Primarily due to its busy port, Galveston was Texas’s largest, wealthiest city in the late 1800s. The Strand, now a historic district, was known as the Wall Street of the Southwest. But the city that had survived Spanish and French explorers, pirates, the Texas Revolution and the Civil War was ravaged by the monstrous hurricane of 1900. Luckily, not soon after it began a spirited renewal that continues to this day.
Exploring this city’s layers is thrilling, and there’s something for everyone. Grab the whole family for a trip to Pleasure Pier, full of exhilarating rides and delicious eateries. Kids will also love the year-round exhibition Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast (PiratesGulfCoast.com), where they can dive into buccaneer history and artifacts and see actors telling the story of the notorious pirate Jean Lafitte.
Check out the captivating Aquarium Pyramid, Rainforest Pyramid and Discovery Pyramid at Moody Gardens (MoodyGardens.com). A five-tier ropes course has just opened at the park. Daredevils can glide 60 feet in the air along the zip line for fascinating views of Palm Beach and the Lazy River.
Seekers of more “grounded” activities will find that the arts and nature abound here, often together. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, area sculptors transformed damaged old oak trees into breathtaking works. On the Galveston Tree Sculptures Tour, spot more than 30 tree carvings tucked into gardens throughout the East End Historic District.
Every day is an event in Galveston, but several are distinctive. The huge annual Mardi Gras celebration in late February is the country’s third biggest (MardiGrasGalveston.com). Festivities begin with the Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade, now the largest umbrella dance in the world. Modeled after a jazz funeral procession’s second line, the event features decorated umbrellas and a good time for all. In early December, the Dickens on the Strand Victorian Holiday Festival features parades and nonstop entertainment by roving musicians, bagpipers and jugglers. Costumed vendors sell holiday snacks and Victorian arts and crafts.
The Republic of Galveston, as locals call it, is an enchanting Southern city that has retained its elegance while honoring the heritage of all its earlier inhabitants, from Native Americans and the Spanish and French to pirates, outlaws, plunderers and profiteers.
The Essentials: GALVESTON, TEXAS
WHERE TO DOCK
- Galveston Yacht Basin (409-765-3000, galvestonyachtbasin.com) Located in the heart of Galveston Island, the marina has transient dockage and can accommodate vessels up to 100 feet while offering both gasoline and diesel fuel 24/7, bathrooms shower and laundry facilities.
- Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center (409-741-8484, moodygardenshotel.com) The marina offers 16 transients slips for boats up to 60 feet. As a marina guest you receive full access to the resort, which includes the Texas-size tropical pool with a swim-up bar, a fitness center and spa.
WHERE TO DINE
- Medicinal Purposes Bar & Grill (712 7th St., 409-974-4365) This neighborhood favorite gets its name and decor from the Prohibition era, when alcohol could be consumed only for “medicinal purposes.”
- Farley Girls Cafe (801 Post Office St,. 409-497-4454) Locals frequent the bright and sunny restaurant in the hospital district, where the eclectic house favorites are made from scratch.
- Rudy & Paco Restaurant and Bar (2028 Post Office St., 409-762-3696) Next door to the 1894 Grand Opera House is this top-rated restaurant serving fresh seafood with a Central and South American twist.