What I didn't expect to find, though, was a lovely (and rather large) wedding chapel at one of the wineries I visited. Stephen Smith, co-owner of the Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery, explained that a little more than 10 years ago, the winery began hosting weddings. Since then, several other wineries followed suit, which has led to a near-explosion of weddings. Smith estimates Wolf Mountain alone hosts nearly 70 a year. The wineries are also a very popular destination for bridal and bachelorette parties (Dahlonega has a surprising number of limo companies for that very reason).
When it comes to food, Dahlonega again surprises. Right on the square is the Back Porch Oyster Bar, a renovated, classic two-story building highly reminiscent of seafood restaurants found in places like Key West or the Carolina Outer Banks. The owners are from the Outer Banks and opened the place 10 years ago when they realized no one in the area offered fresh seafood. Also on the square is the Crimson Moon Cafe, which features live music in an intimate setting, as well as a very nice and rather adventurous menu.
A real highlight, and a microcosm of the continued rebirth of Dahlonega, is Cool Breeze (formerly the Oar House, and still known by that name to most residents). Brothers Joe and Jeff Marshall bought the place and the surrounding 15 acres in December and have already made a substantial mark on the community.
In addition to upgading and improving the menu and food quality (the baked brie appetizer and fresh mountain trout entree are excellent), they have added a riverside deck, a side deck for large parties, and are not content to stop there. I spoke with the pair at length over after-dinner coffee, where they talked about their plans to open a primitive campgorund, convert a 100-year-old barn into a vacation rental, and even build a live-music natural amphitheatre right on the banks of the Chestatee River. It's always refreshing to meet people who think big, no matter where they live.
Dahlonega, being a wedding and tourism destination, does not lack a wide variety of hotels, motels, vacation rentals and bed & breakfasts. Of the latter, the Lily Creek Lodge is a delightful European-style bed & breakfast in a unique, rambling three-story building featuring rooms and suites of varying sizes and themes. An outdoor pool (open during the summer), hot tub, walking trails and even a bocci court provide plenty to do outside, while the breakfast was easily one of the best I've had in a long time. Owner Sharon Bacek and her staff made us feel like we were staying with good friends instead of merely renting a room.
Of special note, in just two weeks, the town will host the 54th Annual Gold Rush Days Festival. The two-day event during the weekend of October 19-20 will feature live musical performances, more than 300 arts and crafts exhibits, children’s activities, food, and a festive parade through the town square. All in all, if you're looking for a perfect weekend getaway, you will be hard pressed to find a more inviting and welcoming destination than Dahlonega.
For more information, visit dahlonega.org