Located 80 miles west of Austin, Fredericksburg has history to explore plus dazzling wildflowers, winning wineries, international cuisine, and a few quirky delights.
7-May-21 – Back in 1846, the first group of 120 German settlers arrived in what would become Fredericksburg, Texas, to build new lives. A land grant gave each family ten outlying acres and a small in-town lot. Their farms and ranches were too far away to make quick trips to town to shop, sell goods, and attend church services, so the newcomers built simple log or stone cottages there as weekend lodging.
By the 1920s, automotive travel was mainstream, and the need for Sunday Houses waned. Many were torn down to make way for year-round homes. Those that remain are highly prized and meticulously preserved. Some are converted into darling vacation rentals with modern-day amenities and comforts.
Located on the site of an early settler’s farmstead and home, the Farm is an enclave of 14 guest cottages, fine dining restaurant, spa, and gift shop set amid a tranquil garden setting. That’s where we anchored our visit to the German-Texas city in verdant Hill Country 80 miles west of Austin.
There’s much more history to explore plus dazzling wildflowers, winning wineries, international cuisine, and a few quirky delights. Here are some recommendations for your itinerary:
Fredericksburg’s Pioneer Museum is a collection of original structures preserved from the German pioneer days. Among them are a log cabin, school, bathhouse, barn, smokehouse, and a furnished circa 1904 Sunday House. The white octagonal-shaped Vereins Kirche (“society church”) in the Marktplatz public park, rebuilt in 1935, displays permanent and special exhibits relating to Texas history.
A working farm and home from the early 1900s is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, part of the Lyndon B. Johnson State and National Historical Parks. Staffers in period clothing milk the cows, gather eggs, tend the garden, prepare meals, give tours, and perform other chores without electricity or running water.
Nearby are the LBJ Ranch, Texas “White House,” and Johnson family cemetery, where both 36th President Lyndon and his adored wife, Lady Bird, rest in peace.
The National Museum of the Pacific War is an elite military museum dedicated exclusively to the history of the WWII Pacific Theater – from early tensions to Japanese surrender. Special recognition is given to Fredericksburg native son Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in the Pacific Ocean Area. At the height of the war, he commanded more than two million men and women. Among the acres of educational attractions is a two-man Japanese submarine that participated in the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Re-enactments are staged several times a year on an outdoor simulation battlefield.
Luckenbach plays on
Established as a trading post in 1849, Luckenbach morphed into a world-famous watering hole and country music venue with a cult following. The backwoods hamlet came into worldwide prominence with the 1977 country hit, Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love), recorded by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Today you can hear live music most any time, whether scheduled performances or free-wheeling pickers beneath the ancient oak trees. Check the calendar for fun and sometimes wacky family-friendly events.
Be sure to check out the ramshackle general store, which used to double as a post office, stuffed to the rafters with memorabilia, souvenirs, and junque. Also on the grounds are a dance hall, bar, food truck, and meandering chickens.
Thanks in large part to the highway beautification efforts of Lady Bird, wildflowers of every hue blanket Texas fields and roadsides much of the year. None is more bedazzling or beloved than the official state flower, the bluebonnet, which blooms abundantly in the spring.
Re-charge at the Brewbonnet Biergarten with tasty sandwich fare and perhaps a glass of Wildseed Vineyards Trebbiano wine. The peach ice cream, made from locally grown peaches, gets raves. Then shop the Blossoms Boutique for fashionable home and patio decor and, of course, seeds. The boutique carries regional wildflower mixes for wherever you live.
A toast to Texas
Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation, and the Hill Country growing area is the largest in Texas. More than 50 wineries and tasting rooms – many of them national and regional award-winners – are located in and around Fredericksburg. Stay in town, or venture along the 30-mile Wine Road 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City.
The Texas Wine Collective, formerly known as 4.0 Cellars, is a collaboration of three prominent family-owned wineries under one roof: Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery, and McPherson Cellars. Walk up to the bar in the contemporary-styled tasting room and retail store or book a signature event in a private lounge. I highly recommend the Texas Cheese and Wine Experience, which pairs artisan cheese with complementary Collective wines.
For libations of a spirited sort, Elk Store 1895 Winery and Distillery is a premium craft distillery and international wine bar in a former general store that may or may not have participated in bootlegging during the Prohibition era. The current owners produce perfectly legal moonshine, gin, rum, and whiskey in an onsite copper still. Shine is a popular house moonshine distilled seven times from pure cane sugar to assure a smooth finish. Charter is Shine that has been aged in oak. It looks and tastes like whiskey, but it isn’t made from grain. Buy a signature cocktail or a bottle to take back to your Sunday House guestroom. Also on the menu are small bites and 200 wines from Texas and around the world.
A taste of Texas
Pack a big appetite because you’ll need it. Authentic German cuisine is just the beginning of menu offerings in Fredericksburg. Hill Country is deeply rooted in agriculture and ranching, so farm-to-table is the way of the land and kitchen. That, and the many inspired chefs who honor those resources by creating tantalizing fare, and lots of it.
Der Lindenbaum (“the linden tree”) is a top-rated German restaurant and biergarten in a historic limestone building that looks as though it was shipped from the Black Forest. Schnitzel, pfeffersteak, bratwurst, apple strudel, 30 German beers, and more are served by staff attired in folk costume.
Tubby’s Ice House (above) is a festive taco joint drizzled in Caribbean flair. It’s also a certified monarch butterfly waystation on their migration route. The jerk chicken and pan con leche will draw you in, while the house specialty, Frosé, a rosé wine slushie, insures your return.
El Gallo Mexican Restaurant is a long-timer in these parts – a family-run operation in its third generation. The chicken enchiladas are in high demand as are the homemade fruit and cream pies. Alcohol isn’t served, but Mexican Coke is.
As you’d imagine, an eatery named Burger Burger will hand you a hefty hamburger loaded with trimmings. Less expected are the freshly baked buns, housemade pickles, and hand-cut white or sweet potato fries. The Awesome Guacamole is mixed with bacon and roasted pineapple. Ask for a table on the covered patio out front. It’s an optimal spot for people-watching along Main Street.
Main Street bustles with dozens of specialty shops and boutiques purveying distinctive apparel and accessories, home goods, fine art, jewelry, antiques, and sweet treats. Much of downtown is a designated National Historic District, so chain stores and mass merchandisers are verboten. What you’ll notice is that Main Street is exceptionally wide. It was built that way to give oxen carts enough clearance to turn around.
Black Chalk Home and Laundry is an enchanting home decor and gift boutique. The “laundry” part comes in because the store is housed in a former commercial laundry. In the front yard is a mammoth mangle, a sheet press machine from 1879.
LinensNMore carries the largest in-store selection of luxury bed, bath, and kitchen textiles in the state.
L.M. Easterling will fit you for custom-made Western-style boots in a diverse palette of colors and hides. The client roster includes entertainers, athletes, and celebrities.
The retail emporium and tasting room for family-owned Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods offers more than 150 gourmet products and a complement of luxe kitchenwares. Lining the shelves are creative foodstuffs such as Mango Ginger Habanero Sauce, Amaretto Peach Pecan Preserves, and a host of Texas wines including Fischer & Weiser whites and reds. (They’ll provide you with recipes, too.)
A second retail outlet and tasting room, Fischer & Wieser on Main, is located downtown on Main Street.
Fun Fact: Peaches are the leading deciduous fruit crop in Texas, and roughly one-third of the state’s peaches come from Gillespie County, home to Fredericksburg and nearby Stonewall.
More information: Fredericksburg TX / Texas Hill Country
Photos by Pamela Dittmer McKuen