Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.
Dahlonega, Georgia, is a quaint town nestled in the mountains of North Georgia. The site of the first gold rush in the United States, the town's name comes from the Cherokee word “ta-lo-ne-ga,” which means "gold."
Situated approximately 70 miles north of Atlanta, the town of Dahlonega is about as far away from city life as one can get while remaining a town. The historic public square is full of treats and treasures for travelers wishing to add a bit of history, shopping, and good food to their vacation experience. My husband and I stopped here on vacation from our home in Connecticut and were pleasantly surprised by this gem of a Georgia town.
A stop at the Visitor’s Center upon entering the town is highly recommended, as there are many brochures available for visitors. These include information about area wineries, stores, and restaurants. Many of the restaurants have paper menus available at the Visitor’s Center so future customers can see what type of food each establishment has to offer before arriving.
Two restaurants, The Back Porch Oyster Bar, and The Front Porch Restaurant have actual porches diners can sit on while they eat. This town begs visitors to do just that, as it’s a treat to sit outside in the warmer weather enjoying good food and watching the world go by.
A word of warning, though … the people who work behind the desk of the Visitor’s Center are so friendly and enthusiastic about their beloved Dahlonega that before you know it, they may be trying to sell you on all the virtues of this town to lure you into becoming a permanent resident!
Town Square and the Gold Museum
The square centers around the old courthouse, a building originally built in 1836 as part of the first gold rush. After a new courthouse was built nearby in 1965, the old courthouse was sold to the state of Georgia and now houses the Dahlonega Gold Museum. This museum has an entrance fee of $6 for adults and $5.50 for seniors. Children under three are free.
The tour of the gold museum starts off with a movie about the discovery of gold in the area in 1828. It includes information about the subsequent gold rush which brought a deluge of gold miners to the area. After the movie, one can browse through memorabilia from the period, and head to a few small rooms with gold mining tools, a safe used to house the gold, and a safe currently used to display gold in various sizes, from gold dust to much larger nuggets.
A Town Made for Walking
Surrounding the old courthouse building is a public parking lot, without parking meters, and around that, a public square filled with quaint 19th-century buildings whose front porches bloom with colorful flowers in the springtime. The flowers and tree-lined sidewalks add to the ambiance of this sweet town.
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The buildings are connected by brick walkways and are filled with wonderful gift shops, restaurants, a general store, antique shops, and the Visitor’s Center. The town is clearly made for browsing, but there are plenty of benches for husbands who prefer to sit and watch the world go by while their wives peruse the gift shops.
The Back Porch Oyster Bar
On a recent visit to Dahlonega, my husband and I chose to eat lunch at the Back Porch Oyster Bar, and it was a good decision. From the moment we walked up to the steps, we were treated with wonderful hospitality. Each server in the restaurant greeted us with smiles and hellos, and our waitress, Constance, could not do enough for us.
The food was delicious, and the view from the porch, which was actually in the front of the building, gave us a perfect perch from which to watch the comings and goings of visitors and residents alike in this wonderful town. Situated across from the courthouse, the view from our table gave us a bird's-eye view of the public square and the buildings surrounding it.
Antique Shopping Galore
Because I am an antique enthusiast, I did browse through an antique store in town. They had everything but the sun in that store and at good prices as well. I should state that the prices are good compared to antique stores I am used to up in New England. The store offered antique clothing, books, dishes, glassware, furniture, toys, and even my favorite collectible, teddy bears.
Browsing through this store was like a trip down memory lane, with delights and new discoveries around every corner as this shop was set up in stalls for various antique dealers to display their wares. There are two more similar antique stores with individual stalls for dealers nearby. One could easily spend a few hours just browsing antiques in Dahlonega, and then going to lunch would make for an enjoyable day.
The Dahlonega General Store
One of my favorite stops during our visit was the Dahlonega General Store. This store had many of the usual souvenirs, but also was chock full of interesting and quirky items. If you are interested in trying Moon Shine jelly, they have it there. Want to buy an old civil war sword? Head to the Dahlonega General Store, where you can purchase one at a great price. If you want your fortune told, there are old-fashioned carnival-type machines that will do just that. Or maybe you would prefer to listen to the music of an old-time player piano? They have one of those there as well.
One of my favorite experiences at the store was the honor system coffee they offered for 5 cents a cup. It was surrounded by a few water jugs full of change from people who had already enjoyed their almost free coffee! I had a cup just for the experience of it.
The most unusual item I saw there was canned sun-dried Georgia possum for $2.95! My husband considered buying a can to take home to Connecticut. Was it a joke or actual sun-dried possum? I can’t tell you that because I moved away from it a bit too quickly, but it was the most unusual item I have ever seen for sale in a gift shop!
Don't Miss a Stop in Dahlonega!
There are many more sites and delights to discover and enjoy during a trip to this historic, wonder-filled Georgia town. They include a real gold mine where visitors can pan for gold and a collection of wineries, but we didn't have time for these on our visit. I highly recommend a full-day visit if you are traveling in the area.
The mountains in North Georgia alone are worth the trip, but a stop in this quaint town will provide a special day of good food and adventure in the state of Georgia.
© 2013 Karen Hellier