Galveston’s downtown is compact by big-city standards, more than 36 square blocks. But within those blocks is more than 100 shops, antique stores, restaurants and art galleries.
Begin your exploration in The Strand National Historic Landmark District (pick up a map and other literature at the Downtown Visitors Center at 2215 Strand in the Old Galveston Square Building, phone 409-797-5101).
An easy walk for cruise passengers (one block from Carnival Corp.’s main terminal and just a little farther from where Royal Caribbean ships dock), The Strand National Historic Landmark District is an eclectic mix of shops and fun eateries. Boasting one of the country’s largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian-era architecture, the historic district underwent revitalization in the 1970s, beginning with The Strand Emporium and La King’s Confectionery.
Stroll along several blocks of art galleries, funky shops and restaurants, and be sure to pay a visit to the historic Tremont House Hotel (don’t miss the Toujouse Bar for evening cocktails). And if you’re in the area during Mardi Gras season, you’ll be invited to join in on the fun and festivities. Another special event you won’t want to miss: Dickens on The Strand Victorian Holiday Festival.
Hop the Galveston Island Trolley to ride the steel-railed cars around The Strand and to Seawall Blvd. Fares are only $1 for adults and 50 cents for children 6-11 and seniors (www.islandtransit.net, 409-797-3900). Or join the Duck Tour, a one hour narrated tour on a special vehicle that travels on land and in water (409-621-4771)
Be sure to visit the newly revitalized Postoffice Street Arts & Entertainment District, home to an impressive variety of art galleries, shops, restaurants, pubs and The Grand 1894 Opera House (www.thegrand.com, 800-821-1894). This district is one of Galveston’s most popular shopping and dining spots. You can also take a Carriage Ride through downtown. Look for carriages stationed throughout The Historic Downtown Shopping District.
Another carriage ride takes you through the East End Historic District and its beautifully restored homes and mansions. Galveston offers 14 historic homes and museums open to the public. All of the historic homes predate The 1900 Storm. A 27-minute documentary on the hurricane titled, “The Great Storm” (alternates with the film “The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte”), is shown daily at Pier 21 Theater (on Harborside Drive, phone 409-763-8808).
Pier 21, off Harborside Drive, was redeveloped in the early 1990s and now offers shops, portside restaurants and a charming hotel.
Galveston boasts four districts on the National Register of Historic Places: The Strand National Historic Landmark District, East End National Historic District, Silk Stocking District and Central Business District. The city is home to three National Historic Landmarks: Tall Ship Elissa (one of the world’s most celebrated historical tall ships, built in 1877), East End and The Strand. Galveston Island also has approximately 1,500 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of those buildings (at 1402 Broadway, phone 409-762-2475) is The Bishop’s Palace, Galveston’s grandest and best-known building. Named for the Galveston-Houston Catholic diocese located here from 1923 – 1950, Bishop’s Palace is listed on the American Institute of Architects’ 100 most important buildings in America. Designed in 1866 by Nicholas Clayton, the ornate building features a hand-carved staircase that took three years to build and a fireplace lined in pure silver.
You’ll also want to get yourself to Moody Gardens ( www.moodygardens.com, 800-582-4673), which features an Aquarium (with 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and 1.5 million gallons of water), The Colonel Paddlewheeler (an 800-passenger authentic reproduction of an 1800’s paddlewheeler), Discovery Pyramid (housing interactive space exhibits inspired by NASA), a 400-seat 3D IMAX Theater, a 10-story Rainforest Pyramid with lush tropical plants, butterflies, birds, the South’s largest bat exhibit and fish — and an IMAX Ridefilm Theater, which takes you on a fascinating adventure ride that combines state-of-the-art graphics and computer animation. Palm Beach is also here, with lagoons and waterfalls. Splish and splash at the new Schlitterbahn Waterpark (www.schlitterbahn.com) — open year-round.
Be sure to visit the nearby Lone Star Flight Museum, home of the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame and housing one of the nation’s finest collections of restored aircraft and aviation exhibits.
Other one-of-a-kind museums include the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum (www.oceanstaroec.com, 409-766-STAR) and the Texas Seaport Museum, with a local Ellis-Island twist — including the names of 133,000 immigrants who entered America at the port of Galveston, where the immigration station was second only to Ellis Island.
Weatherwise: Galveston Island enjoys temperate weather year-round, averaging 57F in the winter months and 81F in summer months.