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Go on location: Hollywood of the South

Atlanta, Georgia

The sign on my left says, “Welcome to Mystic Falls, Virginia.” On my right, another sign: “Welcome to Sparta, Mississippi.” And I’m standing in Covington, Georgia, just 35 miles east of downtown Atlanta. What gives?

  • Jackson Street Bridge is now famous because "The Walking Dead" used this view of the Atlanta skyline for its premiere in 2010. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.
  • An Atlanta Movie Tours guide shows tourists props such as fake money at the company's headquarters and gift shop. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.
  • The Covington, Georgia, Visitor Information Center displays some of the many identities the town has played in films and TV shows. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.
  • A Georgia Tour Co. character tour guide poses in front of a historic home in Senoia, Georgia, used in movies including "Broken Bridges." Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.

Welcome to the Hollywood of the South, also known as Y’allywood. A diverse landscape of urban, rural, mountainous, and coastal locations along with tremendous tax credits have lured television and film productions to Georgia in increasing numbers. What this means for fans: There’s a good chance to catch filming happening while in the area (typically as many as 30 productions filming each month). A handful of tour operators in and around Atlanta will show you where to geek out over your favorite classic movies as well as today’s most binge-worthy TV series.

In Covington alone, the real-life classic southern scenery has served as a backdrop for more than 100 feature films and television shows. The town’s historic square, with its iconic courthouse featuring a clock tower, is instantly recognized by many viewers as the fictionalized version of Sparta in the TV series In the Heat of the Night. To another generation, Covington is Mystic Falls, the imaginary small-town setting for The Vampire Diaries.

Last fall, I had the chance to marvel at the latest Marvel filming locations in Atlanta and watch a season nine episode in a Senoia, Georgia, restaurant among devoted fans of The Walking Dead, whose Alexandria set was a real neighborhood just a few blocks from where I sat.

If you’re interested in going on location in the Hollywood of the South, fly into Atlanta Regional Airport—Falcon Field in Peachtree City, about 30 miles south of downtown Atlanta. This gives you easy access to these four tour operators.

Southern Hollywood Film Tour

One of Georgia’s largest film studios, Pinewood Studios-Atlanta, is 11 miles from the Atlanta Regional Airport. While it’s not open to tours, the public can stop in for lunch at Hanna Brothers Studio Café across the street from the studio. Tour guide Sherri Smith Brown can work that into one of her location tours that begin in Peachtree City, or you can plan on stopping there before or after your tour.

Smith Brown is a semi-retired TV and video producer and writer, and her son and daughter still work in the business. Peachtree City’s first major production was the TV series Drop Dead Diva in 2008, and the city has also been seen in the movies Sweet Home Alabama and Joyful Noise.

She has a standard two-hour tour that includes Peachtree City along with taking the backroads to nearby small towns Senoia and Haralson, or she can customize a tour to fit your interests.

Georgia Tour Co.

Senoia is currently a living backlot. The town of 4,200 about 40 miles south of downtown Atlanta is home of the top-rated cable television show The Walking Dead, and every season there’s a new set and new plotlines on the AMC horror-drama series.

Walking through Senoia is essentially walking through the set of the show—the streets become the pretend Woodbury, and one of Senoia’s real neighborhoods is recognizably the Alexandria Safe Zone. Georgia Tour Co. offers daily walking tours with a character guide sharing insider stories while pointing out set locations for famous scenes. Many of the cosplaying guides have worked on the set of The Walking Dead as an extra or live in Senoia.

The company also gives weekly tours of big-screen filming locations through Senoia’s historic downtown. Fans will recognize a house and bridge from Fried Green Tomatoes, along with locations for Pet Sematary II and The Fighting Temptations among other films.

The town also has shops—including The Walking Dead souvenir shops—and restaurants. Nic and Norman’s is owned and operated by two Hollywood veterans, including Norman Reedus, best known for playing Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead. The pub sells tickets to dine on Sunday nights when the new episodes air, and it sells out.

Atlanta Movie Tours

More than 1,200 movies and TV shows have been filmed in Atlanta, from The Hunger Games and Baby Driver to many of the recent Marvel films. Atlanta Movie Tours is one of the longest-operating tour providers in the metro area. From a broad Best of Atlanta tour to outings focused on superheroes or Gone With The Wind, they have nearly a dozen walking and bus options between Atlanta and the town of Senoia.

I appreciated our guide, who was an experienced actor sharing behind-the-scenes stories he picked up while working on the sets he was showing. You’ll see a clip, visit the spot where it was filmed, and hear fun facts about how it happened. I came home with a list of movies I want to re-watch with this insider knowledge.

Covington tours

Film tours are the biggest product in Covington, population 14,000, but give yourself time to explore the shops and restaurants on the town’s bustling square. Mystic Grill serves delicious new Southern cuisine, plus there’s a gift shop with a free costume museum in the basement. The restaurant has its own backstory: It opened in 2014 in the building on the square that was being used for exterior shots of the fictitious Mystic Grill on The Vampire Diaries. So many fans came by to take photos of the sign (which was hanging on what was then a law firm) that an enterprising local decided to turn the building into a real restaurant and bar.

Stop by the Covington/Newton County Visitors Center for a self-guided map of movie and TV locations that span decades, or head to Mystic Falls Tours right on the square if you’re a vampire stalker.

Mystic Falls Tours offers several options for fans of The Vampire Diaries or spinoff shows The Originals and Legacies. Guides have firsthand knowledge of the cast and filming, and they have permission from private homeowners to take groups to residences used in the shows.

The tour headquarters doubles as On Location Gifts and Museum. The museum is free during store hours and contains the largest display of memorabilia from the three shows, gifted by Warner Brothers and the CW.

I might not have recognized filming locations for the vampire and zombie shows, but the county courthouse on the corner of Covington’s square took me back to the late 1970s, when I was watching Bo and Luke Duke walk the steps of the courthouse on The Dukes of Hazzard.

Each of the tours above did a great job of spanning generations and making you want to go home and watch the movies and TV shows you hadn’t watched but learned about. Taking a tour is an excellent introduction to the communities in the Hollywood of the South.

The Covington courthouse (left) on the historic downtown square is used in movies and TV shows, and the Mystic Grill restaurant (right) is based on "The Vampire Diaries." Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.
MeLinda Schnyder
Aviation and travel writer
MeLinda Schnyder is a writer and editor based in Wichita, Kansas, who frequently writes about travel and aviation. She worked for 12 years in the corporate communications departments for the companies behind the Beechcraft and Cessna brands.
Topics: Travel, Media, U.S. Travel

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