Even a short visit can be long on food, fun, and fascinating history on Galveston Island. Sample fresh-off-the-boat seafood, bodysurf in the Gulf’s warm waters, or stroll along The Strand, an avenue of 19th century warehouses now housing shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Whether a pre-cruise adventure or a weekend away, 48 hours in Galveston is a time well spent.
“Our afternoon ended with a tour of The Grand 1894 Opera House, where Mae West, the Marx Brothers and Douglas Fairbanks performed. Thanks to a meticulous restoration that started in 1974, The Grand is once again an opulent, intimate performing arts venue.”
“We drove over to Galveston Island State Park, where our husbands went kayak fishing in the salt marshes around the bay while the girls took the beach chairs and relaxed in the sun.”
A few months ago, we found out some friends from Dallas were going to take a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Galveston, about 45 minutes south of Houston. We hadn’t seen them in a while, so I suggested we meet on the island for 48 hours of fun before their ship sailed. They loved the idea, so we marked the calendar.
The appointed day arrived and we headed south, enjoying the early-spring warmth and sunshine. While we like to stay in one of the many bed-and-breakfasts in the city, for this trip I chose the Tremont House, a grand Victorian-style hotel convenient to everything in the downtown area, and just blocks from the cruise terminal.
Fresh breezes off the water had us hungry for seafood, so we stopped by the Black Pearl Oyster Bar and ordered a dozen oysters, a heap of Cajun-boiled shrimp, and four bowls of seafood gumbo.
After lunch, we headed over to Postoffice Street where several of the old warehouse buildings have been renovated into art galleries and antiques shops. Our afternoon ended with a tour of The Grand 1894 Opera House, where Mae West, the Marx Brothers, and Douglas Fairbanks performed. Thanks to a meticulous restoration that started in 1974, The Grand is once again an opulent, intimate performing arts venue.
Back at the hotel, the concierge suggested we grab a quick burger and craft beer at Brews Brothers before meeting our guide for the evening—Dash Beardsley, originator of Ghost Tours of Galveston.
I’m not usually a fan of “spooky,” but there were families with children joining the tour, so I couldn’t chicken out. Thankfully, it wasn’t that scary, and it turned out to be a great way to learn about the history of The Strand and the prominence of Galveston in the late 19th century, when it was the country’s second busiest port, surpassed only by New York City.
We ended the evening on the rooftop patio of The Tremont House. From there, we had a panoramic view of the city, from the boats in the harbor across to Stewart Beach, where we could see the colorfully lit Ferris wheel on the Historic Pleasure Pier.
Ready for a busy day, we started it off with brunch at Sunflower Bakery & Cafe. A carafe of mimosas helped us bide the time while waiting for our food. I ordered (as I always do) the Jumbo Lump Crab and Eggs, a sort of Benedict-style concoction made with mounds of fresh crab on an English muffin, topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.
After breakfast, I took out the map I’d downloaded from the East End Historical District Association’s website, using it to plot a walking tour of the district’s late-19th- and early-20th-century architecture, including the exquisite Bishop’s Palace. Completed in 1892 the palace is listed as one of the 100 most significant buildings in the United States by the American Institute of Architects.
The walk was fascinating, but we were ready to relax, and that meant the beach. We drove over to Galveston Island State Park, where our husbands went kayak fishing in the salt marshes around the bay while the girls took the beach chairs and relaxed in the sun.
That night, we walked along the Seawall before turning up 39th Street. We passed by Gaido’s—the “fancy” place my dad used to take us in the 1960s that is still wonderfully elegant—and ended up at Shrimp ’N Stuff, a casual place famous with the locals.
While the guys went to the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, my friend and I took the BayWatch Dolphin Tour. Our captain was able to tell us about the history of the harbor, and as soon as we saw the dolphins he got us close enough for some great photos.
After our tours, we met at the Texas Seaport Museum and walked the decks of the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa, then went for a “bon voyage” lunch with our friends before they embarked for the cruise. I suggested a favorite of mine, Nonno Tony’s World Kitchen, a harborside restaurant that serves Asian/Creole/American fusion dishes with an Italian accent.
On our way out of town along Interstate 45 North, we could see Moody Gardens and the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, both great destinations for kids, and made a note to bring our nieces down for a visit when they came in early summer.
Since Galveston has a temperate climate, wintertime can be a wonderful time to visit—especially December. That’s when The Strand becomes a stage for “ghosts of Christmas past” during Dickens of The Strand Festival. Mingle with dozens of entertainers dressed in Victorian-era costumes—Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and other Dickensian characters—as you sing with strolling carolers, sample holiday food and drink from costumed vendors and marvel at a lantern-lit parade.