Travel to Galveston for a Day
Spending time on the Gulf of Mexico was on my list of "must do" during my week stay in Austin Texas. My daughter and son moved to Austin in November 2014, so this was my first vacation in the Lone Star State. After enjoying as many activities we could squeeze into my short time there (also on a teacher's budget!), we began our drive to Galveston after my son finished work on Saturday. We hit the road around 4:00 p.m., realizing the trip was about 220 miles long.
In Montana, we can drive 220 miles in about 3 hours or less. On our way to Galveston, however, we were obliged to drive through Houston, with a population of more than 2 million, the fourth populous city in the United States. It is possible that a large portion of that city was also on the road for a weekend getaway, as it was a bit slow going through this incredible city! Must note that for this Montanan, it was something new to see flashing signs stating, "Hurricane Season. Be Prepared!" Happily for us, the skies were clear, but we understood that it isn't always that way.
After a drive of almost 5 hours, around sunset we drove over the long bridge that connected us to Galveston. We had arrived!
Lucky Wrong Turn
My college friend has a mobile home on the beach about 12 miles past Galveston, so we had our instructions to turn at a certain intersection and take a right. We accidentally missed it and wound up driving down Broadway, passing incredible historic mansions! I had never seen such homes, wondering if anyone lived there. Later I did some searching and found out more about these homes. Moody Mansion was a well-known structure with a tour schedule.
I found this information on the Moody Mansion site: Restored to its turn of the century splendor, the 28,000 square-foot, four-story structure was completed in 1895. Guests can visit 20 rooms on a tour that depicts the home life of the Moodys, a powerful Texas family who started their family fortune based on cotton, expanding to banking, ranching, insurance and hotels. Tours On The Hour: Last tour at 4 p.m.
Tour Price: Adults $10 | Seniors $8 | Students $5
Active Duty Military: Free
Details: Guided Tours, Limited to 18 People per Tour
We were there for just the night and the next day, but the next time I visit Galveston, I will take that tour.
We drove slowly along Broadway, mesmerized by the beauty of these statuesque mansions in the looming twilight. Finding a turn that took us to Seawall Boulevard, we found ourselves driving past a brightly lit pier which we found out was well-known Pleasure Pier, an amusement park with Bubba Gump Shrimp attached! I didn't know Bubba Gump Shrimp was a real thing.....just remember it from the Tom Hanks movie, Forest Gump. (smile)
Although it was getting late, we wanted to stop and look around. I texted my friend and said we would be there after we wandered the pier a bit,. He totally understood, as this was his weekend getaway as well.
The kids took a walk along a very rocky pier. The enormous rocks with big gaps between felt kind of tippy to me! I didn't get very far, as I was carefully stepping over the big stones, concerned with the darkness between each one. (In daylight the next day, I realized that the dark spots were probably sand or very shallow water!) The night had fallen completely over the pier, with the only lights from the distant street and Pleasure Pier. My 12 year old daughter with her big brother and sister weren't afraid of going to end of the pier, gazing over the blackness of the Gulf! They stayed so long, the mother in me worried they'd fallen into the ocean! However, they came back peacefully and happily, having seen fish leaping out of the water by the dozens!
We waded in the Gulf water, so warm and soothing and surprisingly shallow! Then we made our way to Pleasure Pier. Turns out they were only open for another hour or so, and the cost of "just looking" around was daunting,(all day pass: $26.99 (48" and up)$19.99 (under 48"); individual rides were $4.00 per ticket - Requires Pier Walk-On Pass to gain access to Pier (just to walk around and observe was $10 (48" & up); $8 (under 48") and $7 senior citizens.
And so we moved on. We strolled down the pier a ways, then turned around and enjoyed walking past the various coastal night clubs and brightly lit streets until we found our rental where we'd parked it several blocks away. Parking on Seawall Blvd. was obviously quite a challenge. The next day, we noticed that paying for parking was pretty simple.Visitors to the Seawall could use a mobile app, the internet, or a mobile phone to pay for parking. The parking transactions are transmitted real-time to reflect payment status to parking ambassadors and patrol cars. No parking stickers necessary! The Fee was $1/hour (no more than $8/day), 10AM - 6PM, 7 days a week, 365 days a year! www.paybyphone.com. Easy Peasy! The trick was getting there early enough to find that elusive parking space!
We were now ready to continue our trek. Onward we drove, stopping for gas and some snacks, including rolls for breakfast the next morning.
Beyond Jamaica Beach
My friend Brad gave us directions, driving past Jamaica Beach, and ending up in a trailer court (both sides of the road), where he was waiting. We were treated to a comfortable RV owned by his friend Wally, who owned several. No charge! Everyone knew everyone in these permanently planted RVs and trailers. ("permanently" until a hurricane! Then buy another!) While my older kids took a night stroll on the beach, my 12 year old daughter and I stayed to visit with my friend from college (whom I haven't seen since then.....1981!). It was great catching up, even for such a short time. I am overwhelmed by the hospitality of everyone here.
These mobile homes and RVs are comfortable, but what stood out with almost all of them were the beautiful decks each of them had built around their mobile homes. Decks that wrapped around, then led to the top of the home for a spectacular view of the Gulf. Truly a home away from home for them all. Many were from Houston or near there and spent their weekends here, fishing on their beautiful private beach. Brad let us know that there were also stingrays in the shallow water and many had been stung, but the fishing was great! I understood why, when we later witnessed the fish leaping out of the water by the dozens!
Brad and friends were going for a motorcycle tour around the island the next morning, so we bid goodnight and made ourselves comfortable in the RV provided by our new friend. There was an air mattress more comfortable than a bed, a queen bed, and a couch bed. We slept well, dreaming of tomorrow, wondering what awaited us in our Gulf adventure!
My two older kids were up and out the door before my young daughter and I, telling us to text them when we get down there! We made it in record time and we soon found each other. We walked barefoot, carrying our flip flops. It was already hot before 8:00 a.m., but the Gulf was like a lake, calm and soothing. We passed friendly fishermen, enjoying a cup of coffee with their families or fellow fishermen under colorful canopies, their fishing poles propped up, awaiting those accommodating leaping fish to pull on their lures.
My son saw more than one stingray swimming through the shallow waters. We kept our eyes open, hoping to see another. Gathering shells and pretty rocks, we sauntered down the sandy beach, enjoying our morning stroll.
Showers and restrooms on stilts were available for all campers. Even the restroom had a balcony with a view of the Gulf! After having a light breakfast of the rolls and juice we had purchased at Jamaica Beach the night before, we packed up our vehicle and began our drive back to Galveston. Our new friend Wally met us and assured us that any time we want to stay we would be welcome! We were sorry that we only had one full day in Galveston and the cozy RV, but we promised to come back another time. I plan to spend more time on the Gulf during my next Texas vacation!
Beignets and Gumbo for Breakfast
As we drove along the beach towards Galveston, I enjoyed house-watching. The homes were as varied as the people who live here. The homes along the actual beach were mostly on stilts, hoping to last through inclement weather on the Gulf. On the opposite side, I loved looking at the colorful apartments and homes, painted in pastels or ocean colors. Sightseeing: free!
We were ready for lunch and began looking for a restaurant along the beach. I asked that we also look on Broadway, so I could take one more look at the mansions there. In daylight, they were still beautiful, but seemed more magical in the twilight the night before. We drove back to Seawall Boulevard and ended up stopping at a small restaurant (The Gumbo Diner) that advertised "Gumbo" and "Beignets". The Beignets are defined as square doughtnuts or fritters dusted with powdered sugar. They are a New Orleans treat that my oldest daughter truly wanted to try, reminding us that on Disney's "The Princess and the Frog", Tiana made the best beignets in New Orleans! It was decided. While the kids took a stroll down the street, my 12-year-old daughter and I held the line. Yes, there was a line....always a good sign that this is THE place to eat!
I love people watching, and while waiting for our name to be called, this gave me opportunity to enjoy this pastime. I saw those who had ordered big bowls of Gumbo, watched the busy staff as they took care of their customers and kept the full crowd friendly and contented. Before long, we were seated and had a nice waiter take care of our order. I noted that he didn't write anything down. I waited tables in college and some summers after and would never have considered NOT writing down an order! However, he had a good memory and we soon had our breakfast order. We visited and enjoyed a very good breakfast. When the waiter came with the bill, I signed it without checking the order. I did notice that it seemed more than I originally estimated. Thinking it had to do with tax, we exited and went on with our day.
Less than a half hour later, I reviewed my receipt and realized that I had paid for someone else's bill --- someone who had ordered Gumbo! We reached the decision to return to the diner and ask about it. The manager was so pleasant about it, found my "real" order online, and tried to think of a solution. He was about to reach into his OWN wallet to give me a refund of the difference when my son came up with the perfect compromise: "How about we get an order of beignets and call it a even!" The manager's face lit up and immediately ordered a box of beignets (baker's dozen, a $10 value). While I waited, he gave me a free glass of ice tea. The crowd had dissipated (breakfast was over), so he visited with me a bit. I always wonder how people end up where they are, and I asked about how he ended up here. He was from Denver, Colorado, had a friend here.....came to visit....and stayed. I could totally understand that, as I had fallen under the spell of Galveston as well! A bit later, I walked out with a box of beignets and presented them to a very happy trio of kids.
Laughter and Beignets
My oldest daughter was so happy to have another box of beignets! She had ordered a few at the Gumbo Diner during our breakfast, enjoying them as we watched with envy, wishing we had also ordered some. So now....we had a baker's dozen full box of the New Orleans treat! As we were driving in our very clean rental, we tried to be careful with the powdered sugar treats. Each of us had one or two, trying to make it "even" as we drove along. Quietly, my very serious daughter quickly popped an extra one into her mouth. My son was driving and heard his sister quietly sneaking the box open. He hollered, "I heard that! No more beignets for you!" She had her mouth closed, eyes dancing with mischief, but her brother made her laugh. Puffs of powdered sugar poofed out of her mouth! We all burst out laughing, but for me it was so hilarious that I laughed until the tears came. In fact,every time I recalled it (in my mind), I giggled all over again. It was a joyous morning in Galveston!
Things to enjoy in Galveston
Warm Gulf Waters
After breakfast and the beignet comedy, we walked towards the beach. We had parked our car near the Gumbo Diner, realizing that was probably the best place to leave it. Spreading sunscreen on my young daughter and myself we hoped to prevent sunburn to our very pale Northern selves! My older kids have darker complexions, but as we learned later, no one is immune to sunburn on this very hot day...especially with water reflection.
We found dozens of umbrellas and beach chairs with no occupants, so I relaxed there a moment with my oldest daughter while my son and young daughter waded far out onto the Gulf. They were probably 100 feet out and it was still just waist deep. After a bit, my oldest daughter joined them. I stayed to "watch" our valuables (mostly my purse!). A very young man (maybe 16) came over quickly when he saw that we were sitting on the beach chairs. He told us there was a fee (seems like it was somewhere around $20 for the day). I knew we weren't going to stay that long,so chose not to rent them. Instead, we hung around close to the umbrellas (for shade), but were careful to not sit in the chairs!
We stayed on the beach a little more than an hour. Finally, the kids came back to shore, telling about the fish that had been swimming and leaping so close to them. No stingrays, though, as this was a public beach and we thought that maybe they didn't like so many people splashing around.
We headed back to the rental by the Diner, which also happened to be beside a hotel with a very pretty swimming pool. My bold son noticed that "someone" had left the pool gate ajar. He was already in his swimming trunks, so motioning for us to join him, he walked through the gate and jumped into the pool! Being a rule follower, this made me nervous. However, I reconsidered, and my young daughter and I changed into our swimsuits (in the very hot rental) and walked through the gate as well. My oldest daughter went down the street for a cold drink, then watched us from the street for a bit. Finally, she also came through the gate and joined us at the pool. She didn't swim, but sat in the shade and enjoyed her drink.
My 6'6" son became the center of fun when the kids in the pool attached themselves to him using their swim tubes. He pulled a group of 4 or 5 kids (including his little sister) through the deep waters. Before long, they were pummeling him with the same tubes! He is good natured and splashed them back, amid lots of yelling and laughing. Finally, they all went their own way and left him alone!
One of my favorite photos of the day was a "planned" push into the pool. My son stood with his back to the pool and told his big sister, "Okay....on the count of three....one, t--" PUSH-KerSPLASH! I got the perfect photo as he was falling backwards into the pool, arms flailing! The next photo: Two sisters laughing conspiratorially! So many giggles that day!
We swam and enjoyed the pool waterfall, feeling much cooler in spite of the hot afternoon sun. Later, we realized that hot sun plus the swimming pool = sunburn. We all got some sunburn, since the sunscreen had washed off. My young daughter's shoulders were pretty red. I applied aloe vera as soon as we could, so there was some relief. However, this didn't deter us from having fun for the rest of the afternoon.
Finally done swimming, my young daughter and I returned to our very hot rental and tried to put our clothes back on. One of us "guarded" while the other changed. Whew! My older kids stayed in the clothes they had on. We ate a few more beignets and considered our next destination.
Rain Forest Cafe
I had seen the Rain Forest Cafe as we drove along Seawall Blvd., so we made the decision that it would be fun to eat there. The afternoon was getting late and we knew we would need to return to Austin that evening.
The parking lot was full at the Cafe, but we continued on. Years ago, I had taken my younger daughter (then only about 5) to the Rain Forest Cafe at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. We loved it, watching the fish tank, eating delicious food while the sounds of a rainstorm in the tropics occurred sporatically throughout the meal. Fun memory! So, I was looking forward to experiencing the same meal event with all of my kids.
We walked in and saw that the place was packed. Seeing a sign that said "Adventure Ride", we made our way over to the desk and bought four tickets for the ride. It was a nice little ride, through Amazon "jungles" with various wildlife along the way. We got a little wet as we rode the "raft" under a little waterfall. It was nice and not too expensive. Now....to get in line to eat.
Well, it turns out that we did things backwards. We made our way to the reservation desk and asked how long the wait was. She told us 1 1/2 hours! A nice lady in line told us that next time, stop at the reservation desk and get your name on the list, THEN take the adventure ride,shop in the store, etc.
It was getting late,so we didn't stay. We were glad that we stopped, though, since the Adventure Ride was entertaining and cooled us off. We made the decision to try and find a place to eat as we drove back to Austin.
The End of the Day
Driving back over the bridge, we said goodbye to Galveston Island for now. We will definitely return! As we approached Houston, a flashing sign suggested we take an alternate route, since there was an accident ahead on the main route through the city. We did that and found it was a highway that circled the huge metropolis. We sailed along at a nice speed and eventually found a place to eat in a smaller suburb near Houston.
The food was good, but we were starting to fade a little as the sun began to set and we still had about 3 hours left of our drive. My son was travel weary, as he had done all of the driving, but when it became too quiet he started a fun road game. Twenty Questions. He instructed us to not just shout out the answer, but to respond, "Are you a......?" The trip went quickly as we played road games in the dark. It brought back memories of the many travels I have taken with my kids, telling stories or playing "Initials" or "I see something...." Traditions carry on! When we finally arrived back in Austin close to midnight, we bid each other good night. Closing my eyes to sleep, I remember to thank God for this wonderful vacation with my beautiful children. Smiling, I fall asleep recalling the adventures we have had on this Texas Vacation!