The rooms at the Hotel Galvez provide a beautiful view of the gulf and the Pleasure Pier, which lights up in beautiful colors at night.
New attractions and old favorites make Galveston a number one beach destination Galveston. Just the name is enough to stir memories from any Houstonian of summers playing in the waves or eating seafood by the seashore. It has been a full four years since Hurricane Ike’s path of destruction dragged across the Texas Gulf Coast and socked Galveston right in the mouth. The damage was severe, and it has taken a few years, but Galveston is back at full strength and ready to entertain you and your family again. I made the drive down I-45 to Galveston on a Thursday afternoon ready to take in a full three days of what the reborn Galveston had to offer.
I was staying at the Hotel Galvez (wyndhamhotelgalvez.com), a property that I had driven by dozens of times but not had the pleasure of staying at before. It was just as historical and beautiful as I had hoped; my oceanfront room had an incredible view of the beach as well as the lights of the new Pleasure Pier jutting out into the surf. The Hotel Galvez is now more than 100 years old, and they’ve taken great time and detail to keep it feeling historic while mixing in a healthy dose of modern luxury. The lobby is a grand affair and you hear the piano player singing and the clink of glasses at the bar as you are greeted at reception. A few steps to the elevator and you are soon at your room taking in the sights of the Gulf.
The Hotel Galvez has invested significantly not only in the rooms, but other amenities in the hotel. They have a full service spa and salon that were very luxurious. I did a 30-minute massage and everything from the locker room facilities, to a relaxing pre-session area, to the staff, were impressive and on a level of a major international resort. A few blocks down is the brand new Pleasure Pier (pleasurepier.com). Opened in May 2012, it is one of the first new attractions to come to Galveston since Hurricane Ike. There are 16 rides on the pier and you can pay an admittance fee and then buy individual ride tickets or purchase an unlimited pass, is definitely the way to go if you plan on riding even a few rides. The entire Pleasure Pier is covered in lights for a particularly beautiful sight at night time against the backdrop of the dark ocean. Right down the Seawall is the famous Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant (gaidos.com)
The Galveston seafood institution is still delivering some of the best seafood anywhere. I loved the fried asparagus appetizer, the Parmesan crusted asparagus covered in lump crab meat ($13) as well as the Snapper Michael – a sauteed red snapper dusted in Parmesan cheese and seasoned flour. I also explored Pier 21 where I ate at Olympia The Grill at Pier 21 (olympiapier21.com). Olympia is a Greek restaurant that offers waterfront dining overlooking Galveston’s harbor. It’s hard to argue with a gyros platter and a gin and tonic while watching the boats go in and out. Also located at Pier 21 is the Jet Boat Thrill Ride (suntimewatersports.com). The jet boat holds 20 people and is a combination of a boat and a jet-ski. It is ultra-maneuverable and the guide was even able to do some spins out in the water. I get queasy on boats (especially after being stuffed full of Greek food), but it was surprisingly entertaining.
We saw dolphins on the spin out into the harbor and got a mini-tour of the port. The jet boat is fun for most ages and is a great way to see the harbor with a pump of adrenaline. Immediately next to Pier 21, only about two blocks away, is The Strand. Filled with restaurants, bars, museums, and shops, this is the spot that I always remembered about Galveston. Unfortunately, it was hit hard by the storm with several feet of standing water throughout the area. A few retail stores left, but most all are back with a few cool new additions such as the pirate museum, Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast (piratesgulfcoast.com), which was entertaining and informational. It certainly made me want to go hunting for buried treasure. A childhood favorite of mine, LaKing’s Confectionery, offers anything a sweet tooth could want. The salt water taffy alone is worth the drive to Galveston and my girlfriend introduced me to their lemon custard which is a must have! Almost nothing can top a bowl of lemon custard and walking down the Strand on a beautiful day. Several other museums call the Strand home like the Galveston Railroad Museum (lots of restored trains to explore), the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum and the Texas Seaport Museum (home to the 1877 tall ship Elissa which is currently under repair).
Also worth a stop in the Strand is the Roof Top Bar at the Wyndham Tremont House hotel (wyndhamtremonthouse.com). Offering a 360-degree view of the harbor, The Strand, and even the opposite shore of the island, it is a must-see for people looking for a new view of the island. Comfy seating and a great mixed drink kept me happy while enjoying the great views. Another new-to-me experience was to kayak the East End Lagoon.
Artist Boat (artistboat.org) is a non-profit that offers $25 two-hour and $50 four-hour kayak adventures at various spots around Galveston Island. It’s called Artist Boat because longer tours feature painting while out on the water. The instructors were great and this is a fantastic way to explore parts of the island that are not commonly traveled. I will definitely be making a return trip to do more kayaking. Galveston’s biggest attractions are running at full-strength as well.
Moody Gardens (moodygardens.org) is better than ever with a renovated rainforest habitat and lots of other attractions like the aquarium, IMAX theater and even a golf course. The rainforest habitat is located in a giant glass pyramid and offers the opportunity to see wildlife and plant life up close in a rainforest-like atmosphere. The aquarium features marine life from all over the world, but the penguin display in particular is wonderful.
The Schlitterbahn Galveston (schlitterbahn.com) water park is right across the parking lot from Moody Gardens and lets visitors have wet and wild fun almost year round. A good portion of the park is actually located indoors allowing the water park season to be extended from October into early January, and then it picks up again in March. If you’ve visited the original park in New Braunfels, then you have an idea of the fun you can have here. Imaginative rides and family-friendly policies like allowing outside food/drink make for a fun day in a bathing suit, even in December! The other attraction in the Moody Gardens/Schlitterbahn area is the Lone Star Flight Museum (lsfm.org) which offers visitors a unique look at WWII era planes, most of which are kept in flying condition. For an additional fee, you can even take a ride in one. If you are interested in planes at all, then this is the museum for you as no other museum has this type of collection in flying condition.
My final day on the island was spent touring Bishop’s Palace (galvestonhistory.org), an 1892 historic home originally built by a railroad magnate and eventually purchased by the Catholic Church. Self-guided and guided tours are available. It is definitely worth a stop to get a glimpse of this beautiful home that originally survived the great storm of 1900. I also enjoyed the Galveston Tree Sculpture Tour (galvestonislandtours.com). A large group of homeowners have turned their trees killed by Hurricane Ike into beautiful wood carvings by either doing it themselves or hiring artists to come in. A unique way to spend the afternoon! My final tour was the The Grand 1894 Opera House (thegrand.com) Home to shows of all types, the Grand 1894 Opera House has a survivor story and has been renovated again after the most recent hurricane blow.
Check the show listings on their website and pair it with dinner next door at Rudy and Paco (rudyandpaco.com), one of the best restaurants on the island. This was my first trip to Rudy and Paco, and it puts an uptown but comfortable spin on a Galveston seafood restaurant combined with South and Central American roots. Reservations are recommended not only because the restaurant is small, but because the food is that good. My Filete de Pargo Elegante was a red snapper filet covered in crabmeat, pico, and avocado ($36) that was absolutely scrumptious. Rudy and Paco was the perfect end to my weekend away in Galveston. It’s hard not to spend every weekend down here when it’s so close, but feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Houston.