Long after the sand has settled in the car floorboard and the beach umbrella is permanently stuck in the upright position, Galveston will continue to entertain its visitors. The coastal city with a population of almost 50,000 is known for its pirate folklore, historic Victorian neighborhoods, 17-foot seawall and a rich collection of paranormal stories. Long after the last beach towel is folded, the two-mile island, located two miles offshore the Gulf of Mexico, continues to share its treasures, whether that means window shopping along The Strand, enjoying the quirky tree sculptures or experiencing a relaxing massage at the Galvez Spa. At the end of the vacation, island residents only hope that its visitors catch a glimpse into what island living truly means.
When I stepped into the Tremont House along the Strand District, a pure light radiated throughout the four-story atrium lobby and enveloped me. The European-style hotel features towering palm trees and birdcage elevators. Situated along the sparkling marble floors is the beautiful rosewood Toujouse bar, originally purchased in 1894 by Henry Toujouse from the Tremont Opera House. The third Tremont House strives to combine the past with the present, always showing respect for the earlier two hotels that share its namesake. The bar offers a variety of spirits, ranging from small-batch bourbons to single-malt scotches which can also be sipped from the hotel’s rooftop bar, opened Tuesday-Saturday, weather-permitting.
The 119-room exquisite hotel is designed with high ceilings, comfortable bedding and tasteful striped wallpaper. Everything is in this hotel’s details, from the pinstriped wallpaper to the bathroom towel warmers.
After a relaxing night spent at The Tremont, I scheduled a visit to the hotel’s sister property The Galvez and Spa where guests can enjoy the full-service spa and pool. The historic hotel, built in 1911, was named after Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, the Count of Gálvez, and exudes a welcoming air of luxury and old-world style.
After entering the spa, I spent a few moments in the lounge space, which felt like a warm cocoon. Each chair is separated by an elegant curtain, which allows time to unwind. I received a therapeutic, customized 25-minute Galvez Signature Massage. The spa also offers facials, body treatments and salon packages.
Happy Pretty You, a Reiki salon and spa, offers alternative hair and skincare services. Reiki, a Japanese, energy-balancing stress reduction technique, is based on the premise of ‘laying on of hands’ to restore peace to the mind, body and spirit. Happy Pretty You also offers hand and foot reflexology treatments, chakra balancing and essential oil blends.
LuLu’s Salon and Day Spa, owned by Lulu Benavidez for the past 36 years, is a Galveston mainstay as a full-service beauty salon. In addition to providing hair, skincare, massage, nails and makeup services, Lulu’s Salon and Spa provides Evolve Hair, a revolutionary 100 percent human-hair volumizer with a ply-mesh base that comfortably molds to the client’s head. With 30 million women experiencing hair loss, Evolve provides an instant confidence boost. Benavidez serves as one of the nine members of the Evolve artistic counsel that includes salon owners who train other salon owners nationwide to become Evolve certified stylists.
Galveston offers a diverse menu of dining choices, ranging from casual burgers to high-end seafood meals. Eatcetera is a fun gourmet bistro where I enjoyed a casual lunch Panini with smoked mozzarella, grilled eggplant, grape tomatoes and basil on ciabatta bread. Don’t skip the scrumptious Crème Brulee cheesecake! The understated “Jetsons” artwork featured throughout the restaurant is also a nice touch.
Dinner was spent at the coastal classic Gaidos with dear friends. Our waitress carefully described each special, and patiently returned a few times while we caught up on life news before ordering our meals. My oysters, premium shrimp gulf shrimp and the Napa Valley Frogs Leap zinfandel was delectable and the conversation was even better. While my friends shared how they met, I admired the restaurant’s 60s-style décor, though the facility has been around since 1911.
The Original Mexican Café is proud that it has continually operated from the same location since 1916. I met a former co-worker and his two beautiful toddler daughters for a casual lunch while there. The café serves classic Tex-Mex, and I enjoyed a mean taco salad that only a Texas café can do right.
Moody Gardens goes a long way in satisfying all of a tourist’s needs. There’s education, entertainment, relaxation and even decent deli food. Our first stop was at the rainforest pyramid, which is included with a day pass. I felt like I’d stepped into the Amazon as the humidity and lush landscape surrounded me. Soon I met a red-eyed scarlet ibis (who looks like a flamingo relative) and a crested wood partridge that sported a rebellious red mohawk. Gargantuan arapaima and rainbow-colored macaws also call this rainforest home.
In the butterfly garden, we discovered a collection of butterflies that landed on our fingers before leaving for a fruit snack. The 1.5 million-gallon aquarium contains manta rays, sharks, seals and starfish. We met Watson, a charismatic king penguin who gladly created Picasso-like art with his dinosaur-webbed feet at the Penguin Encounter. During the 45-minute presentation, we learned about the various types of penguins from a Moody Garden biologist and got up-close and personal with them, as we learned about their diet, living conditions and day-to-day routine.
We wrapped up the day with a 60-minute cruise on the 1800s-inspired Colonel Paddlewheel Boat. The boat provides ample seating and views of Offattes Bayou. Inside, we swilled Dr. Peppers and enjoyed the red velvet-decorated dining room. Group dinners and private cruises are also available.
Tree Sculpture Tour
Only in a place like Galveston will the residents look at a hurricane Ike-ravaged tree and see art. In 2008, when he hurricane took many of the island’s oak tree canopies, a group of homeowners saw the moment as a way to show the damaged trees as signs of a comeback. In a large portion of the East End Historic District, tree sculptures have replaced the lost trees. Enjoy a self-guided tour of these locally designed pieces of art, including Mermaid Holding Clam Shell, the Geisha, The Tin Man and Toto, Grandmother Reading to Her Grandchildren and more.
Artist Boat Kayak Adventure
Learn about Galveston’s marine environment on a guided interpretive kayak tour through Galveston Island State Park, Christmas Bay, Armand Bayou Coastal Preserve, Drum Bay, East End Lagoon, Cypress Swamps, Coastal Heritage Preserve or Smith Point with Artist Boat. Instructors not only lead adventurers on these eco-tours, some of the tours also include a watercolor art lesson.
The Strand provides retail therapy for most tastes, ranging from antiques to steampunk. The Admiralty, named for the admiralty ship model style from the 18th century, features nautically-themed gifts and hosts the Admiralty Marine Model Gallery which includes scratch-built models designed by master model shipbuilder Allen LeCornu. The shop is also filled with unique home décor, art, jewelry and fun children’s gifts.
Tina’s on the Strand is an upscale lifestyle boutique that contains luxurious clothing, skincare products, jewelry, greeting cards, handbags and one-of-a-kind gifts.
Diverging from the traditional gift shop, Synister on the Strand is a clothing store that opens in April that will feature Steampunk and Neo-Victorian styles. This mother-daughter owned alternative fashion boutique will be a mash-up of New Orleans meets Queen Victoria with vampires.
Tangerine Boutique’s owner and surfer mom Kim Cherryhomes celebrates all things California with styles by For Love and Lemons, Cleobella, One Teaspoon, Mother Denim and Jen’s Pirate Booty. Her upscale boutique appeals to the locals as much as the tourists and promises an abundance of jewelry, denim, kimonos, hats, dresses and handbags.
Whether the word “vacation” conjures images of uninterrupted beach time or a daily itinerary filled with activities, Galveston lives up to its promise of offering something fun for everyone.
For more information about Galveston, visit http://www.galveston.com/ or call 1.888.425.4753. Follow the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau @Galvestoncom on Twitter or at www.facebook.com/Galveston.
By Autumn Rhea Carpenter