A weekend in charming Fredericksburg

Before this weekend, I had been to Fredericksburg only once. In 2019, my mom and aunt were in town from the East Coast and wanted to experience something “quintessentially Texas.” I drove us out in their rental car and we spent a few hours walking down Main Street. We had lunch at the Fredericksburg Brewery and bought little dog hats at Dogologie and then drove home.

As we pulled back into Austin I turned to my aunt, and asked, “What did you think of the Hill Country?” “I didn’t expect it to be so hilly,” she replied.

Stonewall Motor Lodge is halfway between Fredericksburg and Johnson City. 

Katie Friel/MySA

Day one

This past weekend, I returned to the Hill Country hamlet to spend three blissful days drinking wine, eating schnitzel, and walking through cemeteries. Inspired by this recent New York Times article, we booked a room at the Stonewall Motor Lodge, a recently renovated 1960s motel halfway between Fredericksburg and Johnson City. It’s cute and quirky, with a very photogenic sign. It feels, like so many things in this part of Texas, like you will turn a corner and Lyndon B. Johnson will pop out.

Field of flowers in the Texas Hill Country between Johnson City and Fredericksburg.

Field of flowers in the Texas Hill Country between Johnson City and Fredericksburg.

dlewis33/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Staying at the motor lodge gives you a direct route into downtown Fredericksburg via 290, a road populated with wineries and farm stands and two large Trump 2020 banners (and one that reads Trump 2021). The town itself is small, with a population just shy of 12,000, according to U.S. Census numbers. But over the past few years, Fredericksburg has boomed along with the rest of Texas, drawing visitors (and many, many bachelorette parties) to its picturesque, Western-meets-German streets. 

On Friday evening, a large group of us gathered at the statue of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz on Main Street to begin the Haunted Fredericksburg Ghost Walk, a one-mile, 90-minute tour around downtown. 

Our tour guide Justin wore a linen shirt, cropped pants, and suspenders with a bowie knife tucked into his belt, as if dressed for a costume party where the host was vague about the theme. An excellent storyteller (likely due to his full-time job as a high school English teacher), Justin led us around, pointing out places around town where people were allegedly smoked alive, hung from trees, and scalped in front of their loved ones. At the corner of Adams and Main streets, he stopped and let the group catch up. “This is a very angry intersection,” he warned us, before traipsing towards the next haunted spot. For the rest of the weekend, I approached the intersection with caution, convinced I would see a ghost giving me the middle finger. 

The oldest cemetery in Fredericksburg, Der Stadt Friedhof. Most of the gravestones are in German.

The oldest cemetery in Fredericksburg, Der Stadt Friedhof. Most of the gravestones are in German.

Katie Friel/MySA

Day two

The next morning, during breakfast at Hill & Vine, I ordered the eggs Benedict with chicken schnitzel and learned that despite living in Central Texas for almost 13 years, I had no idea what a schnitzel was until it was placed in front of me. As he cleared our plates, our server David asked if we were going to the 133rd annual Gillespie County Fair, taking place just a few blocks away.

David was the first of many people to ask this particular question about the fair throughout the day. During a visit to The Edge winery, an employee began talking about the fair, and I asked if she had gone to the festivities.

“I don’t go anywhere where they make me wear a mask,” she replied. She wore a mask while she told us this, which seemed to be a requirement for working at the winery.

Fredericksburg, if anything, has always been a dichotomy, a place that holds two truths at once: German and Texan, small town and tourist destination, historic yet modern. Church steeples climb skyward on nearly every downtown corner, yet parents push strollers down Main Street while wine glasses slosh in the cup holders (similar to New Orleans, you can openly carry booze). T-shirts emblazoned with anti-vaccine or anti-Biden slogans hang in storefront windows, reminders of the nation’s ongoing culture war, yet everyone is so dang nice to everyone else. During a visit to one store, the cashier asked us what county we lived in. When she heard the answer (Travis), she looked at us sadly and then perked up. “I’ll just say you’re from Hays, that way you can get the discount,” she said, hitting the 10-percent-off button.

On Saturday evening, following stops at the Edge and Safari Winery (where the bartender also asked about the fair), we ventured back onto Main Street with no plans and tucked into a The Bar, which offers good music, a romantic stone patio, and a dog named Julius who lives upstairs.

Julius the dog.

Julius the dog.

Katie Friel/MySA

Despite the name, The Bar does serve a small food menu. “Do you have anything with vegetables? All I’ve had today is schnitzel and wine,” I asked the server. “Welcome to Fredericksburg,” he said with a laugh. 

Day three 

The following morning, with the remnants of a very generous glass of pinot noir still mucking about in my head, it was time for a final breakfast at the Squeeze In. The diner is exactly what you want after a day spent drinking Texas wine: a very large menu of omelettes, pancakes, and potatoes all served under a giant sign reminding everyone in the dining room to “back the blue.” 

Fredericksburg offers exactly what one wants in a weekend trip, especially during a pandemic: close enough to San Antonio to drive but far enough away to feel like you’re somewhere — anywhere — else. It also offers a reminder that the anger and frustration boiling up in state houses across the nation is spilling out on Fredericksburg’s literal Main Street. A weekend trip might break up the monotony of your day-to-day life, but it’s certainly not going to give you a break from the nation’s culture wars. 

But without sounding too much like Pollyanna, it was also a reminder that most people are nice and generous with their time. That locals are eager to offer suggestions and tell you about their lives and ask about yours. It reminds us that we don’t know everything (hello, schnitzel) and of the extraordinary benefit of spending time surrounded by people who maybe don’t think like you. Traveling takes us out of ourselves and gives us a glimpse into something different. Even if it’s just 70 miles away.