There are many among us who crave truly authentic experiences and off-the-beaten path destinations when we travel. If it’s adventure, natural beauty and a healthy dose of Southern hospitality, experienced like a local, that you’re craving, then pack your bags and head to Dahlonega, Georgia in the pastoral Blue Ridge Mountains.
The current “authentic getaway travel” trend allows you to not just get away but immerse yourself in a culture—from food, arts, music and history to nature and outdoor adventures.
The county seat of Lumpkin County, Dahlonega is a charming destination with a vibrant food, arts and music scene, as well as some notable historic sites. Just an hour north of Atlanta, it’s a six-hour drive from Ocala.
“Dahlonega has a great small-town feel and the aesthetic quality of our town is hard to find these days,” explains Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber and Visitors Bureau Tourism Director Sam McDuffie. “What I love about Dahlonega and Lumpkin County is that there is so much to do. It’s what made me fall in love with the community.”
McDuffie explains that the region offers a plethora of outdoor recreation, agritourism, historical attractions, wineries, unique hotels and some exciting culinary experiences.
Downtown Dahlonega is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a “Great American Main Street Award” winner. The historic public square, connected by shaded brick sidewalks, is the hub of activity where musicians can be found jamming and artists hover over sketchpads or set up easels. It’s the true heart of the town, where locals and visitors alike can enjoy more than 100 shops, restaurants, galleries and many other local businesses that occupy distinct 19th-century buildings. There are green-space parks and walking tours that offer an alternative to the retail offerings and are a charming way to spend a laid-back afternoon.
A Golden History
The history of gold runs deep in Dahlonega, where the first Gold Rush occurred in the late 1820s. The Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site was once the Lumpkin County courthouse, and now hosts over 25,000 visitors per year. The curated collection of original gear, personal mementos and historic artifacts is included in the interactive exhibit. Fun fact: there are still gold specks evident in the building’s original bricks.
Crisson Gold Mine, established in 1847, is the oldest public mining enterprise in Georgia. Their stamp mill is one of two still in operation. Owner Tony Ray began working at the mine at 14 years old and purchased it from the original owners in the 1990s. He, wife Tammy and daughter Brianna have devoted their lives to preserving the historical and educational facility and resources. You can go on an above-ground tour of the site, pan for gold and mine for gems to allow you to feel a connection to the tangible history of the Crisson Gold Mine—which involved backbreaking work and the excitement of “the find.”
Consolidated Gold Mine takes visitors 200 feet underground to tour the actual tunnels that were created by men and women (and sometimes children) who risked their lives on the hope of striking gold. The mine’s underground adventure package is a 40-minute tour filled with history, facts and a reminder of the power of nature—you traverse the rough stone caverns with fresh water flowing along the sides of the red clay walkways. After the tour, you can pan for gold and mine for gems. Visitors frequently discover garnet, amethyst, ruby and tiger eye, which they can bag and take home or have made into jewelry.
When in Wine Country
Dahlonega earned the distinction of being the Wine Tasting Room Capital of Georgia and is often referred to as the “Heart of Georgia Wine Country” because it has the highest concentration of wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms in the state. The ever-growing industry has grown into a multi-million dollar business and the region, which annually produces around 100 acres of a variety of European, French hybrid, and American wine grapes, has produced some notable and award-winning wines. There are also seven tasting rooms, from area vineyards, located in the downtown district.
Montaluce Winery & Restaurant believes that wine tastings are an experience and one best accompanied by an exquisite meal. The Tuscany-inspired architecture and views of the vineyards from the restaurant’s balcony make the setting the epitome of wine country.
Montaluce’s bestselling 2018 Seyval Blanc, a white wine with hints of green apple and pineapple, is a great example of the distinctive varietals coming out of the region and their Apple Wine, crafted with 100 percent of the apples grown in the north Georgia mountains, is a fun and refreshing wine. Executive Chef Christopher R. Matson’s menu for Montaluce’s restaurant focuses on fresh, locally sourced ingredients prepared with classic techniques to deliver a sophisticated culinary experience.
Kaya Vineyard and Winery, known for its wine grown, bottled and produced on-site, sits boldly at 1,600 feet elevation and boasts a panoramic mountain view, accentuated by cascading grape vines and rolling hills.
Tuesday through Sunday, they offer a casual light lunch menu and encourage guests to enjoy wine and food on the covered patio. If you can’t make it up the mountain, The Dahlonega Square Hotel & Villas, just steps from the downtown square, serves as a secondary tasting room for the vineyard and offers fun, hands-on “Paint and Sip” events.
The Dahlonega Resort and Vineyard is at the heart of the region’s wine country, within a few miles of several other notable vineyards. It offers a serene flow, from peaceful cabins to all-natural spa treatments and yoga classes to delectable meals created by Executive Chef Sean Fritchle. Early risers might spot a family of deer congregating on the hazy, foggy landscape.
Hiking, biking and equestrian trails and scenic waterfalls abound in Dahlonega with the nearby Appalachian Trail, Etowah and Chestatee Rivers and Chattahoochee National Forest.
Forrest Hills Mountain Resort offers well-appointed cabins nestled in the forest and onsite horseback riding and chuck wagon dinners.
This historic town proudly offers unique food experiences for a variety of appetites. At 19° North Seafood & Grill, the Southern cuisine and beach-themed decor combine to offer a casual dining experience on the square. Among the menu highlights are the bourbon bacon char-grilled oysters, roasted Brussels sprouts and pork belly, seafood cobb salad and the low country boil. After your meal, stroll through downtown and take in the sights.
Lots of residents or “nuggets,” as they are affectionately referred to, visit The Picnic Cafe & Dessertery, as there is a strong sense of community within this sweet, Southern establishment. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the café is committed to providing scrumptious and beautifully prepared dishes and desserts based on authentic family recipes. They also offer gluten-free bread and cookies. Standout sweets include the cinnamon buns and cheesecake.
The Corner Kitchen Deli and The Fudge Factory are both owned by Tony Owens, who is an unofficial Dahlonega historian. The Corner Kitchen is casual eating with a fancy feel. Try the roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions and the homemade oatmeal raisin cookies.
The Fudge Factory is located on the Dahlonega Square. They specialize in made-with-love treats and confections. It’s difficult to pick any favorites among the shop’s exceptional offerings, but the chocolate-covered Rice Krispies treats, pralines, and assortment of fudge will not disappoint.
“People feel Dahlonega’s authenticity and appreciate the period architecture and just the culture of our square,” Owens says. “It is an artists’ community. From candymakers to potters, glassblowers to painters to winemakers, Dahlonega has it all.”