We’ve been ‘through’ Galveston several times to embark on cruises, but our stays were only 1 night pre-cruise. Every time, we would say “We need to plan a STAY here….”
Now, South Texas Gulf Coast in the heat of the summer is only enjoyable if you’re in the water, (imho) however, early Fall can be quite pleasant. That’s when we made our visit. 🙂
Accommodations: Travel in Sept enabled us to avoid the congestion of ‘vacation season’ and find some good rates. A kitchen was a necessity (I need to cook the majority of our meals). Galveston has a few hotels with kitchenettes but they were pricey. On my favorite condo site(s) – VRBO and Home Away I found a HUGE inventory from which to choose.
There are no truly ‘beachfront’ condos or hotels in Galveston (the actual town) as Seawall Blvd runs along the beach. Hotels, et al are across the street from the beach. That’s really not a problem…just be aware. Now, there are REAL beachfront homes (no condos/hotels) further down the island outside of town. On our trip, we preferred to stay in town.
We ended up in a unit that was ‘self-clean’ (No cleaning fee if WE clean kitchen & bathroom and sweep/mop/vacuum before checking out. That’s it! ) If our cleaning met with their approval, there were no charges. If it did not, we would be charged the $75 cleaning fee. I’m pretty picky about cleaning so this was not a problem. (ok…I’m pretty sure it was cleaner when we left than when we arrived) Because the unit was very small, this took my husband and I about 30 min. Not only did I save about $200 on the rent (Many units in Galveston rent for MUCH MORE) but I saved the $75 cleaning fee. The way I look at it, we got ‘paid’ $275 for 30 min. of work. – not bad wages at all!!!
Beaches abound on Galveston Island and I’ll get to those in a minute. First thing I suggest is a brief stop at the Galveston Visitor Center: Here you’ll find not only information about what’s in the area, but also coupons for several attractions in town. (and a few restaurants)
Parking: Parking is always an issue on ‘islands’……and in Galveston, it’s NOT Cheap!! The ONLY place you’ll find free parking is at the Visitor Center….and a TWO block section downtown with 2 hr parking. Those spots will be virtually impossible to get…. The remaining parking spots are part of the “Pay by Phone” system via an app (PayByPhone.com a secure site so I can’t link to it….) Create an account, then input location from signs on each block and how much time you wish to ‘purchase’. The app allows you to add time remotely, get online receipts and sends a text reminder when your time is almost expired.
Cash Parking Locations – VERY limited
- Downtown by The Strand, though these are a bit pricey,
- In front of the Ocean Star Drilling museum – $1/half hour with a maximum of $5.
Bolivar Ferry: This FREE ferry runs to Port Bolivar from the East end of the island every 20 minutes. Because it’s an excellent place to see dolphins, many tourists just walk on and take the ferry over and back. We, however, took our car and spent the day in Port Bolivar. The ferry was a pleasant experience (air conditioned, restrooms, etc….). Going in the off-season was great, though some report wait times of up to 90 min. in the busy summer tourist season. If there in July, I suggest an EARLY start to the day. 🙂 Our wait (Sept) was about 20 min to board at the Galveston terminal…and no wait at all for the return trip. It seems to be handled very well.
Bolivar Peninsula: Once over to Bolivar, we went to Ft Travis State Historic Park. I found the beach here nicer than what was available in Galveston – Not only was there no ‘fees’….but there are picnic areas with grills. We had just brought sandwiches for lunch, but I could envision a very nice beach day…with grilled hotdogs, sand, ocean…. It was almost deserted in Sept, but probably a pretty busy place in the summer.
While on the island, we found a shaved ice stand that had sugar-free syrups…and not just a limited number of flavors…. This lady offered to mix any flavor on her menu with Splenda. We had to wait, but it was SO worth it to be able to choose from the FULL menu!!! That NEVER happens!!! 🙂 She earned a ‘shout out’ from me. 🙂 J-Bird’s Shaved Ice.
Beaches: Since Galveston Island is an ‘island’, it’s surrounded by beaches… 🙂 (on the Gulf side….inlet side is industry…) Most of the public beaches have a user fee and/or parking charge. Even at the State Park south of town, entrance is free….after you pay to park. 🙂 However, driving out of Galveston, you will find signs marking “Beach Access”. These are roads behind vacation homes where the public can access the beach for free. (yes, it’s public access unless otherwise posted) Now, there are no facilities, no running water (other than ocean 🙂 ) or restrooms in these areas. It’s just sand, ocean and flying insects (LOTS of those so bring repellant), but it IS possible to get to the water without paying. You just ‘lose’ facilities. Those areas would be crowded during tourist season (inhabitants from beach homes, et al) but in Sept. the homes were mostly empty as were the beaches in front of them… We had a few hours on a secluded beach…well….except for the insects…. It was a nice afternoon.
OK….I know that most people don’t consider antebellum homes or museums when visiting Galveston Island, but……. There is some INCREDIBLE history associated with the area. For instance, did you know that Galveston was the “Wall Street of the U.S.” in the late 1800’s? Did you know that some of the wealthiest families of that time lived here? Did you know that after the hurricane of 1900 (which is to this day the deadliest disaster event in US history) they not only rebuilt the city…but RAISED it 17 feet (!!!!) and built the sea wall still there today. This was an INCREDIBLE engineering feat for the early 1900’s. Spending at least a portion of your time in the area exploring these homes…this history…is worth consideration.
Bishop’s Palace: This is the home of Colonel Walter Gresham and is listed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America. I have to say, I’ve been to a lot of homes – antebellum homes in Virginia and the Carolinas, The Biltmore (NC), Plantations in Mississippi and Alabama, etc…but this may possibly be the most beautiful home I’ve ever toured. Admission is pricey, but the architecture and woodwork as well as the history made it WORTH the cost to us. Coupon for $1 pp off admission (from the Visitor Center) helps a little with the cost.
- Rosenburg Musuem This is a small and free museum on the 4th floor of the Rosenburg City Library. It’s size makes it easily visited in 1-2 hrs. and actually ‘manageable’ for children. It covers the history of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the rebuilding of the city and SeaWall. The Rosenburg Library is right across the street from the Visitor center so you can park there for free. (if you get there early enough to find a space) We DID ask permission before leaving our car – just fyi.
Ocean Star: When oil prices plummeted and off-shore drilling became UNprofitable, Exxon-Mobile brought one of their rigs to shore to turn it into a museum. This was such a treat as this is something we would NEVER normally be able to see. We spent 2-3 hrs here and only left because we had tickets at Pier 21 and HAD to leave.
I could have stayed longer. The website: Ocean Star Off-Shore Drilling Museum has a virtual tour for more information.
- Pier 21 Films: This theatre shows 3 different films about the area – It’s located about a block from Ocean Star Museum. We chose “The Great Storm” about the 1900 Hurricane – using a $1 coupon we picked up from one of the many brochure racks located around town. They also validate parking for 2 hrs – allowing for time at the museum if you plan it just right.
There’s so much to do in the Galveston area – in ADDITION to “Fun in the Sun” – not to mention that Houston with all it has to offer (NASA Spaceport is in Webster….Great place!!) is just a little over an hour away…
Enjoy the beach and water in this Gulf Coast area…but don’t think that’s all there is. 🙂