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One Tank Trip: Athens offers points of interest for both young and old

By Jo Lee Ferguson
Feb. 23, 2017 at 2:24 p.m.
Updated March 8, 2017 at 4:47 p.m.


Some of my very favorite childhood memories are set in Athens, where I attended church camp at Disciples Crossing on the eastern edge of town. I remember rumbling through town in our church bus, gazing out the window at the enormous trees and the grand homes on large plots of land.

I’m working on new memories of Athens for my own children these days. My twins are 7 years old and are very serious fishermen. While seeking out the best East Texas fishing holes, we discovered the fabulous Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. Curious about what else Athens had to offer, I took myself on a self-guided tour and found lots of wonderful surprises – Athens is definitely worth a visit!

TO EAT

If you arrive in time for breakfast, stop by Cherry Laurel Bakery, Cafe and Catering for a pastry. The case is full of tempting treats, including their famous butterum cake, for breakfast and beyond. The Cherry Laurel serves a wide variety of soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch as well.

For lunch I popped in to the Railway Café just off the downtown square. The décor is chic – it truly looks like a trendy Dallas eatery. The friendly staff guided me through the daily specials; I settled on a salad, which included a scrumptiously seasoned grilled chicken breast. Simple, I know, but isn’t it amazing how often those chicken breasts can be overcooked? Mine was perfect; the salad was an act of justification for the best part of my meal – the dessert special, which consisted of a mug of vanilla bean ice cream topped with a warm, house-made chocolate chip cookie. A woman at the table next to me requested I tell her the dessert was terrible so that she would not be tempted to order dessert herself. I lied and told her she would hate it … as I polished off every last morsel.

For an afternoon treat, the Soda Shoppe at Gibson Pharmacy serves up a fantastic selection of old favorites from malts and milkshakes to Rickey’s, egg creams and phosphates that are splashed with a “secret potion.” In addition to soda counter favorites, there is a wide variety of candies to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Athens is home to a budding wine industry. The oldest of the three local wineries is Tara Vineyard & Winery just 7 miles northwest of downtown. The vineyard produces an impressive number of wines that can be sampled in the tasting room and enjoyed on their scenic patio Wednesday through Sunday. Be sure to make advance reservations for dinner at the on-site Cellar Door Restaurant. If wine isn’t your thing, the proprietors of the vineyard also brew beer at Athens Brewing Co. downtown. If the weather is nice, the outdoor alley is equipped with cushy furniture and string lights overhead – a perfect spot to sip one of 10 craft beers on tap.

TO DO

I was originally drawn back to Athens because of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, which is truly a first-class facility. The welcome center is enormous with exhibits on par with some of the best natural history museums in the country. Three hundred thousand gallons of aquaria feature fish native to Texas in a natural setting. Tours of the state-of-the-art production hatchery are conducted from the comfort of covered trams. The facility includes an accessible wetlands trail and the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. The best part, however, is the stocked fishing pond; the admission fee includes fishing poles, bait and instruction – everyone in my family had a blast hauling in rainbow trout and channel catfish.

The East Texas Arboretum is worthy of a visit as well. The lovely grounds include gardens as well as restored historic structures. Wofford House is the oldest home in Henderson County. Erected in 1851, it has been restored and fully furnished, and the grounds surrounding the house include really cool culinary as well as medical gardens. The Sant Miller Barn also sits on the grounds of the arboretum and features antique barn implements.

The north side of downtown Athens is home to a budding artist community. The Charlie Bullock Art Studio & School and the 211 Gallery are within a few steps of one another. The latter features regional fine art and throws a party that is free and open to the public to celebrate new exhibit openings; check their website for a calendar of events.

TO STAY

Tara Vineyard & Winery offers overnight accommodations in the stately mansion at the front of the property. Black and white striped awnings adorn the windows of the inn, which is home to four luxe suites.

Back in town, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites offers comfortable accommodations and includes breakfast.

TO EAT

Cherry Laurel Bakery, Cafe and Catering

Railway Café

Soda Shoppe at Gibson Pharmacy

Tara Vineyard & Winery

  • 8603 CR 3914
  • 903.675.7023

Cellar Door Restaurant

Athens Brewing Co.

TO STAY

Tara Vineyard & Winery Inn

Holiday Inn Express & Suites

  • 1119 E. Tyler St.
  • 903.675.2500

TO DO

Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center

East Texas Arboretum

  • $4 Adults, $3 Students & Seniors, $1 Children 3+, Under 3 Free
  • 1601 Patterson Road
  • Open daily from daylight to dusk
  • 903.675.5630
  • www.easttexasarboretum.org

Charlie Bullock Art Studio & School

211 Gallery

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