Gold in California? Pshaw, the first major gold rush in the United States took place in 1828 in and around the Dahlonega, Ga., area, some 20 years before the one in California.
Today, visitors still can see sites related to those glittery days and also visit the town's commercial district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But Dahlonega also has become a biking center, a hub for wineries and a scenic fun stop amid foothills and forests.
BEST THINGS TO DO
• The Dahlonega Courthouse Gold Museum, which offers visitors a look at mining history in Georgia, is one of the most visited historic sites in the state.
• The Consolidated Gold Mines and gold processing mill, once the largest gold mining operation east of the Mississippi River, offers daily tours of the tunnels in the gold-bearing rock.
• The Crisson Gold Mine, which dates to 1847 and is an operating 10-stamp mill, offers visitors a chance to pan for gold or try their luck at gem grubbing.
Cycle down here
• Dahlonega is one of the Southeast's premier sports bicycling venues.
• It is the finish site for the Tour de Georgia mountain stage.
• It is the finish site for the 6 Gap Century ride and other regional competitions.
BEST KEPT SECRETS
Walking, wine and withdrawal
• In 2007, U.S. News & World Report chose Dahlonega as the nation's third most economical retirement location.
• Spring Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, is near the town.
• The mountains north of town have the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in North Georgia.
Art by Mother Nature and others
• Bear on the Square Mountain Festival - Spring weekend event features lives music, music workshops, juried artists marketplace, gospel jam, street dance, live auction, children's activities, heritage center and food (April 2013).
• Gold Rush Days - Voted one of the Top 20 events by the Southeast Tourism Society, the event features fall colors and more than 300 art and craft exhibitors. (6 p.m. Oct. 19 to 6 p.m. Oct. 21, Public Square/Historic District).
PLACE IN TOWN TO EAT AND WHY
Family style feast
• The Historic Smith House Inn of Dahlonega (84 S. Chestatee St., open 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday - Friday, 3:30 - 8 p.m. Tuesday - Friday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday) offers Southern food, including fried chicken, baked ham, roast beef, fried okra, candied yams, yeast rolls and corn muffins, served family style.
• Get to know your neighbors as you pass the food around the table.
• Make it a day by staying in the renovated guest rooms or shopping at the marketplace-style retail store.
Tucked in the mountains and forest
• Population: About 5,242 (2010).
• Biggest employers: North Georgia College and State University, Lumpkin County School District, Koyo USA, Louver Shop, Refrigiwear Inc.
• Number of miles from downtown Chattanooga: 107.
• Landmarks or geographic features: Located in the North Georgia mountains just south of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
• Date founded: 1833.
• Historic Info: The first major United States gold rush took place here. A U.S. Mint branch minted half eagle, quarter eagle, gold dollar and $3 gold coins here between 1838 and 1861.
• Most famous residents: Zac Brown, Zac Brown Band lead singer; John Bell, Widespread Panic lead singer; Amy Ray, Indigo Girls singer and songwriter; Sara Christian, first female NASCAR driver; Dallas Kinney, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.
• Odd/unique traditions: Visitors can ride a trolley and visit seasonally festooned retail shops, where shopkeepers are dressed in old-timey garb, during Old Fashioned Christmas through most of December.
• Unique characteristics/fun fact: The original name of the town was Talonega, Cherokee for "yellow or gold."
Source: Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce