Last weekend my partner and I took a 3-night vacation to Galveston, Texas, to visit some friends of hers who decided, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, to spend a week in Galveston.
We had fun, but I'll readily confess it was in spite of Galveston, rather than because of it. Here are some of the highlights.
Transportation to and from Galveston is an expensive disaster
Let me start by saying that if the Galveston Express shuttle has service that's convenient for you, it's an absolute no-brainer to take it in either or both directions. It costs $20 per person for transportation to or from Galveston and Houston's Hobby airport ($35 roundtrip) and $25 per person to or from George Bush Intercontinental ($45 roundtrip).
Unfortunately, the Galveston Express is designed to serve the cruise industry which operates a massive port in Galveston, so it only runs on days the ships are loading and unloading passengers. If you're not, in fact, arriving or departing Galveston on a cruise ship, it's just luck of the draw whether the shuttle will be operating. Check in advance using their straightforward online booking engine.
With that said, if you're traveling with several people, Uber is a fantastic choice for getting to Galveston. We paid $36.48 to get from George Bush Intercontinental to downtown Houston to meet up with my partner's friends, then $66.05 to get all the way to Galveston, with a stop for gas along the way. In other words, if we'd all arrived in Houston at the same time we could have ridden all the way to Galveston for well under $25 per person (and you can buy Uber credit in redeemable chunks).
Getting back from Galveston isn't so simple. Uber isn't allowed to depart from Galveston, and taxi rides to the Houston airports will cost multiple hundreds of dollars. If you can't take the Galveston Express shuttle, the next best option is Amtrak thruway bus cabotage, using Henry's trick in the comments to pay as little as $25 per person. But that only works if you're departing on a day the Amtrak thruway bus operates.
Finally, all the Galveston beach hotels offer airport shuttle services, at a range of prices. The Country Inn & Suites shuttle was the cheapest we found, at $135 for two people. Since we were staying there anyway, that's the route we ultimately took.
An honorary mention goes to simply renting a car. The only "sights" worth seeing in Galveston are quite far from the beach hotels, so if you're not a big walker you may find it convenient to have a vehicle, plus you can stash gear there while you're on the beach, an extremely popular choice among locals and visitors alike.
Drinking in Galveston is fun and legal
Since we were hanging out with Russians, it was imperative to find out when and where they could drink as quickly as possible. Turns out, the answer is Galveston is "virtually everywhere."
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission hosts a delightful webpage regarding the public consumption of alcohol. I'm not a lawyer (and I'm definitely not your lawyer), but as far as I can tell it's legal to drink everywhere in Galveston, including on the public beaches, with the exception of Galveston Island State Park.
The Galveston boardwalk is a commercial dead zone
Between the Country Inn & Suites where we stayed and the Red Roof Inn where our friends stayed are 2.3 miles of beach, and virtually nothing else.
The one exception is a Kroger store across the street from the Red Roof Inn; we did a lot of shopping there over the course of our trip.
At the Country Inn & Suites front desk there's an adorable cartoon map showing all the businesses along the beachfront. But as I joked, and the front desk employee agreed, in between all the adorable, oversized cartoon bubbles is, in reality, miles of empty, sun-baked sidewalk.
"Downtown Galveston" shows some promise
On our second day, we decided to strike out towards "downtown Galveston." This is an area that's difficult to describe because it's identical in every way to every other part of Galveston we explored. But it showed some signs of life.
Geographically, it's something like the area North of Avenue J and East of 25th Street. We ended up having lunch at a cafe called Board Game Island, which was absolutely delightful. The new owner explained that their pizza was so good Trip Advisor sent them a sticker to put in the window. It was certainly the best meal we had in Galveston.
What Galveston needs is a lot of ambitious Yankees
I don't believe I've ever visited a place with so many obvious commercial opportunities that are, by law or custom, not being taken advantage of. And the reason for that, I presume, is that I haven't spent much time in the South.
There's nothing to eat in Galveston. There's nothing to do in Galveston. The people of Galveston are clearly desperate for opportunities. This is a situation that in a multiplicity of northern cities has resulted in food trucks, bowling alleys, farmer's markets, yoga studios, bike taxis, etc.
But in Galveston, there's nothing. Nothing but poverty and beaches. This is a solvable problem. But it's not being solved by the current residents of Galveston. So if you're an ambitious Yankee with a love of the ocean and a high tolerance for Southern bureaucracy, Galveston is as good a place as any to make your first fortune.