Texas is known for big things, and the Gulf city of Galveston is a large example of Texas' super-size image. For example, in the greater Galveston area, you can see the tallest masonry structure in the world, the largest rocket ever made, a battleship of mammoth proportions, gigantic oil rigs, and some of the biggest cruise ships to sail the oceans- not to mention the fact that, in 1900, the Galveston hurricane was the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
During a recent cross-country trip we spent a week in the Galveston area and were rewarded with a big taste of what this exciting area has to offer. We pulled our F-250 Power Stroke and Komfort fifth-wheel combo into the Via Bayou RV Resort in nearby Dickinson, Texas, and settled in to see the sights.
Johnson Space Center
No trip to the Galveston area would be complete without a visit to the Johnson Space Center. Located midway between Galveston and Houston, the Space Center occupies more than 1,600 acres and employs more than 14,000 people. The Center is a federal facility, home to Mission Control Center, where Space Shuttle missions are monitored and directed from seconds after launch to landing. This is also where astronauts are trained and the Space Shuttle program is managed. Visitors can explore several areas of the Center and see such sights as a Saturn V rocket (the world's largest), which brought man to the moon, the Mission Control Center-where the moon missions were monitored-the astronaut training facilities, and a visitor's center containing actual spacecraft, spacesuits, and other artifacts.
Tallest Masonry Structure In The Worldnext to Galveston, in La Porte, Texas, is the San Jacinto Battleground, where in 1836, a volunteer army of Anglo-American settlers and Tejanos decisively defeated a larger Mexican army and won Texas Independence. The 1,100-acre historic site and monument commemorate their struggle and achievement. The San Jacinto Monument, rising 570 feet above the battleground, is the tallest masonry structure in the world. The San Jacinto Museum of History is at the base of the tower, and visitors can take an elevator to the top of the monument for a spectacular view of the battleground and the surrounding countryside.
Battleship USS Texas
next to the San Jacinto Monument is another big example of Texas history-the Battleship Texas. The USS Texas is the last surviving battleship patterned after the HMS Dreadnought and was the world's most powerful warship when it was commissioned in 1914. It was also the first U.S. battleship with 14- inch guns. The ship was the first U.S. battleship to launch an aircraft, and the first Marine Division was founded on the USS Texas in 1941.
In Galveston proper, on Galveston Island, there are more big and exciting sights awaiting the visitor. At 32 miles long and 21/2 miles wide, Galveston swims in sunshine and miles of sparkling Gulf Coast beaches. The city sports some great restaurants, top resort hotels, fine downtown shopping, numerous antique stores, art galleries, and it features one of the largest concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country. We visited two of these Victorian homes-the Moody Mansion and Bishop's Palace-and were rewarded with a fantastic look into the past. Both of these Galveston icons were built in the late 1800s and reflect the richness and elegance that Galveston portrayed at the time. Although both homes were damaged during the great hurricane of 1900, they still stand in magnificence against the ravages of time.
An area of Galveston not to be missed is the historic downtown Strand district. Located just one block from the Texas Cruise Ship Terminal, this 19th century Victorian district offers over 100 restaurants, a wide variety of shops, historic attractions, art galleries, and antique stores. Visitors can take horse-drawn carriage rides or enjoy open-air trolley routes from downtown to the Gulf of Mexico.
Next to the Strand is one of Galveston's most popular tourist destinations: the Ocean Star off-shore drilling rig and museum. Visitors board the retired jackup drilling rig and explore the three floors of models and interactive displays illustrating the story of offshore oil and gas from seismic technology to exploration platforms, actual drill bits, and remotely operated vehicles. Following a tour of the museum, visitors can take the skywalk out onto the drill floor of the rig.
Seawolf Park lies across from the Port of Galveston, and this World War II Museum and Memorial Plaza features two WWII vessels: the submarine USS Cavalla and a destroyer, the USS Stewart. Visitors can tour both ships and delve into the past while walking the same decks that the brave crews did when they sailed during World War II.
Naturally, there is lots more to do and see in the Galveston area, including a visit to the Kemah Boardwalk, which is home to an amusement park, numerous restaurants, dozens of shops, and a marina. There are also miles of pristine gulf beaches, a flight museum, great fishing opportunities, dolphin-watching sites, and Moody Gardens, with its breathtaking three-pyramid skyline and vast tropical landscape.