FREDERICKSBURG, Texas - In the rolling hill country of southeast Texas is the fabled locale of Fredericksburg, a small city that defies categorization and is becoming a growing magnet for city folk seeking a tranquil getaway.
What started as an outpost of German settlers nearly 200 years ago has evolved into a bustling hub for both residents and tourists that includes a historic district, museums, art galleries, a formidable shopping district, fruit orchards and wildflower farms and an eclectic dining scene.
With more than 70 restaurants and 150 shops, Fredericksburg has long been luring visitors from nearby Austin and Houston for weekend getaways.
According to Daryl Whitworth, of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city is documented to have the most bed and breakfasts in the entire Southwest, more than 350 at last count. Some are historic homes from the 1800s, including "Sunday Houses."
Unique to the Fredericksburg region, Sunday Houses are cabin-like homes that played an important social and economic role in the lives of Fredericksburg pioneers. When the original settlers came to Fredericksburg around 1846, they were each given a town lot and acreage near the settlement. In those days, wagons or buggies were the only means of transportation.
The Sunday Houses were built for use on the weekends when country residents would come to town to trade, shop, socialize and worship. Most Sunday Houses were small one to two room structures with a sleeping loft. The furnishings were simple, providing the bare necessities for a weekend stay.
Many of the early settlers came from Mainz and Biebrich on the Rhine and Fredericksburg's mile-long stretch of Main Street reflects the city's early roots with still-popular German eateries, including the Fredericksburg Brew Pub which features Bavarian-style ales, steaming hot soft pretzels, venison chili, and jager schnitzel (www.yourbrewery.com).
There's also the Clear River Pecan Co., famous for its 50 flavors of handmade ice cream and dizzying array of baked goods made on premises, including their gooey butter cake, peach turnovers and praline muffins (www.icecreamandfun.com).
But there's more to dine on than comfort food in Fredericksburg. There's the ultra-contemporary August E.'s and its nouvelle Texas menu of citrus truffle salad, pan-seared Hawaiian escolar and akaushi burgers (www.august-es.com).
The Rock House Restaurant at Fredericksburg Herb Farm features escargot blanquette, pan-seared salmon with herbed risotto and decadently rich flan (www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com) .
Outdoor activities abound in the region, particularly during spring and fall months when the often-scorching south Texas climate is more temperate.
There are miles of secluded, rocky walking trails at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, where the star attraction is a massive pink granite dome that spans 640 acres and more than 400 feet tall (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/parkguide/rgn-hc-009.phtml).
A visit to the Lone Star State wouldn't be complete without taking in an evening of live country music and there's no better place to do it than the nearby landmark of Lukenbach. Immortalized by the famous Waylon Jennings-Willie Nelson duet 30 years ago, Lukenbach (population 2) features live music every night of the week. It was established as a trading post in 1849 and is now known around the globe for its simple devotion to country music and good times.
The dance hall and general store pay homage to the bygone eras of the 1920s-1940s with décor and an inventory that have stood still in time. (www.luckenbachtexas.com) .
The history that Fredericksburg is steeped in can be viewed at the Pioneer Museum, an authentic campus of buildings and artifacts that give visitors a slice of early-settler life (www.pioneermuseum.net).
There's also the National Museum of the Pacific War on Main Street, which had its grand reopening in December for the new George H.W. Bush Gallery. The museum is based in Fredericksburg because it's the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who, at the height of the Pacific war, commanded more than 2 million men and women, 5,000 ships and 20,000 planes.
The original home of the museum is the Nimitz Steamboat Hotel, restored to its 1890 configuration, which overlooks the museum's six-acre campus. The hotel includes the new Cailloux Education Center, event facilities and a modern exhibition on the life and career of Admiral Nimitz.
The new George H. W. Bush Gallery, opened on December 7, is a state-of-the-art 33,000-foot exhibition that interprets the stories of America's war in the Pacific and China-Burma-India Theater during World War II.
The Bush Gallery features 40 media installations, approximately 900 artifacts in 97 climate-controlled cases, 15 macro-artifacts and hundreds of historic photographs. The museum's memorial courtyard with over 1,200 commemorative plaques honoring individuals, units and ships that served in the Pacific Theater.
A classic Japanese garden, a gift of the people of Japan to honor Admiral Nimitz for his respect for the Japanese people and their culture in the postwar years, provides an oasis for reflection. Also outdoors are 10 granite monuments to the 10 US presidents who served in World War II, and whose experience in the war shaped their leadership of the country.
But perhaps the most famous historical attraction in the region is the Lyndon B. Johnson State Historical Park in nearby Stonewall. The rolling campus includes a reconstruction the 36th US president's boyhood home, still-working cattle ranch, permanent exhibits on his life and accomplishments, Johnson's gravesite and the stately white two-story second home that was dubbed the Texas White House while he was in office. Johnson spent a considerable amount of time at his beloved ranch while serving as president, famously taking cabinet meetings at a round table underneath the shelter of a live oak tree. (www.nps.gov/lyjo/index.htm) .
For general information on lodging, dining and attractions in Fredericksburg, visit : www.fredtexlodging.com .Stacey Morris is a freelance food and travel writer based in Lake George, N.Y. www.staceymorris.com.