I kind of hate malls. Okay, I actually really despise malls unless they serve a really specific purpose like going to Legoland at Phipps Plaza or the times I would take the kiddos to run around before Lenox opened on a rainy day. And although I totally see what the rage is all about with the Santa at Lenox, I just can’t deal with it. My daughter also isn’t a fan of big crowds and the likes. So we needed to figure out a way to get in that coveted (and/or obligatory) Santa time in a more stress-free kind of way.
From trains to farms, here’s where I’ve found the best off the beaten places to see Santa around Atlanta. But Santa’s schedule can change, so call ahead to make sure he’s still hanging around.
Atlanta Botanical Gardens
What I love about the Atlanta Botanical Gardens is its ability to turn the barren gardens where nothing should really be blooming into something glorious. Their holiday lights display is stunning and draws out scores of visitors with lines through the parking lot.
By day, a train set-up, playground, and treats keep kids busy. This is the time to sneak in a visit with Santa. But the Atlanta Botanical Gardens Santa is usually dressed in green with a lovely crown made of twigs and nature’s best greens. If your child is really into the Coca-Cola inspired Santa, you might want to check out another one of his stops on the list.
Atlanta History Center Candlelight Tour
For an evening experience with Santa, try a candlelight tour with the Atlanta History Center. Even if your kids aren’t into history just yet, they’ll still think the center, gardens, and of course, Santa, are pretty magical. Grown-ups who are short on time Christmas shopping, there’s a Christmas Market with local crafts and gifts and even a bar for a little libation to ease the stress of the holidays.
Bass Pro Shop
Even Santa likes to fish, and Atlanta’s Bass Pro Shop turns into a winter wonderland for kids looking to meet the big guy in person. You’ll even get a free personalized digital Christmas card and photo with Santa to check off the box for adorable photo opp from your list.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
This has been one of my family’s favorites. The historic train depot in Blue Ridge invites families to ride the rails on either an hour or four-hour journey depending on your preference and ability to endure that much time on a train car with your kids. Kids are entertained by Christmas sing-alongs, elves, candy canes, and of course the royal family of Christmas: the Clauses. When kids are waiting for Santa to make an appearance, hit the snack car for super affordable popcorn and goodies.
This seems to be one of the best kept Santa sighting secrets around Atlanta. Rhodes Hall offers a memorable Santa experience in a relatively low-key and private setting. Known as “the castle on Peachtree Street”, Rhodes Hall transforms into a winter wonderland with music and fun. Families can register for a mostly private meeting with Santa for a flat fee with photo opt and 5×7 portrait, along with all the goodies, crafts, and fun that Rhodes Hall has to offer.
This is another favorite on my family’s list. Instead of the mall, we head to Southernbelle Farms in McDonough for a free visit with Santa in their gift shop. You can also see the goats, cow, and chickens or pay a nominal fee to enjoy a bouncy pillow, kid-friendly pedal carts, and other fun. Call ahead to ensure Santa and all the farm amenities are open on the weekend you want to come.
Santa at the mall can be a perfectly magical experience and a family tradition, but if you’re like us, dealing with the crowds isn’t part of our holiday plans. Make it unique and find Santa hanging around the greater Atlanta area before he heads north.
Where’s your favorite Santa sighting spot?