DAHLONEGA, Ga. - Looking for a day or weekend trip away? If wine, good food, chocolate or adventure is on your to-do list, pack your overnight bag for a trip to Dahlonega.
The north Georgia town was named one of the Smithsonian's "20 Best Small Towns to Visit." The list honored “small communities that cater to the annual crowds with charming hotels, greasy spoons, local culture and innovative museums that tell fascinating stories.”
On a recent trip to the area, wsbtv.com found that and more.
"We really like to call Dahlonega Atlanta's backyard," Courtney Randolph from the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber and Visitors Bureau told wsbtv.com's Nelson Hicks. "It's really only about an hour away."
Any trip to Dahlonega should begin with a history lesson as Dahlonega's history is a golden one. Gold was discovered here in 1828. That discovery kicked off the 1829 gold rush, the nation's first gold rush, 20 years before the one in California.
"And when that first gold nugget was found, word got out, but the internet was down at that time, so it got out a little slower," Sam McDuffie from the Dahlonega Gold Museum HIstoric Site joked. "About 8,000 people came into the Dahlonega area to find gold."
On a trip to the town's 19th-century public square and the Dahlonega Gold Museum, visitors can relive some of the gold rush and learn about the U.S. Mint that was once housed in Dahlonega. That mint coined $6 million dollars worth of gold in the mid-1800s.
Once the history lesson is over, head to one of the area's gold mines to get your fix. Consolidated Gold Mine and Crisson Gold Mine are two of the most popular. Both offer panning for gold and gem mining.
Consolidated Gold Mine also offers a quarter-mile tour into a mine.
"It's a walking tour," Miner Mike from Consolidated Gold Mine said. "(You'll see) old tracks, old tools that they used years ago, old electrical system is still there. Basically, it's a walk (back) into history."
Over at Crisson Gold Mine, they've been operating since 1847.
"One of our top attractions is actually our stamp mill," Brianna Ray from Crisson Gold Mine said. "It's over 140 years old and it still operates. It's one of two in the U.S."
The stamp mill crushes quartz rocks that create the ore for people to pan through.
If the hunt for gold has made you thirsty, you could grab water, but what fun would that be? What can you do instead?
"You can taste some great wine is what you can do," Sharon Paul from Three Sisters Winery suggested.
Paul owns Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery, Dahlonega's first family farm and winery. Three Sisters wines are estate grown and bottled. It's one of the area's seven wineries and 12 tasting rooms.
"We are making some great wines up here," Paul said.
Up next, it's time to eat! The town offers more than 30 unique restaurants. How unique? How about the newly opened 19 Degrees North Seafood & Grill. It serves seafood with a southern twist in the north Georgia mountains.
"People are coming back from the Brussel sprout slaw," Laura Estrada from 19 Degrees North said. "The low country boil is a hit and of course the shrimp and grits (are a favorite)."
And let's not forget dessert. No good vacation meal can go without it.
"The thing that's nice about the shop is you can actually watch the product being made in the back," Paul Thomas Hoffman from Paul Thomas Chocolates said.
Hoffman brought Paul Thomas Chocolates to Dahlonega in 2005. The company makes more than 80 different chocolate products on site.
"The most popular thing amongst the kids are the chocolate covered Twinkees that we have," Micah Mihok from Paul Thomas Chocolates said. "As opposed to the most popular for the adults may be the chocolate covered bacon."
If you need a weekend away from traffic, work and hectic schedules, Dahlonega is about an hour north of Atlanta off Georgia 400.
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