by Kim Hilsenbeck
Driving into Marble Falls from the southern end on Hwy 281, the first glimpse of town comes into view as you crest a hill. The water and the skyline create a bucolic scene below.
One word comes to mind: charm.
And this town has got it in spades. From its iconic Blue Bonnet Café to art sculptures on Main Street and everything in between, Marble Falls is worth the roughly hour-long trip from Hays County.
Given the town’s name, you might expect to see waterfalls. And prior to 1951, you would have – that’s how Marble Falls became, well, Marble Falls.
We bet you didn’t know the falls are still there, they’re just invisible beneath the lake’s surface. We didn’t know either until we read a history of the town in its 125th anniversary publication.
A tiny homemade dam was blasted away on the Colorado River to make room for a new larger dam, according to the story. And then, things changed the tiny town.
The article said, “That ended an era when the cascading staircase of water 22-feet tall and 250-feet wide fell freely between limestone canyon walls and the city springing up on its north shore.”
Two staffers from Echo recently made the trek up to Marble Falls. A late April morning was perfect for exploring the town of about 6,500.
The first stop, and rightfully so, was breakfast at the Blue Bonnet Café. First opened in 1929 at a location just a few blocks away, the current building sits right on Hwy 281, welcoming hungry patrons with its neon signs.
Our waitress, Maura Dominguez, served up delicious food along with southern hospitality. Our bellies filled, the next stop was the Marble Falls Visitor Center, just next door to the café.
That neon still shines
Those neon signs at the World Famous Blue Bonnet Café are iconic. They represent everything from good hometown service to the locals knowing they’re home when they see them after traveling out of town. But those neon signs were recently in jeopardy of being regulated by the city council back in February. Blue Bonnet Café owner John Kemper was worried about the proposed regulations. In the end, council decided not to turn off the lights.
A stroll through downtown
Inside the Marble Falls Visitor Center, friendly volunteer Jerry Schappe animatedly and enthusiastically explained some history of the town and recommended some eateries along with sight-seeing options.
Loaded with brochures and magazines about Marble Falls, the next stop was Main Street. Just a block off the highway was this quiet and quaint shopping mecca
All along the street, sculptures grace the sidewalks and median. It’s all part of an initiative called Art on Main. Sculptures were created by local and far-away artists.
Signs for handmade chocolate drew our attention. Steve Parsons, owner of a chocolatier and catering shop in the GG Ganache building, welcomed us and showed us around. He’s been renting the space inside the market for about five years. He uses Belgium chocolate to make truffles, bark and other sweets.
Originally from Houston, Parsons said the small town life suits him.
“I love it here,” he said.
With a promise to return later to purchase treats for our colleagues, we headed back to the car and drove out to Sweet Berry Farms north of town.
Sweet Berry Farms
This pick-your-own fruit farm offers visitors a unique experience to pick their own strawberries, blackberries and even peaches right off the trees.
On this day, dozens of school children in brightly colored matching shirts picked, played and partook in all things strawberry. Dan Copeland, who was born and raised in Marble Falls, farms the land and owns the business. He rents the land but owns 2.5 acres across the street where he and his wife Gretchen Copeland live.
He studied agricultural education at Texas A&M University, then left Marble Falls for 16 years. He came back and opened Sweet Berry Farms 15 years ago.
“We started with eight acres,” he said. “We just grew strawberries.”
But he knew they needed to diversify their crop because some years they fail. He and his wife now grow five varieties of strawberries, along with blackberries, peaches and figs. He uses what he called integrated pest management; if they find a problem, like spider mites or powdering mildew, they try to find an organic solution if they can.
Visitors come from March through May to pick strawberries, then peaches into about June. Copeland also makes his own strawberry ice cream.
In the fall, the farm has a big pumpkin festival, but Copeland said they ship the pumpkins in from Lubbock since they grow much better in the arid environment of northwest Texas.
The farm appears to be doing well these days. Copeland said they get about 5,200 school children out each springs, and roughly the same amount in the fall. On fall weekends, he said they park 2,100 cars a day.
The short drive back to town included a stop at Granite Mountain for a few photos. The quarry is home to the famed pink granite that was used to build the Texas Capitol building in Austin. It was a trade – the state built a railroad through Marble Falls (which stopped at the granite quarry) in exchange for the stones to build the capitol.
Back in the heart of the city, the park on the shores of the lake, though quiet and absent any visitors at that time of day, offered a tranquil and quiet beautiful respite from a busy morning and early afternoon.
Another park, this one farther in from the lake but next to a babbling creek, showed some signs of life as BBQ cook-off participants set up their RVs and pits, waiting the weekend’s competition.
Ready for sustenance, we discussed the options. Seafood? Pizza? Mexican? Marble Falls has a decent selection of restaurants from which to choose.
We settled on the Double Horn Brew Pub on Hwy 281. A mug of cold handcrafted beer was a must taste, along with a fresh pear and spinach salad and a chicken sandwich. We were not disappointed with the food, service or atmosphere.
By the end of the trip, at least one staffer was ready to sell her house and move to Marble Falls. The town, its residents and the views offer a friendly place for visitors. Why not make it permanent?
But reality settled in and we said goodbye.
A quick jaunt back to the chocolate maker and we were on our way back to Hays County. But not before we stopped at the Starbuck’s – but only for the view it offered from the hill heading back out of town.
Oh, and those chocolates for our coworkers? They disappeared before we hit Bee Cave.