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Inside tips for exploring Galveston Island, TX, ‘the playground of the South’

Recently named a “Destination on the Rise” by TripAdvisor, Galveston Island, Texas, with its 32-mile-long coast, is finally getting the recognition it so richly deserves. Granted, locals have always appreciated this year-round coastal spot, a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, particularly since they added seven miles of brand new beaches in 2016. After a recent visit, I can attest that the luxury accommodations, well-preserved Victorian architecture, endless harbor front eateries, eclectic attractions, and a hopping Mardi Gras scene (third largest in the country) are just a few of the many reasons to plan a visit to this charming southern seaport. Inside tip: Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport is just 40 miles from Galveston, making it the perfect add-on after a Houston biz trip. galveston-island-historic Thrills for kids of all ages An iconic landmark, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier features 16 rides, including the Iron Shark Rollercoaster and Gulf Glider, a 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel and a 200-foot-tall swing tower, along with live music, and food vendors. Inside tip: It’s open until 11:00 PM on weekends. If you’d like to take a break nearby for an upscale dinner, the Olympia Grill Pier 21 offers grilled meat, seafood, and authentic Greek specialties. Schlitterbahn Waterpark If you survived the Pier then you’re ready to tackle Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, named the best indoor water park in the world by Amusement Today. Brave souls can queue up for MASSIV, the world’s tallest water coaster ride, or grab a bodyboard and surf the ocean-like waves at the Boogie Bahn. Next door you’ll find Moody Gardens which consists of 242 acres of botanical gardens, a Rainforest Pyramid, which is home to over 1,000 species of plants and tropical animals – such as monkeys, sloths, and birds, a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium filled with penguins, seals, and sharks, a golf course, waterpark, and even a 4-D theater. Inside tip: Sign up for an hour-long cruise aboard a replica of an 1800s paddlewheel boat. B-17 BELLY One-of-a-kind experiences The Lone Star Flight Museum is filled with over 40 historically significant aircraft. Exhibits explain what it takes to pilot, design, maintain, and operate an airplane. Inside Tip: Fork over the big bucks for a memorable flight in a real WWII-era warbird, such as the North American B-25 Mitchell, or the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Seafarers have a plethora of choices for a fun-filled afternoon on the waters. Get Hooked Fishing Charters offers exciting fishing trips ranging from an offshore Close Rig Trip, which can take you up to 20 miles offshore to an adrenaline-filled Shark Trip where you’ll anchor up in one of their secret “shark spots”. Landlubbers can tour Bishop’s Palace, named one of the top 100 outstanding buildings in the U.S. by the American Institute of Architects, learn about locomotive history at the Galveston Railroad Museum or take a fascinating docent tour at The Bryan Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Southwestern artifacts that spans more than 2,500 years . Inside tip: Other unique museums include the Ocean Star Drilling Rig Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, and the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA. Scrumptious eats The historic Hotel Galvez Bar and Grill serves up tasty Lone Star State specials and freshly caught Gulf Coast seafood for lunch and dinner but they really pull out all the stops when it comes to Sunday Brunch, featuring an omelet and pasta station, prime rib, fresh fruit, eggs Benedict and a full dessert table. Sunflower The charming, family-owned Sunflower Bakery & Café makes everything from scratch with a lot of love. Shout out for a fabulous crab eggs bennie, all the bakery items as well as their superb service. At Number 13 Prime Steak and Seafood, whether you choose one of their “In House 30 Day Dry Aged USDA Angus Prime” steaks, or a simple oak grilled fresh fish, it tastes even better backed by their incredible waterfront views. Seafood lovers can enjoy some of the Gulf Coast’s finest seafood at BLVD such as the Gulf Coast flat fish stack and the soft shell crab tacos. Inside tip: their D-LUX Bloody Mary is not to be missed. Stylish stays I’d say it’s a dead tie between The Tremont House and the Hotel Galvez. You can’t go wrong with either since they both offer historic charm and exemplary service. Tremont Hotel The Tremont House, an elegant European-style hotel, is located in the 1879 Leon & H. Blum Building in the heart of historic downtown Galveston. Past guests have included Sam Houston, Ulysses S. Grant, Clara Barton and Buffalo Bill. The hotel’s restored four-story atrium lobby is decorated in a sophisticated in black, white, gray and green palettes, with ironwork balconies and tropical palm trees. Inside tip: The Rooftop Bar offers the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Galvez Hotel Hotel Galvez & Spa, aka the “Queen of the Gulf” was known as the called “Queen of the Gulf” when it opened in 1911. Some of the welcome renovations at this six-story Spanish colonial hotel include a world-class fitness center and spa and a heated saline outdoor pool, complete with swim-up bar. Inside tip: Take a courtesy bicycle for a spin around the island.

Janice Nieder

Janice Nieder could be the love child of Indiana Jones and Julia Child. Previously a specialty food consultant in NYC, Janice is currently a SF-based culinary tourism writer who has wined & dined her way through 90 countries. To keep things in balance, Janice also enjoys writing about her Girlfriend Getaways which include spa visits, soft-core adventure, cultural events, shopping, boutique hotels, and chef interviews.

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  1. Galveston has always been recommended by American friends, but I never understood what they were talking about before. Now I understand. I shall see what the buzz is about when I find myself in Texas next year!

  2. Galveston is a popular cruise port, so be sure to spend a few days before or after your cruise if you are cruising from Galveston….once known as “The Ellis Island of the South”

  3. I’ve been the Galveston once many many years ago and was not overly impressed. It seemed dirty and brown, and certainly did not make me think luxury. After reading this article however, I feel as though I may need to give it another chance.

  4. Planning a trip to Galveston and came across this. I like the “playground of the South” tag, promises a lot. This piece mentions that Galveston is on the up but what’s happened in the 3 years since this was written? Anybody got any ideas on whether Galveston is still ascending? Any new toys in the playground?

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