Cities aren’t made for visiting in an RV. Even in a Class B like our Roxanne, you’ve got narrow roads, low overhangs and tight parking spaces to deal with. It’s a trade off. On one hand, we can pull into a campsite, put the van in park and be ready for the night. On the other, RVers who own trailers or tow a vehicle behind a Class A have more setup work to do, but they can explore a city more nimbly.
When I decided my daughter and I would spend a day in Atlanta recently, I took to the online RV community and asked a few friends for advice. Our main destination was the World of Coca-Cola. The best option seemed to be to drive into the city, find a big parking lot somewhere nearby, pay a bunch of money and park, then walk the rest of the way. But that’s not the path I chose. What we did instead worked really well!
First Thing’s First: Overnight Accommodations
We were coming from the north and headed back there after our trip. I found an amazing federally-owned campground about 40 miles outside of town. The Van Pugh South Campground is on Lake Lanier, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built for flood control and has 700 miles of shoreline. The campground’s neighbors are high-end and enormous lakefront homes, which had me wondering for a while if I’d gone down the wrong street. But we found our site – the last available in the park on a holiday weekend, and I’d checked three other parks first. It was a back-in with water and 30-amp electric for $30 a night. What a remarkable place.
I tend to like government-run campgrounds the best because they work to preserve the natural environment, and they allow campers more space than private RV parks at a typically lower cost. (Picture an ample spot surrounded by trees, with many yards separating you from a neighbor, not the side-by-side unshaded concrete slabs you often see in the commercial parks.) Van Pugh was a stunning example of this preference. Our campsite was out of sight from those around it and just a few steps up the hill from the lake.
My daughter and I wandered down there right after we arrived, to peek at the water and see the rest of the campground. Some of the sites were on two levels, with steps leading right down to the water. The park doesn’t allow generator use or RVs longer than 26 feet, so it was a tranquil environment for the night even despite some motorboats and fireworks nearby. My only slight critique is that the bathrooms were a good quarter-mile away, which led some of our fellow campers to drive there instead of walking. Not great if you’re in a rush, but I enjoyed the walk.
A Day of Adventure in Atlanta & Beyond
The next morning, we got up and went for a 4-mile run (me on foot, her on a scooter) in the park and surrounding neighborhood. Showers and off we went! A friend recommended Cafe Sunflower in Sandy Springs for a nice vegan lunch north of town. A few minutes down the road, the Sandy Springs MARTA station offered a free place to park for those who wish to take the subway into Atlanta. But wait… what I thought was a surface parking lot turned out to be a garage! And garages are usually off limits for our 9-½-foot tall house on wheels.
Guess which garage has a 9-½-foot clearance? The MARTA garage at Sandy Springs! I easily tucked Roxanne into a spot on the ground floor, and we were on our way. We spent $11 total, round trip, for the two of us. The trains were air conditioned and comfortable — very familiar for those of us who use the DC Metro system. And the best part was passing all the stuck cars on I-85 heading into the city. (It’s a 12-lane highway in parts, but still loaded with traffic even on a Saturday in July.) We rolled into the security line at World of Coca-Cola just ahead of a major thunderstorm, a 40-minute trip including a transfer and a few minutes of walking.
A World of Exquisite Marketing
Why the World of Coca-Cola? We never keep soda in the house, don’t buy it when we’re out and don’t generally allow our 9-year-old to drink it. But vacation is vacation, and I’m a communications and marketing guy. It was a must-see, and it did not disappoint. Imagine a brand so powerful that thousands of people a day willingly fork over $15 and up to wait in line and spend hours learning more about that brand? That’s exactly what we had. From the moment you walk in the place, it’s a carefully crafted experience that leaves you wanting more. There’s a free sample behind the first door, an enthusiastic young employee conducting an orientation behind the second and a short, powerful film behind the third. Your emotions are being manipulated so you will think more highly of fizzy, colored sugar water. And you don’t care. You want more.
And more we got! We learned the history of Coke advertising from around the world, some very familiar to this child of the 80s. I read about the 89 days of New Coke and how the company recovered from the blunder. We saw a mini bottling plant in action and got to guess where the secret formula was hidden. The penultimate stop was the tasting room, where visitors thronged around soda fountains dispensing nearly every global Coke flavor. Some were delicious, some less so. The floors were very sticky. We both looked at each other when we realized it was time to go. Some 3-½ hours after we went in, we found our way out through the gift shop and somehow managed not to buy anything.
Back to Nature
Full of sugary flavors from around the world, we found our way back onto MARTA and retrieved Roxanne from her spot. Including a stop for gas, we made it back to Van Pugh South about 90 minutes after leaving downtown Atlanta. It was just in time for sundown over Lake Lanier. The storm had passed. Our clothes on the line were dry. We were ready for a good night’s sleep, at home in our Travato before another day on the road would await.