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Visit to Galveston Island Not Like Any Other Day at the Beach

Sunset over one of the three Moody Gardens’ pyramids. North Hills Monthly Magazine
Sunset over one of the three Moody Gardens’ pyramids.

Galveston, TX has always been an area ahead of its time. Founded in 1839, it was the first city in the state to offer electric lights and public transport. Home of the first medical school in Texas, it was also home to the first Black library and high school, and the birthplace of Juneteenth. Per capita, Galveston Island had more millionaires than New York City in 1880, earning it the name, “The Wall Street of the South.”

If you have the secret code, you can enjoy a drink in Daiquiri Time Out’s Tiki Bar.
If you have the secret code, you can enjoy a drink in Daiquiri Time Out’s Tiki Bar.

While the city is always looking ahead, it hasn’t forgotten its elegant and adventurous past. This can be seen everywhere on the island from the Gatsby-era Grand Galvez Hotel to the wealth of Victorian-style houses that line the streets, to the museums that commemorate the history of Texas and the Southwest.

Wandering through the Strand Historic District, it’s easy to hearken back to an earlier time. Iron-front buildings now serve as the island’s main shopping district, featuring such eclectic offerings as The House of Goth and Tsunami Exotic Tequila Emporium, as well as a number of exceptional dining experiences.

The Postoffice Arts & Entertainment District is renowned for being one of the largest and most well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the U.S., with more than 60 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, including The Grand 1894 Opera House. And the up-and-coming West Market District is a hotspot of activity that includes restaurants—both old and new—and cocktail lounges with an iconic beach-town feel elevated to a higher level.

Located only 50 miles from Houston, the Queen City of the Gulf also offers a lot of family-friendly activities as well as 32 miles of beaches—not to mention the historic Pleasure Pier featuring amusement park rides, seafood restaurants, souvenir shops and more.

History on Every Corner

One of the best ways to learn about the history of the island and the state is to visit the Bryan Museum, formerly the Galveston Orphans Home, a Gothic Revival building built in 1894. One of the few structures that made it through the Great Storm of 1900, the home was bought by J.P. Bryan and his wife, Mary Jon, in 2013 to house his massive collection of more than 70,000 items.

Bryan, who has been collecting items since age 10, is a true Texas character—born in Houston, he is a descendant of the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin. Believing that history should be high adventure, the museum pays tribute to more than 500 years of European, Texas and Southwestern history, and it holds a very impressive art collection. Bryan’s collection makes up 90 percent of the nonprofit museum’s collection; the other 10 percent are donated items.

The 1892 Bishop’s Palace also survived the storm and still stands today and is considered one of the most significant Victorian residences in the country. The building, designed by architect Nicholas Clayton, took five years to build and was first home to Col. Walter Gresham and his family. It was later sold to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as a home for Bishop Byrne (thus the name), who lived there until his death in 1950.

Now a house museum owned by the Galveston Historical Foundation, the stunningly opulent home is open for self-guided and audio-guided tours of the second and third floors as well as guided basement-to-attic tours on weekends.

Another iconic stop is the Grand Galvez Hotel, first opened in 1911. Owners Mark and Lorenda Wyant bought the hotel for $51 million in 2021 and spent $31 million on a meticulous renovation that pays tribute to the hotel’s Gatsby-era history. The immaculate hotel features elegant chandeliers, harlequin black-and-white marble flooring and a U-shaped music hall designed so that the winds from the Gulf act as natural air-conditioning. The music hall also features the original bar from the Balinese Room—a notorious gambling house that used to stand on the seawall before being destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Speaking of the Balinese Room—not only did it host such notaries as Bob Hope, Peggy Lee and Howard Hughes in its heyday, but the margarita was allegedly invented there in 1948. Since it was built on a pier hanging 600 feet over the Gulf, the owners of the gambling hall were able to skirt the law by playing the song, “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You,” anytime the Texas Rangers were spotted on the pier. Staff would flip over the gambling tables before the club could be breached but sadly, the rangers finally got wise in 1956 and busted the club coming from the other side—via boat.

Lounges and Libations

While the Balinese Club may be gone, there are many opportunities to partake of a fancy beverage while wandering around the island. Galveston Island Brewery offers Tiki Wheat—the official beer of Galveston—among its many other libations. The brewery, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in June, has created more than 350 beers in the last decade, despite starting production on old dairy equipment that they converted into brewery equipment.

Texas Tail Distillery, the first distillery on the island, opened in 2020 and offers a wide array of quality cocktails featuring its Texas Tail Vodka, Coastline Whiskey and Seawall Shine. In addition to a roomy, beach-themed indoor lounge area, it also has a fun outdoor courtyard featuring brightly colored murals and beach games.

Daiquiri Time Out, located in the West Market District, is a striking example of honoring the past in a funky, fresh way. The lounge boasts a classic speakeasy feel with vibrant pink couches and a book of drinks that includes a table of contents since there are so many choices inside. At any given time, bartenders can make up to 180 drinks, though there are “only” 60 on the menu. One special surprise is the Tiki speakeasy located outside the bar, where those who know the code (printed in the bar’s newsletter) can enter through a secret door (though you do need reservations).

Visitors can even blend their accommodations with their activities in Galveston. Moody Gardens, a 240-acre complex on the bay, features an Aquarium Pyramid, Rainforest Pyramid and Discovery Pyramid that are highly entertaining as well as educational. The now public nonprofit started in the mid-1980s with a hippotherapy program run out of a horse barn, and the complex has grown to become one of the premiere leisure/wellness sites in the Southwest.

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