Living less than 3 hours from Galveston, TX, is has been a popular destination for our family for decades.
I remember traveling to Galveston as a child, and the thrill of getting out of the car on the ferry to feed the sea gulls. The boys used to all claim that they heard people threw them Alka Seltzer, and they would explode when they hit the water. We always threw them bread. We seemed to always have a piece of a loaf of bread in the car, there weren’t as many fast food joints in the 60’s and. 70’s, and we brought a cooler and sandwich fixin’s with us when we traveled over a couple of hours.
Nearly 50 years later, I am still excited to get out of my car on the ferry and watch the sea gulls, but even I haven’t had bread in decades, so I watch the excited children throw them chips and crackers and such.
You can now get to the island through Interstate 45, but we always enjoy coming in from the old end of town, seeing the old camps on stilts lining the highway. They are slowly, but surely being replaced by fancier models, but you can tell there still some old hanger-oner’s who love the salt life and the simplicity of the sand and the water, and good outdoor fun.
As the ferry lands and the cars move single-file onto the highway, you pass through an older residential neighborhood, then right to Seawall Boulevard. This part of Galveston has not changed much over the years, if at all.
As a teen, I loved going to the beach, of course, but at that time there was a hangout for teens with dances at night on the weekends. Times were different then, and everyone felt safe. I am sure the parents enjoyed the time to themselves just as much, but those were wonderful times. I had so much fun there.
Even as a young parent, we would go to Galveston as a get-away, when we had a babysitter. We had some fabulous times with other friends there. You would always run into someone you knew. I still remember running into my best friend, Kaye, and her husband there one year, probably 35 years ago now, and we rented one of those bicycle carts for 4 people and pedaled all around town. Those were the days.
Back then, there was a section of beach that had stores that were on stilts, right over the water. Their storefronts were covered in the most beautiful sea shells. I might say that I wonder where they got them, because I never found a conch shell on Galveston beach in 50 years of visits! There was a restaurant over the water, and a hotel, too. We never dared to ask how much it was to spend the night there, knowing it had to be higher than our tiny budget. They were just old wood-frame buildings, not in great condition, but the old adage location, location, location sure rang true.
This part of Galveston is gone and mostly forgotten, with the exception of the shell of the old hotel, which remained there, but boarded up on my last visit. The hurricanes slowly but surely took away the last of the nostalgic street shops that lined the beach.
There are a few hotels there that have remained through the storms over the years, the Hotel Galvez (rumored to have once been owned by some long-lost family member on my Mama’s Daddy’s side) is the most stately of them all. The ground are impeccable, the place is stately and magnificent. You know, just looking at it from the road, that you better not have sand on your feet when you go in there. I was not sure I even owned clothes good enough to be allowed to go in there, much less what I generally packed for a beach vacation.
One year, however, my Mama really wanted to stay there. Before she died, she really thought about Galveston a lot, and we made 3 or 4 trips in her last couple of years. So, what is a daughter to do? I went on Priceline and booked us a room for one night at the Hotel Galvez. It was still over $300 for a double, and that was around 2001, when other nice rooms in the area were around $89 a night. I was so excited to tell her, and off we went. The place was fancy, alright. I really felt slightly out of place. It was as if we had stepped back in time. An opulence and grandeur that came straight out of Gone With the Wind. I am positive that ladies with big hats waved fans in front of their faces as they sipped mint juleps out on the lanai.
Mama and I giggled like school girls as we made our way down the quite dark and narrow halls.
We finally found our room, and turned the key in the door, waiting patiently to run to our window and bask in the glow of our view.
The door did not open all of the way, it bumped into the twin sized bed that filled the rest of the room with it’s green striped presence. We looked at each other in disbelief, and had a hard time even trying to mask the nervous giggle that would normally accompany this type of unexpected situation. I climbed on the bed to reach the phone that was perched on the minisucle night stand crammed between the tiny bed and the wall, as Mama pulled, tugged and crammed, trying to get herself and our two bags into the tiny closet. I mean room.
I called the front desk, and explained that there must have been some kind of mistake, I had booked two double beds, and this room had one twin. The front desk clerk said that there was nothing that they could do, that was the room that they had for me, and that the rest of the hotel was booked for Mother’s Day weekend. They said they would be happy to try to get me a room at the Holiday Inn down the road if I wanted. Disappointed, Mama and I decided to just stay in our room. There was a small chair across from the 3’ walkway to the door, and if we put our bags in that chair, I could have a pallet on the floor, but I would have to get up if Mama needed the bathroom. It was hot, stuffy and claustrophobic in that room, but we did it. We spent the night at the Hotel Galvez. Bucketlist, check.
We had a much better experience in Galveston the following year, one that I will also never forget. My Aunt Fay, my Mama’s sister, also had cancer, and I guess that Galveston had the same appeal to her as it did my Mama at the time. Her budget was much more forgiving than ours, and she rented a huge secluded beachhouse for the family for the week. It was beautiful. It was new counstruction, but felt like an old farmhouse, yet was perectly suited for the beach. It had a dumbwaiter for bringing all of your grocries and bags to the main level, and I was probablyt more impressed with that than with the huge commercial kitchen, the loft bedrooms, and the wall of windows that allowed us the unobstructed view of the water.
All of my cousins were there, my daughter Mandi and her husband, Alex, and the rest of the extended family all fit in comfortably. My daughter, Candi was due to have her first child at any time, so she chose to stay home, just in case. I see it in my mind now, just like a lifetime movie. We walked the beach, the wind blowing in our hair. Laughing as we took videos of each other taking videos. It was a carefree time of being all together as a family. Even though we all knew it was the last time that we would all be together, it was serene. The meaning behind the trip did not escape any of us, we all enjoyed every minute together.
Fast forward to this decade, grandkids, amusement parks, and constant, but laid-back entertainment.
The top activities for me will always include The Strand. The downtown areea known as The Strand is a tyupical downtown area, no far from the wharf, that has a plethora of old shops and stores of yesteryear, and of today.
A don’t miss is the candy store/soda shop. La King’s Confectionery is an old school candy maker offering old timey candies and still has the 1920’s soda fountain feel. They make homemade ice cream and taffy, too. Purity ice cream was the first maker of ice-cream in Texas. The highlight, though is the taffy pulling. Young and old alike enjoy watching the candy making process. The wood floors ccreak, you can tell it is all original, but having the fresh ice cream and grabbying a bag of taffy to take home are musts when in Galveston.
There is an annual event, Dickens on the Strand, the first weekend in December, where Charles Dickens era inspired costumes are the norm, and parades and parties are the rage. I have yet to attend, but it is on my bucket iist.
My friends, Rincey Mae and Ken lived in Galveston for years, and I was able to enjoy “pub crawls” with them, which are also frequent adult events, better known as bar hopping, but in groups. The pub crawls are a great way to get a sample of he local island life.
The end-all destination for families is Moody Gardens, which has grown substantially over the years. They have all-inclusive room rates, or you can stay elsewhere and get a day pass. Moody Gardeens is more of an educational resort than a theme park, and as a grandmother, I love that.
There are rare flowers and tropical plants in their there Pyramid attractions. They have an Aquarium Pyramid tht the kids really love. The Rainforest Pyramid has tropical plantss, animals, birds, buterflies and reptiles-including Monkeys living in a natural style environment. The Discovery Pyramid is more science-themed, and has activities for the kids.
After you “make” the kids go through the Pyramids (and watching their faces glow with amazement at the sloths and monkeys, of course), it is time for Palm Beach. The sand is clean and the water is clear, which is unusual for the area. The landscaping is gorgeous, and the kids enjoy the lazy rivr, splash pad, and water Slides. Sunscreen is a must.
By evening, if you are still looking for fun activities, there is a Ride-Film Theater pod that shows roller coaster and helicopter movies while tilting and spinning, enjoyed by adults and children alike. They have a 3D/4D movie theater that has the largest screen in Texas. And you know how large things are in Texas!
The paddlewheel cruise ride is nice, and a short ride, but thre is also a gofl course for a little adult fun, too. Moody Gardens also offers holiday programs and activities, and is more than just a summer vacation destination.
Schlitterbhn Waterpark is right down the road, and depending on the age of your children, may be the most memorable part of the trip for them. Look for discount tickets, Coke cans, online purchases, group purchases, and multiple-day packages for best prices. It is not cheap, about $75 per person over 12, $65 for 3-11 and Seniors, but the entertainment value for children 10-17 is top notch. Water slides, wave rivers, water coasters, and even picnics abound. The park has three main sections, one for the thrill seeker, one for intermediate raft rides, and the Tiki Tikes area for the smallest adventurers. There are pavilions for picnicking, and Cabanas that you can rent, and even an indoor heated waterpark area for fall and winter fun! Several hotel properties offer Schlitterbahn packages, including Hilton, Holiday Inn and Moody Gardens.
The Rainforest Cafe puts on a fabulous show for both young and old alike, rainforest storms and wild animals roar to life like clockwork through your meal, and there is a rainforest themed gift shop and a tunnel-like water ride through the underworld rainforest that is super fun to do, and we hit it every time we go to Galveston. The brownie with the sparkler on top is too much chocolatey excitement to pass up, too, so go ahead and indulge!
There are seafood buffets and Mexican restaurants, of course, this is a Gulf of Mexico island in Texas, after all! Fisherman’s Wharf, Willie G’s, and Bubba Gump are touristy restaurants by the cruise terminals, and Landry’s our personal favorite, is located on Seawall Blvd. Landry’s offers Vegan and Gluten Free options, as well. Salsa’s, also located on Seawall Blvd, is our favorite Mexican fare, also offering Vegan and Gluten Free options.
Galveston will always be a popular destination in the deep south, and continues to grow with more and more activities to keep you busy, and lengthen your visit. Whether you are going for a weekend, or a week, staying in a stilted guesthouse, condo or hotel, there is something for young and old alike in Galveston, TX. Year ‘round fun awaits you in Galveston!