With nearly 40 percent of its residents between the ages 20 and 44, Houston is a youthful city.
And like most kids, it has a special playground: Galveston Island.
Just a 45-mile zip (OK, some days it’s zippier than others) south on I-45 puts you on the beach or exploring one of the island’s historical districts.
Here are some island experiences to consider:
HURRICANES & HISTORY
The most devastating disaster in Galveston’s history was the 1900 hurricane, which left an estimated 6,000 people dead. A good introduction to that event is “The Great Storm,” a moving 27-minute multimedia documentary that is shown at Pier 21 Theater, 2100 Harborside Drive. The theater is open Wednesday-Monday. Admission is $5.
More recently, the island and its residents were battered by Hurricane Ike. The tidal surge of the 2008 storm destroyed 40,000 trees on the island, including 500 oak trees that had shaded Broadway Avenue for more than 100 years. A self-guided art tour takes visitors past larger-than-life sculptures that local artists have carved from the Ike trees. The sculptures -- some whimsical, some serious -- grace the lawns of homes and businesses all over the island. For a map of the sculptures, stop
by the visitors center at Ashton Villa, 2328 Broadway, or download at galveston.com/treesculptures.
You could spend a day exploring the attractions at Moody Gardens, which include an aquarium, a science museum, a private beach, a waterfront golf course and replica 1800-style paddle-wheeler.
The heart of the complex is the Rainforest Pyramid, which recently unveiled a $25 million renovation. A walk through the multilevel exhibit offers bird’s-eye views of an endangered ecosystem, as well as the chance to come face to face with giant river otters, cotton top tamarins and scarlet ibis. Day passes available or pay per individual attraction. Proceeds at this nonprofit complex go to help the mentally and physically disabled. Moody Gardens is at One Hope Boulevard.
Once known as the Wall Street of the Southwest, the Strand is again thriving. Shopping ranges from fine jewelry and resort wear to flip-flops and U.S. Military parade gloves (thank you, Col. Bubbie’s). Dining includes authentic Italian fare (the chef is known to sing arias during service), a craft brew pub and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. Signs off I-45 will point the way to the Strand. Explore more at downtowngalveston.org.
ARTS & ANTIQUES
Nearby, Postoffice Street is where the arts and antiques mesh on the island. More than a dozen antique shops and galleries vie for eyes alongside boutiques and restaurants. The gem of Postoffice is the Grand 1894 Opera House, which still stages frequent concerts and other performances.
The island is dotted with historical buildings — too many to tackle here. If you have just an afternoon, consider stops at these three gems: The 1892 Bishop’s Palace, a stone shrine to the Gilded Age; the 1895 Moody Mansion, home to one of the island’s first families; and the Queen of the Gulf, the stately Hotel Galvez.
Bishop’s Palace: 1402 Broadway; admission charged.
Moody Mansion: 2618 Broadway; admission charged.
Hotel Galvez: 2024 Seawall Blvd.
If you’re up for an adventure, consider a fishing excursion. A handful of party boats, docked at Pier 18 off Harborside Drive, offer deep-sea excursions. Here are some longtime guides:
Aqua Safari Charters: 409-795-7480
Galveston Party Boats: 409-763-5423
Williams Party Boats: 409-762-8808
GAIDO'S & TIME TRAVEL
Step back in time with a visit to the island’s original fine dining room, Gaido's. Opened in 1911, the family-owned restaurant specializes in Gulf Coast seafood and gracious service. Over the years, Gaido’s has softened its dress code for the day-tripping tourists at lunch, but you’ll want to skip the shorts and sneakers for an evening meal. It’s at 3802 Seawall Blvd.; 409-762-9625. Go here for more fine dining options on the island.
A MEMORABLE PICNIC
Or skip the fine dining and enjoy a Gulf Coast feast around a picnic table at Benno's on the Beach on the Beach. This family-owned spot caters to beachgoers and foodies alike. What to order? For starters, fried blue crabs dripping with garlic-infused butter, delicate pan-fried oysters and a few pounds of spicy crawfish. It's messy but damn good. It’s at 1200 Seawall Blvd.; 409-762-4621. Go here for more casual dining options on the island.
A DAY ON THE SAND
OK, Galveston’s Gulf isn’t exactly blue, but it’s bath-water warm and inviting on a hot day. You’ll find chairs and umbrellas for rent all along the beach. And if you won’t want to get your feet wet, consider a stroll (or bike) on the wide sea wall. People-watching doesn’t get any better than this.