IMAX sized tank with all of the ocean voyager animals swimming past. I could have stayed here all day, but we were getting hungry and it was time for a late lunch.
Vortex is like a much cooler version of the Freetail Brewery we have here in town. They are known for good, cheap beer, wild aesthetics, and a completely insane quadruple coronary bypass burger. This thing is comprised of eight slices of Texas toast. Four 4-ounce sirloin patties. Two 8-ounce sirloin patties. 28 slices of American cheese. Four fried eggs. 27 strips of bacon. We didn’t get it.
I won’t go into too much detail, but the burgers were awesome and it’s definitely a cool place to kick back and have a few drinks. Heads up, don’t bring a big group. This place is built for groups of around 4 and they warn you about it on the menu. They also warn you not to be an asshole or to be on your phone while the waiter is trying to help you. They sat our group of 7 no problem and the service was great.
From here we walked around the Little Five Points neighborhood and made a pit stop at Criminal Records. The record store was cool, but we found a much cooler one the next day.
Sean had to fly out that night so we headed back to the room and just kicked back for a few hours charging our phones and our internal batteries. When Sean left we were all feeling a bit bummed, but we decided to try to keep the night going anyways. We saw a place on the maps called Church Bar, or Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium depending on where you looked. This might have been the coolest place I have ever been to. A mix of snark, blasphemy, alcohol and welcoming personality. Upstairs were the ping pong tables and a lounge area with living room couches and bowling trophies. If this were in San Antonio it would be the only bar I’d go to.
I get the feeling the counterculture in Atlanta is right on the surface. Sunday morning started with us channel surfing in the Airbnb seeing nothing but church channels and megachurch broadcasts, it ended with a bar that had a mannequin dressed as a nun suspended from the ceiling with a tiny Peewee Herman riding her like a rodeo bull. They had the phrase, “Follow Jesus outside to smoke” painted on the back door. People in Atlanta are not shy, they will talk to you and really listen when you speak. I felt like everyone there held a certain respect for one another. They expected to be respected and treated you with respect. Until you crossed a line, then they were ready to respect themselves and teach you who you were talking to. Not that it ever came to that, but the feeling was there.
Most people would have called it a night then, but we were feeling explorative and when we got back to the building our rental was in we noticed the quiet restaurant across the street had transformed into some sort of restaurant dance club hybrid. Mangos is a Caribbean restaurant that served jerk chicken, curry goat, oxtails and Jamaican beef patties. We got one of everything. The beef patty was my favorite, a flaky pie-like crust filled with a spicy beef paste. It reminded me of whatever the fuck is in those Jack In the Box tacos.
This place was wild. We walked in expecting a restaurant and were greeted with blasting island jams. The lights were low and there was a DJ tucked in the corner with a full-on light show. The waiter came up to our table and offered us drink specials. He pushed the rum punch. A blend of 5 different rums and fruit juice for only $2. An offer too good to refuse. The food was alright, but something new, and the ambiance was like nothing I had ever experienced. We called it a night and went home.
What We Missed
The Northside Tavern has been voted one of the top dive bars in America. Northside Tavern is a blues bar with live music seven days a week. We had planned on checking it out, but things changed and we missed our chance. Maybe next time. Tune in next week for day 3, the final entry in this Atlanta trip log.