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Living on island time

 
Living on island time
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ In the heat of summer, the Lone Star Aviation Museum offers one cool place to visit in Galveston.

Galveston Island will always be defined by the water, the beaches that go on forever, and the storms of the past, but if one looks beyond the typical beach-town atmosphere, you will find a world of art, museums, great restaurants, beautifully restored homes reflecting 19th-century elegance, and friendly people. Moving Galveston into a world-class vacation and conference destination are venues such as Moody Garden Hotel and Convention Center, Schlitterbahn Waterpark, the Convention Center at the San Luis Resort, the Pleasure Pier, and the famous Strand.

First, a little history

The Port of Galveston was established in 1825 along with a small settlement, but quickly grew into one of our nation’s wealthiest cities because the deepwater channel made Galveston an important seaport for shipping goods around the world. Cotton was one of the main exports and more than 1,000 ships docked here annually. It drew the wealthy to this area, who built elegant mansions in our warm Texas climate. It was home to 37,000 people and was the first in the state to have telephones (1878) and electricity (1883).

Life here was good; that is, until Saturday, Sept. 8, 1900. That morning, the seas began to rise; by nightfall, it is estimated that the winds were blowing at more than 145 miles per hour, creating a 15-1/2-foot storm surge that rolled over the island. Buildings and homes collapsed under the pressure and were pushed along by the water, creating a wall of debris that destroyed everything in its path. The Great Storm, as it is known, remains the deadliest hurricane is U.S. history.

Following the storm, residents were determined to rebuild their beloved Galveston. City leaders came up with a plan to build a seawall along the beachfront for protection from future storms and to raise the level of the entire city by 16 feet a monumental task. The buildings and homes that remained were literally raised on jacks and tons of sand were pumped in below them. The first sign that prosperity was returning to this area was the construction of the magnificent Hotel Galvez in 1911 that still stands today, defiantly facing the Gulf of Mexico. There have been several hurricanes since the Great Storm of 1900, but none have matched its strength or devastation.

Sands and surfs

There are 32 miles of endless sand beaches, many along the seawall separating the Gulf of Mexico from the city of Galveston. The beaches along the seawall, right in the heart of Galveston, tend to be more crowded as they are easy to get to. East Beach is at the far-east side of the island and when we visited, only a few other people were there. West Beach is also a nice area if you don’t want a crowd. As you drive along Seawall Boulevard, watch for the blue signs that say “Beach Access.” On the East Beach, if you want to park your car right on the beach, you will have to pay $8. However, you can park free in an area before the paid parking lot and walk across the sand to the water. There is no charge to park on West Beach. We were there the night before Tropical Storm Bill came ashore. The waves were beautiful; people were wind surfing and swimming the intermittent rain and wind didn’t stop them.

Stewart Beach, located where Broadway Avenue meets the Seawall, was named one of the 10 Best Beaches for Families by Family Vacation Critic in 2013. In addition to trained lifeguards, the park offers chair and umbrella rentals, volleyball courts, concessions, restrooms, and showers. There is an $8 charge per vehicle admission fee.

More family fun

The Pleasure Pier, off Seawall Boulevard, jets out 1,130 feet over the water. The original Pleasure Pier was built in 1943, but destroyed in 1961 by Hurricane Carla. On the pier are the Iron Shark Roller Coaster, the Sky Shooter, and the Texas Star Flyer swinging riders 230 feet above the waters of the Gulf as well as the pier’s anchor ride, the Galaxy Wheel, a 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel featuring programmable LED lights. There are also numerous eateries, including the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Parking is quite limited, so be patient when seeking a place to park and be prepared to walk a bit. There is one paid parking lot directly across the street from the Pleasure Pier. Maximum charge is $16 for all day.

Schlitterbahn, Moody Gardens, the Colonel Paddewheeler, and Lone Star Aviation Museum are clustered together near Scholes International Airport, adjacent to Offatts Bayou. If you take the Causeway over to Pelican Island, you can visit Seawolf Park. It is said that here are the most popular fishing piers on the island. It has picnic sites, a playground, the USS Cavalla (a World War II submarine), and the USS Stewart (a destroyer escort). Fees apply; check website for specifics.

Our next “Everyday Journeys” will continue our tour of Galveston. We will tell you about some great free stuff, historic homes, several “not to be missed” things to do, and how to get a bargain on various entry fees.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Find out more

¢Galveston Visitor Center, 888-425-4753, www.galveston.com/visitorscenter

¢Pleasure Pier, 855-789-7437, www.pleasurepier.com

¢Moody Gardens, 800-582-4673, www.moodygardens.com

¢Seawolf Park, 409-797-5114, www.galveston.com/seawolfpark

 
 
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