After German immigrant and former seaman Charles H. Nimitz opened the doors to a four-room hotel in Fredericksburg along a dusty Texas road in the 1850s, he soon earned a reputation as innkeeper of the state’s most famous hotel. His rooms offered the only hot baths between San Antonio and El Paso and perhaps that’s why travelers felt drawn, though it was probably the hospitality and location.
Soon a popular summer holiday destination for notable Southerners, entrepreneurs and politicians, the Nimitz Hotel expanded its Main Street outpost with a saloon, brewery and general store stocked with produce from its own vegetable garden. Little did Charles know that the property would to this day stand proudly next to an impressive 6-acre museum complex named for his grandson, Chester William Nimitz, born nearby, known for guiding Allied forces to victory in the Pacific in World War II.
This story of frontier entrepreneurship, warm hospitality and deep appreciation of the Texas land is told over and over today throughout the 150-plus locally-owned shops, restaurants and galleries along the seven blocks of Main Street of adorable Fredericksburg, a bright wildflower in the middle of the state’s famed hill country. With 500 miles of paved roads in Gillespie county, cyclists come from all over the world. Friends from 47 countries stopped in to Fredericksburg’s lovely visitor’s center in the first two months of the year alone to plan their days bird and butterfly watching, museum and gallery hopping, dining out, exploring the deep German history or hitting the wine trail.
The Texas Hill Country is home to some 45 wineries and vineyards with more than two dozen award-winning wineries and tasting rooms in and around Fredericksburg. They promise it’s second only to Napa Valley.
During my recent visit, I sipped a semi-sweet white, Sweet Alyssum at the Wedding Oak Winery tasting room after lolling around the fields full of Red Corn Poppies and bluebells at Wildseed Farms. I could taste the sunshine. And, while the sun hid behind a vast canvas of clouds in the big Texas sky that day, the 200-acres of fields (the nation’s largest working wildflower farm) provided a promise for the daisies, cosmos, Texas paintbrush, larkspur, sunflowers, phlox that would bloom throughout the year.
A little further out of town, and well worth the short scenic drive is the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park where the birthplace, childhood school, beloved Texas White House ranch and resting place of our 36th president grace the rolling hills along the Pedernales River. Touring the ranch where time stands still at 1960, nine hulking televisions, overhead lights galore and 72 telephone lines (including phones at the President’s bedside and under his place at the long dinner table) remind us this man worked at a blistering pace night and day. He had a standing order with the local Cadillac dealer who brought him a new white convertible every year. Two are on display in the garage next to the still-active airstrip and working barn. His herd of 150 beautiful little Hereford Longhorn cattle continue to thrive (with the help of breeding efforts to keep them circa 1960) and you can snuggle them in their tidy corral.
Speaking of beef, Fredericksburg offers plenty of options for hearty appetites and discerning palates alike. Burger Burger on Main Street serves up, you guessed it, burgers on housemade buns. Try the Chop House, a 10oz ground prime rib patty, creamy house horseradish, pepper jack, crispy onions, roasted tomatoes. Hand-cut sweet potato fries and a thirst-quenching Lobo Texas Lager from nearby Pedernales Brewing Co. made me want to take off my cowboy boots and settle in for another from this award-winning brewer.
Sure, there’s lots to eat, so plan to hike to the top of Enchanted Rock—the second largest granite dome in the U.S., next to our own Stone Mountain. The view is breathtaking at 1800 feet.
Had enough for one day? Have your Gulfstream V pick you up at the Gillespie County Airport where all the big boy toys can be accommodated thanks to the droves of wealthy retirees and entrepreneurs who visit Fredericksburg to set up businesses, open stores or call this Texas wildflower home.
Or, do stay awhile at one of the dozens of memorable inns, small resort spas or sweet B&Bs like Splendid Inn, a unique three-home collection of historic homes built in 1850 near downtown.