Galveston, Oh Galveston.
Kate and I try to do a nice getaway for our anniversary each year. We set the bar pretty high with our first anniversary…spent in a quaint village along the rugged coast of northeastern Spain1. Regardless, we’ve tried to at least get out of town for a day or two and spend some time together…even if it’s in a literal shack in the Hill County.
Evening on the Cadaques Waterfront, Our hill Country retreat at the surprisingly cozy guest haus named, aptly, “The Shack”.
This year we were so busy and burnt out from work and travel, we settled for a quick jaunt down to Galveston for a stay in a historic hotel and a nice dinner. Galveston’s only about an hour or so from our house in western Houston, and is essentially part of the Houston metroplex, as much as they hate that idea. Galveston and I have a love hate relationship. I love that it is about as historic as this area of Texas gets…lots of old architecture, festivals, Gulf shore beaches, etc.
Mardi Gras in Galveston, Architecture, historical building
The other side of things is that this part of the Gulf is not like the leeward side of Florida with its pristine white sand and deep blue water. Galveston beaches are glorified mud flats2 with turbid milk-chocolate water. Also, Galveston has the oddness of being a touristy area without rational reason to be a tourist there. It’s a home port for cruise ships, but not really a port of call. Lastly, there was a massive hurricane back in Nineteen-aught-somehting-or-other, and that continues to be the focal point of a lot of Galveston conversation. Yes, you used to be a burgeoning port city, yes you used to be bigger than Houston. Ring Ring…it’s 2012…it says “check the scoreboard”. However, it’s the only real populated “beach” area3 on the upper Texas Gulf coast near Houston, so we flock there out of lack of anything better4. It’s not that bad, but it suffers a bit from the general Houston malaise of sprawl, which detracts a bit from its historical charm, and gets very crowded, very quickly, on weekends and holidays.
Galveston Seascape, Cruise Ship, Historic or Run Down?
Still, not-Houston continues to trump Houston for anniversary getaways, so off we jaunted down the coast. We checked into the Tremont hotel5 and went for a walk on the Strand. Ostensibly, the Strand is Galveston’s historic/tourist district, but it really amounts to a street of older store buildings that have mostly gone over to tourist shops and eateries. There are some highlights, though, including the old-timey ice-creamery/candy store. The candy is kept in old wooden drawers, and is bountiful. The ice cream side of things echoes to the old soda fountain model. Chocolate+ice cream+historical is a pretty big win for me.
Tremont Hotel, Strand Street, Candy counter, Candy Counter display, Old Timey Candy, Ice Cream shop
While shopping in one usual tourist place, I ran across this book about hot guys and cute baby animals. Which, when you think about it, is really, really disturbing. I mean, I can understand how someone might buy a hot guy book. Or a cute animal book. But I always assumed that the underlying motivation for purchasing them would be VERY, VERY different. I am disquieted about the juxtaposition of those two things…
So very disturbing.
We had a nice dinner at Rudy and Paco’s, the best rated restaurant in town6 according to some. Four a touristy place that focuses on chains and gimmicky restaurants, R&P’s was pretty decent. We ended the day with a drink on the rooftop bar of the hotel7.
Tremont Hotel and Arch, Hotel rooftop bar
The next day, we had breakfast at a little local diner, walked around a bit on the Strand again, and went out to the shore to see the new “pleasure pier”8. After a couple successive hurricanes knocked out some old beach pier attractions, one of the big entertainment/dining firms spent bazillions putting in a new pier with rides, and carnival stuff, and such. Unfortunately, you can only really build a pier so long and so wide, or cram so much stuff on it, when you’re building on sand. The result was as mindblowingly weird as it was expensive to get inside. It’s like they took a state fair, and crammed the whole thing on to a short pier. There are a handful of midway games, a couple rides, and the usual food-on-a-stick places. It’s like a highlights reel for an actual amusement park9.
Pleasure Pier, Star Drug Store, Shrimp kisses!, (next 4) Pleasure Pier
We hung around for a short while, even went on one white knuckle roller coaster10, but there really just wasn’t a lot to it so we headed on home. If I had been there for the Galveston experience, I might have been disappointed…but honestly, I was there for a get-out-of-town-be-with-your-wife experience, and that part went just fine
1 To be fair, we were already in Spain for a wedding, so it’s not like we flew there for our anniversary. But still, it counts in the awesome column.
2 The irony being that this draws a good number of shorebirds to the area, which is actually a plus. A plus drowning in a deep deep sea of minuses.
3 Sorry Quintana/Bolivar Peninsula. You don’t count even though your beaches are, on the average, nicer. It’s because you have about 12 people in total. That’s a small gathering, not a City.
4 Also, given there are 4 million or so of us, it only takes a very small portion of the Houston area to decide “meh, we could do worse” to make Galveston a teemingly crowded place.
5 The stately beachfront Galvez was, unfortunately, booked up. The Tremont is in a large historic structure, but had been renovated to some degree inside. Not as impressive as some of the other places in town, but very nicely appointed
6 Which, while it was a very nice place despite a name that, shamefully, I initially assumed was a little low-rent texmex place, doesn’t say an incredible amount. Galveston has nice mid-level dining, but it’s really more tourist oriented, so it’s a bit light on the really fancy side of things. And we all know if there’s anything I am , it’s fancy.
7 Unfortunately, roof-top anything is not the best idea given the pretty strong and consistent on-shore breeze.
8 Which sounds a lot more risqué than it is.
9 Not that you’d know it from the admission, which was steeper than a lot of real amusement parks.
10 On which I think I literally almost died. The only restraint was a somewhat slipper lap bar, not the usual over the shoulder restraints. I had to hold on because it felt like I was slipping out of it at times.