by Sara G. Stephens
It’s a personal pet peeve of mine when people announce they’re going to Galveston, when all they really mean is they’re going to the beach. As a devout Galveston Island visitor, this common verbal gaffe grates my editorially sensitive skin, because the tapestry of Galveston is woven with so many colorful experiences beyond the beach—offering sights, sounds, sensations, education, and culture that dip deep inland and extend far outland. Houstonians who trek an hour to the beach can enjoy exponentially higher returns on their efforts by tapping into some of the lesser-known destinations that await them—somewhere off the well-beaten path between seawall and sand.
Silk Stocking District: Strolling the streets of the Silk Stocking District carries you into the movie set of an epic period piece. An irresistible collection of historic homes built from the Civil War through World War II, this pocket of Galveston rests between 25th Street (west), 23rd Street (east), Avenue P (south), and Avenue K (north). Each home has a story as provocative as the house is breathtaking. Among the residences are several former brothels and a former retirement home for women. One home became the Rosenberg library. If nothing inspires you more than a beautiful manifestation of Queen Anne-style architecture, the Silk Stocking District will make your day, your week, your year. You might even be inspired to buy one of the many similar, unrestored houses that tempt the imaginative eye only a few blocks away. Go to the Galveston City website to download a self-tour map of the district, and get the most out of your visit.
Tree Skeleton Sculptures: Michaelangelo’s statue of David is carved of marble and represents the biblical hero, David. You can see it at Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. More accessible, and arguably more inspirational, are these sculptures, carved of trees left in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, and representing rebirth and the longevity of human spirit. You can see them in Galveston. Carefully and artistically shaped into forms ranging from dogs, to toads, to mermaids, you can enjoy spotting these unique transformations in their new homes all around Galveston Island, proudly hailing from grand-dame lawns, or securely nestled in cozy gardens. Carved by several artists, including Galveston’s Earl Jones, Houston’s Jim Philips, and Dayle Lewis, of Richmond, Indiana, these sculptures embody the notion of “when life give you lemons, make lemonade.” There are more than 20 such tree carvings dotting the Galveston Island landscape today. Go to Galveston.com to download walking tour details. See how many of these treasures you can find!
1892 Bishop’s Palace, From Basement to Attic and Full Moon Tours: The Victorian castle and architectural masterpiece, 1892 Bishop’s Palace, has thrown open its magnificent doors to a treasure of areas previously closed to the public. This summer, visitors to the Bishop’s Palace will be fascinated by every nook and cranny contained in this island landmark, which was designed by Nicholas Clayton, a premier architect of Galveston. It’s one of the island’s “Broadway Beauties,” and earns every bit of this distinction. For an especially wondrous experience, indulge in the newly-offered Full Moon Tour, which delights the senses with a moonlit waltz of the building’s imposing architecture.
Segway Tours of Galveston: If you’ve seen the movie “Mall Cop,” you know what a segway is, a two-wheeled, standup vehicle you can ride around on, controlling your speed by leaning forward or backward. Just riding a segway is fun. Add to it the beautiful landscape and sightseeing opportunities of Galveston, and you’ve got yourself an experience for the scrapbooks. Just be sure to slip into some comfortable shoes, as this mode of transportation can strain your arches.
Duck Tours: This adventure is not about stalking the reeds for mallards. Rather, this breed of duck is an amphibious truck/water craft used during WWII. Unlike the mallard, these ducks are nearly extinct. Like the segway, these vehicles offer a memorable adventure regardless of where they take you. In Galveston, they happen to launch at the seawall, where you are accompanied by a conductor with encyclopedic details on the history of ducks and their current station in life. The island tour takes passengers through Galveston’s Strand, Silk Stocking District and seawall. Upon arriving at Offats Bayou, the duck drops into the water and drives its tickled cargo around the bayou. The tours are great fun for history buffs and anyone who wants a good story to tell when they get home.
Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum: If Texas Tea is your “drink” of choice, saddle up to this truly unique museum of offshore drilling, which happens to reside on a drilling rig. Upon boarding the retired jackup drilling rig (docked at Pier 19 off the Strand), visitors view a video about the offshore industry. From there, they explore three floors of models and interactive displays depicting the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration and production. The museum also features scale models of production platforms, actual drill bits and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), as well as videos and exhibits that explain drilling, geology, seismology, well servicing and production. The drill floor of the rig is a skywalk away, and visitors are welcome to wander its walls, too. So come on, all you unofficial ambassadors of Houston. It’s time to do your civic duty and learn about the technology that has helped sculpt Houston into the world’s petroleum capital. This museum will make you an expert.
Bolivar Ferry: For many people, the awesome traffic of ships coming into port is as wondrous as any natural-occurring scene the sea has to offer. For these people, a free trip on Galveston’s Bolivar Ferry is a must. Bolivar is a narrow peninsula on the upper Texas coast between the Gulf of Mexico and East Galveston Bay. The trip to Bolivar rewards the eye with the slow bustle of oil tankers being urged forward by their trusty tugs. Ferry passengers have the option of walking or driving onto the ferry (for getting around Bolivar’s many beautiful beaches, the latter is recommended). Bolivar itself lets visitors in on the coveted beaches held dear by locals. And if the romance of a lighthouse calls, the Bolivar lighthouse beckons. The peninsula offers plenty of eateries to satisfy any craving before passengers re-board the ferry to return to Galveston. It’s an unbeatable value and a fantastic way to see Galveston from literally a different perspective.
The Great Storm and the Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte Cinema: All the hiking involved in sightseeing can at times take away from the relaxing aspect of a vacation or weekend getaway. When you find yourself guiltily wishing for a quiet, air-conditioned bit of downtime in front of the silver screen, drive over to Pier 21 and take in a 30-minute movie about the Great Storm. Detailing the horrors of the hurricane that nearly devastated the island on September 8, 1900, this film will open your eyes to the resilient and triumphant spirit of Galveston. At 20 minutes long, The Pirate Island of Jean Lafitte offers the same cat-nap-like relief from pounding the pavement, or being pounded by waves. This movie is about actual pirate Jean Lafitte, who based his operations throughout the Caribbean in Galveston. Learn all about this mysterious pirate, whose motives are often debated as being either those of a merciless murderer or of a war-time hero. Make up your own mind, based on the facts at hand, and you just might emerge with an idea of where on the island Lafitte buried his yet-undiscovered pirate treasure. The movies appear in wide-screen, HD format.