It’s the lunch hour in this popular Hill Country town and every booth along the windows of the Airport Diner is filled with people soaking up the unique view beyond the checked curtains.
But instead of the usual ebb and flow of tourists, shoppers and parents pushing baby strollers along sidewalks on downtown streets, the view here includes takeoffs and landings at the Gillespie County Airport, where at least half a dozen single-engine planes are parked along the runway ramp just outside the windows.
The crowd having breakfast or lunch – homemade biscuits with their eggs, or “Bomber Burgers” with milkshakes – is steeped in 1940s-era décor, complete with mahogany-colored soda fountain stools. The aviation activity and good food are the main attraction, where miniature metal airplanes are suspended from the ceiling. It’s fitting for an airport that opened in 1947 and still serves “Freedom fries” in its restaurant.
Next door is the Hangar Hotel with a similar theme where chairs line the back balcony so guests can watch planes come and go.
We saw several landings during lunch, and each time the planes emptied, groups of two or three came in and found a seat in the diner. It was if they had gone through this routine plenty of times before – way off the beaten path of Main Street where most tourists roam.
Over in the heart of downtown, people young and old take a somber walk in the Memorial Courtyard outside the National Museum of the Pacific War, part of a museum complex that includes the Admiral Nimitz Museum, the George H.W. Bush Gallery, Plaza of the Presidents and the Japanese Garden of Peace. The latter opened in 1976 and was recently restored – built in Japan, disassembled and reassembled in Fredericksburg earlier this year – a gift from the people of Japan in honor of Fredericksburg’s native son, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
It’s a solemn setting, as families look over some of the 1,000 wall plaques honoring individuals, units or ships that served in the Pacific in World War II. Memorial bricks also honor U.S. veterans, not just those from World War II.
Restored WWII vehicles and weaponry outside the Bush Gallery catch the eye of kids, who find a place to climb and burn off some energy.
A bronze statue of Nimitz looks out onto Main Street from the front of the complex as tourists fill the sidewalks, lined with shops and restaurants.
On our way out of Fredericksburg, we stopped for a wine tasting at Hilmy Cellars on U.S. 290, where the Texas wine region continues to grow. We enjoyed the samples and the atmosphere that included one of the two resident Great Pyrenees lounging on the cool concrete floor on a Friday afternoon while people getting an early start on the weekend milled about with anticipation of the next pour.