In the 1930s, the State of Texas began running a free ferry service from Galveston to Port Bolivar, across the Houston ship channel. A fleet of ferries make the crossing about every twenty minutes; the transit takes roughly half an hour, during which you get a nice view of Galveston and plenty of fresh sea air. The ferry runs 24/7 (unless weather conditions are such that safety would be compromised). Anyway, it sounded like a lark that I shouldn't miss.
I found out about this from reading a guidebook which provided information on drives across country, but it assumed you'd approach from New Orleans headed west, not from Houston headed east, so I was a little unclear on where exactly I'd be once we landed. On the upper deck, surveying the vanishing Galveston shoreline (and incidentally seeing Seawolf Park with at least one submarine, and a number of dolphins frolicking), I asked a woman if she knew where we were going. "Port Bolivar," she replied, only she made the explorer's name sound like Gulliver. "Is that in Louisiana?" I asked. "Oh, no," she told me. "You've got about another four hours to go to get to Louisiana."
Well, not really. But if you're using the ferry as a means to get from Galveston to Lake Charles, be advised that you've got about 90 minutes of pretty boring Texas driving ahead.
Along the sea wall there are 10 miles of free parking in addition to 10 miles of free, public beach. At certain spots you can rent umbrellas and chairs but other than that, it's byoe (bring your own everything).
You can do all sorts of things here! Boogy boards are abundant across the street for purchase as are anything beach-related. Bring a football, frisbee, etc. Enjoy!
There are lifeguards on duty and signals to show you how safe/cautious the water may be.
Many people come to Galveston because of the historical pieces it offers. One of these jewels is the Ashton Villa. I didn't go inside this past trip because no one was around but I just had to see and visit the first brick house in Texas! Here's historical information from the website.
"Ashton Villa was built in 1858-59, the first of Galveston’s Broadway “palaces,” as well as the first brick house to be built in Texas.
The artistic and eccentric Miss Bettie Brown was mistress of the manor, and her life-size paintings still adorn the showy Gold Room. When the villa was almost razed in 1970, Galveston Historical Foundation led a campaign to save it, and now manages it as a house museum.
Tours give a sense of Victorian life and the escapades of the owners; grounds include the Heritage Visitors Center with a gift shop and information center. Wheelchair accessible on the first floor only. To make arrangements please call (409)762-3933.
Students 6-18: $6
Family Pass: $23
Children 5 & Under: Free
Adult prearranged group tours (20+): $6 per person
3-part pkg. admission to Ashton Villa, Moody Mansion & Bishop's Palace: $19
Hours of Operation
1859 Ashton Villa:
Memorial Day - Labor Day Guided Tours:
Monday thru Saturday: 10am - 4pm
Sunday: Noon - 4pm
Winter Guided Tours:
Daily: Noon - 4pm
Guided tours begin on the hour; last tour at 4pm
The Heritage Visitors Center and Gift Shop
Monday thru Saturday: 10am - 5pm
Sunday: Noon - 5pm
Note: Hours may be seasonal and subject to change.
The first weekend of December is Dickens on the Strand. Although it's usually still in the 80s people dress up in Victorian clothes and the Strand goes back a century to celebrate Charles Dickens and the wonderful English era.
There is a list of things to do from the Queen's Parade to eating yummy food to shopping for Christmas gifts to elephant rides! It's definitely something to check out. There are even more costly parts of the experience and tours of the city offered. And I hope you like music because there are live concernts going on at all times on each street.
I would suggest parking in a park and ride lot and taking a bus over to the Strand rather than searching for a spot! The neighborhoods surrounding the event didn't look very safe...especially if you plan to stay after dark!
Time to hit the beach and see what's happening. A solitary surfer and a stormy weather front... however it is possible to surf here when the weather is rough enough, it IS the Gulf of Mexico after all, although I wouldn't recommend it during hurricane season.
Nothing much happening here so we moved on.
As you drive into Galveston, you'll be greeted by this 72 foot high bronze and granite monument to fallen heroes of the Texas revolution (1835-36). It was created by Italian born and trained sculptor,Louis Amateis in 1900. The figure of Victory is depicted, extending her laurels in the direction of the San Jacinto battlefield, 50 miles north of Galveston.
FYI: General Sam Houston surprised the forces of Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in San Jacinto on April 1836. This victory led to the independence of Texas from Mexico. It was a hard fought effort, following the disastrous battle of the Alamo. As a result, Galveston no longer was prohibited from becoming an important trade center.
According to what I've read, this monument was made possible by a bequest from Henry Rosenberg, for whom one of the streets is named. It was an attempt to change the image of America's rough and tumble cities, adding a touch of European sophistication. It was the first example erected in an American city.
For more information see Galveston Architecture Guidebook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
Since the Carnival line began offering cruises from Galveston in 2000, it has become a port of entry and destination for three additional cruise lines, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Celebrity. They book passage to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Mexico with many stops in between.
Cruising is the most economical vacation you can take, in my estimation. I love to cruise! Hopefully we'll be taking the cruise to Mexico some day.
To board your ship, you'll travel on I-45S to Exit 1C, then Harborside Drive.
During our weekend at Galveston, we were able to tour several historic homes. Since we enjoy anything Victorian, this was the perfect place for us!
This rambling mansion was built in 1892 by Narcissa Worsham Willis after the death of her husband. Mrs. Willis had always wanted to live in this prestigious area, so determined to do so with the help of architect, William H. Tyndall, creating a mansion with 31 rooms.
After Mrs. Willis' death in 1899, the house was sold to W.L.Moody, Jr. and his wife, Libby Shearn after the Galveston Storm of 1900 for $20,000. He was the only bidder! Mr. Moody had joined his father in business at the age of 21 and showing a gift for finance exceeded his father's income.
W.L. Moody lived in this house until his death in 1954, at which time his daughter Mary Northen Moody moved back into her former home for the next 40 years. Mary is known for her philanthropy in the Galveston area, sitting on the board of some 50 corporations.
Hurricane Alicia began a restoration that lasted five years after Mary's death. Noted preservationists and consultants were involved in the refurbishing.
*For more information see Galveston Architecture Guidebook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
Our last event at Dickens on the Strand was a bountiful breakfast at Ashton Villa on Sunday morning. The line outside this striking mansion began forming early--I think those of us waiting at the gate had worked up our appetites sightseeing the day before! Not only was the meal wonderful, but the period music wove a thread of realism to our Victorian event.
The detailed cast iron fence with cornstalk gateposts met us at the entrance. Note the two story cast iron porch! These cast iron pieces were created by Wood & Perot of Philadelphia, but the architect of the home is not known.
Ashton Villa is considered the first of the "Broadway Palaces" and was built in 1859 by J.M.Brown. Interestingly, Mr. Brown was a plasterer and brick mason when he arrived in Galveston; later a wholesale hardware merchant, railroad corporation president and banker. Paintings by eldest daughter, Rebecca Ashton Brown, remain at the house. (Please take time to see the additional photos).
The Villa is open daily from 10 am-5pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day with the last tour at 4pm. Winter hours are similar, but tours start at noon during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. This building also contains the Visitors Center.
For more information see: Galveston Architecture Guidebook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
A couple seated at our table for the Dickens Feast mentioned that the Samuel Mays Williams house was giving a candlelight tour that Saturday evening. We had already purchased tickets to tour the Menard house that night, so didn't know whether we could fit two tours into our schedule, but surprisingly we did!
The Mays-Williams house is considered a raised planters style design and is the second oldest home in Galveston, built in 1839. It faces east on its lot like most of the other homes in that area. A low-hipped roof sits atop a long gallery running along the east and south sides. The front door is framed by a Grecian architrave and the floor to ceiling windows are a double leaf casement type, unusual for Galveston. There are some out buildings in the rear and a brick kitchen house and small shed.
FYI: Mr. Williams was prominent in the Mexican and Republic periods of Texas history and an associate of Stephen Austin. After the War of Independence he became one of the most important commission merchants in Galveston and was involved in banking.
**For more information see: Galveston Architecture Handbook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox published by Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation
History blended with a candlelight tour--that's what our tickets provided on a Saturday evening of the Dickens on the Strand weekend.
The 1838 Michael B Menard house is a Greek Revival style Southern town home and is the oldest building in Galveston. It faces east on 33rd street. The double veranda and stately columns are the first thing you notice about the house as it peeks from behind tall trees.
As we parked and approached the house, the wreaths and garlands stretched along the veranda made a nice impression as we trod to the front door. Two wings were added in 1845 and a Grecian style pavilion replaced a former privey. This home received the prestigious Great American Homes award in 1996 sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
FYI: Michael Menard hailing from Quebec, established the Galveston City Company, which was instrumental in laying out the town itself. This home is located where other important investors in this company lived.
**For more information see: Galveston Architecture Handbook by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox published by Rice University Press and Galveston Historical Foundation.
Since it was a December weekend when we visited, no one was on the beach and the wind was very gusty. In the summer heat, the beach is where you want to be!
Galveston is a 32 mile long island on Texas's upper coast on the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes are something to which islanders have had to adjust. However, it remains a top destination for tourists because of its location, its Victorian influence and cruise ship business.
There are 12 beach areas in the Galveston area, which you can investigate further by seeing www.utmb.edu/galveston/community/beaches.html. The services offered at these beaches and their location will be listed.
The beach from 14th-61st street has been widened in a six million dollar rejuvenation project. Rental umbrellas and chairs are available; fishing is permitted from the piers and boat rentals/cruises can be booked.
As we selected one of the very elaborately set tables and settled into our seats, the 'Royals' were announced. As we craned our necks, the music began and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arrived amidst all the pomp due them!
The character of Queen Victoria has been portrayed by Anne Boyd for thirteen years. In past years she was dressed in mourning clothes, to signify her widowhood. This year, since the theme was The Great Exhibition of 1851, created by her husband, she appeared elegantly attired and arm in arm with the Prince, who was portayed by Ken Lane, of British Columbia.
Once they were seated, the feast began! Please see both photos.
The Dickens Feast was delicious; the surroundings were beautifully ornate, but the main reason we purchased tickets for this evening of entertainment and dining, was to peer at the great,great grandson of Charles Dickens and have him autograph a copy of The Christmas Carol I brought for the occasion.
The presence of Mark Charles Dickens at the Strand festival has become a tradition. This year he was accompanied by his son, Geoff. As the presentation began, a reading from The Christmas Carol was alternated with each dinner course. I could easily imagine familiar scenes from the book as he wove the tale dramatically with a great deal of animation!
Bagpipers, carollers, musicians, acrobats, magicians and animal acts provided the entertainment at street corners and on stages throughout the Strand. We purchased several CD's by musicians we fancied, discovering several we'd love to hear in person again!
Area school children decked out in velvet and lace sang lively Christmas carols. Characters from The Christmas Carol walked the streets, as well as Beefeaters and strapping military men from the 19th century. Please enjoy all four pictures!
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