Couples dance to live music performed by blues musician Marcia Ball at the Luckenbach Dance Hall on Saturday. The dance hall, located about 15 minutes west of Fredricksburg, hosts live music and weekly dances.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

FREDERICKSBURG — Located about 80 miles west of both Austin and San Antonio is a small Texas town with a long German name.

On any given Saturday afternoon in Fredericksburg you can see tourists walking up and down the sidewalks of Main Street with cups of beer or wine in their hands. You can find a friendly staff of local high school-aged employees working behind the counter at the Fredericksburg Ice Cream Parlor. 

Wait until around 6:30 p.m. and you can find John Mooring closing his store and getting ready for another night out in the town that stole him away from sunny Los Angeles.

Mooring, co-owner of The Christmas Store, moved to Fredricksburg from Los Angeles years ago and has no intention of returning. Fresh summertime peaches and the friendly charm of a small town in the Texas Hill Country have won him over.

“I love being in the city,” Mooring said. “But the city comes to us here.”

Although he was not born in Fredericksburg, Mooring spoke of the town as if he had lived there his entire life. Over the years, he has become just as much a fixture in the town as his store, which is filled to the brim with decorations for every holiday imaginable.

Mooring’s store is located on Main Street, which is a segment of Highway 290 that slows down as it weaves through Fredericksburg. Main Street serves as the primary stretch for shopping and dining in the city, but Mooring’s homemade list of Fredericksburg attractions extends much further. 

If you plan on making the hour-and-a-half-long-trip to Fredericksburg this summer, the month of June is when you will find the doors to most of the roadside peach stands open. Also consider stopping by The Christmas Store and ask to talk to John about the town’s nightlife for a thorough dissertation on local attractions.

Arrive early enough in the day, before the stores begin closing around 5 p.m., and you have the chance to wander in and out of the stores and boutiques along Main Street. The music of Patsy Cline can be heard drifting through the speakers of The General Store, where you can buy everything from mango salsa to slingshots. For dinner or a late lunch, stop by Der Lindenbaum, which is located in a historic building on Main Street. The restaurant serves authentic German cuisine, ranging from schnitzel to bratwurst. 

For those of legal age, Fredericksburg has even more to offer. Behind Napa Valley in California, the Texas Hill Country is the highest wine-producing region in the country. Mooring’s tailored list of personal favorites includes Housewine, a retail store and wine bar combination. 

The live music scene in Fredericksburg is also something to admire, at least according to Mooring. For a “rowdier” experience, he recommends Buc O’ Brian’s. About 10 miles west of town is the Hill Top Cafe, which is owned by Asleep At The Wheel band member Johnny Nicholas and his wife Brenda. Mooring said that some lucky guests get to enjoy entertainment by Nicholas himself.

For the true, down-home Texas experience, drive the dark road south to Luckenbach, which has more buildings in its vicinity than residents. 

The 15-minute drive from Fredericksburg to Luckenbach feels like sneaking off to a secret tree fort you and your friends built in the woods. There are no streetlights, and the only indication that you have arrived at the tiny Texas town is a flashing arrow on the side of the country road. 

Abbey Road, event manager and talent buyer for the Luckenbach live music venue and dance hall, gave a full tour of the premises, boasting about its history and growth over the past few years.

“We’re pretty much just a state of mind,” Road said. “This place is about being creative.”

Inside the dance hall that Saturday night was blues musician Marcia Ball, along with about 50 guests, some of whom brought their dancing shoes with them.

The atmosphere inside the hall, which is otherwise completely surrounded by darkness, is something similar to the intimate living room feeling that usually accompanies family gatherings. As the saying goes, everybody is somebody in Luckenbach, and it also feels safe to say that everyone is familiar in Luckenbach. 

Even though the peaches will not be ripe for another month or two, Fredricksburg still has more than enough to fill up a weekend trip. 

The drive through the Hill Country is filled with unexpected sights and experiences, including exotic scenery, local color, and delicious food. All UT students would benefit from this short, inexpensive road trip.

Photo Credit: Ricky Stein | Daily Texan Staff

Of all the beautiful drives in the world, few afford such an excellent opportunity for escape and reflection as the rich, scenic ramble through the Texas Hill Country. Oak-covered hills, grazing livestock and amaranthine skies paint the backdrop along U.S. Highway 290, tempting the mind to wander along every dried-up creek bed and solitary country road.

An hour-and-a-half drive west leads you past dozens of roadside diners, town squares and homegrown peach stands before ultimately arriving at the picturesque German town of Fredericksburg. Its proximity to Austin, small-town charm and strong local flavor make it an excellent daytrip for Longhorns, perfect for getting away from the books for a little while.

After stopping at one of the region’s famed peach stands to whet your appetite, head for the Ausländer Restaurant and Biergarten, a local institution for over two decades. Try either the Reuben or Opa’s sausage sandwich. Either way you can’t go wrong, especially if you wash it down with any number of the dozens of Eastern European beers offered on tap.

Next stroll down the über-Deutsch Main Street (or ‘Hauptstrasse,’ as it was originally known to the first German settlers in the 1840s). Brewers, bakers, chandlers, winemakers, chocolatiers, antique-and-art dealers, jam-and-salsa makers and fruit-and-veggie picklers represent only a cross section of the vendors to whom you will feel compelled to give money (this writer fell victim to the General Store’s free sample of pecan honey butter — best $8.99 ever spent.)

After taking your fill of small-town Texana, drive 18 miles north on FM 965 to world-famous Enchanted Rock State Park for some of the best hiking and most mesmerizing vistas in the state of Texas. A geographical wonder, the 425-foot pink granite batholith challenges adventurers to a 30-minute trek to the summit. Once reached, climbers are rewarded with a hefty breeze and an unobstructed view of some of the most beautiful natural landforms known to man. Admission to the park is $6, overnight camping $17.

Before dusk, head back south through Fredericksburg and take a right on Old San Antonio Road. A winding, looping country byway conducts you to Old Tunnel State Park, named after a ghostly abandoned railroad underpass. Each evening at sunset between May and October, the spectral nature of the scene is intensified when three million Brazilian free-tailed bats come billowing out of the tunnel in search of their evening meal. The bat colony, along with the abandoned tunnel, qualifies the site as one of the spookiest haunts in the Texas Hill Country.

Another famous haunt (though hardly spooky) awaits 10 miles to the northeast. Luckenbach Dance Hall and General Store has been a legendary hangout for generations of Central Texans. Made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker’s seminal 1973 album Viva Terlingua and popularized worldwide by Waylon Jennings’ smash hit single, the ‘town’ is as rustic as it gets, consisting of the dance hall, the store (which serves equally as a saloon) and whoever happens to be hanging around at any given point in time.

The venue hosts popular regional acts on the weekends, but the best time to go is when it’s still light outside. If you play guitar, bring it with you. If you know any Jerry Jeff songs, you’ll have friends for life.

Cold beer, warm smiles and the best $7 pulled pork sandwiches west of the Balcones Fault flow together like harmony lines in a familiar country song at this Central Texas cultural gem. An hour-and-a-half drive later, you’re back in Austin with plenty of time left to go out on a Saturday night.

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Uncovering gems in Hill Country