Wineries, restaurants have made tiny North Georgia town a destination


Main Street in downtown Clayton, GA is lined with restaurants and shops. (Courtesy Blue Ridge Travel Guide)

You’ve likely passed through Clayton, GA on your way to somewhere else – like to eat at the famed Dillard House or for shopping in Highlands, NC. 

But you have to get off Highways 23/441/15 – the main drag full of gas stations and fast-food joints – to really see this historic town and all that it has to offer, including some of North Georgia’s best dining.

Make your way over to the historic downtown district, where you’ll find Main Street lined with restaurants that have made Clayton the “farm to table” capital of the state. Or you might want a grab a beer at one of the local distilleries or savor a locally produced wine at one of the Rabun County vineyards.

You can work off all that food and drink at one of the local state parks or attractions, where hiking, fishing, and horseback riding are available. 

Beechwood Inn & Breakfast

Where to stay

Kingwood Resort & Winery

If you want to keep it cheap and simple, there’s a Days Inn (wyndhamhotels.com) on Highway 441 that’s less than a 10-minute walk to Main Street. But if you’re going for a weekend away, splurge a little and try one of the local spots that will give you luxury and a taste of the mountains.

Beechwood Inn & Breakfast (beechwoodinn.ws) was named one of Southern Living magazine’s best hotels, while its restaurant received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. The five-acre property has luxury suites with fireplaces and porches to enjoy the mountain views.

Another charming suggestion is the White Birch Inn (thewhitebirchinn.net) inside a century-old building in downtown with just six uniquely decorated guestrooms. Each has a fireplace, and you can request the room with a copper soaking tub.

Looking for somewhere dog-friendly to lodge, then check out Parker Ranch (parkersranch.com), which is just a mile from downtown. There are five guest suites and breakfast is included in the price of the room.

And then there’s Kingwood Resort & Winery (kingwoodresort.com), which features hotel rooms, condos, an 18-hole golf course, spa, and the onsite winery, which offers Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Red Blend.

Fortify Kitchen & Bar

Where to eat

You won’t be able to eat at every restaurant worth a visit in one weekend, but here are a few to get you started. There is literally something for every taste in Clayton, and if fresh is what you’re after, you are definitely in the right town.

OpenTable named Fortify Kitchen & Bar (fortifyclayton.com) one of the best restaurants in the country for its varied menu of farm-fresh ingredients, including trout, salmon, steak frites, and fried chicken. Sister restaurant Fortify Pi serves up brick-oven pizzas, wings, and sandwiches.

Clayton Cafe

Clayton Café (theclaytoncafega.com) is a town institution operating for more than 60 years with a menu of Southern comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Think Country-fried steak, shrimp and grits, and bone-in pork chops. 

If you’re a fan of Universal Joint (ujclayton.com) in Decatur, then you might want to visit this satellite location with a big, leafy patio and a familiar menu of burgers and brews.

For something healthy, check out Grapes & Beans Café (grapesandbeans.com) for vegetarian options made from local and organic ingredients. There’s also a wine shop to explore.

And one other gem not to miss is Sunday Diner (sundaydinerclayton.com), which will take you back in time and fill your bell with ribs, chicken-fried steak, fresh veggies, hearty breakfast favorites, and big glasses of sweet tea served in mason jars. 

12 Spies Vineyards

Where to drink

Take a tour of downtowns’s Moonrise Distillery (moonrisedistillery.com), which crafts its own whiskey, bourbon, vodka, gin, and fruit brandies with locally sourced ingredients. The Speakeasy Bar is the perfect place to sample the distillery’s output, plus there’s live music.

In nearby Tiger, GA you’ll find the small artisan Stonewall Creek Vineyards (stonewallcreek.com), known for its award-winning Petit Manseng and Cabernet Franc.

There’s also Tiger Mountain Vineyards (tigerwine.com), which hand-picks its own grapes to make exceptional red wines available for sampling in the tasting room. There’s a café open at weekends.

Also close is 12 Spies Vineyards (12spiesvineyards.com) in Rabun Gap, with its selection of Chardonnay, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Black Rock Mountain State Park (Courtesy Blue Ridge Travel Guide)

Where to enjoy the outdoors

Black Rock Mountain State Park (gastateparks.org/BlackRockMountain) is in Clayton’s backyard with 80-miles vistas, four hiking trails, and campsites if you’d rather sleep in the great outdoors on your weekend trip.

South of town is Tallulah Gorge State Park (gastateparks.org/TallulahGorge), home to its namesake 1,000-foot-deep canyon. You can walk across the 80-foot-high suspension bridge, hike to one of the gorge waterfalls, and camping is also available. 

If you’re driving up to the Dillard House (dillardhouse.com) for a dinner, why not make a day of it and go for a riverside horseback r from the stables or a fly-fishing excursion? It’s the perfect way to work up an appetite. There’s also an on-site hotel if you’re too tired to make the drive back to Clayton.

Another outdoor activity in Dillard is Andy’s Trout Farm (andystroutfarm.com), which sits on more than 300 acres and offers rentals, bait, and overnight accommodations in cabins or campsites

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.