Galveston, the ‘Un-Texas’ Texas Island

 Galveston, the ‘Un-Texas’ Texas Island

Story and Photos

By Bob Nesoff

I’m sure we’ve all heard it many times: “You can’t go back.” I tried going back to the town I grew up in and it was a profound disappointment. It had been a terrific summer community and the year-round residents had, at least, a nodding acquaintance with each other.

Visiting other resorts after an absence of some years often had the same result. Things change and it’s not what we remember. But that did not hold true for one island many years after a visit.


Fort Worth, for all its place in the modern world, still holds on to its past as a cow town. In its historic Stockyards district, you can witness a daily cattle drive. Shop in a western wear store frequented by real cowboys. And for the mildly adventurous, stay at the Stockyards hotel and ask for the suite that had been occupied by Bonnie and Clyde.

Nearby Dallas is even more pretentious today than it was years ago. No personality. No hominess. Just glass and concrete. But Galveston? It’s a strictly business city. That’s a Texas horse of a different color.

Flying into Texas for a Galveston visit, you’ll land at either Hobby Airport or George Bush Airport. Both are well over an hour drive to Galveston.

Perhaps because of its location, off the Texas coast and into the Gulf of Mexico, it has maintained a sense of independence. But that location was a double-edged sword. In 1900, the island was hit with a devastating hurricane that demolished much of the island and its infrastructure. It rebuilt and today is a very thriving community with a bit of something for everyone.

While there are myriad hotels, motels and places to stay, one of the most beckoning is Moody Gardens, a very modern, but welcoming resort hotel. Wake up in the morning and you might think you were accidentally transported to Cairo, Egypt overnight. Look out the window and you’ll spot three immense pyramids. But these structures are not constructed of huge stone blocks moved into place somehow by slaves. Rather they are glass. And there is a reason for that.

One pyramid houses an amazing tropical rain forest replete with virtually every plant and creature you’d find in a real rain forest. This is a must visit. Wooden ramps take you on an easy trek through the forest. Take your time and breathe it all in.  The birds and animals roam free but are separated from visitors. One major caveat. Wear light clothing because the humidity in this pyramid is truly akin to a real rain forest.

Another of the three is an aquarium with a variety of creatures ranging from a spoon-bill stork-like bird with long, spindly legs and a bill in the shape of a spoon. Easier to scoop up its meal.

You’ll also see a rare and endangered Komodo Dragon that made an unusual, but desired dish for wealthy Japanese. You don’t want to pet these fellows because they could make a rare meal of you.

Some of the birds and small mammals have free rein and will wander the boardwalk with you. But please don’t touch.

One little seal enjoys primping for the visitors. It will stretch out on the faux rocks and seem to be sunbathing. Then up and swim off before returning moments later. The sea creatures in the aquarium are arguably healthier and better fed than their cousins in the open ocean. And they have considerable space to move around.

The smaller of the three is dedicated to the younger set. It has interactive exhibits and myriad activities the kids will enjoy if you can tear them away from the rain forest and aquarium.

But there is so much more to see and do in Galveston. Restaurants offer food for the most eclectic tastes, prepared by chefs who would be at home in any Michelin-rated restaurant.

Bars and micro-breweries offer terrific beer and other libations. One has a secret annex for the invited.

History is important to Galveston. It had its share of pirates in the early days because of its proximity to open water offering a quick get-away. Jean LaFitte, the Jewish pirate famed for helping defeat the Brits in the Battle of New Orleans, headquartered here for a while. Unfortunately, there are no rumors of any treasure he may have hidden.

Galveston is also famed for a modern holiday. Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Slaves on Galveston never heard about it as the Civil War was still raging. After Robert E. Lee’s surrender, as things began to return to normalcy in 1865, slaves on Galveston found out they should have been declared free men and women two years earlier.

The date of realization, June 19. Or, as the local freed slaves called it, “Juneteenth” has been declared a National Day of Independence and is now a federal holiday.

No single article can do justice to Galveston. The island hosts a Mardi Gras in The Strand section. It has a fabulous art center often featuring accomplished local artists. The Galveston Symphony Orchestra comprised of both professional musicians and amateurs, is renowned for its performances.

One of the most extensive water parks in the country, the Schlitterbahn, sits across from the Moody Gardens Hotel.

For an island with a population of only about 53,000 permanent residents, it truly is a destination to look forward to.

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