Galveston today cherishes its often-stormy past, and few islands have had a history as wild as this Gulf Coast resort. In the early 1800s, the island was the booming base of the pirate/tycoon Jean Lafitte, and was soon on its way to becoming one of the country’s great ports. But the city and its Strand business district, the so-called “Wall Street of the Southwest,” were devastated in 1900 by a massive hurricane that killed more than 6,000. It remains the nation’s deadliest natural disaster.
By the 1930s, Galveston was best known for its speakeasies and red-light districts, a reputation that lasted into the 1950s. But today the island, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, is a family-oriented seaside resort, with restored historic districts that recall its Victorian heyday.
Texans come for the beaches (more than 30 miles of sand to choose from), waves (surfers here favor the breaks off the city’s famed seawall), abundant birdlife (more than 320 recorded species, many of them at 2,000-acre Galveston State Park near the unpopulated southeast end of the island), surf-fishing (seatrout, redfish, and flounder), Mardi Gras (masked balls and all), and more than a dozen museums, including one that floats – the Elissa, a 1877 square-rigger that Lafitte himself would have envied.