Bisecting the Texas Hill Country, U.S. 290 draws most visitors west for a weekend of sipping and shopping. Though find more than miles of vineyards and smiling shop keepers, both Fredericksburg and Johnson City feature museums and historical sites garnering state-wide attention. Explore sites depicting the early life of German pioneers and later a former president. Or learn about the latest technology and science through a kid’s eye. And it’s also home to one of the largest bat colonies in the state of Texas.
Sipping and strolling down Main Street tops the to-do list for many a visitor. Though Fredericksburg’s museums retell the story of rugged survival. Be it the land the German immigrants found nearly 200 years ago, offering only shade and some animal tracks. Or the retelling of WWII’s G.I.s and their gritty survival on-and-over the Pacific.
National Museum of the Pacific War
In a complex that includes the majority of a city block, this facility walks visitors through WWII’s Pacific Theater. With engaging exhibits utilizing authentic aircraft and light shows to mimic battle, walk from the beginning of the war to the surrender at Tokyo Bay.
Since the majority of the artifacts are indoors, most visitors spend hours reliving history in the George H.W. Bush Gallery. Strolling through a labyrinth of rooms, find a Japanese Midget Submarine in one exhibit to be followed by a PT Boat in another.
Then turn the corner to see a B-25. A couple of rooms later, a F4F Wildcat Fighter. This facility even grabs the attention of school boys.
Though this museum offers more than aircraft and vessels. Sit a moment and reflect in the Japanese Garden of Peace. And the memorial court remembers those lost.
The National Museum of the Pacific War also hosts WWII reenactments several times a year. The Pacific Combat Zone is down the street and features covered seating and a set reminiscent of M*A*S*H.
Since the Admiral Nimitz Gallery is closed for renovations, enter at 311 E. Austin St. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $15, seniors are $12 and kids 6 and older along with students are $6, with discounts for military members. Admission is good for two days.
With over three acres, experience the pioneer life of German settlers in early Texas. Ten buildings illustrate a life before automobiles and air conditioning. Walk through the Weber Sunday House, a small house located in town for ranchers to use for shopping and attending services. And standing in the log cabin and imagining a life there, redefines the word rustic.
Forget about the convenience of indoor plumbing and imagine the spending days in the dust and the heat when you walk through the Arhelger Bathhouse. Kids can sit in the antique school desks and read German off the blackboard at the White Oak School.
The homestead houses offer rooms furnished with antiques. Like the Kammlah Homestead that included a smokehouse, used for curing meats and sausage.
Located at 325 West Main St. Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $7.50 with kids 6 to 17 entering for $3.
Vereins Kirche Museum
A rebuilt version of the first public building in Fredericksburg that served as a schoolhouse, town hall, a fort for protection and a church. Stroll through the exhibits to learn more about the history of Fredericksburg.
Located at 100 West Main St. in the center of Marktplatz. Open Monday to Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free
Fort Martin Scott
Explore the first U.S. Army Post on the western frontier. Originally established as a camp in 1848, Camp Houston was later renamed after Lt. Col. Martin Scott, killed at the battle of Molina Del Rey in 1847.
Situated along the banks of Barons Creek, it originally housed 21 different buildings. As the frontier moved west, Fort Martin Scott assumed the role of a forage deport, supporting other forts.
Located at 1606 East Main St. Open from Thursday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free
Texas Rangers Heritage Center
Stephen F. Austin unofficially created the legendary Texas Rangers in 1823 with a call to arms to protect the newly arrived settlers. They later caught notorious outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde and prevented the assassination of U.S. President William Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Díaz. Along the way, the Texas Rangers cemented themselves as part of the allure of the Old West.
In a multi-phased development learn about the Texas Rangers by walking through the Ring of Honor, dedicated to fallen Rangers. Also find an impressive bronze sculpture depicting the Rangers on horseback. And a new facility is in the final stages of development to educate others about the history, heritage and culture of the Texas Rangers.
Located at 1618 E. Main St., adjacent to Fort Martin Scott. Open Thursday to Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free
Old Tunnel State Park
In an abandoned train tunnel from a hundred years ago, find three million Mexican free tail bats from May to October. As one of the largest colonies in Texas, see the waves upon waves of insect-eating mammals swirl out each night before dusk.
This state park location offers a free viewing platform. Or head down for an interpretive program at the lower viewing platform for a small fee.
Located at 10619 Old San Antonio Rd., southeast of Fredericksburg. Call 866 978-2287 for the latest bat emergence time.
Hometown to the 36th President of the United States, Johnson City offers more than the junction of U.S. 281 and U.S. 290. Find a STEM-based children’s museum to rival those in the largest cities along with a National Park Service site dedicated to LBJ.
Science Mill in Johnson City
Bringing a STEM-based museum to rural Texas, kids learn about more science, technology, engineering and math via hands-on exhibits. With a focus on third to eighth graders, kids ramble through an repurposed gist mill from 1880.
Each of the silos offers a different exhibit, like the fractalarium, based on a Romanesco broccoli. Then the baby African spurred tortoises are newest members of the Science Mill family. The Fossil Dig is another must for would-be paleontologists.
The Colossal Robotic Hand moves as commanded by a kid. And the aquaponics greenhouse teaches kids about new agricultural techniques by growing herbs and koi fish. In all the Science Mill offers over 50 hands-on activities for kids of all ages.
Located at 101 South Lady Bird Ln. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. Adult admission is $11 and kids 3 to 18 are $9.50.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City
Learn about the 36th President and his rural roots. This National Park Service site incorporates two districts and a state park to fully illustrate his life in the Texas Hill Country.
Start at the main National Park Service Visitor Center in Johnson City for maps along with two movies. Then walk to LBJ’s Boyhood Home with its outhouse and barn. Ranger-lead tours are available Thursday through Monday, several times a day.
Depending on the weather, the Johnson Settlement is connected by a walking trail. Find some longhorn cattle grazing along with the Sam Ealy Johnston, Sr. Cabin, a rustic two-room pioneer home that belonged to LBJ’s grandparents.
Then 14 miles west of Johnson City, check in at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site first to obtain driving permits for the LBJ Ranch. Then the scenic drive that takes visitors through the 700-acre ranch.
Stop at the one-room schoolhouse where LBJ started school when he was 4. And the LBJ birthplace offers another look at early Texas life along the banks of the Pedernales River. Then under the shade of oak trees, resides the President’s final resting place in the family cemetery.
Continue around the airstrip to the Show Barn to see some of the descendants of LBJ’s prized Hereford cattle. At the Texas White House, see one of the aircraft LBJ used during his administration, the Lockheed JetStar. Another favorite is the collection of automobiles, like an Amphicar that LBJ would drive into nearby lakes.
Though the tours inside of the Texas White House have been suspended for engineering issues, tours of the grounds are available. And the airplane hangar offers an interpretive area.
The LBJ Ranch is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free but a permit is required.
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site
Along Ranch Road 1, the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park offers a visitor center with LBJ Ranch tour tickets. Also find the Sauer-Beckmann Farm that demonstrates the workings of a farm in the early 1900s. Herds of American bison and Texas Longhorns graze in the pastures. A seasonal pool is open in the summer.
Located at 199 Park Road 52. Visitor Center open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Free
Where to Stay:
Fredericksburg Inn and Suites offers renovated rooms with details like barn doors and wildflower art. Enjoy a complimentary full breakfast and resort-style pool along the banks of Barons Creek.
Where to Eat:
Sample some tasty treats like German sweet pretzels and rye bread, both baked daily at Old German Bakery at 225 W. Main St. With a breakfast and lunch menu packed with sausages and schnitzels, fill up your German food tank and have enough for a to-go box.
Where to Sip:
The Texas Wine County offers seventeen different vineyards and wineries along U.S. 290. Find tasting rooms in Fredericksburg, like Fredericksburg Winery, and along the highway between Johnson City, Stonewall and Fredericksburg, like, Becker Vineyards. Its wines have been served at the White House on several occasions through several administrations.