Marble Falls makes an excellent headquarters for a three-day adventure because it’s close to several central Texas attractions. In and around the small town, you’ll find pick-it-yourself farms, wineries and tons of outdoor recreation opportunities. But don’t go chasing waterfalls (at least not in the center of town). The falls that the city was named after disappeared under the water when Lake Marble Falls was created.
Day 1 - La Quinta Inn & Suites Marble Falls
Perched on a hill overlooking Lake Marble Falls, this La Quinta (501 Hwy 2147 West; 830-798-2020) may cost slightly more than most, but the views alone are worth a few more bucks. The upper floors have balconies that offer even more expansive views. Beyond the typical snacks and shaving cream, the on-site convenience store has a good selection of beer and wine.
If you need to stretch your legs after the drive to Marble Falls, head just across the lake to Lakeside Park (305 Buena Vista Drive). Take a stroll along the lake and enjoy the view of boaters, birds, and bikers. The park also has a swimming pool and tennis courts if you’re looking for a little more exercise. Every August, the park hosts a major drag boat racing event. Over the Christmas holidays, the park is decorated from mid-November to early January for the Walkway of Lights.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll be ready for a big dinner at River City Grille (700 First Street; 830-798-9909). Adjacent to Lakeside Park, the restaurant has a sprawling deck overlooking the lake. The menu includes everything from burgers and salads to chicken-fried steak and tortilla-fried catfish. Even picky little ones will be able to find something to suit their tastes.
A nice after-dinner stroll awaits along Main Street. As part of a downtown revitalization project, the city has a revolving exhibit of whimsical outdoor sculptures. The Sculpture on Main project invites over 800 artists to submit their ideas every year, but only about 20 sculptures are chosen. The sculptures remain on display for a year, and they can be purchased at the conclusion of the exhibit.
Day 2 - Balcones Canyonlands and Hidden Falls
To get an early start, enjoy the free hot breakfast at the hotel. Then, take a scenic drive about 20 miles to the east to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge (24518 FM 1431; 512-339-9432). A bird watcher’s paradise, the 27,500-acre park is home to both the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. Though both are hard to actually spot, the vireo can sometimes stand out because of its curious habit of hanging upside down from branches while hunting for insects. The park has a checklist of the dozens of birds you might see, but a few of the highlights are wild turkeys, osprey, bald eagles, mallard ducks and great blue herons.
You may also see deer, gray fox, skunk, armadillo and the squirrel-like ringtail.
The most popular trails are in the Doeskin Ranch area, but make sure you wear hiking boots. The terrain is rocky, and it’s easy to get a sprained ankle if you’re not careful. There are bathrooms near the main headquarters, but most of the park is minimally developed.
On the way back from Balcones Canyonlands, take a quick side trip to Flat Creek Estate Winery (112 US Highway 281; 512-267-6310). You can stop in for a wine tasting, take a walk around the vineyards and pick up a bottle for later. On weekends, tours of the winemaking facilities are offered.
After a morning of hiking, you deserve a decadent lunch. Perhaps the most well-known restaurant in the hill country, the Blue Bonnet Cafe (211 US Highway 281; 830-693-2344) has been serving up its legendary pies since 1929. It will be tempting to fill up on homemade pot roast, chicken, and dumplings or pork ribs, but try to leave room for pie. The coconut cream pie routinely earns the most raves, but the German chocolate, banana cream, and chocolate meringue pies are equally delicious.
You may want to head back to the hotel for a brief nap after that meal, but if you’re still craving adventure, check out the Hidden Falls Adventure Park (7030 East FM 1431; 830-798-9820) later in the afternoon. You can rent an ATV or dirt bike, and ride on over 200 miles of trails in the park. There are a number of scenic routes, and the hidden waterfalls are actually fairly easy to find, especially after a big rain. Many of the trails are intended for novices, but if you’re an experienced off-roader, the park also offers opportunities to do some serious four-wheel rock climbing.
You’ll definitely need some downtime after this adventure, but when you’re ready for supper, there’s another top-notch restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel. Russo’s Restaurant (602 Steve Hawkins Parkway; 830-693-7091) is a relaxing place to wind down after a busy day. The restaurant’s outdoor patio offers a spectacular view of the sunset over Lake Marble Falls. The menu might be described as Tex-Italian. The Pollo Picante, for example, is a spicy version of Fettucine Alfredo with jalapenos and bacon.
The hand-cut steaks are also a major draw. Try the tenderloin fillet served with fettuccine and garlic cream sauce. For dessert, try the cheesecake topped with vanilla bean ice cream, strawberries, and pecans.
Day 3 - Sweet Berry Farm
Though it’s closed for part of the summer, Sweet Berry Farm is an ideal spring and fall destination for families with small kids. In the spring, you can pick your own berries, and in the fall, you can select your own pumpkin. Other activities include hayrides, mazes, miniature train rides and a petting zoo with horses and goats. The best part may be the strawberry popsicles and ice cream made exclusively from berries and pumpkins grown on the farm.
Other activities for children include face painting, pumpkin decorating, sand art and miniature scarecrow making. The only downsides are that the farm does not accept credit cards, and there is only portable bathrooms. Hey, it’s part of the adventure.