Visiting Olympic Sites
Destinations of Champions
Bobsled, luge, skate and ski at these North American sites that formerly hosted the Summer or Winter Olympic Games.
When the crowds are long gone and the eyes of the world have moved on, these North American former Olympic venues still have much to offer families, from racing around skating ovals to bobsledding to reliving historic moments at museums.
Los Angeles hosted the Olympics twice, once during the Great Depression in 1932, and more recently in 1984. L.A. used or modified many existing structures rather than building new ones. As a result, there’s no real central “Olympic” area like other cities have. The 1984 Olympics were notable for the boycott by the Soviet Union and Carl Lewis tying Jesse Owens’ record-breaking win of four gold medals in the same events Owens achieved them.
One beautiful Olympic reminder is at the Natural History Museum, where you’ll find Exposition Park, a 7.5-acre rose garden with nearly 16,000 rose bushes. The garden was an attraction for the 1932 games. And while there’s no Olympics exhibit, the kids should be entertained, or terrified, by Megamouth, a rare 14.5-foot-long ancient shark in the museum.
The 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta were marred by a bombing incident which killed two people, but that didn’t keep the crowds away from this southern city, me included. Despite the increased security, the games went on. Today, Centennial Olympic Park, with 21 acres, is a community mecca, offering free events, festivals and the city’s only outdoor ice-skating rink. Pick up a map at the visitor’s center to find your way around.
Without a doubt, in the summer the most popular spot is the 251-jet fountain in the shape of the five interlocking Olympic rings. During the Olympics, you could barely see this as so many people were crowded onto it. Now kids and adults cool off splashing through the fountain. Timed water and light displays, with jets shooting 35 feet in the air, are fun to watch. Look for the Quilt Plazas, made of contrasting bricks that detail the Centennial Olympic Games. For down time, there’s a large children’s play area and garden. Every fourth Saturday from April through September is Family Fun Day with loads of activities and entertainment.
The Georgia Dome, the world’s largest cable-supported dome, where the gymnastics and basketball events were held, is now home to the Atlanta Falcons, but tours are given Tuesday through Saturday (tickets are $6).
The site of two Winter Olympics (1932 and 1980), this small town in New York packs a lot of punch. Many of the Olympic sites are in or near the downtown Lake Placid area. Not far from town, you’ll find the Olympic Jumping Complex and the bobsled run. Make sure to buy an Olympic Passport: For $29, you get admission to the Olympic Jumping Complex, which includes an elevator ride to the sky deck on top of the jump tower, the Olympic Sports Complex (where you’ll find the bobsled ride), the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum, plus discount coupons to the bobsled ride, stores and other local attractions.
The museum is filled with uniforms, medals, equipment and videos playing Olympic highlights. Don’t miss the story of the “Miracle on Ice,” when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union team in 1980. My daughter Sadie, age 9, her friend Cecelia, age 8, and my husband loved skating on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval, where they timed each other’s laps.
For thrill-seekers, the bobsled ride ($75 for adults, $65 for those under age 12) is mandatory. This was a bit of a test for Sadie (and to tell the truth, me too). She wasn’t sure she wanted to go a half a mile in 49 seconds at a speed of 50 miles an hour on a sled, but she gathered up her courage and agreed to go. All four of us rocketed down together with our driver Joe and brakeman Kim while we whooped with joy (or maybe fear). Still, we all are grinning hugely in the photo that was taken as we got out.
Salt Lake City
There’s plenty to do at the site of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Head to the Utah Olympic Park to take a bobsled ride, learn to ski jump, try the Quicksilver alpine slide or watch Olympic athletes training for Nordic and freestyle aerial events,. The Alf Engen Ski Museum, located in the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center, houses Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games memorabilia. Take a 45-minute guided tour for $25 (per family of five) or do a self-guided tour for free (www.engenmuseum.org).
Lace up and take a spin at the Utah Olympic Oval Home, where you can skate on the 400-meter speed skating oval, try the four-lane 442-meter running track, or take a class in figure skating or curling.
Unlike most other Olympic venues, Salt Lake City kept its Olympic Cauldron. It’s the centerpiece at Olympic Cauldron Park, which opened in 2003, located next to the Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held.