Villa Rica, Georgia is located about 35 minutes from downtown Atlanta. Most travelers know Villa Rica only by Exit 24 off I-20 West. However, if you head to the center of this small Georgia town, you'll discover it's an intersection where art, culture, and history meet.
We found Villa Rica to be a delightful town with lots of hidden finds. For instance, take E.T. Doyal And Sons, a local Villa Rica feed and seed store. The store began in the early 1900s and has been owned by the same family for six generations.
Though they carry quite a varied collection of items, they specialize in animal feed for everything from cows to cats. The floors in the store are original, and you’ll find a time capsule of history captured in E.T. Doyal And Sons when you pop in for a visit.
The famous gospel and blues musician Thomas A. Dorsey was born in Villa Rica on July 1, 1899. The Dorseys were sharecroppers, and Mr. Thomas Madison Dorsey was also a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse and a traveling preacher. Tommy would accompany his dad, thirstily lapping up the lessons from his father, the teacher. As you can imagine, music and religion were front and center in young Dorsey's life, and they both had an enormous impact on the young boy.
If you love discovering small, off-the-beaten-track destinations, then rest assured you'll quickly fall for Villa Rica.
Visit Villa Rica hosted my stay and all activities. All opinions remain my own.
1. Pine Mountain Gold Museum
The timeline for the discovery of gold in the Georgia mountains has been hotly contested. Many believe that claim to fame belongs to Dahlonega, Georgia.
However, Lucian Lamar Knight, the first State Historian of Georgia, believes the discovery near Villa Rica in nearby Carroll County in 1826 holds that honor. We'll let you decide for yourself once you catch gold fever at the Pine Mountain Gold Museum.
Located on an actual gold mine, the Pine Mountain Gold Museum is Georgia's only gold museum. The 4,800-square-foot museum offers a 50-seat theatre showing a short 20-minute documentary of Villa Rica's gold mines. The museum is overflowing with the history of gold mining in the area and includes exhibits of implements used in digging for gold, a replica of a gold mine that you can walk through, and more.
The museum is also Georgia's only gold panning site. We loved getting our hands wet and dirty as we panned for our gold treasure. This activity is definitely hands-on and tons of fun for everyone. Geologists say that only 20 percent of the gold on Pine Mountain has been mined, so you never know what your panning will reveal.
The Pine Mountain Gold Museum is an extensive property covering 27 acres with a grist mill and water wheel, 3 miles of self-guided walking trails, a museum store, a farm, and a live animal exhibit.
Take a spin onboard C.P. Huntington Engine #310 for a trip around Pine Mountain. You'll see the farm, a live animal exhibit, and the ruins of the old mining station. The train operates Tuesday through Saturday on schedule unless there is rain. Safety regulations prohibit the operation of the train when the rails are wet and in inclement weather. Up-to-date service and maintenance information is available on their Facebook page or by contacting the museum directly at (678) 840-1445.
2. Sweetwater Creek State Park
Just a short 19-mile trip from Villa Rica will find you in Lithia Springs, home to Sweetwater Creek State Park. Over 2,500 acres are begging you to explore the great outdoors. Sweetwater Creek State Park is the top-visited state park in Georgia and has over 15 miles of hiking trails. Grab your hiking shoes and a pair of binoculars for birdwatching as you meander the paths.
If fishing is your sport, you'll love the George Sparks Reservoir. You can rent fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, pedal boats, and fishing tackle. You'll be pulling up fish in no time flat.
Follow the trail that runs alongside the stream, and you'll stumble across the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company hidden among the trees and foliage.
The tall building formerly known as the Sweetwater Mill was erected in 1849 and used the rushing Sweetwater Creek waters to power the cotton mill. During the Civil War, the Confederate troops protecting the area fled, leaving the mill to be burned by the incoming Union troops.
Over the years, the brick walls have crumbled back to the earth, and the dense foliage has overtaken the mill, giving it an otherworldly look. Movie buffs will recognize the site of the Sweetwater Mill from The Hunger Games.
3. Douglas County Museum Of History And Art
Housed in the former Courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Douglas County Museum of History and Art is a snapshot of a bygone era. You'll find a fascinating display of old-school pop culture lunchboxes and Coca Cola collectibles. The museum features a rotating series of exhibits from the mid-20th century.
Keeping the heritage of Douglas County alive, you'll explore exhibits demonstrating how the early settlers, merchants, farmers, and Native Americans lived their daily lives.
No matter where you turn in Villa Rica, you'll run into its past. From the shops that line Main Street and date back to the early 1900s to the former textile mills in the Fullerville area, there is history around every corner.
John B. Wick built Wicks Tavern in 1830. Migrating from New York, Wick saw the potential for a tavern. It quickly became a place for the gold miners to meet and have a sip or three. It’s been moved and preserved, and today it can be seen at 212 W. Wilson Street.
In the northwest section of Villa Rica, you'll find Fullerville. In 1916 the textile industry moved into the area to manufacture socks. Though the mills have now left, the buildings are being repurposed for offices and other uses.
When you are heading over to Fullerville, be sure to stop by the Fullerville Jail, which dates back to 1828. This two-cell jail is complete with a hitching post to keep a horse or two.
Mount Prospect Baptist Church
Mount Prospect Baptist Church, built in 1890, sits high on a hill overlooking the city of Villa Rica. Its location offers a commanding view of the entire town spread out like a quilt. Train tracks run along the edge of town like a zipper. Thomas A. Dorsey learned about music and fell in love with music and playing the piano at Mount Prospect Baptist Church.
5. Food, Glorious Food!
Food is life, and nowhere is that more evident than this cool, laid-back restaurant with the unique bohemian hippy vibe, Evans Barbeque.
The Whites opened their doors five years ago, and they are doing something incredible with their culinary creations.
Take the Fried Barbeque Eggrolls -- these are not just barbecue in an egg roll. The barbecue is smoked pork that is so tasty it melts in your mouth, and nestled throughout the barbecued pork, you’ll find shredded cheddar cheese and onions. It’s all gently wrapped in a flour tortilla and served with a side of ranch or a spicy remoulade that has a nice bite to it.
Uncorked On Main And The Other Side
Randy Muller and his family are the entrepreneurs behind the wildly popular Uncorked on Main, a tasting room and wine bar located in a historic commercial building downtown. Uncorked on Main predominantly features Georgia-made wines. The family also owns a vineyard and bottles wine under their wine label Vineyards at Uncorked on Main.
Walk through the tasting room at Uncorked on Main, and you'll be at the family's steakhouse, The Other Side. The Other Side features an intimate ambiance enhanced by exposed brick walls and soft warm-hued lighting.
The Other Side also features Georgia wines. Both Uncorked and The Other Side beckon you to gather some friends, pull up a chair, order a fantastic bottle of wine, and linger awhile over a delicious meal.
We loved our time in Villa Rica. It is an ideal weekend getaway with its walkable downtown filled with local boutiques, restaurants, and antique shops. No matter what season you visit, you'll find lots to do. Summer brings festivals and music; in the fall, there's a bit of crispness in the air, and the leaves have just begun to turn; winter brings Christmas on Main, and spring is perfect for exploring the many trails in and around Villa Rica.
For more around-Atlanta inspiration, consider our picks for dining in downtown Woodstock, GA: eight restaurants to try, plus the best food in DeKalb County, Georgia, and where to find it.