By Wini Moranville
Next time you start looking at fall or spring break getaways, and the sticker shock of airfares from Des Moines to Florida, California or Arizona get you down, consider a trip to Fredericksburg, Texas. Last spring, while airfares to Florida were in the $700 range, flights to Austin, Texas, cost just under $300.
Why Fredericksburg? There’s just so much charm and history packed into such a small area. Fredericksburg was settled by German immigrants in the 19th century, and the period architecture remains intact. Of course, you’ll find the cute boutiques, fabulous antique stores and fun eateries that you’d expect in a vibrantly restored Victorian-era community, but the fascinating lodgings and thoroughly moving American historical sites give this town the edge.
Besides, Fredericksburg is relatively easy to get to from Des Moines. I flew out around 6:30 a.m. and got to Austin in time for a lunch of great barbecue and fried okra. By mid-afternoon, I was settled into my hotel in Fredericksburg. (You can also fly into San Antonio, which, like Austin, is about two hours away from Fredericksburg and its surrounding hill country.)
What to See: Fredericksburg is an American history-lover’s dream. The Smithsonian-quality National Museum of the Pacific War is a moving, in-depth testament to the Pacific theater of World War II; it also honors Fredericksburg’s most famous native son, Pacific War Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
Walk through the Fredericksburg National Historic District, with its historic architecture, for a taste of German pioneer history; delve deeper into the Pioneer Museum Complex, with its authentically preserved farm dwellings and outbuildings outfitted with true artifacts from 19th-century life.
Near Fredericksburg is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which includes the fascinating “Texas White House”—the President’s home, where he often conducted business during his term. Perfectly maintained in 1960s period style, it gives today’s generation a chance to see what the “Mad Men” days really looked like, while offering insights into the humanity and accomplishments of this embattled president.
Spend at least an afternoon shopping the 150-plus art galleries, boutiques and antique shops of Fredericksburg, but also save time to duck in and out of the Texas Hill Country wineries. Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently named the area among its 10 best wine-travel destinations in 2014.
And since you’re so close, you have to go to nearby Luckenbach, Texas, the town immortalized in Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1976 hit. It’s a quintessential one-horse hamlet, with its post office and bar where people gather outside at large, “make-some-friends” tables to drink beer and listen to live music.
Where to Stay: Aviation enthusiasts should check out The Hangar Hotel (hangarhotel.com), a 1940s-inspired structure built outside of town on a working airstrip, complete with the period Officers Club lounge and a post-war-style diner.
For a taste of Fredericksburg’s 19th-century history, stay at The Herb Farm (fredericksburgherbfarm.com) in a cottage patterned after the Sunday Houses of the region’s early German settlers. On weekends, farmers would make the long horse-and-buggy ride into town to do their trading on Saturday and go to church on Sunday; the rustic little cottages accommodated their families for the weekend. Today’s Sunday Haus Cottages offer all modern conveniences, of course.
The Herb Farm is just one of many options for staying in Sunday House-styled cottages. Find others, as well as an array of unique guest houses, inns, ranch houses and resorts, at www.visitfredericksburgtx.com.
Where to Eat: For lunch, don’t miss the Clear River Pecan Company, a cute main-street deli for homemade salads, sandwiches and ice cream. Dinner at the Navajo Grill, for modern takes on Mexican, Southern and Caribbean cuisine, is a must, while fresh takes on New American cuisine can be found at The Herb Farm. Find casual eats at Fredericksburg Brewing Company, the oldest brewpub in Texas.
When to Go: In spring, which starts earlier in the South than in the Midwest, the surrounding Hill Country is covered in a riot of wildflowers, making hiking and biking especially tempting. Autumn sees a major Octoberfest celebration, a fall Food and Wine Festival and other major events.
More Information: The Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.visitfredericksburgtx.com) is an amazing resource for planning a trip.