Chastain Park is not only the largest park in Atlanta, Georgia; it's the most diverse and just plain fun. I've written before about taking a photo siesta at lunchtime to escape from the rigors of my job. And while I love Piedmont Park and many others in Atlanta, Chastain Park kept me coming back time and time again. Each section of the park has something new and different to offer.
Many people only think of Chastain Park as one thing, but that one thing varies greatly from person to person. Many spent time playing or watching softball in one of the many fields you come to as West Wiecua Road crosses Lake Forrest Drive and becomes Chastain Park Avenue. Many others will only be familiar with the 18-hole golf course. Still, others only play tennis or train in the massive old swimming pool at the bottom of Elliot Galloway Way.
Speaking of the late Elliot Galloway, who began The Galloway School, located in the heart of the park, I met and ran with him frequently around the park or at many local Atlanta running events. Many don't know this, but his son is Jeff Galloway, a 1972 U.S. Olympic team member, multi-time Peachtree Road Race winner, and founder of the Phidippides Running Store chain. Through Jeff, I met and ran with other world-class and Olympic athletes, including Bill Rodgers and Benji Durden.
And of course, many thousands know Chastain Park as the site for dozens of concerts each year in the old amphitheater. I first visited Chastain Park for concerts in the waning hippie days of the early '70s, where we would sit on the hills outside the arena and listen for free. Eventually, the amphitheater morphed into a venue for modern-day concerts ranging from the Everly Brothers to Lady Gaga. Mainly corporate-sponsored tables and seats were occupied by people trying to out-posh each other with catered dinners on candle-lit linens, while those in the back sat on the grass and ate from buckets of Kentucky Fried.
But later, for me, the park became another refuge from corporate life. Many days at lunch, I would find a shady spot to park along the avenue and wander through the park taking pictures. One day, I would walk among the new grass on the athletic fields. Another, I would hike along steep trails through dense forests of oak and bamboo where you could get completely away from everything.
A walk all the way down Chastain Park Avenue would give me many photo ops as I passed people practicing softball, tennis, and golf, then return down the other side past the swimming pool, the Elliot school, the art conservancy, and playgrounds. For a more adventurous hike, I would take Powers Ferry Road up past all of the horse park amenities, then come back down by the amphitheater and end up back at the swimming pool.
For a strenuous 3-mile walk of 5k run, take the entire perimeter around the park. Only the short crossing on Chastain Memorial Pkwy will be even remotely level. The rest is up and down very steep and long hills.
If you haven't been there in a long time, much has changed, in part thanks to the Chastain Park Conservancy. The junky, run-down playground has been replaced with a fenced-in four-acre playground with wheelchair-accessible places to play and modern restrooms. There is even a piano there for the musically inclined child.
If you are anywhere near the north side of Atlanta, Georgia, and want a relaxed, green getaway from the hustle and bustle, come into Chastain Park and spend the day.