A five-day Texas Road trip to Austin in January is barely enough to scratch the surface of this region of Texas. There is plenty of presidential history to be found in Texas, and Austin has more than its fair share because of its link to the 36th President, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Texas Hill Country provides a beautiful journey, especially if you like wine.
The scent of flowers greets guests as they enter the opulent lobby. This is where excellent customer service is the norm. The surroundings are somewhat old-school but comfortable. My room in the older part of the hotel consisted of a sitting room, a bedroom with a king bed, a small bathroom, and an enormous balcony overlooking downtown.
The Driskill was built in 1886 by Capitan Jesse Driskill. The hotel has seen its share of Austin’s history. The walls of the LBJ suite alone could tell stories. One room stood out; the Maximilian Room contains mirrors that date prior to the 1930s and are as beautiful as they are highly valued. It is just another piece of history possessed by the Driskill. The hotel offers a history tour and an art tour. Do you like ghost stories? They have one of those too.
Bar and Grill at the Driskill
You are in the heart of Texas and only blocks from the Capitol, so be prepared for strong drinks. The bar has comfortable seating, and the centerpiece is a sculpture of a cowboy chasing another on horseback. LBJ and Lady Bird had their first date in The Grill at the Driskill.
Stylishly appointed with modern décor, the large sitting room is where the talking is done. Portraits of LBJ and Lady Bird greet upon entrance. Just outside the room are photographs and letters documenting the power couple’s many stays at the hotel.
If you’re looking for an excellent upscale hotel and want to dive into Texas history, stay at the Driskill. It’s worth it.
This impressive edifice stands as proudly as its namesake on the University of Texas at Austin Campus. Johnson was a force to be reckoned with. Inside you will walk through his political career. At the bottom of the Grand Staircase, you can view the volumes of presidential papers from his administration.
Lady Bird Johnson Exhibit
Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson was born on the border of Louisiana and Texas. She, too, was a force of nature. She knew her own mind, and even though she and LBJ did not hit it off initially, she knew he would go far. They were a power couple. During LBJ’s administration, Lady Bird had an agenda that included environmental efforts for Texas and beyond. This expansive exhibit covers her life story.
The Oval Office
The Oval is an exact replica of Johnson’s oval office down to the items on the desk. Across the hall is the smaller office of Lady Bird Johnson.
After visiting the LBJ library, I visited the Bullock Museum. The museum highlights all of Texas history on three floors. Working your way up to the top is a walk through Texas state history. It is defiantly worth a visit. It is located in downtown Austin behind the Texas Capitol.
There are three presidential libraries in Texas. While George H.W. Bush’s library is not in Austin, but it is close enough for a day trip from Austin to College Station.
Visitors enter the museum through the rotunda at the Bush Library. You stop and wonder if you were in Washington, D.C. There is a new introductory movie on H.W.’s life, including scenes from Barbara and George’s funerals. Their 73-year love story ended with his passing on November 30, 2018, only eight months after her. He couldn’t go on without his beloved ‘Bar.’ The gravesite, located a short walk from the museum, is a must to pay tribute to these extraordinary citizens.
The library has undergone some changes since my first visit in 2017. George’s naval service is archived a flight above the main floor family history.
A traveling exhibit on Nelson Mandela was on display and was a fascinating look into the Prime Minister’s life and sacrifice.
The H.W. Bush library tells the story of George’s career and family in a straightforward way. There are many artifacts to see here. There is a new pavilion and permanent exhibits coming in 2024. It is one of my favorite presidential libraries.
Pulling into the LBJ Texas Ranch site is a little confusing. It is located across the Pedernales River from the actual LBJ Ranch. They have a great gift shop, and you must get a pass for driving onto the ranch site. A small exhibit on ranch life is included in one building. The rangers here were helpful and friendly.
The LBJ National Park Site is massive. While the Texas White House is currently closed to visitors, they can still walk to the house and enjoy the view of the Pedernales River. Visitors can view the interior of the house on an iPad.
Guests must drive around the ranch to get the enormity of it. The deer are unafraid of cars, and cows roam the fields. Only three residents live on the ranch, LBJ’s last secretary, Jewel Malachak, and two other ranch personnel.
LBJ spent a quarter of his presidency at the Ranch. Cabinet meetings were held under the live oak trees.
The Ranch is a larger than life look at Texas Presidential history.
Not far from the LBJ Ranch is a small motel that dates to the 60s. The Press Room, my room for the evening, was where the press stayed while covering President Johnson when he was at the Texas White House. It is comfortable, updated, and if only the walls could talk.
Restaurants in Stonewall, Texas
There are very few restaurants in Stonewall, but I was told of a place to look for, Hye Thai. When I saw the sign, I pulled in. My takeaway plate of Pad Thai was delicious and more than I could eat because next door was Orobianco Italian Creamery which served gelato and had a full deli. I quickly tasted the mozzarella, which was creamy and smooth. The gelato was the same. This is something the locals get to enjoy often.
This small museum is all about LBJ and his time spent as an educator. He studied education at nearby Texas State University. The college has a communication school named after Johnson. He was head of the debate team when he studied there. LBJ’s youngest daughter, Luci, is an active contributor to the museum. The museum has many Johnson artifacts, including a trunk Johnson used when he was a U.S. Senator.
A short drive from the museum is the crossroads memorial. LBJ and Martin Luther King. It’s definitely worth a stop.
This was my second trip to Fredericksburg. I enjoyed it so much in 2018 that I knew I would return. The 200 wineries in the area are a huge draw, as is the beautiful Texas Hill country. This is a great place for weekend getaways. A stop a the Visit Fredericksburg Visitors Center is a big help in planning your time in town. It’s across the street from the National Museum of the Pacific War.
This massive museum is dedicated to the memory of the war in the pacific in World War II. There is a midget submarine housed in the exhibit on Pearl Harbor. The exhibits are full of donated artifacts that tell the story of the war in the pacific. Visitors walk through each pacific battle and the finality of the bombing of Japan and the signing of the surrender.
In the courtyard, you will find the Plaza of Presidents.
Located not far from the museum is the Pacific Combat Zone. Housed here are a restored PT boat and an exhibit on carrier operations, including an Avenger aircraft.
The museum has undergone total renovation since my last visit. While not large, the museum is included with a ticket to the National Museum of the Pacific and is well worth your time. Nimitz was a native son of Fredericksburg. He achieved military immortally with his role in World War II.
Breakfast was busy and full of locals, which is always a good sign. Definitely worth a visit.
The museum explains the German immigrants’ story and how they come to be in Fredericksburg. There are several original buildings to explore that explain how the early settlers lived and thrived in Texas Hill Country. They have a great gift shop too.
Wine in and around Fredericksburg, Texas
Fredericksburg is the perfect place to spend the afternoon tasting wine. There are 200-plus wineries in the area. Pick your style of wine and enjoy. Tasting rooms dot the main thoroughfare of Fredericksburg. Wine tours are available too.
I stopped at the Pontotoc Weingarten on the main thoroughfare for a flight tasting and some tasty nibbles. Local attorney Carl Money, and his chef wife, Frances, own the vineyard in Hye, Texas. I could have spent the afternoon there enjoying their Spanish-style wines.
Near Fredericksburg in Johnson City, 290 Castle stands high above Hwy 290. Owners Mike and Monique Chase were hands-on and were changing light bulbs during my late afternoon visit. I was taken with several of their offerings, but the Bountiful red blend stood out. It was smooth and silky. Their wine cave needs to be experienced.
The beauty of Hill Country, Texas, really needs to be experienced; because it is the people that make it special. You will learn about the history of Texas in Hill Country. One tip: You might want to avoid the heat of the summer. It can get hot in Texas.
Yes, everything is bigger in Texas. Its history and culture are hard to beat. Want to learn more about presidential history? See my posts here.