Beaches, historic buildings, million dollar mansions, fairground rides and delicious seafood can all be enjoyed on a day out on Galveston Island, Texas.
Galveston’s Strand Historic District, centred around the five blocks between 20th and 25th street near the wharf, is a wonderful reflection of the architectural styles popular in the mid- to late 1800s when the city hit its zenith. You can stroll under the high canopies of many shop fronts with their wrought iron balconies perusing the antiques, gifts, T-shirts and all manner of other goods, or take some refreshment in one of the cafes along the way.
We ventured into La King’s Confectionery shop where glass cabinets filled with chocolates of all shapes and sizes and multi-coloured candies flank a long seating area. Here you can indulge in a soda, milkshake or float made in a 1920s soda fountain, which is served from behind a marble counter on the other side of the shop.
In the Red Dirt Shirts company we learned how the idea for these unusual terracotta-coloured T-shirts came about when Hurricane Ike hit Hawaii in 1992, turning the proprietor’s stock of white T-shirts the colour of the red earth churned up by the storm. The owner saw an opportunity for a unique dying process and today sells his Red Dirt Shirts in Arizona, Utah and Hawaii as well as Texas.
Galveston’s history is also reflected in the many Victorian houses on the Island, a number of which are open to the public. We visited the Moody Mansion built in 1895 by the British architect William Tyndall for local socialite Narcissa Willis. After her death, the house was sold to W.L.Moody, a wealthy businessman who moved in with his wife and four children. The Moody family lived there until 1986 when it was turned into an historic museum. Some of the rooms are absolutely delightful and a guided tour of the house gives an interesting insight into the life of this Victorian Texas family.
Another historical house worth a look is the Bishop’s Palace, a mansion built in 1893 for the lawyer and politician Walter Gresham and his family. This house was purchased in 1923 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston and became the residence of Bishop Christopher Byrne until 1963. Both houses survived the hurricane of 1900, reputedly the deadliest in US history, which killed more than 10,000 people.
If historical buildings do not interest you, there are plenty of other activities to do in Galveston, such as spending a few hours on one of the Island’s beaches to the south, or enjoying a drink in one of the many bars and restaurants along Seawall Boulevard. There is a pleasure pier near the main beach area with fairground rides, amusements and eateries.
We elected to go on a short harbour tour with an amusing commentary from the boat captain, during which we saw two or three dolphins surfacing near the boat, probably out of curiosity which was an added bonus.
The Railroad Museum is great for train enthusiasts, with its many late 19th and early 20th century rail cars (some of which you can step inside) and the lovely Santa Fe Union station building with its white, plaster figures of people sitting or standing awaiting the arrival of their train.
Other places to visit on Galveston Island, depending on your interests, include Seawolf Park with its World War II submarine and destroyer, the restored 1877 tall ship Elissa, which you can climb aboard and the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig, which is now a museum.
We finished our day with a delicious seafood dinner at Olympia Grill on Pier 21, the waterfront dining and entertainment area near Galveston’s historic harbour.