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Family Vacation

Kid-friendly fun for hot summer days

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Ideally, summer should be about getting away with your children, not getting away from them. The more you can think like a kid, the easier "quality time" can be.

So don't underestimate the attraction of big toys, bigger animals, junky food and chances to get wet. Also remember that for young kids, riding MARTA is often equal to an amusement-park attraction.

For the little ones, try these suggested intown itineraries (with warnings of potentially problematic areas) arranged by geographic convenience. Don't forget cameras and healthy snack foods. And schedule in naps as needed.

FRIDAY

9:30 a.m.: To minimize exposure to the summer heat, arrive at the gate of Zoo Atlanta when it opens: Animals, not unlike children, tend to be active in the morning. Be sure to pay your respects to Lun Lun and Yang Yang, since the pandas tend to be the liveliest residents (along with the primates at the Ford African Rain Forest). Save the playground and petting zoo for last.

Warning: Wash the kids' hands afterward. There's no telling who's been touching those petting-zoo goats.

1 p.m.: Swing by Little Five Points for a lively lunch. Kids especially like Savage Pizza, with its yummy pies and groovy superhero-based decor. They'll also admire the giant skull at nearby Vortex (which serves a fine hamburger, but isn't quite as kid-friendly).

2 p.m. After getting your tickets to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, go directly to the central atrium to goggle at the Argentinosaurus, the staggeringly huge dinosaur skeleton that even dwarfs the predatory Giganotosaurus alongside it. Don't overlook the small flock of flying dinosaurs above.

Fernbank features several hands-on attractions: "Sensing Nature" lets kids experiment with the science of bubbles, shadows and sound, and even features a chamber that makes miniature cyclones. The exhibit A Walk Through Time in Georgia offers 18 galleries that include more dinosaurs and giant sloths.

By now, you'll welcome a chance to take a load off your feet, so take in an IMAX film. Fernbank's theater currently shows Bugs! at 4 p.m. and The Living Sea at 5 p.m.

Warning: Be sensitive to your kids' movie-going limits. Even in the back row, a praying mantis the size of King Kong can make toddlers freak out, even if their siblings think it's the coolest thing ever.

SATURDAY

10 a.m.: Take in the early show at the Center for Puppetry Arts, where the running times of less than an hour perfectly suit youthful attention spans. Plus, B'rer Rabbit and Friends, playing through June 19, has the added hook of paying tribute to Georgia author Joel Chandler Harris.

Plan for enough time to check out the items on display, like the towering stilt puppets (and a Whatizzit costume) from the 1996 Olympics. The "Puppets: The Power of Wonder" Museum is easily found, right behind the giant-sized Pinocchio feet smashing through the ceiling.

Warning: Immediately upon entry to the museum, a metallic phoenix emerges from a trash can, accompanied by creepy sound effects. So if your little'uns scare easily, best let the staff usher you in the back way.

11:30 a.m.: For a Southern-style kiddie lunch, try a barbecue sandwich at Fat Matt's Rib Shack, or some fried chicken at Fat Matt's Chicken Shack next door.

12:30 p.m.: The Atlanta Botanical Garden features relatively sedate attractions like the expansive Children's Garden. But the young ones should be fascinated by Locomotion in the Garden, landscape architect Paul Busse's installation of model trains. The little choo-choos travel along more than a quarter-mile of track and pass through miniature landscapes that include local landmarks like Turner Field and the Fox Theatre.

3 p.m.: Swing by the Toy Store, an intimate little shop at Ansley Mall. But make sure the kids don't expect a cavernous temple of merchandise a la Toys R Us.

3:30 p.m.: End your day with a visit to Centennial Olympic Park to drink in the dancing waters and pre-recorded music of "The Fountain of Rings" (which features shows at 12:30, 3:30, 6:30 and 9 p.m.). Kids can romp and get wet (with the visitor's center and CNN Center providing space to change in and out of swimsuits). There's plenty of open greenspace to throw a Frisbee or just collapse in a heap and admire the downtown skyline.

Warning: The park's repeated use of the song "Coming to America" by Neil Diamond will get stuck in your head - and your kid's.

JUST THE FACTS

ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN 1345 Piedmont Ave. Tues.-Sun., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. $12 adults, $7 students, free for kids under age 3. 404-876-5859. atlantabotanicalgarden.org.

CENTENNIAL OLYMPIC PARK 285 Internaional Blvd. Free. 7 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. 404-223-4412. www.centennialpark.com.

CENTER FOR PUPPETRY ARTS 1404 Spring St. Show times Tues.-Fri., 10 and 11:30 a.m.; Sat., 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m.; Sun., 1 and 3 p.m. $14 ages 2 and up. 404-873-3391. www.puppet.org.

Fat Matt's Rib Shack 1811 Piedmont Ave. 404-607-1622. www.fattmattsribshack.com.

FAT MATT'S CHICKEN SHACK 1821 Piedmont Ave. 404-875-2722.

FERNBANK MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY 767 Clifton Road. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 12-5 p.m. $12 adults ($17 with IMAX), $10 children ages 3-12 ($13 with IMAX). 404-929-6300. www.fernbank.edu.

SAVAGE PIZZA 484 Moreland Ave. 404-523-0500. www.savagepizza.com.

THE TOY STORE Ansley Mall, 1544 Piedmont Ave. 404-875-1137.

ZOO ATLANTA 800 Cherokee Ave. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., April-Oct. $17 ages 12 and up, $12 children ages 3-11. 404-624-5600. www.zooatlanta.org.

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