History, Food, Wine and Outdoor Sports in Texas Hill Country
In the surprisingly cool green hills of Central Texas, Fredericksburg has become the getaway spot for escapees from Austin, San Antonio and much farther afield.
In this quiet little town the quality of life is so exceptional that actresses Madeline Stowe and Sandra Bullock have called it home, and it is often thought of as the unofficial capital of Texas Hill Country.
With hiking/mountain biking trails and fly-fishing streams minutes from downtown, nearly two-dozen wineries in the surrounding countryside, and plenty of places to stay, eat, drink, shop, exercise, and generally blow the dust off of your life, the decision to visit is made even easier when you realize that you can get there in under an hour from both San Antonio and Austin.
The sound of oompah, polka and energetic waltzes that fill the air in Fredericksburg, Texas are as authentic as any in the Olde World Bavarian countries. Colorful costumes, rich beer and fluent German fill the night air during many celebrations throughout the year, but Oktoberfest focuses a spotlight on the German heritage of this Hill Country community. The event, which benefits to local arts alliance, is always the first full weekend of October.
A year-round symbol of the city’s German heritage is the maibaum, more commonly known as a maypole, in the Marketplatz. Maibaums are common throughout Bavarian communities, symbolizing the heritage and culture unique to the community. In Fredericksburg, visitors will note images reflecting the long lasting peace treaty between the German settlers and the Comanche tribes. There are also images of peaches, a predominant crop in Gillespie County, along with cowboys and cattle.
Shopping in Fredericksburg
Downtown Fredericksburg is ten blocks of restored buildings linked together by covered boardwalks and sidewalks. The preponderance of fine craft and art galleries leads many to compare Fredericksburg to Santa Fe, but prices and customer service are more reflective of small town, Texas hospitality. A number of nationally known interior designers feature the work of Texas-based and nationally known artists of many mediums.
Locally produced food items are also a “find” for shoppers to Fredericksburg. Jellies and jams, salsas, smoked meats, sausages, coffees, European-style chocolates and much more are offered around town. Wine tasting rooms on Main Street and wineries around the county provide visitors with the opportunity to take home some fine wine from the Texas Hill Country.
The best of food and gifts is combined in a wonderful old German limestone home where the Pedegron family operates the Peach Tree Gift Gallery and Tea Room. Each day the menu is a combination of regional favorites, like Black Bean Pizza or strawberry crepes for dessert.
Fredericksburg is home base for the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail that leads to more than 24 regional wineries. Throughout the year, these destinations offer barrel tastings, grape stomps, food pairings, art shows, live music and more.
Where to Stay in Fredericksburg
Early German settlers who lived and worked on ranches surrounding Fredericksburg often had small second homes or “Sunday Houses” in town where the family would stay when coming in for social outings on Saturdays and worship services on Sundays. Some of these now operate as bed and breakfast inns. Other B&Bs range from luxury to rugged to Olde World to contemporary. With more than 300 B&Bs operating in Gillespie County, the choices are both creative and intriguing.
More than 700 historically significant structures create Fredericksburg’s national historic district. Seasonal homes tours offer a peak into many of the structures that are now privately owned.
Among the fascinating historical sites are the Pioneer Museum Complex, George Bush Gallery of the National Museum of the Pacific War, Enchanted Rock, and LBJ Ranch.
The Hills Are Alive
When people think of wine country, it’s rarely riddled with cattle guards and mesquite. But Texas Hill Country proves that we can have it all. In fact, more than a few of the nearly two-dozen vineyards and wineries in the Fredericksburg region are well on their way to national acclaim. Bottles from Texas Hill Country vineyards are feature items in cellars statewide and increasingly throughout the country. The relatively cool, moist air and long growing season has helped vintners to develop a surprising range of grapes.
And while the summers do get hot, Hill Country enjoys daytime temperatures significantly lower than you’d expect in Texas and evenings that are high desert cool. These fair temperatures combined with the gentle Texas hills make this the perfect spot not just for vintners, but also for anyone wanting to spend their free time outdoors.
The gentle rolling hills make for easy to moderate hiking and biking on a wide variety of trails. However, it’s advisable to get a trail guide, or ask for directions to avoid wandering onto private property. Luckily, the crème de la crème of trails is located on public land. For something a bit more strenuous than just rolling hills nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area offers hikers a 6/10-mile trail to the top of the second largest granite dome in North America.
With numerous rivers, creeks and streams within 30 miles of Fredericksburg, guided and unguided rafting, paddling, and fly-fishing trips abound. In this adventure-rich atmosphere, knowledgeable guides include both life-long local fisherman and retired National Geographic photographers. Your one stop shop for guides and gear is Hill Country Outfitters on Main Street in Fredericksburg.
Food and Wine
With nearly 60 restaurants in town and wineries scattered across the hills around town, Fredericksburg makes it easy to slake your thirst and restock your energy after a day in the wilds of Hill Country.
Locals love Rather Sweet for either a great breakfast or a sweet tooth fix. Inspired by her knowledge of fresh regional ingredients, and her ability to whip tried-and-true Texas into something truly unique, cookbook author Rebecca Rather opened this courtyard eatery offering sweets, savories, and positively sublime bacon-cheddar scones.
With live music on Friday & Saturday nights, wi-fi, and bordello decor, Lincoln Street Wine Market has elevated coffeehouse casual to a level that includes terrific food and adult beverages. The 400-item wine list is not just for show. Everything is available by the bottle or by the glass.
At the heart of Fredericksburg lies a genuine sense of living well, and living at peace with the world. You feel it in the Garden of Peace, on the trails around town, in the tasting rooms, and in the friendly greetings you get outside the brewpubs and restaurants on Main Street. It’s a way of life here.
The Nimitz Museum, named after Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, is located in a former hotel owned by his family. The white three-story frame structure welcomes visitors at the intersection of U.S. 87 and Main Street.
Visitors can buy tickets here for the entire complex, which includes numerous huge WWII weapons, 19th Century artifacts from the Nimitz Hotel, hundreds of plaques honoring individual WWII veterans and monuments to 10 presidents associated with WWII. Tickets are $7 for adults, less for WWII vets, seniors and students.
Main Street, or Hauptstrasse as the Germans call it, features about 10 blocks of shops, restaurants, museums, antiques, book stores, art galleries, bakeries, beer gardens, city hall, the volunteer fire department, the town maypole, the 156-year-old Zion Lutheran Church and even a winery. It’s a great walk up one side of the street and back the opposite side. Numerous sidewalk benches provide resting spots along the way.
Visit the Vereins Kirche
Along the way, tourists can visit the octagon-shaped Vereins Kirche (German for community church) Museum in the Marktplatz. It was built in 1935 as a replacement for an 1847 community church. The Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post Newspaper says the Vereins Kirche served as a church, fort, storehouse, meeting hall, library and office before becoming one of the city’s local history museums. It is believed to be the most photographed building in the city.
There’s even more local history at the Pioneer Museum, three-and-a-half acres of old buildings recalling life in Fredericksburg back to 1846.
Near the western end of Main Street are several black buggies sitting in front of the Amish Market, which offers handmade furniture and food items ranging from cedar chests to jams and jellies.
Herb Farm Offers Gourmet Food
There are numerous opportunities to enjoy German food (schnitzel, sausages, cobbler, etc,), locally brewed beer and wine, as well as Texas smoked barbecue, in Fredericksburg. A few blocks off Main Street is the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, a combination nursery, spa, bed-and-breakfast, and restaurant, which specializes in gourmet foods and wines served in a garden atmosphere.