The heart of the Hill Country

Sponsored by Lexus of Austin

Fredericksburg and surrounding area offer a taste of the simple life.

Blanketed in wildflowers in the spring, bursting with juicy peaches in the summer and dotted with wineries throughout the year, the Hill Country offers a taste of heaven in the heart of Texas.

Widely considered the epicenter of the Hill Country wine region — recently named among the 10 best wine travel destinations by Wine Enthusiast magazine — Fredericksburg marries small-town charm with an ever-expanding package of bed and breakfasts, boutiques, restaurants and, of course, wineries. While the historic German town’s roots in wine production go deep, dating back to the original settlers, who used the native mustang grape, it has recently garnered a “mini-Napa” reputation thanks to the 30-plus wineries and tasting rooms that call the Fredericksburg area home.

Whether you come for the day or stay for a week, you can’t help but notice time ticks by a bit slower in this tiny town of 11,000 located 80 miles west of Austin and 70 miles north of San Antonio. In this part of Texas, rolling hills striped with vineyards and unobstructed horizons graced with spectacular sunsets create a breathtaking backdrop to sip and savor the local flavors. Nearly a dozen wine tour companies make getting to and from wineries a breeze, with safe transportation in the form of limousines, luxury coaches and even helicopters. For an economical ride, hop on the 290 Wine Shuttle, which operates 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. every Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. every Sunday between Fredericksburg and more than a dozen wineries. Reservations aren’t required — vans pick up every 20 minutes directly across the street from the Fredericksburg Visitor Center and $24.99 gets you an armband and a route card that lets you pick and choose where to taste throughout the day. Or pair sips with scenery by pedaling on a bicycle tour with Hill Country Bike and Wine.

Texas grapes are plentiful in the Hill Country. (Blake Mistich/For American-Statesman)

When you aren’t tasting the fruits of Fredericksburg — its wines, peaches or even peach-infused wines — browse through the 150-plus shops, boutiques and art galleries scattered throughout its downtown historic district. No need to stop sipping — public consumption of beer, wine and liquor along Fredericksburg’s storybook Main Street is legal. Beer fans can duck into Fredericksburg Brewing Company, which bills itself as the oldest and most acclaimed brewpub in Texas, for brewed-on-site beers to enjoy there or take to go. After sipping, strolling and shopping, soak in history at Fredericksburg’s National Museum of the Pacific War, which retells the history of the Pacific War through its 6-acre, three-museum complex brimming with macro-artifacts and interactive exhibits. Or familiarize yourself with the town’s history at the Pioneer Museum.

When hunger hits, gastronomically growing Fredericksburg boasts a diverse culinary scene with around 80 restaurants specializing in everything from Hill Country comfort food to German fare. And if you’re not in a rush to get back, Fredericksburg is home to more than 425 guesthouses and bed and breakfasts ranging from rustic cabins to chic lofts, giving visitors the opportunity to experience surrounding Hill Country gems.

Learn about history at the National Museum of the Pacific War. (Marc Bennett/For American-Statesman)

Fredericksburg serves as a convenient jumping point to numerous Hill Country hotspots like Enchanted Rock. Located 18 miles north of Fredericksburg, this ancient pink granite dome boasts magical legends, humbling beauty and stunning vistas that draw people from all around. Go early in the day to avoid crowds and beat the heat. While there, enjoy activities including rock climbing, picnicking, bird watching, hiking along authorized trails, camping and stargazing. Spend a lazy afternoon at Luckenbach, located 10 miles from Fredericksburg, where an unpretentious, timeless charm flourishes. Expect daily live music, plenty of cold beer, animals roaming free, a General Store stocked with Luckenbach memorabilia and a Feed Lot cooking up hearty hamburgers, barbecue and Frito pie.

Wimberley, the quaint town sitting at the confluence of Cyprus Creek and the Blanco River, is a little over an hour’s drive from Fredericksburg, but the picturesque journey is worth it. Visitors can wander through 100 eclectic shops sprinkled throughout Wimberley’s square; take a dip in Jacob’s Well Natural Area, a pristine swimming hole and artesian spring that flows from one of Texas’ deepest underwater caves; or sip the afternoon away at a few of the wineries peppered in and around Wimberley.

Dripping Springs is another charming community in the area that still holds tightly to its old-fashioned hospitality and deep-rooted heritage. In the last decade, it has also transformed into a popular food and drink scene thanks to the numerous farm-to-table restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries that have popped up around town. Get your groundings on Mercer Street, Dripping Springs’ historic and recently revitalized strip, where guests can shop, drink a craft beer, sip coffee, indulge in ice cream or learn to two-step at Mercer Street Dancehall and Bar.

Insider Tips

• Weekends are busy in Fredericksburg, so consider a midweek stay for a slower pace and fewer crowds. Most accommodations have a two-night minimum on the weekends, but weeknight stays can often be booked nightly at a fraction of the cost.
• Stop at the Visitor Information Center when you arrive in town for maps, directions, information on restaurants and shops and a schedule of live music and events.
• Come on the first Friday of each month for the First Friday Art Walk, where 14 local art galleries open their doors at 10 a.m. and don’t close until 8 p.m., inviting gallery-goers to browse art while enjoying local wine and entertainment.
• Head to one of Fredericksburg’s local orchards or farms to hand-pick seasonal harvests ranging from peaches to blackberries.

Where to stay

• Fredericksburg Herb Farm. 405 Whitney St., Fredericksburg. 830-997-8615, fredericksburgherbfarm.com.

Where to eat

• Hangar Hotel’s Airport Diner. Open Wednesday-Sunday. 155 Airport Road, Fredericksburg. 830-997-9990, hangarhotel.com.
• Otto’s German Bistro. 16 E. Austin St., Fredericksburg. 830-307-3336, ottosfbg.com.
• August E’s. 203 E. San Antonio St., Fredericksburg. 830-997-1585, august-es.com.
• Hondo’s on Main, 312 W. Main St., Fredericksburg. 830-997-1633, hondosonmain.com.

What to see

• Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock.
• National Museum of the Pacific War. 340 E. Main St., Fredericksburg. 830-997-8600, pacificwarmuseum.org.
• Luckenbach. 412 Luckenbach Town Loop, Fredericksburg. 830-997-3224, luckenbachtexas.com.
• Find more to do and see at visitfredericksburgtx.com.
Blake Mistich