Walking up to the unassuming Blue Bonnet Café in the heart of Marble Falls, Texas, you might suspect it’s just another roadside cafeteria. Flanked with a bank of actual majestic blue bonnets blowing in the wind, you’ll quickly realize this isn’t your average lunch spot. For starters, we went in at 2 p.m. on a random Thursday, a time when many restaurants are closed. But not the Blue Bonnet. We had to wait in line for a table. The place, which can seat nearly 400 people, was packed.
On our way to the table, we noticed how the walls are lined with tarnished and tattered framed newspaper clippings from publications all over the country singing the praises of the Blue Bonnet, which opened its doors in 1929.
Little gems like the Blue Bonnet are the crown jewels for Marble Falls and the entire Highland Lakes region of Texas, which is just about an hour northwest of Austin nestled in the Texas Hill Country’s Burnet County. We spent some time trekking up and down Highway 281 and have compiled a list of all the must-see stops in the area including places to stay, outdoor activities and, of course, places to eat.
How to Spend a Weekend in the Highland Lakes Region of Texas
Where to Play
The Highland Lakes region is made up of five lakes that were created from the Lower Colorado River to control flood waters. Stretching from Lake Buchanan down to Lake Travis, there are thousands of acres of lakes to explore along with the wildlife that goes with them. This area is rich with hikes, camping areas, swimming and boating resources and even a new mountain bike park.
Inks Lake State Park, at just an hour northwest of Austin, is a great place for camping, hiking, boating and fishing. The park has nine miles of hiking trails as well as paddle boat, kayak and canoe rentals, and multiple piers for fishing. Nearby Longhorn Cavern State Park is a day-use park with an incredible underground cavern that can be explored with a guide.
For the more adventurous travelers, two must-do stops are Hidden Falls Adventure Park and Spider Mountain Bike Park. Hidden Falls offers thousands of acres of trails for dirt bikers, ATV/UTVs and even full-size Jeeps. Visitors can go on their own, or see the sights as part of a guided tour. There are just enough rules here to keep you safe without hindering your ability to have a thrill-filled day of speed. We chose a UTV and flew through creeks (and got soaked!), blazed up hills and even stopped for a photo of a rattlesnake who crossed our path. There’s camping available, and the views are spectacular.
Spider Mountain can be spotted a mile away, thanks to its chairlift that carries bikers — and their bikes — 350 feet up to the top of the mountain. Five trail options (with more to come) allow riders of all ages and skill levels to make their way back down.
If your pace is a little slower, opt for the Vanishing Texas River Cruise, which takes visitors up the Lower Colorado River via Lake Buchanan and past Fall Creek Falls. We saw beautiful birds and even the wild Spanish goats that are legendary around these parts. From November to March, there’s also a high possibility of spotting bald eagles, which nest along the banks of the river.
Where to Eat
Now that you’ve worked up a big ol’ Texas-sized appetite from all the outdoor adventures, let’s take a look at some great spots to eat. We encountered a little bit of everything from super casual to a higher-end dining experience.
Your first stop should be Opie’s Barbeque. This place is almost stereotypical Texas. The parking lot is full of Ford F150s, the sign out front is larger than the building, and the first thing you encounter when you walk in is a massive barbecue pit manned by a big dude in an apron wielding a pair of tongs.
The pit has everything from baby back ribs and brisket to half chickens, jalapeño sausage and whatever else Big Dude in the Apron decided to throw in there that day. You get to pick which meat you want, and Big Dude slaps it on a plate for you.
Then you get to the sides. I’m talking platters of coleslaw, potato salad, green beans (not the healthy kind), spicy corn and the Opie’s house special: tater tot casserole. Keep in mind that your meal already includes your meat that Big Dude gave you, pinto beans (in a pot that could fit three normal-sized people), bread, pickles, onions, peppers and sauce.
But wait! There’s still dessert. No self-respecting Texas barbecue meal is complete without a two-pound pile of cobbler. There’s peach, cherry, apple and blackberry as well as banana pudding and assorted brownies, cookies and cheesecakes.
Be prepared to roll yourself out the door and head back to your hotel for a nap.
During our visit to the area, we also enjoyed wood-fired, brick oven pizzas at The Enoteca at Flat Creek Winery. The atmosphere was bright and cheery, and the pizza selections range from their basic and delicious margherita to the La Bandiera, which features mushrooms, herb marinara, pistachio pesto, parmesan and fresh mozzarella. Because it’s a winery, of course, there are plenty of wine options to complement the meal.
The Overlook at Canyon of the Eagles resort is also worth a stop. Just watching the sunset alone is a treat. The chef-driven menu was delicious, and the ambiance can’t be beaten. Just off Main Street in Marble Falls is an unassuming eatery called Rae’s R Bar & Grill that was surprisingly good. We sat on their great patio and enjoyed a warm spring evening over cold beer and some amazing food served with a Texas flair.
If breweries are your thing — and honestly, even if they aren’t — you need to stop in the tasting room at Save the World Brewing Company in Marble Falls. In 2012 a married couple who were both physicians at the time decided to trade in their scrubs for some suds and opened America’s first 100% philanthropic production of craft beer, which conveniently produced the world’s best tagline: “saving the world one beer at a time”.
Currently serving five microbrews in their tasting room, you not only feel good about giving them money (which they give to really good causes), but the beer is actually really tasty.
Where to Stay
Although at the very northern tip of the Highland Lakes region, the Canyon of the Eagles resort is worth the extra drive up the road. Situated high on a cliff overlooking Lake Buchanan, Canyon of the Eagles feels like a high-end summer camp with cabins scattered across the grounds. The resort sits amid a 940-acre nature park, and there’s plenty to do for the entire family without leaving the property.
In addition to the well-appointed cabin-style accommodations, which feature spectacular views of the lake, the resort also offers morning yoga, kayak rentals and guided tours, boat tours of the lake and Lower Colorado River, miles of hiking trails, a pool and fire pit. The Eagle Eye Observatory takes advantage of being one of the darkest spots in Texas and offers twilight and dark-sky programs hosted by a local astronomer.
If you are more of a camper, the park offers RV sites as well as more rustic spots for tent camping.
On a smaller scale, the Painted Sky Inn is also worth a visit. This renovated 1950s-style lakeside motel was purchased and renovated in 2010. It houses 10 rooms, which are quaint and simple, but clean and festive. Because of its lakeside proximity, there’s fishing, swimming and a boat launch just steps away from your door. Ask for the “Deck View Room” which features two bedrooms, a full kitchen and a massive deck overlooking the lake.
Owner/operator Denise Lewis runs the Painted Sky like it’s her very own family reunion. Pretty much anything you need, she will personally take care of for you. What the property lacks in luxury, it makes up for in hospitality. The décor has been updated since the ’50s, but the vibe of family fun and simplicity is very much the same.
Lake Buchanan and all the splendor of Burnet County in the Texas Hill Country is a great choice if you are looking to vacation a bit off the tourist grid. It’s just far enough away from Austin that you don’t have the traffic or frenetic pace, but it’s close enough to take advantage of its airport. So skip the obvious and head out to the woods for some clear skies, clean water and small-town charm.
All photography by Melonee Hurt.
Find more great Southern escapes in our travel section. Click HERE!