Stroll and shop the Highland Lakes’s downtowns
For a fun way to spend an afternoon, take a walk through the historic downtowns in the Highland Lakes. Go from city to city, combining a love of history, art, wildflowers and shopping in a day trip.
Established in 1856, Llano’s historic square is my personal favorite in the Highland Lakes. It’s so beautiful, I just love it. A clocktower tops the treasured 1893 courthouse — a unique detail that makes Llano stand out among the rest. As you tour the city, keep an eye out for deer statues. Llano is the self-proclaimed “Deer Hunting Capital of the World,” so there are several painted bucks throughout the city. On the weekend, catch a movie at the 1927 single-screen LanTex Theater, one of the oldest theaters still operating in the country. After touring the square, visit the haunted and historic Red Top Jail (or as the locals call it, “the city’s first bed and breakfast”). The jailhouse is the subject of many ghost stories due to the gallows on the top floor (though there is no record of any actual hangings). From the jail, the Llano River is a hop, skip and a jump away. Walk down to the water to see stacks of rocks leftover from the Llano Earth Art Fest or cross the bridge to take a peek at the historic railroad district.
Be careful if you visit Burnet on the weekend because shots will fly! Every Saturday at 1:30 p.m., the Burnet Gunfighters re-enact a Western gunfight. Don’t worry; they’re shooting blanks — but it's still noisy and exciting. Burnet really adopts the culture of the Wild West. The historic square dates to the 1800s and looks like something straight out of an old Clint Eastwood film. The buildings in the square, like the original city hall and the feed store, fit the bill. Take a walk around the 1937-built Burnet County Courthouse, made from the same granite as the Texas State Capitol. Burnet is especially beautiful in the spring when the wildflowers come out. The city is the Bluebonnet Capital of Texas, so keep an eye out for the state flower lining the roads. And don’t miss the annual Bluebonnet Festival on April 8-10! If you want to make your Burnet visit an all-day affair, board the Hill Country Flyer in Cedar Park. The steam train travels 66 miles round trip through the Hill Country with a two-hour layover in Burnet. Visit www.austinsteamtrain.org for more information.
The historic downtown of Marble Falls is a one-mile strip on Main Street, just a block away from U.S. 281. The city embraces the arts: There are several galleries and studios as well as sculptures made by artists in place around downtown. My favorite part about Main Street is the window shopping. There aren’t any overpriced tourist shops with Texas-themed doo-dads. Locally owned shops and boutiques line the street, and many have impressive window displays. For some local taste, I recommend getting a box of homemade fudge from It’s All Goode, having dinner at RBar & Grill and grabbing a beer (or a growler) from Double Horn Brewing Co. Don't miss the annual Soapbox Classic on June 17-19 when the young-at-heart fly downhill in homemade boxcars.
Founded in 1876, Johnson City is a historic charmer. Walk through Blanco County’s 1916-constructed red roof courthouse before touring the town square. The stone buildings, which date back as far as the late 1800s, still stand. Restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and more have set up shop in these buildings. For family fun, stop by the Hill Country Science Mill. While the interactive museum is just a year old, it stands inside a great steam mill built in 1880.
For a true Texas (and U.S.) history lesson, visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The park has two locations. In Johnson City, visitors can tour the Johnson Settlement and LBJ's Boyhood home. This is all a short walk from the town square and is free of charge. LBJ Ranch is 14 miles west of Johnson City. This is where the former president was born and lived until his death.
There is so much history in the Highland Lakes, and these quaint towns show for it. If you’re interested in learning more about these wonderful cities — or what to do when you visit them — check out the many guides at 101HighlandLakes.com.
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