Tour the Real Town Behind Mystic Falls, VA
Have you ever wondered what the setting for your favorite TV show really looked like? Is it a set, do they film on location, or is it a random town or city somewhere completely removed from the supposed area? Many times, you'll discover that the town doesn't even exist outside of a movie lot (RIP Bluebell, Alabama), but sometimes you get lucky and find out that the filming location is real and open to visitors.
One such town is Covington, Georgia, the filming location for many beloved TV shows and movies (in part or in whole), such as Remember the Titans, The Dukes of Hazard, Footloose (2011 version), and the reason you clicked on this blog, The Vampire Diaries.
Covington holds such an appeal to filmmakers due to its historical roots and preserved southern charm. Founded in 1821, the town still has many gorgeous historic homes and buildings, as well as the delightful town square that you've seen featured many times on The Vampire Diaries.
When my sister-in-law mentioned over Thanksgiving that she and a friend had visited Covington to check out the filming locations, I immediately knew I couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit. A month later, over Christmas break, she and I made the drive through Atlanta and down to Covington so that I could get a taste of the excitement as well.
While I didn't get to see any girls dressed up in Southern finery for a Founder's Day Parade, I definitely had a fantastic time reimagining some of my favorite moments from the show. Although, based on the intense conversations I overheard ("Do you remember Season 3, Episode 6, 20 minutes in when they were standing right here!?"), I'm not quite the fangirl that I used to think I was. But even for a casual fan, there's plenty to do and see.
There are two ways you can tour Mystic Falls:
1. The Vampire Stalkers Tour: This is the official tour that the cast recommends for visiting the film locations, and if you're lucky, getting a peek at the actual cast working! It costs $55 per person and lets you visit some exclusive areas like the Lockwood Mansion and newly added Legacies locations. The tour guides have lived in Covington from day 1 of the series' filming, so they have tons of cool facts and even know some of the actors. In fact, cast members have been known to jump in on the tour from time to time!
Now, From what I saw in December, The Vampire Stalkers Tour stays pretty busy year-round, so be prepared to tour with a load of screaming fangirls and their disgruntled boyfriends. But if you want the exclusive, all-inclusive tour, this is definitely the way to go.
2. A free self-guided tour: If you're not quite willing to drop $55 and travel with the hard-core fans, you can do a self-guided tour, which is what my sister-in-law and I did. We were able to explore at our own pace and enjoy the peace and quiet of her car. While a self-guided tour doesn't allow you "exclusive" access into any homes, you can still see a lot of what the paid tour covers.
Below are directions for enjoying a self-guided tour of Mystic Falls, complete with a meal at the Mystic Grill!
Town Square (Washington St SW, Covington, GA 30014)
Start your tour by parking at Town Square. The traffic flows in one direction, so be careful as you circle around and find a parking spot. You'll get a good view of all the historic shops and restaurants lining the square, as well as the iconic Mystic Falls clocktower (a.k.a. the Covington Courthouse). Once you've parked, take some time to walk around! The square is small, but you can enjoy the peace and quiet from one of the benches and read up on the town's history at a historic plaque along the sidewalk. The park is also the best place to get a picture of the clocktower.
When you're ready to move on, use the crosswalk to hop over to the west side of the square by McKibben's Music. Keep a lookout in this area for a flagstone bearing Ian Somerhalder's name and the dates of the Vampire Diaries show! There are plenty of them along the sidewalks, but Ian's is a little secluded.
Vampire Stalkers Museum
Even if you're not going on the Vampire Stalkers Tour, take a few minutes to check out the store and museum. They have tons of cool memorabilia and souvenirs that you'll want to explore. The museum pays tribute to more than just the Vampire Diaries series, adding in items from the Originals and Legacies as well. They have signed posters everywhere, along with entire walls dedicated to the cast and crews' signatures! Not to mention cool outfits from old episodes!
The Mystic Grill (Mystic Grill, 1116 Clark St SW, Covington, GA 30014)
Continue heading around the square, and you'll see The Mystic Grill right up ahead. Now, to be clear, this is not the Mystic Grill from the series. I know, sadness. But it's inspired by the O.G. Mystic Grill, and many of the cast members have eaten here! You'll find tributes to the town's movie history all over the interior, from a staircase lined with signed photos of actors (ranging from the Vampire Diaries cast to Stranger Things actors), to the bathroom hallway lined with signed posters and Mystic Grill t-shirts.
The restaurant's vibe is pretty cool aside from the memorabilia as well. It's in an old building that features decorative ceiling tiles, artistically exposed brick, and hardwood floors. It's very rustic, fitting perfectly into the old-town feel of Covington and Mystic Falls.
And the food is fantastic! The Mystic Grill is certainly not scraping by on affiliation alone. I got the Smoked Chicken Sandwich with sweet potato fries, and it made me literally sigh in happiness. I had to force myself to stop at halfway so that I could enjoy it for two meals because it was so amazing! I also sampled my sister-in-law's T.K. Adams Turkey Melt, and it was equally delicious. So make sure you leave time to stop here and eat! It's a memorable part of the experience!
As you leave the Mystic Grill, check the sidewalk for several more cast flagstones, including Paul Wesley's! Then take a sharp right down the stairs by the restaurant's main entrance to access "the alley." You know this spot--it's where all the unfortunate extras get killed! It now has a couple of benches and a painted sign that says, "Welcome to Mystic Falls," and #stopbyforabite.
The door directly off this alley leads to another gift shop and museum that you'll want to check out. This shop focuses primarily on the Vampire Diaries series, as opposed to the spread in the Vampire Stalkers Museum. You can buy t-shirts, mugs, glasses, diaries, and even themed Christmas ornaments! And don't miss the custom candles (the owner told us "Damon's Jacket" is the most popular scent). And in the back, a cozy room displays more of the cast's iconic outfits: Stefan's jersey, one of Elijah's suits, and Elayna's Miss Mystic Falls outfit, for example. I liked the setup and display here a little more than the Vampire Stalkers Tour because it was less crowded and had more variety.
Apparently, this is also a spot for cast members to drop by--the owner casually mentioned that Matthew Davis (Alaric Saltzman) had stopped by the previous week as she gestured to a framed photo of the two of them on the wall.
Elayna and Caroline's Houses (2104 Floyd Street NE, Covington, GA 30014)
Now it's time to hop back in your car for the driving tour. Due east from Covington Square, you'll find Elayne and Caroline's houses right next to each other! Who knew? The Gilbert house is easily recognizable with its sweeping front porch and stately pillars, and the Forbes house looks nice and cozy with its brick frame and white accents, just like in the show.
I will emphasize, however, that these are actual people's homes now, so please be respectful of their private property. And it is hard to park on these narrow historic streets, so just be careful. However, that doesn't make them any less fun to drive by and ogle at! You can also use Google Maps to check them out below.
Tyler's House/Lockwood Mansion (2129 East Street SE, Covington, GA 30014)
Just around the corner, you'll see the gates to the Lockwood Mansion. The actual estate is tucked back pretty far, but you can still get a good look at it from the street and imagine all the cool parties and balls the Lockwoods hosted going down inside.
Gram's House (2136 Conyers Street SE, Covington, GA 30014)
The next stop is Bonnie's beloved Gram's house, just a couple minutes away from the Lockwood Mansion. It's easy to miss since it sets right next to an old Southern-style mansion, but it's as adorable as you remember once you see it.
Mystic Falls Cemetery (Southview Cemetery, Southview Dr, Covington, GA 30014)
Your next stop is the Southview Cemetery, home base for many of the shows nerve-wracking graveyard scenes. You'll be able to recognize some of the more distinct rows of old gravestones, as well as the one mausoleum. However, it is apparent that the set designers added in quite a few other pieces to the graveyard for the TV show. Either way, there are some interesting old gravestones, and it's fun to view the scene from different angles to reimagine specific VD moments.
A couple of things here: the drive inside the cemetery (and directly outside of it) is incredibly small, so be careful as you go in and out. Also, the road is a one-way lane. Finally, this cemetery is still in use, so be aware of people who are there to visit loved ones or--as in our case--any incoming funeral processions. (To our horror, a funeral procession started coming in while we were there, so we had to book it out and, unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the cemetery.) If you do need to make a quick exit, there are gates on both the north and west ends of the cemetery (you're welcome).
Old Salvatore Mansion (2176 Monticello St SW, Covington, GA 30014)
Your final stop is the gorgeous estate that served as the original Salvatore mansion and, apparently, the inspiration for the Twelve Oaks in Gone with the Wind! This towering white building is absolutely stunning with its classic pillars and sweeping front porch. And the best part is you can actually stay here! Yep! The house is also known as the Twelve Oaks Bed and Breakfast. It has plenty of southern-style luxuries for guests to enjoy, including home-cooked breakfast, and nine themed suites (Might I suggest a stay in "The Salvatore Brothers' Study Suite" or "Katherine's Mirror Image Grand Suite"?). However, if you're not staying here, be mindful of the "no trespassing" signs and be content to admire this historic beauty from the street. It's still amazing!
That's the end of your self-guided Mystic Falls tour! If you're really dedicated, you can also swing by the Salvatore Boarding House location up in Atlanta (598 Abernathy Road, NE, Atlanta, Georgia), particularly if you have to head back that way.
This whole tour will probably take you about 3 hours, including lunch, so it's great if you have a long drive on either end or don't like long excursions. It is thrilling to be so close to the scene of some of your favorite TV moments, and I guarantee you'll get a few chills of excitement on this trip as well.
And while you're here, don't forget to appreciate Covington, GA, as it actually is. There are some great shops and other restaurants around that you should definitely check out before you go. They're part of what really gives this historic town its continuing southern charm.
Thanks for stopping by and reading about the real-life Mystic Falls! If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to like and share it. And if you have any questions, please feel free to post them below. Finally, don't forget to subscribe to the Mandala Traveler for fun weekly adventures and travel tips to feed your wanderlust!