Galveston: A City of History, Tragedy, Revitalization, and A Texas-sized Good Time

In my adult gay life, I’ve known Austin, Texas as the lonely liberal blue dot in all of the Lone Star State.  My vacations in Texas before this year have been reserved to a birthday weekend and a weekend of pride, both in Austin, since that’s what us gays outside of Texas have been told.  When visiting, all we heard from Austinites was that there’s no other place we were welcome, besides their city.

Texas is a big state to check off the list as a DO NOT VISIT … except the blue dot with the slogan “keep it weird.” So, this past March, I decided to go at Texas with my big gay self and drag along a companion to see what the 4 other major cities had to offer … clap clap clap clap … deep in the heart of Texas.  We traveled to San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, but our second stop was Galveston. Here’s Part 4 of Our Trip Across Texas.


We had a blast in San Antonio as I knew we would.  When I planned this trip, I was thinking Galveston would be a nice pause after exciting San Antonio and before we gallivanted off to Houston and Dallas.  Were we to get that planned rest? Let’s see.

Pulling into Galveston on Sunday night, it appeared that we were going to be in for a fun visit as the city was cleaning up from the day’s Mardi Gras festivities.  Crews were out late, but we would see them later on the actual Fat Tuesday as unknown to us, Galveston has a healthy Mardi Gras history and energy. Why don’t we talk about that right now.

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras! Galveston, the third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States, offers the unique chance to experience sand between your toes and gorgeous beach sunsets while taking in the revelry and lavish parades known to dominate Galveston Island during carnival season. – Galveston.com

The island’s 108th Mardi Gras celebration was held from February 22 to March 5, 2019, with more than 350,000 attendees enjoying 29 live concerts, 23 parades, 22 balcony parties, several elegant balls and more.

Our view of the parade route and the other balconies during Mardi Gras.

One of the many floats during the parade.  More pictures at the end of the post.

To our surprise, our hosts arranged for us to be at the last balcony party of the 2019 Mardi Gras season on Tuesday night. It was a little cold across the entire south on Fat Tuesday so we bundled up to throw beads from the balcony to onlookers and to watch the final parade.  I love experiencing different Mardi Gras celebrations and this one had its own flair and enjoyment.

The balcony party added another element to us enjoying the downtown area of Galveston.  The downtown and the island have rebuilt itself many times over the last two decades, but it all still holds strong with its historic feel.

Downtown Galveston

Walking into the shops, restaurants and stores of downtown, you feel you are walking into well-established historic spots.  One such place was La King’s Confectionery (2323 Strand St), where they still pull taffy in house. Bring more than one sweet tooth for this place has every homemade candy imaginable. Definitely check out La King’s, but don’t miss the other shops on Strand Street.

Before you spoil your dinner with candy, check out the Star Drug Store, “the oldest drug store in Texas” where you can buy some chachkis and an excellent meal.  The tomato soup is unique and the coconut cake seems to be more coconut than cake. It was great comfort food, super friendly staff, and a nice trip back sitting at the first desegregated counter in Galveston. 

Come into the Star Drug Store, order your food, shop a little, then eat said comfort food, and love it all.

Another great dining establishment in the downtown area is the Rudy & Paco restaurant (2028 Post Office Street) where we enjoyed a varied lunch. Their website says “Enjoy a casual lunch at Rudy & Paco with healthy salads and tasteful, classic fare …Or indulge in grilled seafood and steak with a South and Central American sabor.” We went healthy and indulged and didn’t look back. I recommend the Pollo Carmelo.

Pollo Carmelo (grilled chicken breast in a white wine lemon butter with capers and basil, topped with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes)

Historic Sites

I am getting a little ahead of myself.  Yes, we did the fun celebration of Mardi Gras and we ate very well, but there is more to do on the island of Galveston.  We highly recommend stopping by the Galveston Island Visitors Center (located behind Ashton Villa at 2328 Broadway) as this quaint space is bursting with ideas as well as one of the most helpful Information staff I can ever remember talking with. The recommendations were spot on and we just wish we had more time to explore everything mentioned.

We stayed mainly on the eastern part of the island and downtown as we parked our car at the hotel and didn’t need to move it during most of our stay as everything was within a nice comfortable walking distance.

When you visit Galveston, you cannot escape the history.  The city is rich with growth, destruction, revitalization, disasters, and growth once again.  It’s a city that embraces its hardships while celebrating its multiple rebirths.  Many storms are mentioned with the Great Galveston Storm of 1900, with an estimated strength of a Category 4, making it the deadliest natural disaster and the worst hurricane in U.S. history and the 2008 Hurricane Ike being two of the more prominent ones. The city is still rebuilding, growing, and embracing its sustainability. 

The Moody Mansion was a little bit of a walk from the Tremont House, but was worth it. These historical buildings are well preserved and injected with just the right amount of historical education.

But it’s good not to escape the history as it is still very prominent within the community.  We visited the Moody Mansion. The Moodys established one of the great American financial empires. Based on cotton, it grew to include banking, ranching, insurance and hotels. The home and the family exemplified Galveston through the 20th century.  The history shared on the tour as well as the grandeur of the 28,000 square-foot, four story home helps one understand Galveston a little more.

Bishops Palace was another historic treat!

You can as well check out Bishop’s Palace and take their audio tour.  We loved all the stained glass and the 40-foot octagonal mahogany stairwell with even more stained glass on five sides.

We also visited the Bryan Museum (1315 21st Street)

In October 2013, J.P. and Mary Jon Bryan purchased the old Galveston Orphans Home in Galveston, Texas. After a careful restoration of the historic structure, The Bryan Museum opened in June 2015. With 20,000 square feet of exhibit space and lush, manicured grounds, it has become a Texas destination. – galveston.com

The detail of all the displays was quite impressive at the Bryan Museum.

What impressed us the most was that this large collection was from one person and it was so well put together and displayed. Highly recommend this as a stop if you want to know anything about Texas history.

Lodging – The Tremont House and The Quarters

The most grand thing we did in Galveston is where we stayed. The Tremont House (2300 Ship’s Mechanic Row) would be our home for three wonderful nights.  We didn’t stay in the actual hotel, but in The Quarters just across the road. You could not have asked for a better location or accommodations as our room was not just a room, but a large two-bedroom apartment with kitchen, dining area, separate living room, and two large, massive, ginormous bedrooms.

I loved having the hotel across the way for room service, ease of walking to the bar for happy hour, and a great café area for breakfast. It was too cold during our stay to enjoy the well-known rooftop deck, but next time Tremont. The Quarters were just what we needed for this platonic trip, but next time, after seeing one of the suites on a tour, I think I want to rest my head in the main building. We had initially planned to stay at a resort down the island aways, but we are very glad we were able to change to The Tremont House and The Quarters.

The Tremont House has a massive presence in downtown Galveston. Along with the Mardi Gras arch, it represents Galveston in a special way.

The Tremont House and its sister location, the Hotel Galvez, are known as THE places to stay while on the island. They’re also well-known wedding destinations.  Check out what both the Tremont and Galvez have to offer and we’ll also share some screen shots of a same-sex wedding at the end of this piece. 

Gay Nightlife

As for the gay night life, we did catch the tail end of Mardi Gras so the partying was kept to a low roar.  We did venture out via Uber to Rumors Beach Bar (3102 Seawall Blvd).  The staff was great, but it was a slow Monday when we visited.  We also tried Robert’s Lafitte (2501 Avenue Q) which is supposed to be lively as well, but with the holiday and the cold, we only experienced the inside which they still allow people to smoke, so it was a quick one warm beer and done.  Next time we get to the island, we will need to give these bars one more try and also 23rd Street Station Piano Bar (1706 23rd St).  We are sure all the venues are busier in the summer, when all the tourists arrive. 

Rumors Beach Bar

Thanks for the Hospitality

We met some great people when visiting Galveston.  The great staff of the Galveston Island CVB, the tourism center, the wonderful staff at the Tremont House as well as Spencer Priest, Chairman of the Galveston Park Board, and Steven Creitz, a Park Board Trustee and Project Manager of Mitchell Historic Properties.

We also met Danny Roe, a massive force in Galveston’s LGBTQ+ community.  You can read about what Danny does to support Galveston as a whole in a recent outsmartmagazine.com post.

The LGBTQ+ community members and allies I met were probably some of the most welcoming individuals I have experienced in all of my travels. Galveston will always be synonymous with open arms and big hearts.

I honestly think the people of Galveston look to find ways to help each other out.  One program I did lear about was ACCT – Access Care of Coastal Texas.

Access Care of Coastal Texas, Inc. (ACCT) provides compassionate community-based Access to Care for persons with HIV and their health issues through direct and collaborative means, offering awareness/education, prevention and support to the people of Coastal Texas.

We serve Galveston, Brazoria, Matagorda counties. Our clientele are the general public and people that are HIV-positive. We offer confidential HIV testing (free), prevention counseling, health education/risk reduction, HIV prevention education, clothing assistance, financial education/emergency assistance, housing assistance, medication assistance program, transportation, and volunteer services.

 

Summing up Galveston

Let me first say I didn’t mention the beaches!  For a review of a beach city, an ocean side destination and not mention the ocean?  That’s crazy!  Well, we didn’t have time for the beaches and it was March when we went through.  Yes Galveston is summer destination for those looking to escape the Texas heat.  After personally experiencing the Dallas / Fort Worth heat last week for the Fourth of July, I now know first hand why Texans escape the center of the state for the beach bungalows and resorts of Galveston. So, yes, Galveston has the beaches, but it has so much more.

For a place where we were thinking it was going to be all rest and relaxation, we really were able to pack a great deal into our three day visit AND relax. Galveston is teeming with things to do, places to see, and people to meet.  It’s strange, but I almost think there was more things to see and do in Galveston than the other cities in Texas that we visited, and that was in March in a beach town. 

And the LGBT community in Galveston seems to be thriving and moving in the right direction.  You’ll find us everywhere and that is even true in an island beach town in Texas. Galveston LGBTQ+ people display as much ownership and pride in their city and maybe even more than other “Galvestonians.”  Pride in themselves and pride in where they live was overflowing. That was so warming and welcoming to see. 

When I return to Galveston, and I will, maybe I will take along this list … 50 things you need to do in Galveston before you kick the bucket. We did a great deal, but there is more to see and do!  Until next time, Galveston!


As usual, I end my travel stories with the overflow pics of my trip and the wedding story I mentioned above.

This was the image that greeted us when we arrived in Galveston and at the Tremont House.
The massive floor to ceiling windows in one of the Tremont House Suites gave me goose bumps. \
We loved this outside shaded area. Can we do this in our city please?
Make this spot your first stop for the recommendations you receive here will set you up real good!
Even the statues were ready for Mardi Gras
It wasn’t that cold that a polar bear would be in the parade!
We just stumbled upon the Star Drug Store. Looked cool, went in, learned its history, ate too much, loved it.
Grilled Cheese, potato salad, and tomato soup. Not a crumb was left.
Oh, I forgot his name, but I did not forget the molten lava brownie sundae he made me.
Hard to forget when it looks this good and tastes even better.
I did mention the coconut cake at the Star Drug Store.
Rudy & Paco does have a dress code for the dining room and that was fine with us. The service was top notch and more elegant than expected. The whole meal was a treat!
But the bar area of Rudy & Paco is a little more relaxed.
We never did have time to try the Frito pie but walked by this restaurant often! Next time!
La Kings Confectionery is an anchor on Strand Street.

This is the first of three videos I took of the process. The second is above in the post and the third follows.

La King’s Confectionery will tell you when they are going to pull taffy and they share the product, too!

One of the many serving counters at La King’s.
Yes, I’m weird. I thought the Moody Mansion bathrooms were amazing! And this one is yellow!
I love it when they show the layers of history and the type of restorations that go in in these old homes, like this wall in the Moody Mansion.
Bishop’s Palace was so large and ornate that it has its own chapel on the second floor.
Just the simple dining room at Bishop’s Palace.
There were so many interesting displays at the Bryan Museum.
The variety of saddles on display at the Bryan Museum was impressive.
Weapons as part of Texas history? Of course. The number of weapons in the Bryan Museum was massive.
But there were much more than weapons in the Bryan Museum. On the top floor, art work took center stage.
Downtown was all decked out with Mardi Gras decorations.
We just strolled into the Hearsay restaurant to look at the ambiance, but we will return for a drink and a meal some day.
Seen all over Galveston. Everyone we met wanted us to know that the community was very accepting of all and that is what we found!
The Grand 1894 Opera House

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