Galveston: Ideal Weekend Escape
Houstonians have a sometimes complicated and hypocritical relationship with the large island to their southwest. They are quick to express umbrage about the arrogance of northeasterners dismissing their city, but they put down Galveston with a similar hubris. "The ocean is dirty, the island is gross, and the place is trashy," they claim. Of course, this does not stop them from going to the island year after year.
Many Rice students inherit these unfair prejudices, and despite attending college here for four years, never make the hour-long trip to Galveston. This is a shame, as the island has many things to offer, from a unique history to oceanfront bars and, of course, beaches. Best of all, these are often at affordable prices. This combination makes a Galveston trip a must for any Rice student.
How to Get There
Sadly, Galveston is accessible only by car, so you will to need to get one or know somebody who has one. Luckily, the directions are easy. Take U.S. Highway 59 North until you get to Interstate Highway 45, which you take South until it dead-ends on the island. The trip takes an hour without traffic, which can be avoided with proper planning. Ideal departure times include the middle of the day or during the weekend. The trip is unscenic until the very end, when the freeway crosses the Gulf of Mexico on the massive Galveston Causeway.
Where (and Whether) to Stay
As a tourist-centric town, Galveston has plenty of options for hotels. Hotels on the seawall cost around $200 a night for a double room. Those around Moody Gardens are less convenient, but around half the price. On our trip, we decided to stay at the Inn at the Waterpark for around $120. While it was a little out of our way, and the view was rather unimpressive - the window overlooked a septic tank - the room was clean and service excellent. There was also free putt-putt golf. Splitting the room between four people also made it very affordable. Of course, the cheapest option is not to stay overnight at all, but we had planned for a two-day trip. Furthermore, it was a nice excuse to get away from campus.
Beaches of the Island
Galveston is known for its beaches, and there are several options to choose from. The more public beaches, such as Stewart Beach, are on the eastern part of the island and can get very busy on sunny days. For those looking for a quieter experience, the more pristine Galveston State Park lacks the loud and often drunk crowd. However, there is a $5 entrance fee.
Galveston has plenty of places to eat, but be sure to avoid the many overpriced chains near the seawall. To avoid eating at Joe's Crab Shack, leave the beach for dinner. We dined at Shrimp 'n' Stuff in the middle of the island at Avenue O. The restaurant is not fancy, but its delicious Po' Boys are all under $10, and they have a devoted local following. Those wanting a more refined experience should go to the Strand, Galveston's fashionable downtown area with Victorian-era buildings and swanky restaurants.
The Strand is home to venerable Galveston institution La King's, a 1920s-styled ice cream parlor and confectionary. The ice cream is properly thick and creamy and made locally in Galveston, and the candy offerings are notable for both impeccable quality and variety. While we missed it, those who frequent La King's during the day can also catch the candy makers at work, using turn-of-the-century equipment. These offerings are affordable considering the high amount of tourist traffic that comes
Galveston has over a dozen bars on Seawall Boulevard that offer a variety of island beverages throughout the day and into the early morning. Our bar crawl took us to three of the hottest bars in Galveston. The Spot is the largest bar and houses many themed areas serving different kinds of alcohol. Squeeze, the tequila-themed room, serves margaritas ranging from 12 to 100 ounces, with the 100-ounce margaritas starting at only $39. Our quartet of 21-year-olds attempted drinking this beast of a margarita and failed miserably. Float provides medium-priced drinks that can be enjoyed in the barside pool. The Poop Deck is the local dive. It provides beer at cheap prices but has a lackluster selection.
The Mosquito Grill is in a converted house and fills with brunchgoers on most weekends. It offers many tasty breakfast and lunch options, including pancakes and fresh shrimp dishes. The Island Slammer shrimp sandwich was simple yet delectable and came served with an apple pecan salad. The biggest hit at our table was The Nancy Bet-C, a full plate of eggs, bacon and fruit with and a buttery croissant.
Ferry to Bolivar Peninsula
The free ferry starts on the easternmost coast of Galveston and makes a brief 18-minute journey across a small strait in the Gulf to Bolivar Peninsula and the Texas mainland. The line for the ferry can be sizable, but five ferries run continuously during peak hours, and the line moves quickly. After the ferry embarks, the scenic ride combines the natural waters of the Gulf with industrial tankers and the distant refineries of Texas City. Rumor states that dolphins sometimes swim alongside the ferry, but alas, our voyage was without the cheerful marine mammals.
Innovation is not merely discovering something new, but also finding a novel way to combine things which already exist. Crystal Beach accomplishes this with the perfect synthesis of a highway, a trailer park and a beach. While this may sound like a caricature of what is wrong with the American South, somehow, the combination works.
For $10, locals can purchase a permit from the county to drive on the beach, which turns the otherwise scenic beach into a thoroughfare. Many of the cars that populate this road feature ornate golf wheels and large pickup trucks with oversize wheels, both of which challenge good taste. Impromptu parties cluttered the beach, and ranged from a Mexican family with Tampulas license plates cooking appetizing meats to a wedding complete with a "Just Married" golf cart. Beverages not in glass containers are allowed on the beach, and almost everyone on the beach had some kind of alcoholic beverage within close reach. All of this combines to make a truly festive atmosphere that is often surreal. Nowhere else could an F-150 with an oversize Confederate flag foreground a wedding ceremony and a couple exchanging their vows. While sophisticates might find this abhorrent, those willing to enjoy the crass absurdity of it all will have a truly memorable experience.
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