Fredericksburg from the outside

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

FREDERICKSBURG — If you haven’t spent a weekend in Fredericksburg, the only question is “why not?”.

The town at the epicenter of Gillespie County is just under two hours from Liberty Hill and offers a beautiful drive through the Hill Country from whatever direction you travel.

There are a wealth of hotel options right in the middle of town, and on a weekend trip it would be easy to never leave Main Street with its dozens and dozens of unique restaurants and shops.

Main Street is a shopper’s paradise with clothing stores, gift shops, novelty and candy stores. Spaced out among the retail – in a seemingly strategic master plan – are bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants to offer a short break from the retail madness.

But if you’ve visited them, gone home with bags of evidence, and think you’ve done the whole “Fredericksburg thing” then you may have missed a lot. The fringes of the town that hangs its hat on its German roots offers so much more to see and do.

Our recent two-day trip was intended to be all of the fun outside of town. We didn’t plan a trip to Enchanted Rock as we’d hiked it before, but we planned a day to visit a winery and brewery, and a second day focused on soaking in the great outdoors of the hill country.

The first morning began at Java Ranch on Main Street, which is by far the best coffee in town. Add in a muffin or a cinnamon roll and breakfast is out of the way. If you feel compelled to stroll Main Street a bit, early in the morning after a good cup of coffee is the best time. The main drag gets awfully crowded later in the day, especially on weekends.

Just after noon we headed out of town, driving toward Johnson City on US 290 bound for Becker Vineyards. The vineyard is a short distance from the highway about 15 miles outside of town.

If you’re a wine lover – my wife, Elizabeth, appreciates it much more than I do – the Becker is a good choice. The long-established winery is known as one of the top-tier wineries in Texas and it comes with a great atmosphere.

A tasting will cost you $20, but it comes with essentially seven choices to try among more than 20 options and of course you get to keep the glass. The staff was very knowledgeable about the selection, but very friendly, making sure no question came across as dumb or silly. We shared the tastings, and then bought a glass of wine to enjoy outside on the grounds where there are plenty of options to enjoy the hill country views and atmosphere.

After a couple of hours relaxing in the sun with a glass of wine it was time for the next stop, and my real focus for the afternoon – the Altstadt Brewery.

It is also on US 290 just outside of town, and is only four years old, but it is not your typical local brewery. Altstadt is focused on bringing beer lovers local brews wrapped in a high-end, exciting package. The brewery has a bar and tasting room, a dining room and an expansive beer hall, which is where we camped out for a few hours.

While Altstadt only bottles three beers to sell retail, there were a dozen or so of their own options on tap at the brewery. We tried most of them by purchasing a pair of flights, and settled on the Alt beer.

The hall is an air-conditioned, indoor reminder of a German beer fest tent with long tables and a communal atmosphere.

On stage was banjo picker Dennis Bottoms, who we learned later played with many famous musicians and had a long-time contract as a songwriter for Warner Brothers Records. He played songs on that banjo everyone knew, and no one would have suspected would be so entertaining.

The other big plus about the brewery is the menu. Breweries are supposed to make good beer, but there are rarely high expectations on the food end, but the food options at Altstadt are amazing.

We sampled house-made sausages, pretzels, and shared a fish basket, each of which were outstanding, and we made note of a dozen more sandwiches and plates we’d like to try next time.

One important note on dining pretty much anywhere in Fredericksburg in the evening or on weekends is that there is a fun local music scene that is as easy to tap into as walking down Main Street listening for something that sounds good. We counted at least six venues with live music Friday evening in a very short walk down Main Street once we returned to town.

Saturday we began the day just as we had on Friday, with a coffee and one more pass through a handful of shops.

Before we hit the road for our hill country tour we went for one more German meal, this time lunch at Altdorf. There are no shortage of German dining options and everyone has their favorite. Some are upscale and some are very traditional, but Altdorf is my new favorite.

We sat outside, again entertained by live music, and shared a couple of delicious German favorites in a very relaxing atmosphere. With no other plans, it is easy to imagine sitting there all afternoon.

The afternoon plan, though, was to head out of town on Hwy. 16 toward Llano to check out the Willow City Loop drive.

But before we got that far out of town we decided to stop in at “Kuckucks Nest”, a retailer that looks as though Old Germany exploded inside. The warehouse-type store is mostly resale items with some new things mixed in here and there, but it probably has the largest selection of lederhosen and beer steins this side of the Atlantic.

Just fishing through the items packed tightly on tables and shelves at every turn is interesting enough, but then when the owners begin talking to you in German you wonder where you might really be. They speak English also, but if you give even the slightest hint you know any German you are going to have to use it.

In addition to the best place to buy real German goods in Fredericksburg, the trip up Hwy. 16 takes you past Pecan Grove – in case you need one more burger or beer. It’s an old gas station turned into an ice house that’s just waiting to catch travelers on a scenic drive and it fits into the atmosphere quite well.

Willow City Loop is not a specifically Fredericksburg attraction, but it is on most lists – especially in the Spring – as a can’t miss part of any trip.

The loop, a 13-mile backroads drive from Willow City back to Hwy. 16, is one of the most scenic drives in Texas. In the Spring it is jam-packed with wildflowers, but even before they are in bloom there is plenty to see. From a nearly mile-long fence line capped with old cowboy boots, to the occasional piece of rusty farm equipment or some wandering cattle, the photo opportunities are endless. But it’s the dramatic scenery that is most impressive. At points through the drive there are narrow turn offs so you can get out and take in the views, some of which make you wonder if you are in West Texas. Valleys, hills and rocky outcroppings covered in cactus compliment the silence surprise some visitors with the dramatic change in scenery.

Whether you’re staying in town for a weekend or looking to explore the outskirts, Fredericksburg has plenty of choices, but remember that once you believe you’ve seen it all, you only have to look a little beyond the city limits to realize there’s so much more.

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