Small-Town Escape: Dahlonega
Set in the foothills of Appalachia, this mountain town—site of the country's first major gold rush—still glimmers.
In 1829, nearly 20 years before gold was discovered in California, miners found it in the North Georgia hillsides near Dahlonega, and the small settlement was soon booming. These days, the town is still full of hidden gems in the form of cool cafes, charming music venues, and vintage music shops, many of which are conveniently located around the town's courthouse square. Here's how to make a leisurely day of it.
Dahlonega Gold Museum
Back in 1838, Dahlonega was home to a U.S. Branch Mint that turned the local ore into $6 million in gold coins. Now the Lumpkin County Courthouse holds a museum dedicated to that gilded past. In addition to viewing exhibits, you can also hear live music on the museum's front stoop from 2 to 5 p.m. every Saturday through October 13. $6 museum admission. 1 Public Square; 706/864-2257
Crimson Moon Café
For more than a decade, Dana LaChance has hosted live music nearly every night of the week in her 154-year-old eatery just across the street from the museum. National acts such as Shawn Mullins and Indigo Girls have played on the small wooden stage, and during weekly jam sessions local musicians are invited to join in. You can dine while you listen, enjoying casual, fresh fare such as a barbecue pork sandwich with Dana's heirloom vinegar-based sauce from her great-great-grandfather ($8) or the house burger topped with slightly sweet mayo-based Southern slaw ($8.50). 24 North Park Street; thecrimsonmoon.com or 706/864-3982
The Fudge Factory of Dahlonega
Just a couple of shops from the Crimson Moon Café, this sweet spot has been a local favorite for 30 years. Owner Tony Owens and his staff hand-make their selection of more than 100 confections. Try a white chocolate-peach truffle ($2) or some peanut butter-chocolate fudge ($12/lb.). 8 North Park Street; 706/864-2256
Back on the square, Vintage Music shop owner John Grimm sells vinyl records and sheet music, as well as mandolins, banjos, guitars, fiddles, and dulcimers. (Some of his instruments date back to the 1800s.) You can also make music in John's shop. One room is rentable for studio recording sessions ($60/hour), and John also offers lessons ($25/half hour). 42 Public Square South; vintagemusic.com or 706/864-2682
Le Petit Café
Walk west along Main Street to Church Street, and settle into this quiet patio spot. British-born Sarah Wilson fondly remembers childhood trips to France with her family. Based on those memories, she created a menu (complete with rich, buttery pastries and house-made hot chocolate) that accompanies a Parisian sidewalk cafe with outdoor-only seating. Fresh fruit sorbets complement favorites such as a summery spinach-and-Brie quiche ($6). Sarah also makes clafouti (a French baked custard) daily using seasonal berries and a touch of brandy ($4). 259 Church Street; lepetitcafedahlonega.com or 706/867-0000
The Holly Theatre
Back on Main Street, the 310-seat historic Holly Theatre (which originally opened in 1948 as a movie house and has been extensively renovated) now offers classic films, concerts, and locally produced plays. Its black-box "Holly Underground" theater downstairs is used for smaller productions and musical events, while movies and more elaborate productions (such as the Mountain Music and Medicine Show, a live radio program broadcast every other month) take place upstairs on a main stage that's still framed by the original red curtain. This month, the Holly's resident theatrical troupe presents the Southern-flavored comedy The Miss Firecracker Contest ($15). 69 West Main Street; hollytheater.com or 706/864-3759
The Corkscrew Café
For a post-show meal, try the Holly Theatre's next-door neighbor. Its seasonal menu is constantly changing, but past offerings included an apricot-glazed pork shank appetizer served over a bed of butternut squash risotto ($12) and roasted duck with a cherry sauce and vegetable flan that gives the dish the perfect balance of sweet and savory ($28). The Corkscrew Café also features an extensive wine list that includes choices from some of the area's six local wineries. 51 West Main Street; thecorkscrewcafe.com or 706/867-8551