- Mauri Elbel Special to the American-Statesman
Home to an ever-expanding number of wineries, a burgeoning culinary scene and hundreds of romantic bed and breakfasts, Fredericksburg has provided us with a convenient escape from reality since becoming parents. Every year or two, we leave the kids with Grandma and Grandpa for a weekend of wine swirling, fine dining and unwinding in the heart of the Hill Country. While the destination has and always will be fabulous for adult-only sojourns, last month we followed spring’s flower-fringed roads to Fredericksburg with our three kids along for the ride and discovered this charming German town of 11,000 is just as fun for little ones as it is for their parents. If you’re considering a family trip to Fredericksburg, below are some fun ways to fill the days.
Hike Enchanted Rock
Standing on Enchanted Rock on a brisk spring morning and watching as the sun breaks through the clouds and bathes the ancient pink dome in a golden glow is unarguably the best way to start a day in the Hill Country. It’s a steep 425-foot climb to the summit, but the rugged beauty and sheer awe of this rock seem to coax even the littlest legs to the top. Our boys scampered up more than a half-mile to the summit — an experience that’s often compared to climbing the stairs of a 40-story building — with an energy I rarely see, breaking their stride only to repeatedly scale boulders staggered along the way for even higher views of the green rolling hills spilling out below. At the top, we checked out the rare vernal pools that serve as microhabitats for plant life and fairy shrimp before discovering the cave entrance, where they pulled out flashlights to explore rocky crevices and cracks.
Visit a winery with green space and live music
Widely considered the epicenter of the Hill Country wine region — it was recently named 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations by Wine Enthusiast Magazine — Fredericksburg has garnered a “mini-Napa” reputation thanks to the 30-plus wineries and tasting rooms that call the area home. Bringing kids along doesn’t mean you have to miss out on tasting the region’s flavors. While I wouldn’t take our rowdy minors to intimate tasting rooms, they were in excellent company sharing the soft green lawn at Becker Vineyards (beckervineyards.com) with about two dozen other children and a few friendly dogs. While my husband and I split a tasting ($15 for six samples, which includes a souvenir wine glass), our kids shared a lemonade ($1) and danced to the music of a bluegrass band playing in the sunshine one breezy Saturday afternoon. On nice-weather days, 4.0 Cellars (fourpointwine.com) and Pedernales Cellars (pedernalescellars.com) are equally kid-friendly thanks to their sprawling lawns, covered patios and bring-your-own picnic policies — plus both have live music every Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m., and 4.0 Cellars has food trucks on-site.
This gastronomically growing German town boasts a diverse culinary scene with a fair share of family-friendly options among its 80-plus restaurants. One meal at Tubby’s Ice House (tubbysfbg.com) made me wish I could transport this little gem back to Austin and eat here daily with my children. Tubby’s shares the same ownership and chef as Otto’s German Bistro next door. But as the more casual neighbor, Tubby’s has a covered outdoor patio studded with brightly painted tables and flanked by a fenced-in garden, playscape and bocce ball court. While kids are busy playing, there’s plenty for parents to swoon over, like its delicious Caribbean-inspired street food, extensive draft beer and wine selection, clean bathrooms and green philosophy. Or fuel the whole family with German fare at the Ausländer Restaurant and Biergarten (theauslander.com), where we sat in the casual outdoor biergarten of this Main Street staple sharing schnitzel, sausage links and sauerkraut with our boys while we watched our 1-year-old polish off two servings of spätzle. Nearby, the casual Hondo’s on Main (hondosonmain.com) serves hearty plates like doughnut burgers (juicy angus beef formed into a doughnut and grilled on open-flame mesquite) and Terlingua chili (all beef, no beans) in addition to a varied children’s menu, nightly live music and a full bar. And pop into the oldest brewpub in Texas, Fredericksburg Brewing Company (yourbrewery.com), to sample a flight of six beers brewed on-site in gleaming copper and stainless tanks while kids select a dish from the children’s menu.
Sweeten the trip
It doesn’t take long for kids to discover the sweet side of Fredericksburg, where a vintage candy store or fudge shop is never more than a few steps away. For an afternoon treat, we ducked into the colorful Clear River Pecan Company (icecreamandfun.com), where around 30 different flavors of homemade ice cream and a vast spread of home-baked sweets are served in a 1800s building brightly decorated with ’60s memorabilia. The long line pouring out from cherry-red-framed glass doors proved worth the wait once we had scoops of salted caramel, Blue Suede Shoes and peaches ’n’ cream in our hands. Other sweet stops dotting Main Street include Kelani Yogürt (kelaniyogurt.com), Fredericksburg Fudge (fbgfudge.com), Lone Star Candy Bar, Fredericksburg Popcorn Emporium and Chocolat (facebook.com/Chocolat.tx).
Shop with the tots
There are 150-plus shops, boutiques and art galleries scattered throughout Fredericksburg’s downtown historic district, and a handful are geared to kids. Inside the Olde Thyme Fun Shop, a sliver of a shop that’s been there for nearly a quarter of a century and brims with pranks, disguises, magic tricks and toilet humor, our oldest was faced with a very difficult decision. Should he go with the battery-operated fart machine, a fake chopped-off rubber body part or the classic hand buzzer? I thankfully persuaded him toward the latter, or perhaps he was just distracted by the store’s entertaining owner, Aubrey Schofield, who likes to break the ice with his customers by whipping out a German bagel with a concealed rubber roach. Our middle child found heaven on earth at Dooley’s, an old-fashioned five and dime, where he actually got everything he wanted — saying yes is easy at this inexpensive store. I couldn’t leave Beulah’s, a clothing boutique for little ones and those who love them (a few racks in the back are draped with clothes for Mom), without an irresistibly adorable dress for our daughter. Soft, sustainable baby clothes and green toys can be found at Fredericksburg Natural Baby, and Fitz and Hollerin lures in kids with a playhouse out front and colorful toys and books inside. But the best thing about browsing the stores along Main Street is that you can sip while you shop — sidewalk consumption is legal.
Stay close and comfortable
Fredericksburg boasts over 450 guesthouses and B&Bs as well as a number of hotel and motel options. On past trips, my husband and I have stayed at a handful of quaint bed and breakfasts, but with three kids in tow, the Holiday Inn Express (fredericksburgholidayinn.com) provided the perfect place to stay. From the moment we checked in, the kids were sold thanks to the plate of warm, just-baked cookies they were offered and the impressive swimming pool that caught their eye, complete with waterfalls and two big water slides that made swimming mandatory despite the cool weather. Our spacious room was equipped with two queen beds, a balcony overlooking the pool and a modest kitchen setup with a minifridge and microwave, which came in handy with little ones. And when kids wake up too early for Mom and Dad to mobilize, the downstairs lobby answers with a hearty breakfast buffet spread of scrambled eggs, biscuits, pancakes, bacon, pastries, cereals, fruit and coffee — lots of coffee. But the best thing about staying at this hotel, just a few blocks from Main Street, was that we could walk to lunch, dinner and shops.
Be somebody in Luckenbach
Just 10 miles from Fredericksburg, laid-back Luckenbach is a tiny Hill Country hamlet where time ticks on a bit slower under the shady canopy of 500-year-old oak trees. There’s not a care to be found on these 10 timeless acres; however, you will find daily live music, a cash-only bar stocked with plenty of cold beer, candy and sodas, a General Store with Luckenbach memorabilia and a Feed Lot serving up hearty country plates. We like to visit on weekday afternoons during a picker circle — there’s no admission, it’s uncrowded and we can listen to the acoustic harmony of a half-dozen singers crooning and plucking guitars while our kids partake in simple, old-fashioned fun like dancing on the dirt, giggling as chickens scramble past and climbing trees.
Revisit the past
The National Museum of the Pacific War (pacificwarmuseum.org) retells the history of the Pacific War through its 6-acre, three-museum complex brimming with macro-artifacts, interactive exhibits and powerful reminders. It’s regarded as one of the premier military museums in the nation, but it is also educational and interesting for young children to explore. Families can learn about the early days of Fredericksburg at the Pioneer Museum (pioneermuseum.net). History came to life with historical re-enactments, cannon demonstrations and horse-drawn wagon rides at the grand opening of the Texas Rangers Heritage Center (trhc.org), the 12-acre campus that aims to retell the history, heritage and culture of the Texas Rangers. Take a scenic drive out to nearby Stonewall to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, where you can tour the Texas White House. Or let kids gain a glimpse into the way farm families lived a century ago at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park.
Hand-pick your fun
Natural beauty abounds in Fredericksburg, no matter the season. Find breathtaking flowers at Wildseed Farms, which bursts with more than 200 acres of wildflower fields in bloom from March to October. Here visitors can explore walking trails, browse the Blossoms Boutique and Lantana Nursery, sip a beer in the Brewbonnet Biergarten and purchase native wildflower seeds to plant at home (wildseedfarms.com). Peach season runs from mid-May through the beginning of August and the Fredericksburg area is home to a number of orchards and farms that let you hand-pick the sweet and juicy summertime fruit.