Off The Beach-Bound Path: A Weekend In Galveston
Crossing the West Bay onto Galveston Island feels liberating. The expanse of water dotted with boats and the island shores beckoning in the distance always put a smile on my face. Leaving hectic city life behind—even for a day or a weekend—you know you’re in for a good break. And come a hot summer or cold winter day, you don’t have to be beach-bound to have a tremendous time in Galveston.
Start with a morning visit to the Bryan Museum. The brick building housing the museum dates back to 1895. For nearly 100 years, the building served as an orphanage—including during the harrowing time of the 1900 Great Storm that left the island devastated but kept the children homed here at the time safe). With a private collection built on over 70,000 artifacts, the Bryan Museum reflects a time frame from 12,000 years ago to present day. The history of the Southwest is alive in these halls and you do best taking it in at leisure.
To pick a spot for lunch is no easy feat in Galveston: you’ll be spoilt for choice. If it’s seafood and a view you crave, find BLVD.Seafood that has a bright dining room and views of the Gulf. Fresh, locally sourced seafood comes with salsas and spice in tacos, sliders and salads. For lunch with a side of historic, stroll (or drive) to the historic Strand district. The Harborside Mercantile oozes French Quarter ambience with its tall arched windows, high ceilings and dark wood décor. Fresh seafood here comes with Louisiana flavors and swing, and barbecue shrimp (cooked in garlic-heavy spicy butter), gumbo, po’boys and muffaletta’s increase the feeling of being in New Orleans, only with the beach around the corner!
For an educational afternoon, visit the Galveston Railway Museum on Santa Fe Place at the head of the Strand District. With a collection of over 40 restored locomotives, cabooses, boxcars and more, the museum is one of the five largest railway museums in the country. Or you could head to Galveston Island Brewing Company for a different educational experience and learn all about craft beer brewing. Inland from the seawall towards the end of town, they have a tasting room next to the brewery where a resident rooster takes a brief interest in new visitors—if he’s still there. The brewers here are keen on IPA—the stronger, the better it seems. For the weak, they have fruitier, lighter beer on tap, too. Hang out on the grassy lawn with picnic tables and a playground, or sit at the bar and listen to how the beer was brewed.
In that lull between afternoon and evening, take a stroll along the seawall as the sun lowers and eventually sets. The seawall stretches for some 10 miles, connecting one beach to the next and passes by the Pleasure Pier somewhere mid-way. Or you could take a pre-dinner nap before heading (back) to the Strand.
The Strand District—part of the East End Historic District, and both a designated National Historic Landmark—harbors many a boutique, restaurant, bar and shop under its arcades and iron-wrought balconies. Housed in what used to be the bank in the Hutchings Sealy building, Riondo’s is a romantic dining destination for Italian cuisine cooked with passion by Argentina-born Italian chef Rico Caminos. It is an elegant restaurant with high ceilings, shuttered windows and arches that separates dining from the bar area. For true romantics there is even the old vault for intimate dining.
After dinner, it is a short hop around the block to the Tremont House. Take the elevator up to the rooftop bar. It is a lovely bar to lounge under the heat lamps on colder nights, or near cooling fans on hot nights. Views extend all over Galveston and beyond. The original Tremont House was built the same year Galveston was officially founded, in 1836, and reigned for 26 years as a sophisticated tourist destination until a fire destroyed it. The second Tremont House was erected 1872 but after the Great Storm of 1900, it fell into neglect and was eventually torn down in 1928. Until, in 1981, the 1879 Leon & L. Blum building was renovated to become the new Tremont House, a grand hotel with an atrium courtyard. Rooms in the original building feature high ceilings and wooden floors, and it is a delightful hotel to rest your head.
If you wake up in Galveston on a Sunday morning, make your way to Galveston’s Own Farmers Market and on the way, pop into Oasis Juice Bar & Market. With its colorful walls and eclectic array of tables and chairs, it is a fun place for a healthy start of fresh-made juice. Any combination you like, or choose from a set menu that includes the popular Island Sunrise (grapefruit, orange, pineapple and lime) and Can’t Be Beet (beet, carrot, apple and ginger). There is a food menu, too, built around local produce, yard eggs and includes vegan and vegetarian options. Galveston’s Own Farmers Market is set up right behind Antique Warehouse, itself a destination if you love to hunt for vintage glassware, crockery and silverware, old books and maps, framed art, decorative knickknacks or vintage devices like typewriters and old scales. The farmers market is a community-affair in the warm sense of the word: inviting, open and a place to get some great products while chatting with the ones who grew or made it. One of the vendors is Island Aquaponics who sell bags full of crisp greens harvested just that morning from the greenhouse right next to the market.
With fresh groceries in the bag, you better thought to bring a cooler in the car. Especially since your next stop, before heading home, should be the harbor. Sampson & Sons (featured in Bounty of the Bay in our September 2015 issue) is right next to Katie’s Seafood market. Both sell fresh seafood. And you can tell that a boat with fresh-caught Gulf fish just came in by the number of pelicans gathering on nearby docks, rooftops and boat decks.
It doesn’t stop there but the weekend might. For a next visit, consider taking the ferry over to Bolivar Island to take in the serenity of endless beaches—and take binoculars to go bird watching. Treat yourself to the lavish Sunday brunch at the grand Hotel Galvez & Spa (celebrating 105 years and going), or go kayaking around the quieter bays and inlets. In Galveston, island times really are great times!