Covington Is a Small Georgia Town Known for Its Big Spirit

It may be best known for its roles in film and television, but there’s a lot more to love about historic Covington, Georgia.

Covington, GA 4th of July Fireworks
Covington, Georgia’s Fourth of July fireworks display draws revelers from miles around. Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

If you're tempted to think that little Covington, Georgia, looks like something out of a movie scene, it's probably because it is. Sometimes called the Hollywood of the South, this small town 35 miles southeast of Atlanta has taken a star turn in more than 140 TV shows and films: It's played Serenity, South Carolina, in Netflix's Sweet Magnolias and Mystic Falls, Virginia, in The Vampire Diaries' eight-season run. Feel-good movie Remember the Titans was partially shot here, as was My Cousin Vinny. But 200-year-old Covington's true star power lies in its small-town spirit, which shines brightest on holidays, including the Fourth of July.

The town marks the day in Rockwellian fashion, with homes dressed in tricolor bunting and the annual Independence in the Park festival bringing everyone together on the Covington Square for live music and old-fashioned family fun. "It's just the way that you think it should be, if you've ever watched a movie about a small town at the Fourth of July," says Kelley Johnston, who's called Covington home for 13 years. People drive in from miles around for the highlight of the day's celebrations: an awe-inspiring display of around 1,200 sparkling fireworks. And while the explosive show draws enthusiastic crowds for a day, it's Covington's quieter, less flashy charms that reel in folks for good.

At least that's how it happened for Johnston and her family over a decade ago. "We passed through Covington one Sunday on our way to the lake from Alpharetta," she recalls. "I saw a family walking from their house to church and told my husband, 'That's what I want!' " They bought a home and settled in Covington shortly after. "When we moved here, we didn't know anybody but were immediately welcomed," says Johnston, who opened downtown's Bread and Butter Bakery in 2013; her son, Zac, joined the business in 2016. "Our kids were brought into family homes. It's something that you see on TV, like on The Andy Griffith Show."

Nowhere will you find this Mayberry-reminiscent sense of community more apparent than on the Covington Square, a gathering spot that acts as the town's front porch. Anchored in one corner by the Historic Newton County Courthouse and in another by Johnston's bakery, the heart of downtown is home to a variety of restaurants and shops, plus a small green that's primed for sitting and watching the world go by. It's the kind of place that feels familiar from the moment you arrive, and it's easy to while away the hours here.

If you're looking for a true locals' experience, kick off your trip to Covington with a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast at The Town House Café, a homey establishment just off the square that's been in the same family for three generations. Afterward, board Main Street Trolleys' red rig for a two-hour tour of the town's film and TV locations, including recognizable spots from The Dukes of Hazzard and In the Heat of the Night. Cap off the experience with a rooftop lunch at Mystic Grill, so named for the fictional eatery in The Vampire Diaries. On your way up, check out the restaurant's wall of fame, which features photos of the grill's well-known patrons.

Fill the rest of the afternoon browsing downtown shops. Stop by The Soap Box to peruse handmade lotions and bath bombs, and head a block over to sample creatively infused balsamic vinegars at Town Square Olive Oil (their bottles make great hostess gifts). Then swing by Scoops for an afternoon sugar rush, or pop into Bread and Butter Bakery for an iced-coffee pick-me-up. Thumb through men's clothing or schedule a fresh shave at The Dude Store and Barber Shop, owned by Andrew Dial. Then visit Revolution Casual Living down the street, where Dial's wife, Megan, curates a thoughtful selection of tabletop finds and home goods. Finally, settle into a booth at City Pharmacy (its name is a nod to its 70-year history as a drugstore) to end the day with craft cocktails and inspired plates like apricot hummus and blue corn-crusted trout.

City Pharmacy in Covington, GA
City Pharmacy has “snack hour” daily from 4 to 6 p.m. Hector Manuel Sanchez

Of course, there's plenty of fun to be had beyond the Covington Square too. Grab a brochure from the town's welcome center, and take a self-guided tour of the area's beautiful historic homes, like the circa-1912 Lee-Porter House, shown below. Curb appeal abounds here. (Be mindful that these are private residences; enjoy the view from the sidewalk!) Explore Cricket Frog Trail, an old railbed turned pathway that meanders for 4 miles through town and extends about another 11 miles into the county. Test your luck fishing at Turner Lake Park, or catch a free concert with the family at Legion Field. Make the short drive to Mitcham Farm to pick some berries, and then peruse their selection of more Georgia-grown goods.

Lee-Porter House in Covington, GA
See the historic Lee-Porter House on Conyers Street. Hector Manuel Sanchez

There really is something for everyone here, and however you decide to spend your time in Covington, you will leave feeling like a local. Beth Ivey, who works in town but lives in nearby Jackson, says it best: "When you're here, you think, 'Okay, this might not be where I live or where I'm from, but for some reason, I feel like I'm home.' "

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