It may be known as home to the first major gold rush in American history, but Dahlonega, Georgia is a gem of a city on many different levels. The Blue Ridge Mountains wrap the town in majestic beauty, offering nuggets of fun, education, history and taste all wrapped up in a romantic getaway or a family vacation.
The Rush for Gold
“Thar’s gold in them thar hills.” Maybe you thought that quote came from California gold-rush days, or readers of Mark Twain may attribute it to him. But both are wrong. Mint assayer M.F. Stephenson shouted that from the steps of the Dahlonega courthouse in 1849, urging gold miners to stay in Dahlonega instead of heading West to strike gold.
At one time, the streets of Dahlonega sparkled with gold after heavy rains. The brick in the courthouse still glitters with gold. The steeple on the campus of The University of North Georgia shines over downtown Dahlonega, wearing a sheath of Dahlonega gold. The town’s history is wrapped in gold.
At the height of the gold rush, there were 3,000 miners and several gold mines in the county. Today, there are no working mines, but two remain open—Consolidated Gold Mines and Crisson Gold Mine—offering tours and gold mining experiences that let you pan for gold yourself. You’re sure to take some home, too, because to this day there’s still gold to be found “in them thar hills.”
The county courthouse is now home to the Dahlonega Gold Museum. Tours of artifacts, as well as a short film about Dahlonega gold, offer insight into the history and importance of gold in and to the area.
A toast to Dahlonega
Wine lovers need travel no farther than the mountains of North Georgia if looking for exceptional European-style wines in a breathtaking setting overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Back in the early 1990s, the first vines were planted, and it didn’t take long for the gods of grapes to come together—along with the courage and knowledge of area vintners to plant European grapes in the North Georgia mountains—and suddenly, magic happened. Award-winning wines rather than moonshine came pouring out of the Dahlonega mountains and instead of white lightening, visitors now sip on cabernets, merlots, chardonnays and blends known only to the wineries, such as Wolf Mountain winery’s dry white Chanteloup or Montaluce winery’s red Dolce Rosso.
It’s not an easy task growing European grapes in the high humidity of North Georgia. “It’s a little like fitting a square peg in a round hole,” says Sharon Paul, owner of Three Sisters Winery, the county’s first family-farm winery.
But expertise and patience have paid off for all, as the collective of wineries in Dahlonega are highly anticipating AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation as Dahlonega Plateau wines, the same recognition given to areas such as Napa Valley and Washington state’s Columbia Valley by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Dahlonega and Lumpkin County have the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Georgia, with wineries spread across the mountainous region, so vintners make the drive over two-lane mountain roads well worth your time. Some, such as Montaluce, Frogtown and Wolf Mountain, offer gourmet-level restaurants. While others, such as Cavender Creek, Three Sisters and Kaya, offer more of a cafe experience with cheese plates and sandwiches. All, though, offer warm, friendly welcomes and tastes of their wines, as well as bottles for purchase.
A taste of Dahlonega
Penny Sharp, owner of Dahlonega Walking Tours, leads several different tours around town, including Savoring the Square, a food tour that takes visitors to restaurants dotted around the town square. Sharp says the food scene has changed a lot since she moved to Dahlonega 13 years ago. “When I moved here, there was one fine- dining restaurant and a couple of smaller restaurants, but that was about it,” she says. Now, the town has become somewhat of a dining destination for foodies.
Doris and Gion Lee moved to Dahlonega three years ago. “We came here on vacation and fell in love with the town and the setting,” Doris says. “It reminded us of our homes in Bavaria and Switzerland.” The only thing missing was a German restaurant. So they opened one, Bratzeit, and now serve sausages, fondue and other German specialties.
New Orleans meets Dahlonega at Bourbon Street Grille, a restaurant specializing in Cajun fare, such as blackened red fish served over house-mashed potatoes and topped with fresh grilled asparagus..
Crimson Moon is a popular music-and-food venue where pickers pick, the spirits flow and good diner-style fare is piled high on the plates. Shenanigans is a popular pub in town with Irish fare, while The Picnic Cafe is a much-loved coffee bar that serves three meals a day.
The restaurant at Wolf Mountain Vineyard has a decadent Sunday brunch that’s a celebration of wine and food—a gastronomic adventure not soon to be forgotten with a spread of food that make the taste buds dance. The view is breathtaking, so make reservations for a table on the porch.
Or, cross the mountain for dinner at Montaluce Vineyards—an experience of pure romance with gourmet fare and exceptional wines.
If you haven’t visited Dahlonega in a while, things have changed. The town is on the move. “It’s easy to see what this town is going to look like in five years,” says David Zunker, tourism director for the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce.
At day’s end
In spite of the growing number of tourists who visit Dahlonega for its natural beauty, its fun festivals, its gold-rush experience and all else the town has to offer, chain hotels have not inundated the county. Instead, there’s a wonderful choice of charming B&B’s, spa resorts and inns, such as Park Place Inn, located right off the town square. What it lacks in appearance from the outside, it more than makes up for on the interior. The rooms are luxurious, much in keeping with any boutique hotel. Wet bars and baths with waterfall sinks; beds and linens you sink into after a day in the mountains; and espresso made in your room to get you going the next day are all part of the experience.
Other boutique-style choices are The Hall House Hotel and Old Storehouse Inn; the iconic and historic Smith House with 12 rooms up and a recently-discovered gold mine in the ground underneath; the Dahlonega Square Hotel and Villas, a renovated historic home with modern amenities four complete apartment-style “villas”; Mountain Laurel Creek Inn and Spa, in the heart of Dahlonega Plateau wine country; and Long Mountain Lodge, a bed-and-breakfast inn where you can fall asleep to the sounds of a nearby waterfall.