words: Marla Cantrell
images: courtesy Marla Cantrell, Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park
Fredericksburg sits in the land of grapes and peaches, bluebonnets and rivers. In the land of Longhorns and German food, that sits just five miles northwest of San Antonio, and seventy miles west of Austin.
Today, the population hovers around 28,000. But in 1846, when the town was founded, the head count was 120 residents, all of them German immigrants. They’d come to the Lonestar State looking for a better life free from oppression. They named the town after Prince Frederick of Prussia.
Those roots remain today, in the ancestors of those first settlers, the historic buildings, the German restaurants like Otto’s German Bistro, and in the stories you’ll hear about schoolchildren who showed up at the public schools until the 1950s speaking only German.
Beyond that, it is the stomping ground of President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-1969), who conducted business at the Texas White House, just sixteen miles from downtown Fredericksburg.
When you mention President Johnson, the story will always turn to Lady Bird, whose love for the natural world made an indelible mark. As First Lady, she advocated for children, becoming the first honorary chair of Project Head Start. Her love of nature showed up in her other great passion, the “beautification” initiative that is the reason you’ll see wildflowers planted in the medians of roadways.
As I talked to several people about Lady Bird, they each seemed in awe of her. One of the townspeople said, “You know how Tennessee feels about Dolly Parton? That’s how we feel about Lady Bird.”
I traveled as a guest of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau. When the week was up, I was nowhere near ready to come home. I stayed at a charming bed and breakfast called Alte Welt Gasthof, on Main Street. Main Street is three-and-a-half miles long, filled with mom and pop shops, art, eateries, wineries, and Dooley’s 5-10-25 Cent Store, that’s been around since 1923. One of the employees has been working there for more than fifty years!
Before you take off on your own, stop by the Visitor Center at 302 East Austin Street for a map of the walking tour that lists thirty historic sites you won’t want to miss, including three of the Fredericksburg Sunday Houses, which were used as second houses by ranchers and farmers who came to town on weekends to trade and stayed for church on Sundays. You can also take a trolley ride from the Visitor Center.
One tip: It’s best to book your stay mid-week to avoid crowds.
Now that you have your bearings, let’s get started:
Pioneer Museum, 325 West Main Street, Fredericksburg
Watch the video introduction that chronicles the founding of Fredericksburg. Visit the nine historic buildings including a bathhouse, smokehouse, homestead, Sunday House, and school. See artifacts, hands-on demonstrations, and chat with guides who will answer any questions. Note the limestone buildings that became a symbol of this town, and see how these pioneers lived, worked, and learned. While you’re in town, visit Fort Martin Scott, the soldier with ties to Fort Smith.
National Museum of the Pacific War, 340 East Austin Street,
Fredericksburg | pacificwarmuseum.org
The only other museum of its kind in the U.S. is at Pearl Harbor. Fredericksburg has this treasure because of native son, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. He led the U.S. Pacific Fleet for most of World War II. This 33,000-square-foot museum weaves the stories of the U.S., China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries during World War II. It honors the more than 100,000 Americans who gave their lives in the war against Japan and honors the eight million Americans who served during the Second World War.
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, 501 State Park Road 52, Stonewall | tpwd.state.tx.us
The park is home to the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, which depicts the life of a German/Texas family from 1915-1918. You can watch the staff, dressed in period costumes, tend crops, milk cows, bake bread, and make soap and candles. The park includes nature and biking trails, fishing, a pool, tennis courts, and even a baseball diamond.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, 199 Park Road 52, Stonewall | nps.gov
Visit LBJ’s ranch that still operates the way it did at the time of his death in 1973. The Longhorns have LBJ carved in their horns instead of the usual brands you see on cattle. Stop at the family cemetery, and then make your way to the President’s home dubbed the Texas White House. You’ll see the living quarters of the Johnson family, including their closets filled with monogrammed clothing, their extensive library, and the kitchen equipped for visits from world leaders. Note how many phones there are in this home; there’s even one attached to LBJ’s dining room chair.
Enchanted Rock Nature Area, 16710 Ranch Road 965, Fredericksburg | tpwd.state.tx.us
This is also a land of stone, as seen at Enchanted Rock, which is a native pink granite dome ascending 1,825-feet. The 1,643-acre park has camping, hiking, geocaching, star gazing, and rock climbing. In another time, the Tonkawa Indians thought that ghost fires flickered on top of the dome. Today, geologists believe the light arose on clear nights after rains when the granite seems to glitter.
Wildseed Farms, 100 Legacy Drive, Fredericksburg | wildseedfarms.com
This family-owned wildflower farm, founded by John R. Thomas, is the largest in the U.S. They grow more than 1,000 acres of flowers, and grapes for the wine industry. There’s an online store, a massive gift shop and nursery, great deli, walking trails, and photo opportunities. Flowers bloom through August, so plan your trip accordingly. When I was there, the red poppies were in bloom, and the views were incredible. Fun fact: Wildseed sells to many state highway departments that plant the seeds in the medians.
Luckenbach, 412 Luckenbach Town Loop, Luckenbach | luckenbachtexas.com
No trip to this area is complete without a visit to Luckenbach, the tiny town made famous by Waylon Jennings’ song in the 1970s. You won’t find Waylon, Willie and the boys here, but you will have a grand time. Take a spin on the pecan wood dance floor, grab something to eat, and throw back a beer at the bar. Don’t leave without buying a souvenir.
Tubby’s Ice House, 318 East Austin Street,
Fredericksburg | tubbysfbg.com
West End Pizza Company, 232 West Main Street, Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg Herb Farm, 405 Whitney Street, Fredericksburg | fredericksburgherbfarm.com
Clear River Pecan Company, 138 East Main Street, Fredericksburg | icecreamandfun.com
Das Peach Haus/daspeachhaus.com
Fischer and Wieser Specialty Foods,
1406 South U.S. Highway 87, Fredericksburg | jelly.com
The happiest culinary surprise on this trip was Tubby’s Icehouse with its street tacos and world-class taste. I had the Carne Asada tacos with grilled sirloin, roasted tomato salsa, cilantro, and sliced onion. Well, I had two! Plus, frosé, which is frozen rosé. Some of the best pizza of my life was at West End Pizza Company. Breakfast at Fredericksburg Herb Farm was divine, with waffles made with almond flour, with strawberries and blueberries on top. Ice cream from Clear River Pecan Company was the perfect end to a busy day. Finally, my trip to Das Peach Haus/Fischer and Wieser Specialty Foods was a culinary adventure. They have a wine room, weekly cooking classes, and a shop that sells every cooking condiment you could hope for.
One of the people I met on this trip said that Fredericksburg has more fun than you have vacation days. That sums up this town perfectly. If you plan a trip around the 4th of July, you can attend the two parades, see the Aircraft Flyover, experience the 4th at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, and see fireworks at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park.
To learn even more, check out visitfredericksburgtx.com.