When I went on my initial solo travels to Galveston Island, I had hopes that I would be able to capture as much of the history of the island as possible in a single day.
Those hopes were quickly dashed by the reality of a lengthy drive, traffic, and the amount of walking that I would do as I pursued personal tourism in the Houston area.
But that first trip by myself to Galveston gave me the chance to do research on activities our family could do on a return to the island. We’ve taken family down to the coast before, enjoying time on the beach at the state park and walking around the small downtown area to look at shops, but that had been the extent of our family explorations. I wanted our return to the island to be a continuation of the historical journey I began by myself.
Elissa – the Official Tall Ship of Texas
Thanks to timing, our first stop became a quick tour of the ELISSA. The volunteer crew was in the process of prepping the ship for a series of day trips and we had 30 minutes before it was closed to tours for another two weeks. The other planned events for the day could wait; we were going to see as much of the ship as possible in a short period of time.
This iron hull tall ship was built in 1877 and was used as a merchant ship well into the 20th century. In 1979, she was restored to her original configuration. It is one of only three remaining ships of its kind, one of the oldest operational ships in the world, and is a National Historic Landmark in addition to being the Official Tall Ship of Texas.
It was worth the quick-stop walk through. While we couldn’t go below deck because the crew needed the space safely designated for travel, we got a good look at the stunning fixtures and structure of the ship on the top deck. It was worth it to see just how good of shape it is in after nearly 150 years, as well as learning some of the history of the ship from many of the signs at each point of interest.
Historic Harbor and Dolphin Watch Tour
The primary reason why I wanted to my family to go back to Galveston with me when I made my return trip was my desire to take a harbor tour so I could see the dolphins.
Doing that without my kids would not have gone over very well.
There are a few options in Galveston for taking boat tours of the harbor. We chose to board the Seagull II on the Historic Harbor Tour and Dolphin Watch. The tour took us past ships, ports, and drilling rigs all in the harbor, but the most exciting part of the tour was the views that we got of multiple dolphins including a new baby dolphin that was swimming with its family.
While I didn’t get a good photo of the elusive baby, I was eventually able to get a pretty good set of pictures of its family members as we sailed past.
Our seasoned captain was so captivated by the presence of a baby dolphin, we didn’t get as far out into the harbor as the tour normally gets in one hour, but we did get to see the distant wreckage of the SS Selma, a concrete-made oil tanker that was brought to Galveston for a failed repair. The ship was intentionally sunk off of the eastern shore of Pelican Island when it was discovered they could not repair it to sail again.
Finally we sailed past Seawolf Park, which houses the Galveston Naval Museum, fishing piers, and the largest playground on the island. While we knew we wouldn’t have the time to stop on this trip, it gave us another place to visit on the Island the next time family comes down to visit.
While I was hoping for a tour that would allow me to see a few dolphins up close, the one hour ride offered an incredible experience for our whole family and helped us learn even more about the island and the international ports that it houses. I highly recommend it.
Note: The Texas Seaport Museum, which sells tickets to both the ELISSA and the Seagull II, is currently being renovated. It is set to open its new interactive experience in the summer of 2021.
Our last stop on our Galveston day tour was Bishop Palace. I had wanted to do both Moody Mansion and Bishop Palace while I was in Galveston on my own, but I couldn’t make it to both in a single day. Instead, I got to tour through this magnificent piece of Galveston architectural history with my family.
According to the guide brochure, the house was built by Nicholas Clayton for the railroad magnate Walter Gresham and his wife Josephine. It was completed in 1892 and survived the 1900 hurricane that devastated most of the island, suffering just window damage ($300 worth of glass, at the time) and buckled wooden floors. It is called Bishop Palace because it was used as the residence of the Bishop of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese from 1923 through the 1960s, which explains the bedroom that was transformed into a gorgeous chapel.
The stunning home was worth a final stop, not only for the incredible history of the place, but also because of the beauty of the old craftsmanship still evident 130 years later.
Our trip to the island also included a little downtown walking, some ice cream, and strolling through souvenir trap shops, but even with those stops, it was well worth the time spent. While our trips down to the island have not been frequent in the time that we’ve lived in Houston, we’ve also learned that a lot can be done in a single day while we plan for the next distant trip.
Maybe next time we can focus on the nature of Galveston.