HATS OFF TO FREDERICKSBURG: A town with a Texas heart and German soul
There’s wine in them thar hills. At least, there is in Fredericksburg, Texas, which surely ranks as the Lone Star State’s most unique destination, not least for its unexpected, thriving, and award-winning wine scene. But there’s also the town’s German heritage, dating back to its founding in 1846 by German settlers, and post-card perfect Texas appeal, prompting the town’s motto: “Texas heart, German soul.”
A “neat and tidy town” of about 10,000 inhabitants, located in central Texas Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio (about an hour’s drive from each; and four from Dallas or Houston), Fredericksburg boasts a walkable 10-block straight-as-an-arrow main street/historic district that has been called “America’s most beautiful,” boasting over 150 shops, 25 live music venues, and 80 restaurants, bakeries, and bistros.
Visitors can equally boot up or find a cowboy hat, settle in for margaritas and live country music in the courtyard at Hondo’s; eat (and shop for antiques if they like) at Woerner Warehouse, a former feed market; check out an old-time candy store or Rustlin’ Robs for local jams, jellies, sauces, etc.; or marvel at intricate quilts in window displays that beckon passersby inside.
“A lot of people haven’t heard of us, but we’re quintessential small-town America,” says Karyn Mayo, director of strategic alliances for the Fredericksburg CVB. “Don’t let the German veneer fool you, we’re a Texas town.”
Sean Doerre, the CVB communications and digital content manager adds, “Fredericksburg is a small town with wide open space and aspects that you can’t find elsewhere in Texas. (The town) does a good job of being Texas.”
At the same time, the town’s German heritage is never far from the surface, and visitors can easily pivot into a world of schnitzel and German-style beer at various restaurants and beer gardens.
And, uniquely, there are several Main Street outlets for local wineries, offering samples and the opportunities to buy bottles without venturing out of town to the vineyards.
The central Marktplatz (Market Square) offers some respite for shoppers, and is also home to the Fredericksburg Farmers Market, held Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. from May to August, while the main street is significantly bookended by two significant cultural attractions:
• The Smithsonian-affiliated National Museum of the Pacific War, dedicated to those who served in the Pacific during World War II, also pays homage to hometown son, Navy Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The 2.5-hectare museum grounds include the George H.W. Bush Gallery, the Japanese Garden of Peace, the Memorial Courtyard, and the Plaza of the Presidents. Just down the street is the Pacific Combat Zone, which and hosts living history demonstrations eight times each year.
• The Pioneer Museum, owned by the Gillespie County Historical Society, provides a glimpse of early life in Fredericksburg through historic homes, a log cabin, an authentic Sunday House, a one-room schoolhouse and more. In addition, the Pioneer Museum hosts living history demonstrations throughout the year giving visitors a first-hand look at the early German traditions in Fredericksburg.
Indeed, the town boasts more than 700 historically significant structures, including the Vereins Kirche, Fredericksburg’s most iconic structure and a well-known landmark of the city, which originally served as Fredericksburg’s school, church, community hall, and even its fort. One of Fredericksburg’s signature historic features are the Sunday Houses – smalls homes built by German settlers. Typically, families would live in rural areas, but use their Sunday Houses when they came into town to get supplies, conduct business, and attend church.
In addition to historic attractions, Fredericksburg brims with activity from more than 400 special events, concerts and festivals held annually, including Oktoberfest, live music at Luckenbach, Fourth of July Parade, summer horse racing, the Hill Country Food Truck Festival, Stonewall Peach JAMboree, Lavender Festival, Gillespie County Fair every August, and the third Saturday of every month, Fredericksburg Trade Days features more than 400 vendors in seven barns and oodles of opportunities for shopping, along with great eats and live music.
Altogether, that Texas charm, plus its other unique attributes, makes Fredericksburg a popular stop on the state’s tour bus circuit, which is served by over 1,100 hotel and motel rooms, more than 1,500 bed and breakfasts/guesthouses, and several RV parks and campsites.
Beyond the city limits
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area: The second largest granite dome in the United States and a designated International Dark Sky Park, is located just outside of town. Locals and visitors venture out for yoga at sunrise on the smooth, pink granite rock, or to hike on several kilometres of trails, rock climb, birdwatch, or simply to take in the sweeping 360-degree-view of the Texas Hill Country from the top of the Summit Trail. (Day passes for the park are required and available online).
Mayo, one of those with yen for yoga, says of the setting, “After a night on the town (ed. note: or belting out Journey songs at a karaoke session in the Velvet Lounge), there’s ‘church’ in the morning!” The state park, she adds, is a perfect illustration of the region’s topography, which is “so different from the rest of the state.” Moreover, the elevation of Hill Country, and distance from the coast, can curb the excessive heat and humidity that characterizes much of Texas.
Peaches: Gillespie County is also one of the top peach-producing counties in Texas, and from mid-May through early August the region is filled with roadside stands selling peaches and other seasonal produce.
Wildflowers: Fredericksburg is also home to Wildseed Farms, the largest working wildflower farm in the United States and a destination of many wildflower enthusiasts. Famed for its wildflowers, Texas Hill Country typically bursts into bloom in February, with more than 5,000 varieties colouring the landscape through October (peak months April-May).
The epicentre of the state’s wine region and an integral stop on the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, Fredericksburg is home to more than 55 wineries/vineyards, notable among them Fall Creek, Becker, and Grape Creek vineyards. The experience at many includes tours, tastings, and dining facilities, and is not unlike those at other established wine destinations, from Niagara to Napa.
Local wine tour companies offer half- and full-day and custom wine tour options, while the 290 Wine Shuttle offers Friday and Saturday shuttle service along the Fredericksburg Wine Road (Hwy. 290) with a day pass priced at $39.99 and pickups at 16 wineries every 10 minutes.
And, as previously mentioned, some wineries have outlets and tasting rooms in town on Main Street.
Howard Herman of Lindsay, Ont.-based DeNure Tours, who visited Fredericksburg recently, told Travel Industry Today that the destination’s wine culture took him entirely by surprise.
“They have really good wine here,” he offered. “You’d never think you’d come to Texas to find really good wine.”
Not to be outdone, and befitting the town’s German heritage, beer is big in Fredericksburg. The Fredericksburg Brewing Company is located downtown and is described as the “oldest and most acclaimed brewpub in Texas.”
Meanwhile, Altstadt Brewery, which opened in 2018, is an authentic Bavarian brewery dedicated to creating the pure, easy-drinking beers guided by the historic German purity law of 1516. Then there’s “Luckenbach Texas,” a live music-outdoor bar venue just outside of town made famous by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Stay tuned for an upcoming “Pubs, Patios and Bars” column (published biweekly on Fridays) for a deeper dive on these mouth-watering venues.
First published at Travel Industry Today