Galveston Gay Guide – Vacations and Gay Weddings in Galveston, Texas
Just an hour from Houston, Galveston Island delights couples with its alluring mix of old and new, refined and relaxed.
A scenic barrier Island that’s weathered fierce storms and occasional economic swings, Galveston wears its battle scars with pride and resilience. Plaques on historic buildings mark the high flood lines of the worst disasters, including the Great Storm of 1900, which claimed at least 8,000 lives. And locals seem unfazed by setbacks and are welcoming of all kinds, including gays and lesbians, who have long maintained a visible presence here.
Diversity is one of Galveston’s greatest assets—this city of about 50,000 appeals to everyone from urban sophisticates fond of fine galleries and upscale restaurants to easygoing beach bums content to relax in a chaise longue for days on end. Couples planning weddings appreciate the wealth of gracious venues, from fancy resorts to lavishly restored Victorian mansions. And although Galveston embraces an unhurried, small-town pace, it’s just 50 miles from downtown Houston.
Galveston’s visitor highlights fall primarily into two camps: museums and historic homes that showcase the city’s 200-year history, and attractions and activities related to nature and the outdoors.
Among the latter, Moody Gardens offers enough engaging diversions to keep you busy for at least a half day. As you cross the bridge onto Galveston Island, you can’t miss the Gardens’ three soaring glass pyramids, which contain an interactive science museum, a rainforest, and an aquarium that recently completed an impressive $39 million renovation. The 242-acre campus also offers massive 3-D and 4-D theaters, a paddlewheel cruise boat, a 428-room hotel, and a golf course. Next door at Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, you can cool off on a hot afternoon by riding the world’s tallest water coaster. During cooler months, there’s also a climate-controlled indoor section.
There are quite a few ways to get wet—or at least out on the water—in Galveston. You can rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards and meander around Galveston Bay, or set out on a dolphin-watching cruise offered by the Texas Seaport Museum, whose on-land exhibits trace the city’s prominence as both a naval and commercial port. Be sure to tour the museum’s 1877 three-masted tall ship, Elissa.
Sandy beaches extend for 32 miles along the island’s southern shore. Some favorites with LGBTQ sunworshippers include Stewart Beach, at 6th Street and Seawall Boulevard, and East Beach, at the island’s eastern tip, which is the site of the Galveston Pride Beach Bash & Block Party each June (Galveston Pride 2018 takes place June 8–10). Another good bet is the stretch of sand around 31st and Seawall, which draws revelers from Galveston’s three gay bars—all of which are nearby.
From here, it’s a short stroll to the beloved—if touristy—Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, which abounds with souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants and contains a small amusement park and Ferris wheel.Although the pier feels decidedly retro, it’s only five years old, having been built to replace a previous pier and hotel destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
For a sense of Galveston’s celebrated past, stroll around the Historic Downtown Strand Seaport District and neighboring Postoffice Street Arts & Entertainment District, which teem with handsome late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings, many occupied by galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Note the magnificently restored Grand 1894 Opera House, which presents Broadway-style shows and world-class music acts. For a dose of caffeine, duck into MOD Coffeehouse, a gay-popular, art-filled café with lovely sidewalk tables.
Along the gracious, mostly residential blocks south of downtown, you’ll find some of Galveston’s most distinguished historic museums. Opened in 2015 inside a former orphanage, the stunning Bryan Museum contains an astonishing collection of 70,000 artifacts and artworks related to the American Southwest. The museum also features a dazzling Victorian-inspired conservatory with ornate ironwork and a sweeping stone terrace that’s ideal for weddings.
Several of the city’s most distinguished house-museums—and wedding sites—operate under the aegis of the Galveston Historical Foundation. These include Garten Verein, an 1880 glass-enclosed octagonal gazebo, and Ashton Villa, an 1859 redbrick mansion with a sumptuous ballroom. Arguably the most lavish of the foundation’s properties, the turreted 1892 Bishop’s Palace encompasses 19,000 square feet of ornate antiques and architectural elements, including soaring stained-glass windows and finely carved woodwork. If you have time to tour just one Galveston mansion, this should be it.
Long a bastion of casual beach fare—burgers, fried seafood, frozen daiquiris—Galveston has lately undergone a culinary revival, with many restaurants now specializing in sophisticated, seasonal cuisine. For weekend brunch or dinner, check out the Porch Cafe Bistro & Market, in the luxurious Beachtown community, where typical fare includes shrimp and grits with charred-lemon chimichurri and peach-bourbon-glazed pork chops. It’s also an LGBTQ-welcoming venue for weddings. Set inside a cleverly transformed former convenience store overlooking the Gulf, BLVD Seafood—part of the locally acclaimed Yaga’s restaurant group—serves exquisitely prepared tuna-poke wontons, oysters Rockefeller, blackened red snapper, and other local sea creatures.
Reasonably priced Mosquito Cafe occupies a charming 1870s building in the East End Historic District. It’s open morning through night—if you’re looking to fuel up on a hefty breakfast, order the corned-beef-hash tacos. Other East End notables include Sunflower Bakery & Cafe, which serves such tempting brunch creations as fried quail and grits with poached eggs, and carne guisada with red chile sauce, eggs, and corn cakes; and Farley Girls Cafe, a cheery corner storefront known for delicious chicken and waffles.
Steps from the opera house, Rudy and Paco earns raves for creatively prepared Latin American steaks and seafood, including plantain-encrusted Gulf red snapper topped with lump crab meat and a raspberry-chipotle sauce. Across the street, festive Taquilo’s turns out fresh and flavorful Tex-Mex fare, including addictively tasty queso fundido and first-rate margaritas. Inside funky Old Moon Deli & Pie, where the walls are lined with grandiose portraits of cats and dogs dressed as people, savor an overstuffed Cuban or Monte Cristo sandwich, but be sure to save room for a slice of fresh-baked blackberry, pecan, or coconut cream pie. Speaking of sweets, if you happen to be hanging around the beach near 61st Street, stop inside Frios Gourmet Pops for a popsicle—these icy treats come in a flurry of intriguing flavors, including strawberry-balsamic, Fruity Pebbles, and peanut butter banana.
GALVESTON GAY BARS
Galveston has a handful of gay nightspots, the most popular being Rumors Beach Bar, which offers sweeping Gulf views, late-night dancing, and riotous drag shows. Also check out long-running 23rd Street Station, which presents a well-attended daily happy hour. A mainstream option with a trendy, diverse following, D.T.O. Galveston opened recently in a modern industrial space and specializes in craft cocktails and artisan spirits. Fans of live music should check out the bohemian Gypsy Joynt, which moved from the Berkshires to Galveston in 2016. With its quirky, hippie-dippie sensibility and great burgers, tacos, pizza, and giant cookies, it’s a fun place to dine and catch a concert.
GALVESTON GAY-FRIENDLY HOTELS
Among the island’s dozens of inviting accommodations, two elegant grande dames, Hotel Galvez and Tremont House stand out as romantic places both to stay and stage a swanky wedding. These stately sister properties share colorful histories (the Galvez is even said to be haunted) but offer very different settings.
Built in 1911, Hotel Galvez & Spa lies just across the street from the Gulf and a short stroll from the Pleasure Pier—it’s perfect for lazing on the beach, or beside the hotel’s tranquil, cloistered pool. You can also book a detoxifying clay body wrap treatment or rosemary-ginger hot stone massage in the 10,000-square-foot spa, which is outfitted with eucalyptus steam rooms, Vichy showers, and a meditation garden. Cap off your day of pampering with drinks or dinner in the gracious restaurant and bar in the regal, high-ceilinged lobby, a classy place to meet friends or make new ones.
[In the above photo of the wedding between Andrew Zahorsky and Tim Archuleta, a number of talented wedding vendors and specialists in Galveston and Houston created this beautiful event at the Hotel Galvez. The Houston couple, who’d met six years earlier while working for PacSun, held a lavish reception featuring the beautiful voices of the Houston Gay Men’s Chorus and the following area vendors: Mary Rios Events, Sasha Bohème Photography, Who Made The Cake bakery, Dream Bouquet florals, Justin Ruiz videography, and J&A Entertainment rentals.]
If you’d prefer a bustling location close to downtown restaurants, shops, and historic sites, consider Tremont House, a gracious four-story hotel built in the mid-19th century. Tall windows and high ceilings allow ample sunlight into 119 rooms graced with hardwood floors, Victorian-style furnishings, and such creature comforts as iPod docks and bathrobes. Favorite rendezvous for drinks include both the gracious Toujouse Bar in the palm-shrouded atrium lobby, and the city’s only rooftop bar, an enchanting perch for sipping mojitos or martinis while taking in views of downtown and the bay.
Galveston also has a bounty of familiar, reasonably priced chain properties, many of them set near or on the beachfront. The DoubleTree by Hilton, Hampton Inn & Suites, and Best Western Plus Seawall Inn & Suites are among the nicest.
Several historic homes contain alluring inns and B&Bs. The Lost Bayou Guesthouse, which survived the Great Storm, occupies a dapper 1890 wood-frame building with a sweeping two-story veranda. It’s in the heart of the tony Silk Stocking District, just a 10-minute walk from the beach and an only slightly longer stroll from downtown. In the same neighborhood, the charmingly restored Mediterranean Revival Avenue O B&B contains four antique-filled rooms, including a spacious suite with Parisian-inspired décor, a double Jacuzzi, and its own private entrance. It’s a memorable roost for celebrating an anniversary, or even your wedding night.
For more information on the region, contact the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau.