I was pleasantly surprised by the historic charm and natural beauty of Galveston Island and I wanted to share some of the amazing attractions this town has to offer tourists. This delightful island city on the Gulf Coast of Texas is 32 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. Its position on the natural harbor of Galveston Bay along the Gulf of Mexico, historically made it the center of trade in Texas. Today, it’s a booming tourist destination with miles of beautiful beaches along the Sea Wall in Galveston
Have a margarita in Galveston. I was told my a famous Houston mixologist, that the Margarita was invented in Galveston at the Balinese Room for Peggy Lee by iconic bartender Santos Cruz. “The Balinese Room was fabulous: air conditioning, casino gambling, superb food and drinks, and stellar entertainment. The Maceos booked top stars at the Balinese Room. Headliners included Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Duke Ellington, Mel Torme, Jayne Mansfield and Gene Autry. Also appearing were Sophie Tucker, Joe E. Lewis, the Ritz Brothers, Peggy Lee, Marjorie Reynolds, Phil Harris, Guy Lombardo, Ted Mack, and Jimmy Dorsey. ZZ Top wrote the famous song “Balinese” in 1973: “And everybody knows, it was down at the Balinese.”
The Balinese Room was a famous nightclub in Galveston, Texas built on a pier stretching 600 feet from the Galveston Seawall over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
For decades a dance hall and illegal casino, the Balinese Room was remodeled and reopened in 2001 without the gambling.
Since the Margarita was invented at The Balinese Room by Santos Cruz for singer Peggy Lee it may have been the inspiration for the song:”YOU give me Fever”!
On September 8, 1900 a Category Four hurricane ripped through Galveston, killing an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 people. A 15-foot storm surge flooded the city, which was then situated at less than 9 feet above sea level, and numerous homes and buildings were destroyed. Galveston was devastated when the storm hit; The Great Hurricane of 1900 is still considered the worst natural disaster in United States history. The storm and surging water wiped most of the booming city off the map. Isaac’s Storm, by Devil in the White City author Erik Larson, chronicles the devastation of the monster storm that devastated Galveston in 1900.
Originally, Galveston was a part of the Austin Colony in the old Republic of Texas. In 1839, the city was incorporated and enjoyed a prosperous 19th century due to mercantile firms, cotton plantations and a variety of other industries. Profitable businesses attracted merchants and glittering, high-end homes. The city was an international destination, known as the “Ellis Island of the West” due to the steady flow of immigrants to its shores.
The port city of Galveston grew rapidly and the commercial area in town, called The Strand was considered the region’s primary business center. The Strand was known as the “Wall Street of the South.” Prior to the hurricane called the “Great Storm” of 1900, Galveston was the second richest city per capita in the US after Newport Rhode Island.
Businesses along the Strand in Galveston
The Port of Galveston was established in 1825 by the Congress of Mexico following its independence from Spain. The city was the main port for the Texas Navy during the Texas Revolution and later served as the capital of the republic of Texas. Today, the port has plenty of cruise ships. As a port town located on a barrier island just off the Texas coast, Galveston has always benefited from a rich fishing industry and trade. In fact, Congress made Galveston an official port of entry in 1837.
In the harbor, you can visit the Elissa, a landmark tall ship moored at the Texas Seaport Museum in Galveston. It is one of the oldest ships sailing today. Launched in 1877, she was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
Since its only an hour drive from Houston, the biggest city in Texas, Galveston island has long been the playground of the Texas Gulf Coast. Since Hurricane Ike, the island has pursued revitalization of it’s tourism revenue.
There are many interesting attractions for tourists. It’s known for Moody Gardens, where giant glass pyramids house sharks, monkeys and other animals. Moody Gardens has a rain forest pyramid and aquarium pyramid.
Splash into Sclitterbahn Galvestion Island Waterpark; the only indoor, heated water park in Texas.
Of course there are always events on the beach, Galveston Mardi Gras is a very big celebration; the third largest Mardi Gras celebraton in the US. There are numerous special events including: musical events, Artwalk, kayak tours, Christmas on The Strand, plays, operas, performances and more.
Galveston’s architecture dates back to the late 1800’s and reflects the prosperity of this port town as well as the devastation of catastrophic hurricanes. Galveston is home to 6 historic districts containing one of the largest collection of 19th century buildings in the US; there are over 60 structures listed on the National Register of Historic places.
1. The Bishops Palace is in the East End. This magnificent Victorian home is adorned with Sienna marble and cast iron. It is one of the “Broadway Beauties”; a string of restored landmarks.
“Constructed from 1887 – 1892, the Bishop’s Palace comes complete with a variety of attractions for history aficionados. Fireplaces from around the world adorn several rooms, and the ballroom’s mantle won first prize at the Philadelphia World’s Fair in 1876. The octagonal mahogany stairwell is forty feet tall surrounded on 5 sides with stained glass. Recognized as one of the nation’s most significant architectural structures, the palace also includes woodwork fashioned from white mahogany, rosewood, maple, and satinwood. Young visitors will feel like they are in a castle with carvings of mythical animals and decorative plaster on the ceilings and walls.”
With its Greek Revival architecture, The Menard Home (1838) has been restored to its original beauty and charm earning it’s spot on the National Register of Historic places as the oldest historic home in Galveston. In fact, the founders of Galveston and Houston once owned the house. The current owners saved the home from demolition in the 1990’s and worked on the research, repair and reconstruction of the home. Today, tourists visit the home to explore its array of mid-19th century Neoclassic antiques and take a tour to learn about its long history. The home is available for private events and provides a beautiful backdrop for an islands wedding.
3. The Moody Mansion Museum is a 28,000 square foot, 4 story mansion that was inhabited by one of Texas’s most influential and affluent families, headed by W.L. Moody, Jr. The family’s prominent ties incolved cotton, banking, and eventually hotels. Their mansion in Galveston provides an excellent example of how one of Texas’s foremost families lived around the turn of the 20th century. The family spent over 80 years in the home before opening it to the public. Visitors will enjoy the hand-carved coffered ceilings, and stained glass and the Moody family possessions. Tours occur daily on the hour.
4. Ashton Villa is a rare antebellum Texas mansion. Ashton is an Italianate villa, with wide overhanging eaves and ornate cornice brackets (shown below). It was built with a coal-burning fireplace in every room and a coal-burning furnace in the above ground basement. Built by James M. Brown, in 1859, Ashton Villa was the first of many. It was the first house to ever be built on Broadway Boulevard, but it was also the first mansion built on the island. Mr Brown opened the first hardware store on the island in 1847. By 1859, he was the third wealthiest man in Galveston and the fifth wealthiest man in Texas.
A collage of some interesting attractions in Galveston (below)
The Galveston Sea Wall was constructed after the Great Storm of 1900 to save the city from future storm surges. After the seawall was constructed, 500 blocks behind the city were raised to even the grade with the new seawall. It took 8 years to complete the task.
Amusement rides and restaurants line Galveston Island’s Historic Pleasure Pier on the south shore. The Pleasure Pier has 16 rides, concessions, music and an amazing view of The Gulf!
I love the Six Foot Bronze “Dolphins” sculpture on the Seawall was sculpted by Native Texan sculptor David Moore.
The Dolphins were donated to the city and citizens of Galveston by the collective efforts of a private donor and the Galveston Foundation, Inc. It’s a perfect place for a selfie on the Fort Crockett Seawall Park on Seawall Boulevard at 45th Street.
Aerial view of Pleasure Pier and the Sea Wall (below)
The Ashbel Smith Building built in 1891, on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch on Galveston Island is known as Old Red. This was the first University of Texas Medical Branch building. It is a Romanesque Revival building built of red brick and sandstone. Nicholas J. Clayton was the architect. In 1949, the building named for Ashbel Smith, a Republic of Texas diplomat and one of the founders of the University of Texas System. The building was registered as a Texas Historical Landmark in 1969 and renovated in 1985.
Another Galveston luxury hotel is Hotel Galvez & Spa®, A Wyndham Grand® Hotel. During the holidays they hosted a Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration on Friday, Nov. 29 at 6:00 p.m. featuring performances from The Nutcracker, area choirs and dance groups and the Galveston Community Band. The Lighting Celebration is one of the more than 50 days of holiday fun in Galveston, the “Winter Wonder Island” of Texas. The Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration is an annual, free family event and marks the start of the official holiday season in Galveston.
This is the only historic beachfront hotel on the Texas Gulf Coast. This 224-room, century-old hotel offers 13,000 square feet of meeting space, a 9,763-square-foot spa, fitness center, full-service restaurant, lobby bar, pool with a swim-up bar and Hall of History. The hotel is rated four diamonds by AAA and is owned by the Cynthia and George Mitchell family as part of Mitchell Historic Properties. For reservations, call (409) 765-7721, or visit www.hotelgalvez.com.
Check out the Hall of History
Discover the hotel’s fascinating lore—dating back to 1911—in our Hall of History, which includes a free audio tour app.
Take a cruise from Galveston. The port also serves as a passenger cruise ship terminal for cruise ships operating in the Caribbean: Royal Caribbean International‘s, MS Liberty of the Seas, which is the largest cruise ship ever based here and one of the largest ships in the world, Disney Cruise Line‘s Disney Magic also became based in Galveston, offering four-, six-, seven-, and eight-day cruises to the Caribbean and the Bahamas andCarnival Cruise Lines vessels.
Dining in Galveston
There are plenty of interesting dining options on the waterfront of the harbor. Look out at the cruise ships and the oil rigs as you dine. Make plans to go on a Dolphin watching expedition on a Baywatch tour.
Dine at Willie G’s Seafood and Steaks to earn your Landry Points.
Fisherman’s Wharf is another outstanding Landry seafood restaurant in Galveston; renowned for the freshest fish and seafood specialties. Try the shrimp kisses at Happy Hour. The shrimp is Galveston is right off the shrimping boats.
I had some great gumbo and crab cakes. I loved the Snapper too. Don’t forget to use your Landry’s Frequent Flyer card to earn points.
Go to Katie’s Seafood Market on Pier 19 if you want to buy fresh fish.
Check out Gaido’s iconic Seafood Restaurant. San Giacinto Gaido opened his doors in 1911 with a “die-hard determination to be the freshest, most popular seafood restaurant on the Gulf.”
If you’re in the mood for Italian, try Mario’s.
Watch saltwater taffy made the old-fashioned way at La King’s Confectionery. It’s an amazing candy store!
You can even sign up for a Walking Food T0ur at “Taste of the Strand”; featuring 11 of Galveston’s tastiest establishments, Taste of The Strand is the largest guided food tour in Texas!
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