Dahlonega Is Georgia's Best Small Town 2023
"I think the term 'magical' is overused, but it does kind of feel that way here."
People who live in Dahlonega are hesitant to throw the word "magical" around when describing their town—they don’t want to sound trite. But the thesaurus is low on synonyms for a singular word that captures this tucked-away gem in the North Georgia mountains. "I think the term 'magical' is overused, but it does kind of feel that way here," says Tony Owens, who owns The Fudge Factory (a Dahlonega institution of more than 40 years) and the breakfast and lunch spot The Corner Kitchen. "It almost feels... It’s just..." he says, struggling to find a replacement adjective that will suffice. "There’s something special about this place."
Step into the town square, and you have no choice but to agree. Upon arrival, it’s clear why it was chosen as the location for several Christmas movies. Why build an entire set when Dahlonega is already perfectly propped? Historic buildings with signage for bed-and-breakfasts, art galleries, restaurants, and antiques markets surround the Dahlonega Gold Museum, which is in the 1836 Lumpkin County Courthouse. (The city proudly claims its title as the center of America’s first gold rush—not California.) Right by the square is the University of North Georgia’s idyllic Dahlonega Campus, one of six senior military colleges in the country.
Small Businesses & Artisans
The true heart of this town is its business owners and artisans. Fiona Bagley owns Crown & Bear, a store dedicated to all things British—like her. She and her family fell in love with Dahlonega partly because of its accessibility for her daughter, who has cerebral palsy. "When we lived near Atlanta, she couldn’t really go places unless we drove her," Bagley recalls. "Here, she can walk everywhere." Those outings are often accompanied by Waffle the corgi, Crown & Bear’s official (and adorable) mascot.
Although Bagley stays busy running her bustling store filled with English goodies that she handpicks from renowned British brands and small businesses alike, Bagley always makes time to chat and share local recommendations. "We’ve got such a great community of shopkeepers," she says. "It doesn’t matter that I’m right next door to other gift stores. We all support each other."
At My Vintage Gypsy Teas, retired critical-care nurse Kim Pyron blends dozens of custom teas bestowed with creative names and logos. For example, there’s Georgia On My Mind (a peach- infused black tea) and Bless Your Tart (a decaf option that’s flavored with a mix of berries). She also regularly highlights Dahlonega mainstays; the Dreamsicle blend honors Connie’s Ice Cream Parlor & Gourmet Sandwich Shop.
These spots aren’t competitors; they’re each other’s cheerleaders. Establishments such as Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Shenanigans Irish Pub have served seasonal cocktails that incorporated Pyron’s teas. Bourbon Street Grille, a Cajun-inspired eatery with a balcony made for people-watching on the square, has a beignet dessert that features nearby Paul Thomas Chocolates. Other offerings that promote ingredients from neighboring companies are like Easter eggs scattered on menus across town. "This is the way it’s supposed to be," says Pyron. "I think Dahlonega is unique in that it is one of the few areas that still have that small-town, Southern Americana feel to them."
Local potter Brad Walker has been selling his wares in the same storefront for more than 47 years. "It’s not quiet here; it’s quaint," he says of his beloved town. Walker is an immovable fixture in the vibrant arts scene that keeps Dahlonega grounded, safe from the risk of becoming overly commercialized.
One artist everyone knows is Mike Miller, who describes himself as "retired" but is co-owner of a few local ventures. Miller showcases his work in one of his operations, Bleu Gallery, alongside over 25 other resident artists. The gallery sits across the hall from Naturally Georgia, a tasting room with a menu that consists solely of wines from the state.
Wineries & Vineyards
You can’t talk about Dahlonega without mentioning the wineries and vineyards that encircle it. "I didn’t even know Georgia had a wine country until I started visiting some friends of mine who had retired in the area," says Claire Livingston, who owns Cavender Creek Vineyards & Winery, where she recently completed a massive renovation. "I used to say, 'Well I’m gonna retire here, too, but when I do, I’m gonna buy a winery!' But it was in a half-joking, half-serious kind of way. Long story short: An opportunity fell into my lap."
There’s a Dahlonega winery for every mood. Cuddle up by a fire at Livingston’s stylishly rustic place—she’ll come check on you and see if you need anything (you won’t). Sit on the porch at Wolf Mountain to enjoy a casual lunch, a glass of the brut rosé, and an incredible scenic view. You can visit Montaluce Winery & Restaurant or Kaya Vineyard and Winery for elegant experiences that may involve an Atlanta Falcons football player sighting (according to locals). No matter which spot you choose, rest assured that the person serving your vino will know exactly where the grapes were grown.
When questioned about what brought her to the town, Kathy Aerts (the owner of Cranberry Corners, a gift shop that’s been open on the square since 1995) simply says, "If you have to ask, then you don’t get it."
In order to truly "get it," don’t miss a chance to interact with the folks behind the counters who are always willing to chat with any curious customers passing through. And those friendly conversations are precisely where that inescapable magic lives. You can purchase a nice painting and a cute souvenir anywhere, but they won’t have the same twinkle as a Mike Miller original or a postcard with Waffle the corgi on it.
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