This Small Texas City Has Beautiful Vineyards, Hiking Trails, and a Historic Ghost Town

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The Texas Hill Country undulates like an emerald ocean racing against the sky. Ancient oaks proffer shade, and at various times of the year, tapestries of wildflowers and cactus blooms fling themselves across the land. The region is dotted with vineyards, orchards, pecan groves, and cattle ranches. In the heart of this idyllic setting, almost exactly between Austin and San Antonio, lies a small city called Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg was founded by German immigrants in 1846. The majority of those early settlers made their living farming the Texas Hill Country. Once a week, they would hitch up their horses and ride 10 or 20 miles to town to attend church, purchase goods, take care of business, and congregate. It was a long ride, so they built small dwellings in town, called Sunday houses, to spend the night before making the return trip home. The majority of these houses had a small living area downstairs with an outdoor staircase connecting to a sleeping loft. Today, many Sunday houses scattered around town have been converted into shops, private homes, and lodging for visitors.

 

For my trip to Fredericksburg, I booked a room at The Trueheart Hotel. The property, just off Main Street, includes a charming collection of authentic and replica Sunday houses built around a lush courtyard with a large outdoor fireplace. My room was beautifully appointed with colorful, ranch-chic decor, including a pair of polished cow horns above the bed. The large bathroom had a clawfoot tub for soaking, a walk-in shower, and luxury soap from the local artisans at San Saba Soap Company. I was tempted to spend the evening in, but my excitement about exploring Fredericksburg took precedence, so I changed into comfortable walking shoes and headed out the door.

Main Street

Aside from the modern cars, Main Street in Fredericksburg appears similar to what it looked like in the middle of the 19th century, with rows of storefronts in historic limestone buildings. In all, there are more than 150 different shops, galleries, bars, and restaurants downtown. I wandered through Marktplatz, or Market Square, a large park in the center of town with gardens, sculptures, and an octagonal-shaped building with a small museum built on the site of Fredericksburg’s first school and church. Afterward, I spent a couple of happy hours browsing Insight GalleryCowgirl KimQuintessential Chocolates, and other small businesses. In the end, I concluded I should have brought a bigger suitcase.

History of Fredericksburg

To learn more about the area, I started my first morning with a trolley tour guided by a local historian. There are more than 77 historic markers in downtown Fredericksburg alone, alongside historic homes, Sunday houses, buildings, and a Der Stadt Friedhof Cemetery, which was founded by the German pioneers who settled in Fredericksburg in the 1800s.

After my trolley tour, I stopped by the National Museum of the Pacific War, an institution associated with none other than the Smithsonian. The museum started in the childhood home of admiral Chester Nimitz on Main Street and has since expanded to a large campus that includes several state-of-the-art buildings. There are thousands of artifacts here, including full-size planes and vehicles along with a fascinating collection of oral histories, and the exquisite Japanese Garden of Peace, which was a gift from the people of Japan to honor the complicated friendship between admiral Nimitz and Japanese admiral Tōgō Heihachirō.

During my visit, I also took a 13-mile drive to Luckenbach, a name I recognized from the Waylon Jennings song, “Back to the Basics of Love.” Luckenbach was founded by German settlers in the 1840s, and by the end of that century, the thriving community included a post office, blacksmith shop, dance hall, saloon, and cotton gin. By the 1970s, Luckenbach was little more than a ghost town with just a handful of residents. It was purchased by Hondo Crouch, who turned it into a live music venue where superstars like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings played. Today, you can still hear live music seven days a week in this historic ghost town.

Wineries in Fredericksburg

There are more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms in Texas Hill Country, many of which can be found in the area in and around Fredericksburg. Highlights from my trip included Southold Farm + Cellar, where the wine tastings are paired with delicious small plates in a glass building overlooking jaw-dropping views of the hills. My favorite wine here was Don’t Forget to Soar, a crisp white blend of roussanne, gruner veltliner, and trebbiano. I liked it so much that I picked up a bottle to take home.

At Arrowhead Creek Vineyard, I wandered around the grounds with a glass of tannat, a smooth, bold grape variety that grows particularly well in Texas. For my last stop of the day, I savored the malbec at Augusta Vin in a stunning, two-story tasting room with vineyard views.

Outdoor Activities in Fredericksburg

There are several gorgeous parks in the vicinity, including Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, located on the ranch of the nation’s 36th president. The park is especially magnificent in the spring, when it’s covered with colorful wildflowers. Visitors can also enjoy tours of Johnson’s boyhood home, or bike in and around the park with Ranch Road One. Both guided and self-guided options are available.

Also not to be missed is the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which has 11 miles of hiking trails where you can spot birds, armadillos, lizards, and white-tailed deer. The highlight: enormous rock domes that formed when liquid magma bubbled from the earth and turned to granite a billion years ago. This is also a beautiful area for camping, thanks to group sites; walk-in options with water, restrooms, and showers; and primitive hike-in spots with composting toilets.

Food in Fredericksburg

The food in Fredericksburg is delicious, courtesy of the nearby farms. I delighted in standout meals at several restaurants, including Hill & Vine, which focuses on traditional Texas dishes paired with vino from local wineries like Duchman Family Winery and Pedernales Cellars. They have an incredible in-house pastry chef, too, and the chocolate cake here is not to be missed.

One of the biggest surprises from my trip was Eaker Barbecue, which is owned by a husband-and-wife team who traces their respective roots to Texas and Korea. The pair combines slow-roasted prime meats with traditional Korean side dishes such as kimchi for a tasty result.

Otto’s is another must-try, uniting German recipes with locally sourced ingredients in an intimate setting. Brunch here is the best in town.

I also took a bit of Fredericksburg home with me in the form of peach salsa and candied jalapenos from country store Das Peach Haus. It’s not exactly the same as being there, but it will have to tide me over until I have a chance to visit again.

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As you enter the gates to Augusta Vin Winery from Texas 16, south of Fredericksburg, you travel down a two-lane asphalt road toward what appears to be a well-kept metal building. In reality, this building is the winery where the wines are vinified. The signs continue to direct you down a half mile of asphalt road to the north through well-manicured vineyard blocks of Tannat, Mouvedere, Albarino, Sagrantino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and other grape varietals to a large, two-story building with a parking lot that is large enough to please any Buc-ee’s fan.

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