If you’re staying with us at Bay RV Park, we highly recommend setting aside a day, or more, to explore historic Galveston Island. Renowned for its stunning architecture, you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time exploring so many historic Victorian-style homes. The area also offers an extensive range of activities, restaurants, and 30 miles of beaches. It’s no wonder it attracts over seven million visitors each year. And best of all, it’s only a 30-minute drive.
History of Galveston Island
The first inhabitants in Galveston date back to the 16th century when the Karankawa Indians lived in the area. The first visitor recorded was a shipwrecked Spanish explorer named Cabeza de Vaca, who found the island in 1528. He apparently lived among the Karankawa, serving as a medicine man and a slave.
But it wasn’t until the arrival of a Canadian fur trader in 1836 who purchased seven square miles of land in the area, that the city formally became Galveston. The island soon saw businesses established, and it became one of the most active ports outside New Orleans. The Strand, which is now the commercial center of Galveston, was once known as ‘Wall Street of the South’. By 1885, it was both the richest and largest city in Texas.
The Great Storm of 1900 is still considered the worst natural disaster recorded in North America and hit Galveston on September 8, 1900. Very few residents had the chance to evacuate before the bridges to the mainland collapsed, causing the death of over 6,000 people. After the storm, the people of Galveston took eight years to raise the 500 city blocks to prevent damage from future storms. All done by hand, the construction also included building 2,000 new homes. After the storm, the city shifted from a trade center to an entertainment hub, even hosting Frank Sinatra at one of its most popular nightclubs.
Today, Galveston is a popular tourist attraction geared towards families with plenty to see and do. We at Bay RV Park are a RV Resort near Kemah which is an ideal location for visiting the destination attractions at Galveston and Kemah.
Historical buildings tours
There are many historical buildings to explore on your visit to Galveston. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
1402 Broadway | 409-762-2475
Self-guided tours available every day from 10 am – 5 pm (last tickets 4pm)
Admission: Adult – $15 / Youth (6-18) – $9 / Children (5 & Under) – Free
This historic national landmark is one of the most famous and ornate buildings in Galveston. For architectural historians, Bishop’s Place is without a doubt one of the most impressive Victorian homes in the United States.
This three-story house was completed in 1892 and is made entirely of steel and stone. It’s this architectural ingenuity that meant it survived the Great Storm of 1900 and it acted as a sanctuary for hundreds of people who were left homeless. The owner, Walter Gresham, charitably opened up his home for anyone needing shelter.
Bishop’s Palace is also known as the Gresham House, or Gresham’s Castle. The property can be explored on a self-guided tour and can easily take a few hours to stroll around and explore. It is an architectural masterpiece with rare woods, sculptures, luxury furnishings, impressive fireplaces, colored stone, stained-glass windows, and intricately carved ornaments.
In addition to self-guided tours, visitors can also take a Basement to Attic Tour, featuring some private areas of the home that aren’t generally open to the public. The tour includes Mrs. Gresham’s studio, offering a panoramic view from the third floor that reaches all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Tickets are $30 per person and are strictly limited to 16 guests, so call ahead to reserve your ticket.
2618 Broadway Avenue J, Galveston / (409) 762-7668
Self-guided tours are available every day from 10 am – 5 pm (last tickets 4pm)
Admission: Adult – $15 / Youth (6-18) – $7 / Children (5 & Under) – Free
Family package: $34, including admission for 2 adults and 2 students
Guided All Access Tours – $35 per person, available at 4pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Discounts are available for members of AAA and AARO for a self-guided audio tour.
Originally completed in 1895, this four-story mansion is 28,000 square feet and provides a sneak peek into what life for a powerful Texas family must have been like in the 1800s. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
The Moody family purchased the home in 1900. Originally designed by a British architect, the house was decorated by Pottier & Stymus, a New York-based and world-famous interior design company. The Moody family and their ancestors lived in the home until 1986. The family established Moody’s Corporation, an American business and financial services company, and is one of America’s most significant financial empires. Initially beginning in the cotton trade, the family soon expanded to banking, ranching, publishing, insurance, hotels, and railroads.
Visitors to the mansion can visit 20 rooms on a tour that are still filled with some of the family’s personal effects. You can explore the grounds and the house museum at your own pace or get a behind-the-scenes tour every Friday and Saturday on a guided All-Access Tour. A knowledgeable guide will show you to areas of the home not usually open to the public. Tour size is limited to 10 people, so calling and making a reservation in advance is recommended.
1604 33rd St Galveston, Texas 77550 / (409) 765-7834
Call ahead to find out opening times due to the COVID-19 pandemic
This house is the oldest house on the island and was built in 1838 in the Greek revival style. Like many of the historic homes in the area, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. All of the furnishings and furniture date back to between 1800 and 1850.
The house was originally owned by one of the first founders of the City of Galveston, Michel B. Menard, a Canadian fur trader who first arrived in Texas in 1829. Menard purchased large amounts of land in the area and formed the Galveston City Company in 1838 with other prominent Texas businessmen, formally incorporating Galveston a year later.
After changing ownership and being passed down by family generations, by the 1990s, the house was in severe disrepair, and the City of Galveston threatened to demolish it. Thankfully, the current owners spent many years reconstructing its original style and condition. Today, in partnership with Galveston Historical Foundation, the house is operated as a museum. In addition, it is a popular venue for special events, including weddings. The house also hosts an annual Mardi Gras Ball, the first of which took place in 1853.
2328 Broadway Avenue J, Galveston / 409-765-3402
Not open for public viewings, available for private bookings on request
Ashton Villa is a three-story, fully restored, historic house built in 1859. The building was one of the first brick structures ever built in Texas. Built by James M. Brown, who was one of the richest men in Texas for his family, the home has long been the center of the island’s social life. Brown’s daughter Bettie held many lavish parties and was known for her eccentricities. In fact, they say today that her ghost still haunts the house.
Unfortunately, the home was submerged under more than 18 inches of water during Hurricane Ike in 2008 but has been recently restored. Sadly, it is no longer open for public tours. However, it is still worth a visit to view the grandeur of the external facade of the home with its elegant verandahs and long windows. You can arrange to access the first floor for private bookings. The spacious ballroom is also available to book for larger events and is an excellent venue for weddings and large parties.
1315 21st Street, Galveston, TX 77550 / (409) 632-7685
Open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm (until 7pm on Thursday)
Admission: Adult – $14 / Seniors (65+ and Military) – $12 / Students – $10 / Children (6 to 12 years) – $5 / Children (5 & Under) – Free
Prearranged group tours of 10 or more people are free with admission but must be booked in advance. For an additional $15 per person, the museum can arrange wine and cheese to be added to any private tours.
Drop-in tours are available on Thursdays between 4pm and 6pm without booking and are included in the admission price.
This museum is one of the world’s largest collections of artifacts relating to Texas and America’s West, and includes the sword used to capture Santa Anna that provided Texas with its freedom from Mexico. If you’re interested in American history, this museum is well worth visiting.
The museum features over 70,000 ancient Native American cultural artifacts, including rare books, maps, antique firearms, stone tools, and much more. In addition to the numerous items on offer, the 20,000 square foot museum also includes beautifully manicured grounds to explore.
The Bryan Museum is passionate about providing education to visitors and the local community about the diversity of America’s West and the various influences, particularly the Spanish, on the region. The museum hosts several permanent galleries, special exhibitions, and a library. Visit the museum’s website to learn about the special exhibits, which run for limited times throughout the year.