As winter’s grip slips into spring, it’s time to break out the flip-flops and sunscreen and head for the coast. I decided to spend a day in Galveston to dive into Gulf waters and immerse myself in local history and island life.
10:00 a.m. As soon as I crossed Galveston Bay, the warm breeze and salty air reminded me that I was on island time. But before I hit the beach, I took a trip down historic Broadway Avenue. During Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s, this street was home to the most privileged members of society, who built imposing mansions along its length. Many homes did not survive the devastating hurricane of 1900, but those that did are amazing sights to behold. You don’t want to miss the castle-like 1892 Bishop’s Palace, which opens for tours.
10:30 a.m. In 2008, saltwater from Hurricane Ike damaged most of Galveston’s hundred-year-old oaks. Rather than completely cutting down the trees, homeowners turned local artists loose with chainsaws and chisels, transforming the stumps into works of art. To see them all, I followed the path of the Galveston Tree Sculptures Tour, a walking or driving tour through Galveston’s historic East End past massive wooden sculptures of local birds, dolphins, mermaids, and one very large dog leaning over a picket fence looking eager to lick passersby.
12:00 p.m. Hungry for seafood, I drove to Shrimp n Stuff, a no-frills restaurant on 39th that serves up tasty po-boy sandwiches over-flowing with your choice of shrimp or other “stuff” like filets of fish and oysters. I opted for a delicious fried shrimp and oyster po-boy served on a hoagie bun and topped with both of the house-recipe red and white sauces (that’s island talk for cocktail and tartar sauce).
1:00 p.m. After lunch, I drove to The Strand Historic District, where beautiful old buildings house shops, restaurants, and art galleries filled with curious shoppers buying everything from high-end sculpture to coconut monkey key chains.
I made my necessary stops at La King’s Confectionery for homemade fudge and Colonel Bubbie’s Strand
Surplus Sen-ter to browse the cluttered aisles of military gear. After an
impromptu game of giant sidewalk chess, it was time
3:00 p.m. Seawall Boulevard offers the best vantage point for scouting the sand and waves for the perfect beachy spot. While the sand isn’t as white nor the water as blue as pictured on a Caribbean postcard, splashing around in the Galveston surf, building dribble castles, and tossing a Frisbee along the shoreline is always fun. I decided to try my hand at skimboarding, which requires riding a thin, oval-shaped board across the top of inch-deep water as the waves roll in. The hardest part is timing. If the water is too deep the board sinks, sending the rider hurling off the front and into a wet, sandy face plant. If the water is too shallow, the board simply grinds to a stop on the sand, or worse, sends the rider into another face plant. My experience on the board had some successes, some failures, and plenty of face plants.
6:30 p.m. Perhaps a bit sandy, but presentable, I strolled to Benno’s on the Beach, a casual eatery across from the water that serves fresh seafood. I sat on the patio and watched the waves crash as I used a small wooden mallet to smash into locally caught stone-crab claws and tear away every last piece of delicious meat.
My belly was full with the fruits of Galveston Bay and my skin red from the kiss of the sun, but I had barely scratched the surface of everything there is to do in this island city. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
From the March 2011 issue.