Galveston, TX, is unique. For anglers it offers great fishing experiences. For historians, there is an unending wealth of information. The food choices are rich and plentiful, as are the hotels and lodging alternatives. When spending a few days there, you can expect to run out of time before running out of things to do.
A few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to experience some of the best that Galveston has to offer. Our ride was the 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4×4 in sunset orange pearl. I didn’t have a chance to do much off-roading, but did put on more than 678 miles, divided between highway driving and traversing the Island several times from the city to the the Galveston State Park. This is the mid-level trim package with an MSRP of $32,795, powered by a Pentastar 3.6L V6 (285hp/260 lb.-ft. of torque)paired with either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic (which we drove) featuring a part-time transfer case which enables 2WD on roads and 4W when conditions call for it. The premium soft top could be folded back for partial exposure, but it also has new fabric and construction which made this the quietest soft-topped Jeep that I’ve driven when the top was fully closed. As driven, with a range of safety, information, infotainment and comfort options — including a premium sound system — the vehicle listed out at just over $40,000.
Unlike many of my ride/drive experiences, this was one where the journey and the destination shared equal weight. Usually a day-trip destination for me, Galveston seems to be a perfect compromise for the sportsman who wants to fish and is traveling with family members who may have something else in mind, or for a group who want a buffet of activities during their stay. Actually, there is no reason to rationalize a trip to Galveston.
48-Hours in Galveston
Our base of operations was the Tremont House on the Strand. It is at the heart of central Galveston and — with it’s post-hurricane renovation — it rivals fine downtown hotels in other cities for ambiance, amenities and other accommodations. The bar area which dominates the main floor is sophisticated and casual with mighty fine live music offered some evenings. As with the hotel, the Strand has never looked better and, if you haven’t been there since the storm devastated the city, it should be on your must-do list. No where else is the fortitude and strength of Texas’ citizens more dramatically on display.
My first evening was spent at the iconic Hotel Galvez, first built in 1910, and renovated in 2013. Like the Tremont, the Galvez is a Wyndham Hotel. The historical display on the lower level shouldn’t be missed. Photos an memorabilia track the past in a way that recalls how this was a playground of the rich and famous for decades. Since you don’t need to be a hotel guest or diner to tour this mini-museum, it is a cost-effective way to enjoy a shot stop away from the beach, and there are a number of surprises.
If you can indulge, have a meal in the Galvez Bar & Grille. It is completely restored (actually better than restored) to its glory and the food is amazing. Focus is on fresh and local with seafood from Galveston’s Pier 19, regional specialties like Po’boys and everything is huge. The chef completely understands the sweet subtlety of our snapper and I can say — after decades of travel around the world — that the preparation was the best I’ve ever had. A bit of wisdom: save room for dessert and prepare to share. Portions are extremely generous.
The next day was an early call for fishing with Galveston Party Boats. We didn’t have a boat along on this trip and it was too hot (at least for me) for angling on the pier or the shore so we opted for the experience of party boat fishing. If you are a die-hard or dislike crowds this won’t be for you, but it is fun for a family or novice — and some fishermen use it as a cost-effective alternative to staying on the shore.
One seasoned angler I spoke with told me that he normally rents a boat with several friends for day trips. This time he was alone and didn’t want to incur the cost by himself so he decided on this bay and jetty trip. Cost for our trip, which lasted several hours (although 8- and 12-hour excursions that go out much further are available) was $30 per person, including gear, bait and a crew with infinite patience and well-honed sense of humor. There were lots of families, kids and novices so this is not a great place to meditate or contemplate the silent joy of angling. My catch was a shark that measured about 18-inches. No alcoholic beverages are permitted but the grill inside the cabin has really tasty food for surprisingly low prices. Breakfast burritos were top-notch.
For lunch, we met up at the Olympia Grill at Pier 21. The harbor views are wonderful and the Greek-inspired food had a light, fresh focus. Clams, Oysters and flounder are on the menu, along with salads and the usual burgers and sandwiches. The fried oysters were excellent.
This would have been a great time to see some of Galveston’s other sights since they were close, but since we had done that over the years, so we headed for the Galveston State Park, which is operated by Texas Parks & Wildlife. I admit that I was unaware that there even was a state park in Galveston, so what I saw and experienced was a special treat.
There are more than 2,000 acres here that encompass everything from a pristine beach to fabulous kayaking opportunities (yes, you can fish and keep your catch; and don’t even need a license to do so since this is a state park), and habitats for wildlife and birds.
There are campsites available and facilities have been upgraded. A master plan and funding have been approved for more and there will even be special equestrian camping sites closer to 2017. (Riding is very popular on the beach in Galveston and our Jeep even shared some very comfortable quarters with some horses on our beach ride.)
Another surprise were the two houses that are on the point at the State Park are available for rent. The larger and more impressive sleeps 12 and the other accommodates five. I plan to rent one and I’ll let you know what I think. From the outside, they look like the perfect option for someone without a lake house who wants the experience.
If you saw the condition of the Galveston Pier after the hurricane you would have placed no bets on it ever being rebuilt, but that is just where the story begins. The pier — the longest privately owned pier between Texas and Maine — had just been purchased by a Galveston couple who planned to operate it in coordination with their restaurant, Jimmy’s on the Pier, when the storm hit. Instead of a renovation, it was a complete rebuild and both the restaurant and pier are impressive. With both patio and indoor seating, the restaurant and bar feature farm-to-table specialties from the farm they now operate. Plans are for the restaurant to be primarily self-sustaining with meat, chicken, vegetables and fruits all produced specifically for their diners. The results so far are impressive.
In keeping with the character of Galveston, the pier itself is still populated by a range of locals, but trash bags are now given to fishermen in an effort to minimize debris and it seems to be working. This was the cleanest that I have ever seen the Galveston area.
The next morning, it was breakfast at Shrimp n’Stuff near the Tremont. it was the perfect battery-charge for the drive back after an extremely full Galveston experience. But, no trip would be complete without a stop at the pier to purchase fish, shrimp and crab for home — good to know if your catch won’t do the job.
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