Texas’ Most Enchanting Island, Galveston, Has So Much to Enjoy
By Janis Turk
I tend to have little love affairs with random cities.
I fall in love with places, and when I was in college I had this one-afternoon-stand on the Strand in Galveston. No, it wasn’t a romantic tryst—just an unforgettable day with my dad.
It was one of those perfect father-daughter times, like in 2nd grade when we went to a box-supper father-daughter dance at school. If you have siblings, you really cherish times when you get to have a parent all to yourself, like that.
Shrimp Boats and Sailboats
Seagulls filled the salty summer sky, while shrimp boats rocked and sailboats bobbed on the bay. We sat at an outdoor café along the downtown strip, which locals call “The Strand.” We had lunch, and dad reminisced about being there with my mom when they were newlyweds.
He spoke so lovingly of her that day. Then we sat there and watched people pass and walked along the seawall. Dad quietly whistled an old Glen Campbell song and smiled at me.
That was the moment I fell for Galveston.
I still feel a twinge of longing whenever I hear Galveston’s eponymous song, and ever since it has felt like Galveston and I shared a “Before Sunrise”-type fling fell in love, and never met again.
So perhaps it was a lonely yearning for my long-lost youth that drove me back across the causeway to Galveston last spring.
Maybe I was just missing my dad, who died many moons ago. I only know that the moment I stood on its seawall and saw Galveston’s crashing waves, I wondered why I’d stayed away so long.
Over the course of one sweet sun-drenched weekend, I fell in love with Galveston all over again.
#1. Galveston is an island
Folks may think of it as just another beach town along the Texas Gulf Coast, but Galveston really a sweet little barrier reef island averaging two miles wide, with 32 miles of sunny, clean, sandy Gulf Coast beaches, all linked to the mainland by a causeway. There’s nothing like being surrounded by water to help you relax and escape the stress of city life.
#2. Kids think Galveston is cool
In fact, it’s possibly the best place in Texas for a family vacation. You’ll all love Galveston’s famous seawall, with its newly replenished broad beaches. Galveston offers 32 miles of beach.
But if that’s not reason enough to love Galveston, what about all the fun family-friendly spots scattered across the island?
For starters, there’s the famous Pleasure Pier, a world‐class amusement park featuring rides, midway games, fun retail shops, and lots of food options.
And don’t forget the island’s own Schlitterbahn Galveston waterpark with its cool splash of river-fed fun running through it all.
Then there’s Galveston’s own Moody Gardens, a complex with everything from movies to aquariums to water park rides, all anchored by three enormous glass pyramid buildings filled with educational delights.
At the Aquarium Pyramid, one of Texas’ largest aquariums, arrange to have a special animal encounter with a giant river otter or a penguin and even (safely!) pet a stingray.
Next, duck into the Rainforest Pyramid, with tropical plants, animals, birds, butterflies, reptiles, and other rainforest animals. Then check out the Discovery Pyramid, with its science-oriented exhibits and activities.
Next, catch some rays in summer at Palm Beach, a white sand beach with a small water park for children, freshwater lagoons, a lazy river, tower slides, a hot tub, zip lines, and a splash pad for tots.
Moody Gardens also has a fun RideFilm Theater with motion-based pod seating, an MG 3D Theater featuring the largest screen in Texas, a 4D Special FX Theater, a paddlewheel cruise boat, a hotel, golf course, and even a convention center. What’s not to love?
#3. Galveston is for Lovers
Besides sun and sand and a drink in your hand, Galveston is the perfect romantic getaway, not only because it has glistening
beaches but because it has so many wonderful places to explore hand-in-hand, especially along The Strand Historic District.
The main drag of The Strand is like Galveston’s own tamer/sweeter version of Key West’s Duval Street, lined with historic iron-front buildings containing unique boutiques, island-inspired art galleries, bars, music venues, outdoor cafes, fine dining restaurants, and more.
The district edges the harbor of Galveston Bay and the Historic Strand Seaport where yachts, sailboats, and fishing boats are docked, as well as the Texas Seaport Museum and Tall Ship ELISSA. The Strand Historic District is also home to several museums, including the Galveston Railroad Museum and the interactive Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast museum. At Pier 21 Theatre, enjoy films about pirates and Galveston-hitting hurricanes, and then go enjoy a JetBoat Thrill Ride or Harbour Tour.
For arguably the town’s best (and most romantic) stay in the Strand Historic District, check into the Tremont House, A Wyndham Grand Hotel, with a gleaming white-marble lined lobby, high atrium, and a sexy rooftop bar overlooking the water and the downtown.
Listen to jazz on weekends in the 1888 Toujouse Bar off the lobby; then walk to nearby restaurants or watch taffy pull at La King’s Confectionery, a big candy shop nearby, where since the 1920s candy-making has been an art form. Then stroll down to the pier and to see the tall ship ELISSA, or take a cruise from Galveston’s Cruise Ship Terminal.
The biggest surprise I found in Galveston was its many world-class fine dining spots with remarkable wine lists, expert chefs and mixologists, and fabulous fresh farm-to-fork (and hook-to-table) fare.
It’s not all seafood, either. For some of the island’s best upscale dining experiences, don’t miss Rudy & Paco, Vargas Cut & Catch, Riondo’s Ristorante, and Gaido’s coastal classic fish house—an island intuition since 1911.
Galveston is a favorite with “foodies”
Although I adored the other restaurants named here, Riondo’s Ristorante is my favorite, offering an array of continental cuisine, from steaks to seafood to pasta and more. For great eats in a casual setting, enjoy muffulettas at Maceo Spice & Import Company, fun seafood lunch at BLVD Restaurant, or a filling poolside breakfast at the San Luis Resort.
Galveston is big on history
To see some Texas’ largest and most impressive ultra-grand historic mansions, look no further than the East End Historic District. And to step back in time, enjoy an old-world-style luxury beachfront experience at the Grand Hotel Galvez & Spa, which has majestically stood overlooking the sea for more than a century.
Don’t miss the Galvez’s decadent southern Sunday brunch buffet, too. Then visit the Bryan Museum, with one of the world’s largest collections of art and artifacts related to the American West.
But the best thing to see and sail upon, and the ultimate place to get a sense of this port city’s history, is aboard Galveston’s Tall Ship ELISSA, a three-mast, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877, featuring 19 sails.
The 205-foot-long ELISSA is not a replica ship, but a fully-functional vessel manned by dedicated specially-trained volunteers. Visit www.galvestonhistory.org to reserve a bucket-list-worthy six-hour sailing excursion.
#6. Galveston is oh so close to Houston
Just 41 miles southeast of Houston Hobby airport, Galveston is easy to reach. Note: It’s a lot farther from the George Bush International Airport (IAH), so try to fly into Hobby.
#7. Galveston loves Glen Campbell.
If you call the Galveston Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and get put on hold, you’ll hear Galveston’s eponymous love song—one that will tug at your heartstrings the way Galveston Island has always tugged at mine.
Find out more about Galveston at their visitors’ website.