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Southern Living ranked this North Georgia destination the state’s best small town
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Visitors to Dahlonega walk through the historic downtown square Wednesday, March 8, 2023. - photo by Scott Rogers

Often a gold mine for wine lovers who prefer sweeping Blue Ridge Mountain vistas with their pinot, Dahlonega has been named one of the shiniest gems in the state.

Ranked Georgia’s best small town by Southern Living, Dahlonega is renowned not just for its picturesque vineyards and wineries, but also its historic town square dotted with artisans and small businesses — some of which have served as the backdrop for several Christmas movies, including Hallmark’s “Christmas in Homestead”.

The 2023 Best Small Towns of the South were determined by Southern Living readers, a list in which Dahlonega ranked No. 4 of 50.

The accolade, while a “pretty impressive feat,” according to the city’s director of tourism Sam McDuffie, isn’t surprising.

“There is something special and unique about Dahlonega — I think it is a magical place,” he said.

McDuffie and his wife first fell in love with Dahlonega in 2005, when he was working at Amicalola Falls with Georgia State Parks. When McDuffie’s job moved them north of Rome in 2006, the couple spent the ensuing decade “trying their darndest” to return to the locale that held their hearts, which they did in 2016.

“My wife and I sat down and it was like, ‘All right, it’s time for us to move. You pick five places and I’ll pick five places that we’d like to live, and we’ll share that list tonight at dinner.’ The No. 1 place on our list was Dahlonega,” he said. 

Most popular during the holiday season, when the square transforms into an old-fashioned winter wonderland, Dahlonega’s “hometown feel” houses a sense of magic that’s palpable year-round, according to Southern Living.

“Step into the town square, and you have no choice but to agree,” wrote the article’s author, Mary Shannon Wells. “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? … 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.”

Dahlonega offers something for every demographic, McDuffie said, from wine country to waterfalls, but it’s the city’s history as the site of the first major gold rush that’s particularly rich.

“Take the time to … find out how Dahlonega came to be and it makes you appreciate it even more,” he said. “From young children to older adults, there is a little something for everyone here. That’s part of the uniqueness of Dahlonega.”