Blue skies and blue bonnets


This B-25 Mitchell, the most-heavily-armed warplane in World War II, may also have been its most versatile. It was used for high- and low-level bombing, some aerial fighting, strafing, photoreconaissance and submarine patrol. Other exhibits include one of the Japanese one-man submarines spotted in Pearl Harbor -- by ships carrying Minnesotan sailors -- just before the Dec. 7, 1941 attack. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

Red corn poppies, yellow California poppies and Texas bluebonnets flourish in the gardens of Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas. The company is the nation’s largest producer of wildflower seeds and ships seeds all over the world. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

A “Sunday house” at the Pioneer Museum complex in Fredericksburg. These tiny, picturesque cottages were where German immigrants in the 1800s spent weekends in town. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

The unimposing main street of downtown Fredericksburg features boutiques, interesting restaurants and what’s described as a “bland, unimpressive” building that opens into a state-of-the-art World War II museum with a priceless collection of exhibits. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

The toll paid in lives in World War II’s Pacific theater is illustrated in photos and firsthand accounts at the the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

In his tasting room, Ken Maxwell, owner of Torre di Pietra Vineyards and Winery in Fredericksburg, serves wine samples for guests and talks about his wine making. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

Shrimp and crab cakes with guava and kiwi salsa made up one of several small plates at the Navajo Grill in Fredericksburg. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

The trails around Enchanted Rock, a huge pink granite dome just north of Fredericksburg, are popular with hikers. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

Tiny Fredericksburg’s take on history, outdoor activities and food is as big as all Texas

Fredericksburg, Texas, in the Texas hill country, is one of the best-kept secrets in travel. This small town offers visitors a menu of options. Take the kids or grandkids in the summer to see the National Museum of the Pacific War, which has earned rave reviews from ages 9 to 90 for its engaging look at the experience of World War II. Go with friends to browse the boutiques, relax in the spas, visit picturesque homes and historic buildings and tour the wineries. Or, even better, plan a winter getaway to this temperate region for hiking and biking, rock climbing, year-round golfing and seasonal birding tours. Shoppers and diners will find it’s a haven for artists, a treasure trove of antiques and a spot for gourmet dining and specialty foods.

The 10,500-population town, about the size of Sauk Rapids, is the former home of Lyndon Johnson, the nation’s 36th president.

Huffington Post calls Fredericksburg one of six small towns to visit this year and Southern Living Magazine calls it a “small town we love.” It’s less expensive, less crowded than most touristy destinations and combines the flavor of its small-town German heritage with the sophistication of a larger city.

When I found out several friends were going, including Shelly and Dan Edwardson of Shoreview, I was curious, and off I went.

The Pacific theater

The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only institution in the continental U.S. dedicated to telling the story of the war in the Pacific.

It was formerly called the Nimitz Museum, as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who commanded the war in the Pacific theater, grew up in Fredericksburg.

Friends and I started our tour in a darkened room of the George H. W. Bush Gallery with one of the five remaining HA-19 Japanese two-person mini submarines, one of which was spotted from the USS Ward, a ship carrying many Minnesotan sailors, just before the Pearl Harbor attack. The museum’s “you are there” approach presents the Pearl Harbor attack with video imagery, recollections from people who were there and the sounds of the bombing, air-raid sirens and destruction heard that day. I felt I was right in the middle of the attack that brought the U.S. into World War II.

We went from room to room and saw tanks that were bombed, an atomic bomb casing and the B-25 from the historic Doolittle Raid led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle to bomb targets in Japan in retaliation for Pearl Harbor.

Visitors could read the wall signs or delve deeper into the stories told by soldiers who were actually there. Exhibits followed the whole Pacific campaign and the major battles with interactive displays.

The museum detailed the seeds of conflict and also the effects of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. One room showed a wall-size picture of the first wave of U.S. fighters who tried to take an island, cut down in a row in the sand as they struggled up the beach.

By the time I finished going through this war museum, I was in tears over the extent of the war - the damage, the deaths and heroism of the soldiers of my parents’ generation.

My late father served in the Army in the Philippines and never talked about the war, maybe because the memories were simply too terrible.

Sunday houses

Fredericksburg was settled by German immigrants in the 1840s, including the grandfather of Admiral Nimitz, and the town still retains its German flavor.

In Germany over a century and a half ago, there was oppression and unrest. So many Germans headed to the U.S., the land of opportunity and Texas officials offered land as an enticement.

Early immigrants were well-educated, and the first influx of farmers were followed by skilled workers. The German language was predominant through the 1940s, and the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce still advertises “kinderspiel” events especially for kids.

The early farming immigrants also received town lots, where they built little houses -- a parlor on the first floor and a sleeping loft on the second. These came to be called “Sunday houses” once settlers acquired their 10-acre farms (far less than the 320 acres per family they expected) outside town. Roads to town were in horrible shape back then, so families stayed in their Sunday houses on weekends to do business, socialize and attend church.

We took a walking tour of the National Historic District to learn more. Sunday houses, several with additions added over the years, are still there. The Pioneer Museum complex, which celebrates the Fredericksburg of old, has a barn, blacksmith shop, school, bathhouse, social hall, firefighter museum and several homes.

Biking, hiking, wine tasting

With moderate winter temperatures, Fredericksburg is considered by some to be the bicycling capital of Texas due to its rolling hills and panoramic views. So four of us went to Bicycleworks where we were fitted with bikes and helmets and then rode through the edge of town past sheep and goat farms and out into the rolling hills.

Hiking is also popular. One afternoon a few of us went to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and started climbing a narrow, rocky path up to the huge pink granite dome, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for a spectacular, panoramic view of the area.
But I was afraid of falling, so I went back down and did an easier hike on trails around the base of Enchanted Rock among the trees and flowers while they reached the summit.  

A wine lover’s haven

The Texas Hill Country was named one of the 10 best wine destinations around the world in 2014 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Fredericksburg is at the epicenter with 14 wineries plus dozens more within an hour or two, and the area is one of the fastest growing wine-producing regions in the U.S.

In the early years, Mexicans planted vineyards for sacramental wine. Then in the early 1920s, the modern wine industry began, often with Spanish and Mediterranean-style grapes that were well suited for the hot summers.

Today, many wineries have fun tasting rooms, including Grape Creek Vineyards, 4.0 Cellars, Torre di Pietra, and Pedernales Cellars, where I enjoyed sampling Texas wines like Tempranillo and Viognier.

For a chance of pace, visitors might visit nearby Luckenbach, the town made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1976 country hit. I watched a few men strumming guitars, spotted a rooster crowing in the tree, and soaked up the laid-back atmosphere.

For a fun and offbeat vacation in the fall, winter and spring (or summer if you like hot weather), Fredericksburg offers the ease of getting around a small town plus biking, hiking, trendy restaurants, art galleries and shops, wineries, history and many different festivals.

“I really loved the Texas Hill Country scenery in that area,” Shelly said. “Fredericksburg is a must stop for its German heritage and restaurants, small-town charm, Pacific War Museum and good shopping.”

I couldn’t have summed it up any better.

For more information, go to www.visitfredericksburgtx.com.

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7818.


Where to stay:

Fredericksburg Inn and Suites is in the heart of town.

The Hangar Hotel mimics a World War II hangar. Private planes frequently land there.

Barons Creekside has individual cabins partially constructed with wood and stained glass shipped from owner Daniel Meyer’s old home in Switzerland.

The county has 407 bed and breakfasts and guest houses.


Where to eat:

West End Pizza - In the outdoor courtyard, enjoy a pasta and pizza feast and top it off with homemade cheesecake.

Clear River Pecan Company - Try a colorful chef’s salad with pecans and one of their specialty homemade ice creams like peach amaretto pecan with a chocolate chip cookie.

Navajo Grill - Sit outside on a covered patio and try some small plates like duck with lentils and squash, rib trio, goat cheese with pork charcuterie, and shrimp and crab cakes with guava and kiwi salsa. Top it off with chocolate torte.

Fredericksburg Brewing Co. - The grilled catfish smothered with a delicious chopped tomato sauce is a winner. Try a glass of award-winning beer at the oldest brewpub in Texas.

Chocolat! - Sample dark chocolate with liquid orange liquor or a variety of other flavors.

 

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