In 1830, Dahlonega was the hippest town in Georgia. A guy named Benjamin Parks tripped over a rock, and it turned out to be a gold nugget. Soon people were pouring in. These days you’ll find fewer pick axes and gold miners, and more art galleries and haute cuisine. With a downtown square of sheltering shade trees, brick walkways and 19th-century architecture, it’s clear Dahlonega hasn’t lost it’s stride since its boomtown days.
An hour north on I-985, metro Atlanta drops away and you’re in lush Appalachia, with the highest concentration of wineries and waterfalls in the state.
There’s a lot to cover in one day, and the trailhead is a great place to start. North Georgia has over 120 waterfalls, among which Amicalola and DeSoto Falls are the most celebrated. Lesser known, but equally beautiful, are Ruby Cliff and Helton Creek Falls, all within miles of Dahlonega’s city center. As kitschy as it might sound, the gold mine tours are worth their weight in…well, they’re awesome. The Consolidated Gold Mines and processing mill, built in the early 1900s, was the largest gold mining operation east of the Mississippi River. Tours are lead by actual miners, who talk you through fascinating historical anecdotes as you creep through 200-foot-deep tunnels.
After working up a thirst, drop into an award-winning winery. There’s the 42-acre vineyard at Frogtown, Georgia’s most decorated winery. Visit the timber-frame wine tasting room to sample the 2010 Touché, gold medalist at the 2014 Critic’s Challenge. Wolf Mountain boasts Georgia’s first gold medal-winning Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. And Three Sisters Winery, the area’s founding winegrower and the oldest continuously operated vineyard, has a rock walled patio with splendid mountain views, along with regular live bluegrass and jazz.
Meanwhile Dahlonega’s downtown restaurants put the homegrown wines to great use with thoughtful, creative wine pairings and fresh farm-to-table menus. Try the duck confit with spicy collard greens and cauliflower apple puree at the Corkscrew Cafe, or the unbeatable she crab soup and cilantro butter scallops from Back Porch Oyster Bar. Before you leave, stroll the square for amazing glazed pottery, folk art galleries, and hand-tooled jewelry boutiques. Once you’re exhausted from wining, dining, and hiking, it’ll be time to stumble home. Here’s to hoping you trip over a gold nugget.