With its German Christmas square, down-home shops and old-fashioned vibe, this Texas Hill Country town is perfect for a holiday getaway.
When you think “winter wonderland,” your mind might wander to snowed-in cabins in New England, the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center, maybe even powder-covered ski slopes in Aspen. But a little town in Texas Hill Country? It seems incongruous, but when you remember that Fredericksburg – north of San Antonio, almost in the center of the Lone Star State – was settled by Germans in 1846, it starts to make sense.
Germans are serious about Christmas. While they’re more commonly associated with Oktoberfest, Christmas is arguably a much bigger deal in Deutschland. Every major city has its own showstopping Christmas market, from Cologne’s Cathedral Christmas Market (one of six throughout the city) to Frankfurt’s Römerberg and St. Paul’s Square Christmas Market, which transforms the city’s Old Town into a bustling Christmas village with decorated wooden huts, gifts, provisions and more.
Set on rolling plains not unlike the wilderness around Prescott, Fredericksburg has its own historical German square, the Marktplatz. It surrounds the Vereins Kirche, an octagonal re-creation of the building that housed the town’s first church and school. Every year, the square transforms into a winter wonderland of colorful lights, a soaring Christmas tree, an ice rink and a German Christmas pyramid, a glowing, folklore-inspired wooden structure with moving components akin to the magical machinations of cuckoo clocks.
The Marktplatz is the center of Christmas frivolity in Fredericksburg, but the whole town gets swept up in merriment every November and December.
Here are 12 things to do and see in Fredericksburg over the holiday season – one for each day of Christmas, per the classic carol.
1 Pioneer Museum
See how the first German pioneers lived at this 3½-acre compound in downtown Fredericksburg with original homesteads, a schoolhouse, a log cabin, a barn, a bathhouse, a smokehouse and a Sunday house – a city residence, usually made of limestone, for a farmer visiting town for supplies and church on Sunday. 325 W. Main St., 830-990-8441, pioneermuseum.net
2 Christmas Home Tour
This year marks the 62nd annual Christmas Home Tour & Market, which showcases historical German homes and newer builds decked out in their holiday best. The revelry takes place December 6-7 and includes a market preview party ($35), home tour ($30) and market (free with home tour ticket; $5 market only). Proceeds benefit the Pioneer Museum. pioneermuseum.net
3 Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
You really feel like you’ve seen a life from beginning to end at this vast national park in nearby Stonewall that houses President Lyndon B. Johnson’s birthplace, boyhood home, schoolhouse, the Texas White House (LBJ and Lady Bird’s residence until their deaths), presidential hangar and family cemetery. Two visitor entrances – check website for directions. nps.gov/lyjo/planyourvisit
4 Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm
They walk the walk at this living history farm at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park: Employees not only speak at length about early German settlement in the area, they also grow and slaughter pigs to make their own sausage, raise and shear their own sheep and grow and can their own vegetables. A December visit means old-fashioned German Christmas cookies for guests to sample. 501 State Park Rd. 52, Stonewall, 830-644-2455, nps.gov
5 Peaches & Pecans
Texas is known for its pecan crop, which is on impressive and delicious display at Fredericksburg Pecan Co. (711 E. Main St., 830-997-7378, texaspecansandgifts.com), where you can sample around 10 varieties and every pecan product you can imagine, from butter to maple syrup (excellent with Belgian waffles). But peaches? They’re not just a Georgia thing. Das Peach Haus (1406 S. U.S. Hwy. 87, 830-997-8969, daspeachhaus.com) started as a family farm’s roadside stand and evolved into a specialty market with a wine bar, cooking school and overwhelming inventory of sauces, jellies, mixes and more from owners Fischer & Wieser (credited with the creation of raspberry chipotle sauce).
As biscochitos are to New Mexico and black and white cookies are to New York, kolaches are to Texas. The German pastries – available sweet and filled with fruit or savory and filled with sausage – are sold all around town, but some of our favorites are at Clear River (138 E. Main St., 830-997-8490, icecreamandfun.com), a retro diner/bakery/ice cream shop ripped straight from the 1950s, where Grease plays on a loop on the overhead TV.
7 Texas Wine
Fredericksburg is in Texas Hill Country, which also happens to be Texas Wine Country. There are more than 50 wineries in the area, with most producing Rhône varietals grown in the Texas High Plains in the northwest panhandle of the state. Highlights: Narrow Path Winery’s bright, sun-kissed Marsanne; Grape Creek Vineyards’ fruity, spicy Rendezvous; 4.0 Cellars’ spiced, figgy Dawson Red (texaswinetrail.com). Try a lot of Texas wines in one place – with incredible contemporary American/Southwest cuisine – at Cabernet Grill (2805 S. State Hwy. 16, 830-990-5734, cabernetgrill.com), named one of America’s Best 100 Wine Restaurants by Wine Enthusiast in 2018.
Haven’t bought holiday gifts yet? No worries. You’re bound to find something for everyone on your list in downtown Fredericksburg, from clothing and accessories at Hill Country Outfitters (for humans; hillcountryoutfitters.net) and Dogologie (for dogs; dogologie.com) to authentic German beer steins and global art at The Grasshopper (sister/neighbor store to Hill Country Outfitters). Black Chalk Home & Laundry (blackchalkhome.com) is like the lovechild of Anthropologie and Scottsdale’s Tierra Del Lagarto – full of beautiful things collected from around the world. Gathered & Good (gatheredandgood.com) has a mix of new and vintage homewares. It’s a microcosm of Fredericksburg’s revered antiques scene, with prices in my range.
Travel back in time at the Hangar Hotel, built from the ground up to resemble a World War II plane hangar. It’s cozy, kitschy and full of aviation memorabilia and art. The on-site Airport Diner is a replica of an old railcar diner with terrazzo tiles. Because the hotel is at Gillespie County Airport, you can watch planes take off and land from its breezy balcony. Bring hot chocolate and enjoy the show.
155 Airport Rd., 830-997-9990, hangarhotel.com
9 National Museum of the Pacific War
The European front and the Holocaust dominate much of the conversation about World War II. This immersive museum aims to change that with a frankly overwhelming complex that includes the Admiral Nimitz Gallery, George H.W. Bush Gallery, Japanese Garden of Peace, Plaza of Presidents and Pacific Combat Zone, where you can walk on a re-creation battlefield and watch lifelike reenactments. 340 E. Main St., 830-997-8600, pacificwarmuseum.org
10 German Food
Schnitzel and spaetzle are as common in Fredericksburg as tacos and burgers are in Phoenix. For traditional fare with unique ambiance, try Rathskeller Restaurant (260 E. Main St., 830-990-5858, rathskellerrestaurant.net), an underground German joint. For a more refined, globally inflected take on Teutonic cuisine and a sharp wine list with lesser-known German, Austrian and Hungarian labels, Otto’s (316 E. Austin St., 830-307-3336, ottosfbg.com) is a dream. The menu changes weekly and features as many local and foraged ingredients as possible. Altstadt Brewery (6120 U.S. Hwy. 290 East, 830-304-2337, altstadtbeer.com) looks like a Disney version of a German castle and serves seriously good German food with its German brews.
11 Emma + Ollie
Fredericksburg’s wee bakery and breakfast and lunch spot looks hipster, but it’s all heart. Chef Rebecca Rather’s menu of beignets, tomato toast, biscuits, meat pies, BLTs, burgers and Benedicts doesn’t have a single dud. 607 S. Washington St., 830-383-1013, emmaolliefbg.com
12 Fredericksburg Pie Company
Conclude your holiday getaway the best way we know how: homemade pie and locally roasted coffee at this Hill Country institution, where the crust is made with a three-day process. There are 20 varieties in the case every morning, but they sell out quickly, so head over early to snag a piece of heavenly chocolate pecan. Merry Christmas, y’all! 108 E. Austin St., 830-990-6992, fbgpie.com