A picturesque town of 10,000, about equidistant (75 miles) from San Antonio and Austin, Fredericksburg attracts visitors from both cities on weekends and holidays—with good reason. It’s in a pretty rural setting, it’s got lots of distinctive shops and lodgings, and it’s the hub of Texas Wine Country. It’s also known for the peaches grown at the nearby orchards (the season runs May–Aug), and for the sweet products made from them.
Named for Prince Frederick of Prussia, 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. Meusebach negotiated a peace treaty with the Comanches in 1847—the only one in the United States that was never broken, it is claimed. The settlement prospered during the California Gold Rush, as this was the last place travelers could get supplies on the southern route until they reached Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fredericksburg is now the seat of Gillespie County.
Bats Along a Back Road to Fredericksburg
It sounds like something out of a horror flick: millions of bats streaming out of an abandoned tunnel on a Texas back road. But this phenomenon, which you can view under the supervision of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is fascinating—and not at all scary. 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), around dusk you can watch as many as three million Mexican free-tailed bats set off on a food foray. 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 per person ages 4 and up, cash or check only). Children younger than 4 are not permitted in the Lower Viewing Area. There are 70 seats, filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area (www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/old-tunnel/bat-viewing; tel. 866/978-2287 [recorded information]) to find out when its occupants are likely to flee the bat cave.
It’s hard to find a better resource for sightseeing, dining, and lodging information than Fredericksburg’s spacious and modern Visitor Information Center, 302 E. Austin St., (www.visitfredericksburgtx.com; tel. 888/997-3600 or 830/997-6523), open weekdays 8:30am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday 11am to 3pm.
On a self-guided walking tour of the historic district, points of interest include a number of little Sunday Houses, built by German farmers in distant rural areas as a place to stay overnight when they came to town to trade or to attend church. 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, Marketplatz, the unusual octagonal Vereins Kirche (Society Church) was built in 1847 as a house of worship for both Lutheran and Catholic Germans. It later became a town hall, school, and storehouse. Inside the church (a 1935 replica of the original) there’s a historical exhibit of the town, which can be viewed in a half-hour. (Admission by donation.) The Gillespie County Historical Society, which operates Vereins Kirche, also maintains the Pioneer Museum, 325 W. Main St. (www.pioneermuseum.net; tel. 830/990-8441). The complex is based around the 1849 Kammlah House, a family residence and general store until the 1920s, as well as its barn and smokehouse. Other historical structures, including a one-room schoolhouse and blacksmith’s forge, were moved onto the site later. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm; admission is $7.50 adults, $3 ages 6 to 17.
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 ★★, 340 E. Main St. and 311 E. Austin St. (www.pacificwarmuseum.org; tel. 830/997-8600), the world’s only museum focusing solely on the Pacific Theater of World War II. In addition to the exhibits in the steamboat-shaped museum, there are also the Japanese Garden of Peace, a gift from the people of Japan; the Memorial Courtyard, 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 H.W. Bush Gallery, where you can see a captured Japanese midget submarine and a multimedia simulation of a bombing raid on Guadalcanal. It’s open daily 9am to 5pm; admission is $15 adults, $12 seniors, $10 military with ID; students and kids 6 and up $7.
Wild about Texas Wildflowers
In mid- to late March and sometimes early April, the Hill Country is ablaze with red-topped Indian paintbrush and blue-and-white-tipped bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas. One of the most popular spots to see these and other wildflowers is the Willow City Loop; from Fredericksburg, head north on Hwy. 16 for approximately 13 miles to Willow City. The two-lane road passes canyons created by Coal Creek, and as you go around a bend, you spy what appears to be a pond or lake—but it’s really a sea of bluebonnets. The Loop is also a popular place for cyclists, so drive slowly and watch for them. During wildflower season, the road is often clogged with traffic, giving you no choice but to crawl along.
Enchanted Rock Natural Area—Take FM 965 some 18 miles north to reach Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock; tel. 830-685-3636), a 640-acre site with a dome of solid pink granite that was pushed up to the surface by volcanic uplifting. You’ll know when you get there: The smooth batholith rises almost 600 feet from the ground, in stark contrast to the surrounding hills. 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, free for children 12 and under. Tent sites in the vicinity of the parking lot cost $15 to $17; primitive backpack sites 1 to 3 miles away run $10 to $12. All campers need to pay the day-use entrance fee, too. Enchanted Rock is very popular; it’s a good idea to get an early start.
LBJ Historical Parks—Visiting the historical sites dedicated to Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, can be a bit confusing. For one thing, they are 14 miles apart from each other. For another, they are managed by two separate government entities. In addition, within the two units, there are a variety of different sites to visit, with different opening and closing hours and an assortment of tour times to juggle. The good news: Rangers on all sites are very helpful, and you won’t be paying separate entrance fees: Except for (optional) guided tours of the Texas White House, visits to both districts are free. Keep in mind too that you’ll have an opportunity to swim, picnic, and even go fishing in the state park. Bring appropriate clothing and gear.
From Fredericksburg, take U.S. 290 E. for 16 miles to The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, 199 State Park Rd. 52, Stonewall (www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lyndon-b-johnson; tel. 830/644-2252). At the visitor center, you’ll get an overview of the Texas landscape and inhabitants that shaped LBJ’s presidency; nearby, two cabins typical of life in the 1860s and 1870s add historical context. Outside, enclosures are stocked with native wildlife such as buffalo and white-tailed deer, as well as domesticated livestock: In 2014, the state park became home to part of the Official Texas State Longhorn Herd (yes, that’s a thing).
From here, you can visit the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead, where costumed interpreters give visitors a look at typical Texas-German farm life in 1918. Chickens, pigs, turkeys, and other farm animals roam freely or in large pens while the farmers go about their chores—churning butter, baking, feeding the animals. As interesting as Colonial Williamsburg but much less known, this is a terrific place to come with kids. Nearby are nature trails, a swimming pool (open early June to mid-Aug), and lots of picnic spots.
You can join a free (donations appreciated) hour-long guided tour of the complex, including the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead, at the visitor center. All state park buildings, including the visitor center, are open daily 8:30am to 4pm; the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead is open daily 10am to 4pm September through May, 9am to 3pm June to August (closed last Tues of every month). The nature trail, grounds, and picnic areas are open until dark every day.
At the state park visitor center, you can also pick up a permit and map guide for a driving tour of Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/lyjo; tel. 830/868-7128), on the other side of the Pedernales River. The working ranch (here, the cattle are Herefords) was used by LBJ as a second White House, and his widow Lady Bird Johnson lived here until she died in 2007. After her death, the park service began giving half-hour-long tours of the 7,500-square-foot Texas White House, the only site that has a fee (adults $3, ages 17 and under free); pick up your tickets at the airplane hangar. The house feels eerily like a time warp back to the 1960s—LBJ’s clothes, hats, and shoes still hang in the closet; it’s as though he just walked out the door. At press time, the house was closed for repairs, but tours of the grounds were still being offered. Self-guided driving tours of the LBJ ranch are available daily from 9am to 5:30pm; driving permits are given out 9am to 4pm. Guided tours of the Texas White House are offered 10am to 4:30 pm.
It’s 14 miles farther east along Hwy. 290 to Johnson City, a pleasant agricultural town named for founder James Polk Johnson, LBJ’s first cousin once removed. Begin your visit at the visitor center (tel. 830/868-7128); from U.S. 290, which turns into Main Street, take F Street to Lady Bird Lane, and you’ll see the signs. Excellent interactive displays and two half-hour films (one about Johnson’s presidency, the other about Lady Bird) provide background for the sites you’ll see. The Boyhood Home—the modest white clapboard house on Elm Street where Lyndon was raised after age 5—is the centerpiece of this unit of the national historical park. From 1913 on, this house was a hub of intellectual and political activity: LBJ’s father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., was a state legislator, and his mother, Rebekah, was one of the few college-educated women in the country at the time. From here, head over to the Johnson Settlement, where LBJ’s grandfather, Sam Ealy Johnson, Sr., and his great-uncle, Jessie, engaged in successful cattle speculation in the 1860s. Four buildings are still intact, including the rustic dogtrot cabin out of which the business was run; there’s also a corral with longhorn cattle (don’t bother them—they’re ornery).
The visitor center is open 9am to 5pm daily. Self-guided tours of the Johnson Settlement are available daily from 9am until sunset. The Boyhood Home can be visited only by tours, offered every half hour from 9 to 11:30am, and 1 to 4:30pm. All are closed Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.
If you’re not yet ready to call it a day, take a short detour from Hwy. 290 to Pedernales Falls State Park, 8 miles east of Johnson City on F.R. 2766 (www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls; tel. 830/868-7304). When the flow of the Pedernales River is high, the stepped waterfalls that give the 4,860-acre park its name are awe-inspiring.
The Fredericksburg Wine Connection
Texas’ venerable tradition of winemaking and viticulture began with the Franciscan friars, who brought domesticated grapes up from Mexico in the late 16th century, cultivating them at the Spanish missions. Grape growing spread to the general populace and continued long after Texas and Mexico parted ways. Prohibition did real damage to Texas viticulture, however; the industry didn’t begin to recover until the 1970s. A renaissance began in the 1990s, and today is in full force: At last count, there were more than 53 wineries in the Hill Country alone, some 40 of them in Gillespie County, where Fredericksburg is located. Many are on Hwy. 290, which means the road can be very congested on fair weather weekends. Pick up the Wine Road 290 route map at the Fredericksburg visitor center, or click on www.wineroad290.com for details. Information about other Texas Hill Country Wineries is available at www.texaswinetrail.com; you can also phone tel. 872/216-9463 for a brochure, or pick up a pamphlet at the visitor center.
If you plan to do a lot of wine tasting, the best way to visit the wineries is by van or bus tour. The 290 Wine Shuttle (www.290wineshuttle.com; tel. 210/724-7217) offers lots of options: On Saturdays, a hop-on, hop-off pass ($29 for the day) lets you visit any of 14 wineries at your leisure; there are drop-offs and pick-ups at each stop every 15 minutes from 10am to 6pm. These tours depart across the street from the Fredericksburg Visitor Center. In addition, there are private group tours every day of the week.
Several excellent wineries also have tasting rooms in town. The Narrow Path Winery, 113 E. Main St. (www.narrowpathwinery.com; tel. 830/624-2144), is popular for its pretty bistro-style setting and its small batch dry wines. Grape Creek Vineyard, 223 E. Main St. (www.grapecreek.com; tel. 820/644-2710), won top awards at a major California wine competition for its Viognier and cuvee blanc. Probably the Hill Country’s most famous winery, Becker Vineyards, 307 E. Main St. (www.beckervineyards.com; tel. 830/644-2681), produces classic French varietals with which it skillfully produces cabernets, pinot grigio, and chenin blancs, among others.
Fredericksburg has more than 150 shops, boutiques, and art galleries. You’ll find candles, lace coverlets, cuckoo clocks, hand-woven rugs . . . if it’s craftsy and homey, this town has got you covered. You’ll find everything you need for your kitchen—and many things you don’t need but want—at Der Küchen Laden, 258 E. Main St. (www.derkuchenladen.com; tel. 830/997-4937), which is chock-a-block with high quality cutlery, gadgets, accessories, and cookbooks. Dog owners can pamper their pets at Dogologie, 148-B W. Main St. (www.dogologie.com; tel. 830/997-5855), which carries everything the fashionable canine might need. Texas Jack’s, 117 N. Adams St. (www.texasjacks.com; tel. 830/997-3213), has outfitted actors for many Western films and TV shows, including Lonesome Dove, Tombstone, and Gunsmoke. If chocolate and spirits are two of your favorite food groups, stop in at Chocolat, 251 W. Main St. (www.liquidchocolates.com; tel. 800/842-3382 or 830/990-9382), where a rare old-world technique is employed to encase alcohol in chocolate.
In a small warehouse district on the south side, Carol Hicks Bolton Antiques, 301 S. Lincoln St. (www.carolhicksbolton.com; tel. 830/997-5551), dedicates some 30,000 square feet to home furnishings that range from rustic (tables that look like they’re straight from a farm) to romantic (wrought-iron beds with filmy white draperies). Expect to pay a premium.
Gardeners can spend a good part of the day (and in one case, night) at two spots on the outskirts of town, both well-known through their mail-order business. At Fredericksburg Herb Farm, 405 Whitney St. (www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com; tel. 800/259-HERB [259-4372] or 830/997-8615), you can see flower beds that produce teas, fragrances, lotions, soaps, and air fresheners sold at the gift shop. The farm complex also has 14 guest cottages, modeled on the traditional Fredericksburg Sunday houses, along with a state-of-the-art spa, offering treatments that use lotions and gels made on the farm. The herb farm’s Farm House Bistro is a lovely spot for lunches ranging from salads to flatbread pizzas and burgers (it’s open for breakfast and dinner too).
A visit to Wildseed Farms, 7 miles east on Hwy. 290 (www.wildseedfarms.com; tel. 830/990-1393), will disabuse you of any notions you may have had that wildflowers grew wild. At this working wildflower farm, you can stroll through fields of blossoms that are harvested for seeds sold throughout the world. Along with seeds, plants, and gardening accessories, the gift shop sells clothing and a wide assortment of gifts. Jams, jellies, and salsas are sold at the Brewbonnet Biergarten, where beer and a menu of light snacks is also available. Prefer wine? Visit Wedding Oak Winery’s tasting room, also on the premises.
Where to Stay in Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg is known for its abundant bed-and-breakfasts and gastehauses (guest cottages)—more than 1,000 of them. Gastehauses are often romantic havens complete with robes, fireplaces, and even hot tubs; they run anywhere from $120 to $300 plus. Most visitors reserve lodgings through one of these booking services: First Class Bed & Breakfast Reservation Service, 909 E. Main St. (www.fredericksburg-lodging.com; tel. 855-422-4928 or 830/997-0443); Gästehaus Schmidt, 231 W. Main St. (www.fbglodging.com; tel. 866/427-8374 or 830/997-5612); Absolute Charm, 711 W. Main St. (www.absolutecharm.com; tel. 866/244-7897 or 830/997-2749); Main Street B&B Reservation Service, 337 E. Main St. (www.travelmainstreet.com; .tel. 888/559-8555 or 830/997-0153); Fredericksburg Guest House Reservations (www.cccottage.com; tel. 830/997-5839); or Vacasa, 417 E. Main St. (www.vacasa.com/usa/Texas/Fredericksburg; .tel. 830/515-4787).
There are also several hotels and motels in town, including the Hangar Hotel, 155 Airport Rd. (www.hangarhotel.com; tel. 830/997-9990), which banks on nostalgia for the World War II flyboy era. Located at the town’s tiny private airport, 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 run from $149 Sunday through Thursday to $189 on Friday and Saturday.
Where to Eat in Fredericksburg
See also the Farm House Bistro at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm (above) and Hondo’s on Main (below).
Fredericksburg’s dining scene is diverse, catering to the traditional and trendy alike. Some places are closed for Sunday dinner (though Sun brunch is big in town) and all day Monday, and not all restaurants take reservations; make them in advance for weekend dinners if possible.
The line sometimes extends out the door for breakfast tacos like “El Especial” (poblanos, eggs, beans, bacon, and tomatoes) at Hilda’s Tortillas, 149 Tivydale Rd. (www.hildastortillas.com; tel. 830/997-6105); don’t worry, the line moves quickly. A bit off the beaten tourist path, Woerner Warehouse Café + Catering, 305 S. Lincoln St. (woernerwarehouse.com; tel. 830/997-2246), is a good bet for a lunch of from-scratch pizza, panini, or a farm-fresh salad in an antiques-filled warehouse.
Want to relate to the town’s history? Then start your day with German pancakes or apple strudel at the Old German Restaurant & Bakery, 225 W. Main St. (www.oldgermanbakeryandrestaurant.com; tel. 830/997-9084). For lunch, the patio of Altdorf Biergarten, 301 W. Main St. (www.altdorfs.com; tel. 830/997-7865), makes a great perch to munch on a Reuben sandwich or a pair of brats washed down a cold Pilsner. Otto’s, 316 E. Austin St. (www.ottosfbg.com; tel. 830/307-3336), does a contemporary spin on traditional German cooking, with a weekly changing menu that relies on local and organic products—you might find duck schnitzel with apple-mustard lyonnaise sauce for a main course, Cambozola cheesecake for dessert. The killer cocktails alone justify a visit.
Another foodie magnet at dinnertime, the Cabernet Grill, 2805 Hwy. 16 S. (www.cabernetgrill.com; tel. 830/990-5734), looks to local ranches and farms for such entrees as bacon-wrapped grilled quail and oak-smoked pork tenderloin, and to Texas vineyards for its wines. For a more casual repast, try the intimate and colorful Pasta Bella, 103 S. Llano St. (www.pastabellarestaurant.com; tel. 830/990-9778), where you get a choice of portion size, sauces, and toppings for your spaghetti or other pasta. Carb-free and gluten-free options are available too.
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 the center of town. On Fridays and Saturdays, you’ll usually find Johnny Nicholas (formerly of Austin’s Asleep at the Wheel) jamming with friends at the Hill Top Café, 10661 N. Hwy. 87 (www.hilltopcafe.com; tel. 830/997-8922), an old country gas station that Nichols and his late wife, Brenda, converted into a restaurant. Luckenbach (see below) also hosts lots of good bands.
Lately, Fredericksburg’s main (and side) streets have also come alive with the sound of music—everything from rockabilly and jazz to oompah—from Thursday through Saturday nights. An offshoot of the Luckenbach Dancehall created by the late Hondo Crouch, Hondo’s on Main, 312 W. Main St. (www.hondosonmain.com; tel. 830/997-1633), tends to feature Texas roots bands. The burgers, ribs, and stacked enchiladas are reason enough to come.
Going Back (in Time) to Luckenbach
Originally founded as a trading post by German immigrant Jacob Luckenbach in 1849, Luckenbach (www.luckenbachtexas.com; tel. 888/311-8990 or 830/997-3224), about 10 miles southeast of Fredericksburg, almost faded away until the late John Russell “Hondo” Crouch entered the picture. A political commentator, swimmer, writer, goat farmer, and humorist, Crouch bought the entire town in 1971, primarily so he would have a place to drink beer. Declaring himself mayor, Crouch set to work establishing as many wacky traditions as possible, including women-only chili cook-offs and no-talent contests. The outdoor stage emerged as a favorite venue of Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and other legends, and the catchphrase, “Everybody’s somebody in Luckenbach,” caught on, appearing on bumper stickers and T-shirts. Jerry Jeff’s famed Viva Terlingua album was recorded here live, but it was Willie & Waylon’s hit song “Luckenbach, Texas,” that put this quirky ghost town on the map. Centered around the old general store to this day, Luckenbach remains one of the best places to catch live music in all of Texas (shows 7 days a week; tickets are often free, but can run up to about $30). Souvenirs, food, and ice-cold beer are available. Each day, people sit around the stovepipe heater inside the bar and play guitar and sing. Outside, they’re singing too. Hondo passed away soon after pushing for the “Non-Buy Centennial” as his personal protest against the commercialization of the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1976. His memorial is on-site. Tip: Luckenbach sometimes tends to shut down early at night on weeknights and even some weekends. Best to get there in the afternoon.
Whenever you visit, lots of beer is likely to be involved, so consider staying at the Full Moon Inn, 3234 Luckenbach Rd. (www.luckenbachtx.com; tel. 800/997-1124 or 830/997-2205), just half a mile from the action on a rise overlooking the countryside. The best of the accommodations, most of which range in price from $125 to $200, is the 1800s log cabin ($290), large enough to sleep four.
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.