In season one, episode one of the über-popular Netflix series, Stranger Things, Benny chases a short-haired kid to the back door of his burger joint in Hawkins, Ind. The kid is a thief, making off with a plate of his french fries. He reaches the thief, turns the thief around, and stops cold when he realizes that the thief is a young girl wearing only a dirty hospital gown.
It’s a thrilling and odd start to a show, and the episodes that follow only get more peculiar.
Don’t write the show off just yet, though. Georgia actually has a strong connection to the series. In fact, it’s where much of the show was filmed. Benny’s burger joint in the fictitious town of Hawkins is actually a Georgia-owned restaurant called Tiffany’s Kitchen in tiny Lithia Springs in Douglas County.
Douglas County is just one of many Georgia counties appearing on the big screen. Although the film industry has shot on location in Georgia frequently since the 1970s, says Collin Cash, Douglas County tourism director and film coordinator, the boom in Georgia filming started in earnest after 2002 tax incentives. Then, in 2005, Georgia passed the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act, luring large-scale film operations. Those incentives turned Georgia into what many call “The Hollywood of the South” or
The state has become such a popular filming destination that Georgia surpassed California in number of feature films produced in 2016. And in 2018, the Governor’s office reported that films produced in Georgia translated into $2.7 billion in direct spending in Georgia communities. The money has transformed main streets as bustling crowds gather to see movie stars on set.
Skip the celebrity-crazed crowds this summer and dive instead into Georgia’s film history on the road trip-worthy Douglas County Film Trail (douglascountyfilmtrail.com).
Started in 2017, the self-guided film trail is composed of the county’s many famed filming locations, each marked with a plaque and a short explanation. Cash, who helped get the trail off the ground, recommends reviewing the trail website, planning a route before you go and keeping the information available during your tour.
There is no specified order for traveling the trail’s 11 stops. But if you need to stretch your legs after a drive, start at 2,500-acre Sweetwater Creek State Park. It was here that Katniss and Gale, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, famously sat together during their walk in the feature film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. Stop first at the park entrance to read the film trail sign and then head into the park ($5/car) for a stroll on the 2-mile-round-trip Red Trail, which leads to the New Manchester Mill ruins, where Lawrence and Hemsworth filmed the scene.
From there, head to nearby 1651 Riverside Parkway, where you’ll find a film trail sign but not much else. It was on the roadside here that Walking Dead characters become stranded in their RV. Show fans will remember the group fending off post-apocalyptic zombies and one of the characters deciding to give up his fight.
Swing through the Tributary neighborhood, where parts of Diary of a Wimpy Kid were filmed, and then make your way to Champ’s Clock Shop. The shop was used for 2018’s The House With a Clock in Its Walls, featuring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. The Champ’s employees actually provided all the clock sounds for the movie. Poke around the museum-like shop to see grandfather clocks and the world’s largest cuckoo clock.
“I like some of the out-of-the-way places on the trail, like Champ’s Clock Shop,” says Cash. “People don’t always think of visiting them.”
On your way out of Lithia Springs, slide into a booth and fuel up on traditional Southern fare at Tiffany’s Kitchen while remembering the frantic beginning of Stranger Things.
Full and ready for more touring, head west to downtown Douglasville, where many film locations are concentrated. Park and stroll around O’Neal Plaza, which has a small-town feel. Head first to the old jail, which starred in scenes from The Mule, The Haves and Have Nots, Very Bad Men, All Eyez on Me and Logan Lucky, among others. The jail was decommissioned in 2013 but remains in “paused usage” and retains many of its original features, which enables film crews to drop in easily for filming. Also look for the trail stop at the Old Douglas County Courthouse, which was used as the police station in Stranger Things and for an airport scene in The Founder.
In the afternoon, head west along shady country roads for two final trail stops. Go first to the Pine Mountain Gold Museum, located in Villa Rica, home to historical displays about the industrial gold rush era and the state’s only real gold mine. Some of Victory Television Network’s film Grace, which featured Nancy Stafford as the 1800s missionary Grace Adams, was also produced here.
Lastly, visit Foxhall Resort and Sporting Club, where Anna Kendrick and Lisa Kudrow filmed much of the 2017 comedy Table 19. The resort, once a lavish private estate, is now an elegant wedding venue, hotel and recreation mecca. It also has a well-regarded restaurant and bar called The Paddock. Stop at the trail sign out front and then finish up the day with a celebratory drink and some food. You’ll instantly recognize the resort’s refined interiors from the movie.
Cash receives positive feedback from visitors about the film trail – the first of its kind in Georgia – and that’s enough for Cash and her team to continue adding new locations. “We started with six [stops], and we just added more.”
With Douglas County’s film-friendly reputation, production studios are likely to continue returning to put its small-town charms on the big screen. Whether you go today, tomorrow or in a year, the Douglas County Film Trail is the perfect way to relive Y’allywood scenes that made you laugh, cry, sweat and cringe with your favorite stars..