Reeling in the catch of a lifetime at one of the island’s countless fishing spots, sipping a mojito while dining al fresco at the island’s oldest operating restaurant, grabbing a lot of beads at Mardi Gras! Galveston . . . and a bunch of other Galveston-centric things.
A brief warning: This list is not for the faint of heart (one-time tourists and occasional beachgoers, we mean you). Completing every item on this list takes years, dare we say a lifetime? So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the things that every islander and Houston-area resident should do in Galveston before they die.
Suggestion: Crank this tasty Texas tune while you peruse the list.
Yeah, this particular bucket list item is pretty obvious but it’s a biggie. If you’ve never traversed the island’s sandy coast or sunk your toes in the warm sand, have you truly experienced Galveston? We think not. When you’re ready to soak up some rays, head to the island’s public beach parks Stewart Beach and East Beach (open seasonally) or try one of the Seawall beaches (open year-round).
The stunning Victorian-era home known both as the Bishop’s Palace and as the Walter Gresham House is among the best preserved structures from Galveston’s era as the state’s first major boom town. Sitting at 1402 Broadway, it was built for attorney, railroad magnate and Civil War veteran Col. Walter Gresham, who relocated to Galveston from Virginia with his wife following the war, according to Galveston.com. Designed by famed Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton between 1887 and 1893, the home is one of the island’s last surviving structures from its great era of mansion building. Constructed of steel and stone, the three-story structure survived the Great Storm of 1900 almost unscathed. The Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston bought the house in 1923, and for many years it served as the seat of the local bishop (hence the name Bishop’s Palace), according to the Texas State Historical Association. The Galveston Historical Foundation bought the mansion in 2013.
Considered one of the country’s finest examples of Victorian architecture, Bishop’s Palace is listed by the U. S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark.
The Bishop’s Palace is available for public tours daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
1402 Broadway Avenue J, (409) 762-2475; galvestonhistory.org
The opera house was built in 1894 at a cost of $100,000. Lovingly dubbed The Grand, the opera house is one of the few remaining theatres of its era in Texas and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As further recognition of its importance, in 1993 the 73rd Texas Legislature proclaimed the theater “The Official Opera House of Texas.” Throughout the years, the opera house survived many threats, including numerous storms (most notably the 1900 storm) and periods of neglect. The Grand underwent an $8,000,000 restoration between 1972 and 1990.
Opened in 1911 as a symbol of Galveston’s resiliency in the wake of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 (which killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people and remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history), Hotel Galvez is one of the Gulf Coast’s most luxurious beachfront hotels . . . and it’s got a little extra spirit, if you know what we mean.
Throughout its illustrious history, the Queen of the Gulf has played host to presidents, celebrities and, purportedly, even a few ghosts, including the spirit of a lovelorn woman who supposedly committed suicide in room 501. The tale goes that the young woman, Audra, was waiting for her beloved, a sailor, to return from a voyage when, one day, she received news that her fiancé's ship had sunk during a powerful storm. Audra held out hope and kept her vigil for days but she ultimately lost hope. Convinced her fiancé was dead, she hanged herself. A few days later, Audra’s fiancé returned to the Galvez in search of the bride he’d never marry. Audra reportedly still inhabits room 501. Guests and employees have noted unexplained phenomena, including flickering lights, doors that open and close, unexplained footsteps and voices on the hotel’s fifth floor. Audra sightings in the hallway have also been reported.
Hotel Galvez is located at 2024 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, (409) 765-7721, hotelgalvez.com.
Hop aboard the Galveston Railroad Museum’s Harborside Express (open only on weekends) for a 15-minute train ride on an open-air caboose. Then take a trip through the museum, housed at the site of the 1932 depot, railyard and headquarters of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad. The museum has five acres of trains, including 40 pieces of locomotives and rolling stock. Highlights include a massive model train exhibit and the world’s largest collection of railroad dining ware.
The Galveston Railroad Museum is located at 2602 Santa Fe Place, Galveston.
Whether you’re a fishing newbie or an expert angler, Galveston Island offers plenty of places to cast your line and reel up a catch you can brag about. From beaches to piers to parks, there are countless fishing spots. Seawolf Park, 61st Street Fishing Pier, Jimmy’s on the Pier, Jamail Bay Park, and the Seawall Jetty Rock are among some of the most popular fishing locations. Want something a bit more remote? A bit more challenging? Charter a boat and try your hand at deep-sea fishing. White and blue marlin, tuna, wahoo, and dorado are all out there, ripe for the taking.
On an Island jam-packed with artifacts and treasures of the decades past, one particularly large relic is a must-see. The Elissa, an iron-hulled, three-masted barque, is one of the oldest ships still sailing. She launched in 1877 from Aberdeen, Scotland, and for the next 90 odd years, the ship lugged commercial cargo to and from North America, South America, Europe and elsewhere. Through the years, the ship changed hands and names multiple times, sometimes going by Fjeld, Gustaf, Christophoros and Achaios, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Elissa docked in Galveston in 1883 and again in 1886.
In 1978, the Galveston Historical Foundation brought the ship from Greece to Galveston, restored the vessel and converted it into a floating museum. Now berthed at Pier 21 in Galveston, the ship is one of the island’s most-visited attractions (aside from its beaches) and receives some 60,000 visitors each year. Fun fact: In 1978 the ship became the first item outside the United States to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The Texas Seaport Museum tours of the 1877 tall ship Elissa daily.
2200 Harborside Dr, Galveston, (409) 763-1877
Amass a small collection of beads at the state’s largest Mardi Gras celebration, Mardi Gras! Galveston
As if we could leave Mardi Gras off this list . . . Come Fat Tuesday, get into the Mardi Gras spirit with a trip to Galveston, the site of the third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States: Mardi Gras! Galveston. Prepare to amass a budding collection of beads at this parade-packed extravaganza.
Walk the decks of the USS Stewart
The Galveston Naval Museum is located in Galveston’s Seawolf Park on Pelican Island, formerly a welcoming point for immigrants arriving at the turn of the century. The WWII museum offers a look inside the WWII submarine the USS Cavalla and one of only three destroyer escorts in the world, the USS Stewart. The remains of the WWI tanker S.S. Selma, the largest concrete ship constructed, can be seen northwest of Seawolf park’s fishing pier.
The museum hosts annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day remembrances, patriotic light displays during the Holiday season and honors those who served at military ceremonies, reunions and reenactments.
After you finish touring the museum, explore Pelican Island, a popular fishing spot. And when you’re hungry, claim a picnic table at Seawolf Park and dig into your bagged lunch while you enjoy the ocean breeze.
100 Seawolf Park Blvd, Galveston, (409) 797-5114
Dine al fresco at the island’s oldest operating restaurant
Founded by San Giacinto Gaido in 1911, the Galveston institution has offered generations of beach goers ocean views and fresh local seafood. Fourth-generation Gaidos own and run the seafood restaurant to this day. The restaurant is located at 3828 Seawall Boulevard. By the way, don’t you dare leave without trying the famous pecan pie! Seeking refuge from the sun but still want to dine at a locale with a sense of history? Try The Original Mexican Cafe. Located on the corner of 14th St. and Market St. in Galveston’s Historic District, the restaurant is the longest continually operating restaurant on Galveston Island still at its original location.
3802 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, TX 77550
Score some swag at one of Galveston’s oldest shops
Originally built in the late 1800s as a bath house, Murdoch’s is one of Galveston’s oldest businesses. It’d be an understatement to say Murdoch’s has had a rough go of it. The 1900 storm destroyed the building. Although the structure was rebuilt in 1901, the storms of 1909, 1915, and 2008 also wrought significant damage. Time and time again, the beloved beachfront business was rebuilt, becoming a symbol of resilience on an island perpetually at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Murdoch’s remains a Galveston favorite for souvenirs and ocean views -- in spite of the many storms, destruction and rebuilds it has endured. The business now operates as a gift shop, selling an array of gifts, collectibles, souvenirs, and beach supplies. The longstanding landmark’s expansive deck overlooks the Gulf of Mexico.
Murdoch’s is located at 2215 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston and operates daily; 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information call (409) 762-7478.
Galveston doesn’t just cater to beach-bound tourists. The island is a haven for an array of coastal wildlife. Want to breathe in the fresh air, stretch your legs, and commune with nature sans the chaotic beach crowd? Galveston Island State Park boasts 2,000 acres that span from the beach to the bay. The park’s coastal prairies, freshwater ponds, and salt marshes offer opportunities for hiking, fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing and stargazing.
14901 FM 3005, Galveston 77554, (409) 737-1222
The Gulf Coast is synonymous with the petroleum industry. Not sure quite how it all works? Enter The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum. A retired jack-up drilling rig retrofitted as a three-story education center situated along the Galveston shore, the museum teaches its visitors the ins and outs of oil and gas production. The oil rig operated in the Gulf of Mexico from 1969 to 1984 and drilled over 200 wells. The rig’s pipe deck houses several exhibits on the oil and gas industry while the rig floor has been configured to display the drilling machinery. While the original living area on the rig was renovated into museum space, there is a large, mock-up living space depicting life on a rig.
First-timers visitors, consider watching the museum’s 15-minute educational video about the rig before venturing off on your own self-guided tour. Museum staff recommends setting aside at least an hour and a half if you aim to explore the entire facility.
2002 Wharf Rd, Galveston, (409) 766-7827
Have you ever noticed a spectacular tree sculpture while out and about? Across the island, some 40 such tree sculptures decorate the town. Following the destructive Hurricane Ike, several artists took to the streets and carved new life into the many oaks uprooted by the storm. Now, wooden dolphins, angels, dogs, mermaids and the like decorate the town in tribute to the lost trees.
Uncover the island’s history at the Moody Mansion
Galveston architect William Tyndall built the mansion between 1893 and 1895 for Mrs. Richard S. Willis. Narcissa Willis, the widow of grocery merchant Richard Willis. Narcissa lived in the mansion from 1895 until her death in 1899. William L. Moody, Jr. acquired the house for his family and lived there until his death in 1954, according to the Texas State Historical Association. His daughter, the widowed Mary Moody Northen, acquired the residence from the Moody Foundation and lived in it until three years prior to her death in 1986. The Mary Moody Northen, Incorporated set about restoring the mansion, with the intent of carrying out Mrs. Northen’s wishes to use it as a memorial to her family and as a museum for Galveston, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The mansion was restored to recreate the character of the house as it was in 1911, when Mary Moody made her debut.
The Moody Mansion is available for public tours daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
2618 Broadway Avenue J, (409) 762-7668; moodymansion.org
Galveston Island has no shortage of stunning historical homes, so many that the island’s quirkier architectural wonders are often overlooked. Galveston is dotted with all sorts of weird and wacky structures sure to fascinate the architecture buffs among your ranks. Among the oddest beach homes is Galveston’s famous Kettle House. The next time you’re out and about on the town, keep your eyes peeled for the wacky building. Sitting on a grassy lot off of Galveston’s Termini-San Luis Pass Road, the structure at 1410 Miramar Dr., best described as a kettle-shaped steel building with a wood-shingle roof, has long attracted special attention.
An iconic and somewhat mysterious fixture on the island for decades, the unique building is the creation of Alabama-born WWII veteran Clayton E. Stokley, who began working on it back in the 1960s. Though Stokely intended to turn the structure into a business, his plans never came to fruition. Come 2017, Galveston couple Michael and Ashley Cordray of Save 1900 purchased the structure, renovated it for their home makeover show, “Big Texas Fix,” and opened it up to the public for short-term rentals on Airbnb.
1410 Miramar Dr., Galveston, Texas
Electric trolleys first made their debut in Galveston back in 1891 and remained in service until 1938. Fifty years later in 1988, a heritage streetcar system, Galveston Island Trolley, was opened and continued to operate downtown until September 13, 2008, when Hurricane Ike severely damaged all four of the vintage trolley cars. The charming historic rail trolleys were repaired and returned to service, operating in tandem with several rubber wheel trolleys that provide island visitors transportation from the historic east end of the island to the west.
The trolley is $1 for adults. Children accompanied by an adult can ride for free. Riders must bring exact change to place in the fare box; drivers do not have the ability to make change for riders. The trolleys pass each stop on the trolley route approximately every 30 minutes.
Get an incredible view of the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier whilst riding one of its most iconic attractions, the Galaxy Wheel -- a 100-foot tall Ferris wheel. Other rides of note include the Iron Shark Rollercoaster and the Gulf Rider. If you work up an appetite, we recommend dining at Pleasure Pier’s Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Texas’ first location.
The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is located at 2501 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, (409)766-4950, pleasurepier.com.
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