No, not Athens, Greece, or even Athens, Georgia, but rather, Athens, Texas!
The city of Athens is one of Texas’s small towns with a rich heritage in black-eyed peas — so much so that it’s known as the Black-Eyed Pea Captial of the World. And if you like hamburgers, put this town on your Texas travel bucket list because Athens is also the Home of the Hamburger! It’s been said that the world’s first hamburgers were made in a small cafe in downtown Athens by a man known as Uncle Fletcher Davis in the late 1880s. It was later introduced at the 1904 World Fair, and the rest is history.
Athens is located about an hour and a half southeast of Dallas and smack dab in the middle of Canton and Corsicana. Though it’s a small town, Athens offers big adventures for everyone. It is also a welcoming and friendly town. I observed this firsthand when I asked a shop owner what her thoughts were on the town. Her grin was huge and contagious! I absolutely love talking to locals when visiting small towns, like this one, because they will tell you where to get the best food, where the best shopping is, and so on.
Athens is one of those places that the locals can’t get enough of and that I bet you’ll fall in love with. This is the kind of place I like to visit repeatedly to experience everything a Texan loves. Here’s why I think Athens is an adorable town to spend the day in.
Things To Do In Athens
Athens is a place to explore and relax, then repeat. Visiting for the day is perfect for Mom, Dad, the kids, and the grandparents, for there are various things to do to please everyone. And if seeing blooming colors is on your list, then Athens is your East Texas town to see beautiful spring flowers in April/May and fabulous fall foliage in November.
East Texas Arboretum And Botanical Society
The Arboretum is home to several native and exotic plants, beautiful flowering gardens, a rugged walking trail, a children’s garden, a dream garden, and much more. The best time to visit is in April and May, when spring flowers are everywhere. Be sure to wear good walking shoes if walking the trail, and watch for all kinds of birds along the way.
Also, you’ll step back in time while touring a farmhouse museum filled with original furnishings and memorabilia, as well as a milking barn and a replica one-room schoolhouse, to name a few. The East Texas Arboretum and Botanical Society is well worth spending the day relaxing, exploring, and viewing the scenery.
Pro Tip: Pets are welcome, and water bowls are out for them.
The Boutiques On The Courthouse Square
With shops named Kathy’s Boutique, Jana’s Boutique, and Barbara’s Corner, it’s a woman’s haven on the square. But, hey, the men who aren’t interested can always shoot the gab and have a treat at Treehouse Cupcakes and Frozen Treats down the street. Sounds good to me.
Also, don’t overlook the quaint shops on the side streets of the courthouse square. Some of the best shopping is found at places on side streets. When I was having lunch in Athens, my waitress recommended I stop in Atticus and Co. Modern Goods, located on East Larkin Street. The owner was so friendly and welcoming, and her shop was full of modern-day items for men and women and lots of outdoorsy things. May I suggest going all out and purchasing a s’mores peanut butter cup? It might be located on the counter at checkout — if not, just ask. And, yes, it’s huge and sharable!
Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center
The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is a big deal and brings lots of visitors to Athens. I’ve been told the Fishery alone is worth the drive to Athens. It has an education center that shows underwater wildlife, and also a hatchery, laboratory, and aquarium. It’s also a great place for bird watching and taking nature walks. The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center belongs to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is located on the north shore of Lake Athens. Grab the grandkids and expect a good time doing all of the above.
Lake Athens Marina & RV Park
Calling all anglers! Lake Athens is your fishing destination for largemouth bass, white bass, crappie, and sunfish. It is best known for largemouth bass weighing anywhere from 3 to 8 pounds. That’s supper right there! At Lake Athens Marina & RV Park, you can spend the day, a weekend, or a full week in the comfort of your RV or cabin on the water. You can fish all day, then do it again the next day.
Tara Vineyard & Winery
Just 9 miles out of town west on Highway 175, you’ll find Tara Vineyard & Winery. It may seem you’re out in nowhere’s land on your way in, but it’s there, and the wine, food, and atmosphere are superb. This was my go-to place when I would visit my mom and want a little time to myself. They also have overnight accommodations at their bed and breakfast inn on the property.
Athens Farmers Market
Another local favorite. If you’re in the area on a Saturday between May and October, put this local farmers market on your must-see and must-do list. The market offers seasonal produce from local farmers as well as baked goods and handcrafted artisanal items. It’s located at 212 N. Palestine Street and open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Keep up with the latest news at Athens Farmers Market on Facebook.
Pineywoods Autumn Trail
The fall foliage scene starts late in the year here in Texas. If you’re in this area in mid-to-late November, there’s a foliage scenic driving route that’s worth making a note of, especially if you love warm autumn colors. The trail is a 145-mile self-guided route from Athens to Palestine, Texas. Take some time with this, as there are places to stop along the way that might interest you. See the map of the route at Visit Palestine.
Pro Tip: It’s best to call ahead for foliage updates. Call the City of Athens at (903) 675-5131 or Visit Palestine at (800) 659-3484.
New York Texas Zipline Adventures
Whenever I get to mention the New York Texas Zipline Adventures, I do. It’s about a 20-minute drive east on Highway 175 in the small town of LaRue. We’ve been there twice, and both times everyone has been so friendly. The first time we were there, my grandson and I zipped the six-line course. I told him when we go back, we’ll do the nine-line course… and we did. It is so worth zipping the other three lines. There’s this cool handmade ladder from a tree that takes you up to the last zip line, where you end by zipping over a pond. Be prepared to walk up steep rocky hills to each zip line. It’s challenging but doable.
Cedar Creek Reservoir
I get a little teary-eyed when I talk about Cedar Creek Lake. It’s where we had a family lakehouse for 50 years — yes, that long. Our home on the lake became my parent’s retirement home, then it was all my mom’s for the last 5 years. One year ago, she sold the place and now lives close to me. So our time at Cedar Creek is over, and I’ll always remember the good times we had.
Oh, but there’s so much to do here at this man-made lake — camping, boating, marinas, fishing, water sports of all kinds, picnics, swimming. Cedar Creek Reservoir is located close to Athens off State Highway 31 — not near where our lakehouse was, but then again, Cedar Creek Lake is huge.
Best Restaurants In Athens
Good food and the people are what make Athens a great place to spend a perfect day. An All-American place to eat — from hamburgers and shakes, tacos and nachos, coffee and cupcakes, you’ll find a hodgepodge menu to satisfy everyone in this adorable town.
Callaway’s Coffee & Bistro
Well, if you’re going to a town that’s known for creating the first hamburger, why not check out a place that offers the best, right? Callaway’s Coffee & Bistro is one of Athens’s hometown coffee shops that serve up delicious hamburgers with huge crinkle fries on the side. I was told by a local that they had won the best burger contest for 3 years (maybe more) in a row. Enough said.
Athens Boathouse Bar & Grill
Located at the Lake Athens Marina is a place where you can belly up to the bar with nothing on but a swimsuit. For Southern-inspired foods and a friendly and casual atmosphere, the Athens Boathouse Bar & Grill is your place for lunch and dinner and offers a full bar.
The Cherry Laurel
Perhaps a light lunch that consists of a salad and soup of the day, loaded baked potato, or a grilled chicken wrap at The Cherry Laurel will leave room for a delicious dessert or a whole cake to share from their bakery.
You probably have guessed that asking a local about where to eat or shop in Athens is the thing to do. They think their food is the best, and you won’t find nicer people anywhere else. When doing so, don’t be surprised if they talk your ear off! Oh, and if you dare, ask someone that’s been around a while about black-eyed peas. And don’t get anyone started on the hamburger story — you might be there a while!