Fredericksburg is a town of 10,000 inhabitants located just about 75 miles from either San Antonio or Austin. It's noted for a picturesque main street, with old-time storefronts and sidewalk canopies, in the tradition of small-town Texas. It's also known for its German heritage, serving as the center of a large German farming community. These days, the farmers are known for the peaches they grow (available at orchards and roadside stands May-July), and more recently, their vineyards. Fredericksburg is the hub of the Hill Country wineries. See the "Hill Country Wine Trail" box.
The town serves as a weekend escape for city dwellers. It has lots of bed-and-breakfasts and guesthouses, as well as hotels and motels. Many visitors come for the shopping and to relax, and perhaps taste some wine. Others come to explore the surrounding countryside, including nearby Enchanted Rock, the Hill Country's most famous geological feature.
Fredericksburg was founded in 1846, when Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach took 120 settlers in ox-drawn carts from the relative safety of New Braunfels to this site in the wild lands of the frontier. He named the settlement for Prince Frederick of Prussia. Meusebach negotiated a peace treaty with the Comanche in 1847, claiming to be the only one in the United States that was honored. The settlement prospered during the California Gold Rush, as it was the last place travelers could get supplies on the southern route, until the town of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fredericksburg is the seat of Gillespie County.
What to See & Do
In Town -- For a virtual preview, go to www.fredericksburg-texas.com. Once you're in town, the Visitor Information Center, 302 E. Austin St., Fredericksburg, TX 78624 (tel. 888/997-3600 or 830/997-6523), can direct you to the many points of interest in the town's historic district. It's open weekdays 8:30am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to noon and 1 to 5pm, Sunday noon to 4pm.
While walking around town, you're likely to see some very small frame houses (usually having only two rooms). Called Sunday Houses, they were built by German farmers in the 19th century, whose fields were too far from Fredericksburg to allow them to live in town. These simple dwellings were meant to be a humble pied-à-terre for use on market days, Sundays, and holidays. You'll also notice many homes built in the Hill Country version of the German fachwerk design, made out of limestone with diagonal wood supports.
On the town's main square, called Market Square, is an unusual octagonal Vereins Kirche (Society Church). It's actually a replica (built in 1935) of the original 1847 building. The original was the first public building in Fredericksburg. It was built to be a church where both Lutheran and Catholic Germans could hold services, and as such, was a symbol of unity for the early pioneers. It originally stood on Main Street until the 1890s, when it had decayed to the point where it had to be torn down. The replica shows how primitive the original construction had been. Inside is a historical exhibit of the town, which can be viewed in a half-hour. It's open 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, 1 to 4pm Sunday. The Vereins Kirche is operated by the Historical Society, which also maintains the Pioneer Museum Complex, 309 W. Main St. Admission to either museum is valid for the other. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for students 6 to 17 years old, and free for children 5 and under. The Pioneer Museum consists of the 1849 Kammlah House (which was a family residence and general store until the 1920s), as well as the barn and the smokehouse. Later, other historical structures were moved onto the site. These include a one-room schoolhouse and a blacksmith's forge. The complex is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 1 to 5pm. For information on both places and on the other historical structures in town, phone tel. 830/997-2835 or log on to www.pioneermuseum.com.
The 1852 Steamboat Hotel, originally owned by the grandfather of World War II naval hero Chester A. Nimitz, is now part of the National Museum of the Pacific War, 311 E. Austin St. (tel. 830/997-4379; www.nimitz-museum.org), a 9-acre Texas State Historical Park and the world's only museum focusing solely on the Pacific theater. It just keeps expanding and getting better. In addition to the exhibits in the steamboat-shaped hotel devoted to Nimitz and his comrades, there are also the Japanese Garden of Peace, a gift from the people of Japan; the Memorial Wall, the equivalent of the Vietnam wall for Pacific War veterans; the life-size Pacific Combat Zone (2 1/2 blocks east of the museum), which replicates a World War II battle scene; and the George Bush Gallery, where you can see a captured Japanese midget submarine and a multimedia simulation of a bombing raid on Guadalcanal. Indoor exhibits are open daily from 9am to 5pm but are closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Adult admission is $12; seniors, military, and veterans $10; students pay $6; and children 5 and under enter free.
If you're interested in saddles, chaps, spurs, sheriffs' badges, and other cowboy-bilia, visit Gish's Old West Museum, 502 N. Milam St. (tel. 830/997-2794). A successful illustrator for Sears & Roebuck, Joe Gish started buying Western props to help him with his art. After more than 40 years of trading and buying with the best, he has gathered a very impressive collection. Joe opens the museum when he's around (he generally is), but if you don't want to take a chance, phone ahead to make an appointment.
Nearby -- A visit to the Wildseed Farms, 7 miles east on Hwy. 290 (tel. 830/990-1393; www.wildseedfarms.com), will disabuse you of any naive notions you may have had that wildflowers grew wild. At this working wildflower farm, from April through July, beautiful fields of blossoms are harvested for seeds that are sold throughout the world. During the growing season, for $5 you can grab a bucket and pick bluebonnets, poppies, or whatever's blooming when you visit. There are a gift shop and the Brew-Bonnet beer garden, which sells light snacks. Entry to the grounds, open 9:30am to 6pm daily, is free, but you'll have to pay ($4 adults, $3.50 seniors and kids ages 4-12) to visit the latest addition, the Butterfly Haus, featuring pretty flitters native to Texas.
North of town is Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (tel. 325/247-3903; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/enchantd), a 640-acre site with a dome of solid pink granite that was pushed up to the surface by volcanic uplifting. Take FM 965 north for 18 miles. You'll know when you get there. It's a stark sight that shares nothing in common with the surrounding hills. The dome (known geologically as a batholith) is almost 600 feet high. To hike up and down on the trail takes about an hour. The creaking noises that emanate from it at night -- likely caused by the cooling of the rock's outer surface -- led the area's Native American tribes to believe that evil spirits inhabited the rock. The park is open daily 8am to 10pm; day-use entrance fees are $7 adults and free for children 12 and under. Tent sites in the vicinity of the parking lot cost $15 to $17. There are primitive backpack sites 1 to 3 miles away, which cost $10 to $12. Each site can accommodate up to four people. All campers will need to pay the day-use entrance fee, too. Tip: Though the park is fairly large, the parking lot is not, and as soon as it fills, no more visitors are admitted. On weekends, if you get there by 10am, you shouldn't have a problem. When going to Enchanted Rock, I suggest you get an early start, and before you leave town, stop by Hilda's Tortilla Factory to load up on breakfast tacos that you can eat either on the way there or in the parking lot once you've entered the park. Don't worry if you see a line of customers extending out Hilda's door. It moves quickly.
Bats Along a Back Road to Fredericksburg -- If you missed the bats in Austin, you've got a second chance to see some in an abandoned railroad tunnel supervised by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. From Comfort, take Hwy. 473 N. for 5 miles. When the road winds to the right toward Sisterdale, keep going straight on Old Hwy. 9. After another 8 or 9 miles, you'll spot a parking lot and a mound of large rocks on top of a hill. During the season (May-Oct), you can watch as many as three million Mexican free-tailed bats set off on a food foray around dusk. There's no charge to witness the phenomenon from the Upper Viewing Area, near the parking lot; it's open daily. If you want a closer view and an educational presentation lasting about 30 minutes to an hour, come to the Lower Viewing Area, open from Thursday through Sunday ($5 adults, $3 seniors, $2 children 6-16). There are 60 seats, filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area (tel. 830/990-2659; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/wma) to find out when its occupants are likely to flee the bat cave, as well as other information.
Even if you don't stop for the bats, this is a wonderfully scenic route to Fredericksburg. You won't see any road signs, but have faith -- this really will take you to town, eventually. You're likely to spot grazing goats and cows and even some strutting ostriches.
Going Back (in Time) to Luckenbach -- About 11 miles southeast of Fredericksburg on R.R. 1376, but light-years away in spirit, the town of Luckenbach (pop. 25) was immortalized in song by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. The town pretty much consists of a dance hall and a post office/general store/bar. But it's a very mellow place to hang out. Someone's almost always strumming a guitar, and on weekend afternoons and evenings, Jerry Jeff Walker or Robert Earl Keen might be among the names who turn up at the dance hall. Tying the knot? You can rent the dance hall -- or even the entire town. Call tel. 830/997-3224 for details. And to get a feel for the town, log on to www.luckenbachtexas.com.
Whenever you visit, lots of beer is likely to be involved, so consider staying at the Full Moon Inn, 3234 Luckenbach Rd., Fredericksburg, TX 78624 (tel. 800/997-1124 or 830/997-2205; www.luckenbachtx.com), just half a mile from the action on a rise overlooking the countryside. The best of the accommodations, which range in price from $125 to $200, is the 1800s log cabin, large enough to sleep four.
In town, there are more than 100 specialty shops, many of them in mid-19th-century houses, which feature work by Hill Country artisans. You'll find candles, lace coverlets, cuckoo clocks, hand-woven rugs, even dulcimers. At Homestead, 230 E. Main St. (tel. 830/997-5551; www.homesteadstores.com), a fashionable, three-story home furnishings emporium, European rural retro (chain-distressed wrought-iron beds from France, for example) meets contemporary natural fabrics. Dog owners can pamper their pets at Dogologie, 148-B W. Main St. (tel. 830/997-5855; www.dogologie.com), carrying everything the fashionable canine might need. For something less effete, check out Texas Jack's, 117 N. Adams St. (tel. 830/997-3213; www.texasjacks.com), which has outfitted actors for Western films and TV shows, including Lonesome Dove, Tombstone, and Gunsmoke. This is the place to stock up on red long johns. Chocolat, 251 W. Main St. (tel. 800/842-3382 or 830/990-9382; www.liquidchocolates.com), is like no other chocolate shop you've visited. The owner, Lecia Duke, is an architect by training but later found out that she got more satisfaction working with chocolate. She has mastered an old-world technique for encasing any alcohol in chocolate by manipulating the sugar in the liquor to form a thin cocoon around the liquid. This method is practiced nowhere else in the U.S. and by only a handful of small chocolate makers in Europe. In her store, you'll find a wide variety of chocolates, with and without spirits.
Becoming increasingly well-known via its mail-order business is the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, 405 Whitney St. (tel. 800/259-HERB [259-4372] or 830/997-8615; www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com), just a bit south of town. You can visit the flower beds that produce salad dressings, teas, fragrances, and air fresheners (including lavender, one of the area's major crops these days), and then sample some of them in the on-site restaurant (lunch only; moderate), B&B, and day spa. The herb farm is building 14 guest cottages modeled on the traditional Fredericksburg Sunday houses. At press time, 6 of the 14 cottages were open, the remainder expected to open by midsummer 2011. The newly opened state-of-the-art spa, with eight treatment rooms, makes use of the lotions and gels made on the farm.
Where to Stay
Fredericksburg is well known for having more than 300 bed-and-breakfasts and gastehauses (guest cottages). If you choose one of the latter, you can spend the night in anything from an 1865 homestead with its own wishing well to a bedroom above an old bakery or a limestone Sunday House. Most gastehauses are romantic havens complete with robes, fireplaces, and even spas. And, unlike the typical B&B, these places ensure privacy because either breakfast is provided the night before -- the perishables are left in a refrigerator -- or guests are given coupons to enjoy breakfast at a local restaurant. Gastehauses run anywhere from $120 to $200. Most visitors reserve lodgings through one of the main booking services: First Class Bed & Breakfast Reservation Service, 909 E. Main (tel. 888/991-6749 or 830/997-0443; www.fredericksburg-lodging.com); Gästehaus Schmidt, 231 W. Main St. (tel. 866/427-8374 or 830/997-5612; www.fbglodging.com); Absolute Charm, 709 W. Main St. (tel. 866/244-7897 or 830/997-2749; www.absolutecharm.com); and Main Street B&B Reservation Service, 337 E. Main (tel. 888/559-8555 or 830/997-0153; www.travelmainstreet.com). Specializing in the more familiar type of B&B is Fredericksburg Traditional Bed & Breakfast Inns (tel. 800/494-4678; www.fredericksburgtrad.com).
For something less traditional, consider the Roadrunner Inn (tel. 830/997-1844; www.theroadrunnerinn.com), a modern B&B at 306 E. Main St., above a boutique. It has very large, uncluttered rooms furnished with a mix of mod and industrial. Rates start at $130.
If you would rather stay in a hotel, the Hangar Hotel, 155 Airport Rd., Fredericksburg, TX 78624 (tel. 830/997-9990; www.hangarhotel.com), has large, comfortable rooms. It banks on nostalgia for the World War II flyboy era. Located at the town's tiny private airport, as its name suggests, this hotel hearkens back to the 1940s with its clean-lined art moderne-style rooms, as well as an officer's club (democratically open to all) and retro diner. The re-creation isn't taken too far: Rooms have all the mod-cons. Rates -- which include one $5 "food ration," good at the diner, per night -- run from $120 on weekdays to $170 on weekends. For bargain rates, the old Frederick Motel (tel. 800/996-6050; www.frederick-motel.com), at 1308 E. Main St., offers rates from $40 to $100 and, on weekends, includes full breakfast.
Where to Dine
Fredericksburg's dining scene is diverse, catering to the traditional and the trendy alike. For breakfast or lunch, a jewel of a place is Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe, 249 E. Main St. (tel. 830/990-0498). Rebecca Rather, the owner, is a noted cookbook author, who makes everything from scratch using the freshest ingredients, including homegrown herbs and vegetables. The bakery is open Monday through Saturday until 5pm, but the cafe stops serving lunch at 2pm. For breakfast takeout, you should try Hilda's Tortilla Factory (tel. 830/997-6105) at 149 Tivydale Rd. (at S. Adams St.). This place serves good tacos on fresh-made flour tortillas. "El Especial" has poblano, eggs, beans, bacon, and tomatoes. Be sure to ask for a couple of packs of green sauce.
If you don't mind driving 10 miles, a great place to go for dinner (or for lunch on the weekend) is the Hill Top Café (tel. 830/997-8922; www.hilltopcafe.com), right on Hwy. 87 to Mason. This was an old country gas station that was converted into a restaurant by John and Brenda Nichols. John used to be a member of a legendary Austin band, Asleep at the Wheel. He usually plays music on Friday and Saturday evenings. Brenda runs the kitchen, and the food is well-prepared -- American with a smattering of Greek and Cajun dishes. Reservations are highly recommended.
If you've come to Fredericksburg for German food, you can try Altdorf Biergarten, 301 W. Main St. (tel. 830/997-7865), open Wednesday to Monday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch; and Friedhelm's Bavarian Inn, 905 W. Main St. (tel. 830/997-6300), open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, both featuring moderately priced, hearty schnitzels, dumplings, and sauerbraten, and large selections of German beer.
Also on Main, the Fredericksburg Brewing Co., 245 E. Main St. (tel. 830/997-1646), offers typical pub food with a few lighter selections. The beer is quite good. Try the Pioneer Porter or the Peace Pipe Pale Ale, both of which have won awards. It's open daily for lunch and dinner; prices are moderate.
Local foodies like to roost in the Nest, 607 S. Washington St. (tel. 830/990-8383; www.thenestrestaurant.com), which features New American cuisine in a lovely old house Thursday through Monday evenings; meals are expensive. Equally popular and a bit more cutting edge, the contemporary-chic Navajo Grill, 803 E. Main St. (tel. 830/990-8289; www.navajogrill.com), offers food inspired by New Orleans, the Southwest, and occasionally the Caribbean. It's open nightly for dinner and on Sunday for brunch, and meals are expensive.
Another popular dinner spot is the Cabernet Grill, 2805 Hwy. 16 S. (tel. 830/990-5734), which focuses on Texas wines and local produce from area ranches and farms, such as quail and striped bass. Dinner is served Monday through Saturday. Entrees range from moderate to expensive. During the week, it offers a lunch buffet that runs $10. Attached to the restaurant is Cotton Gin Village (tel. 830/990-5734; www.cottenginvillage.com), a collection of rustic cabins with eight large and comfortable rooms that have all the modern conveniences. These generally run between $150 and $200 a night.
Yes, Fredericksburg's got nightlife, or at least what passes for it in the Hill Country. Some of the live music action takes place a bit outside of the center of town. On Fridays and Saturdays at the Hill Top Café, John Nichols jams with friends starting at about 7pm. Luckenbach also hosts lots of good bands.
And lately, Fredericksburg's main (and side) streets have also come alive with the sound of music -- everything from rockabilly and jazz to oompah -- especially from Thursday through Saturday nights. An offshoot of the Luckenbach Dancehall, Hondo's on Main, 312 W. Main St. (tel. 830/997-1633), also tends to feature Texas roots bands. Check with the Visitor Information Center for a complete weekly listing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.