A Gulf-side escape for generations of Texans, Galveston is a destination steeped in some of the most interesting history in the U.S.
Once one of the most thriving port cities in the nation, and at one time in the 19th century the largest city in Texas, Galveston was dubbed the “Ellis Island of the West” due to it being the primary port of entry for European immigrants settling in the West. The city was a study in success, with newly minted millionaires raising impressive mansions to showcase their wealth and taste.
All that changed Sept. 8, 1900, when a catastrophic hurricane sent a storm surge that swamped the city, killing between 6,000 and 12,000 people, and which is still measured as the deadliest natural disaster in the U.S.
After rebuilding—including construction of the Galveston Seawall to keep the Gulf at bay—the city has taken a long journey back, and has an increasing number of new attractions, in concert with the old, to lure groups.
The East End Historical District, a 50-block National Historic Landmark District, contains a number of ornate, impeccably maintained mansions that are available for rental for events.
“You can’t get away from the history here,” says Meg Winchester, director of the Galveston Island CVB. “So many of the buildings are pre-1900 and preserved, especially in our downtown area. Galveston has a little bit of everything; great ecotourism, museums and homes built before 1900 where you can do special events.”
And although the city’s history is so interesting, it’s important to note that Galveston always has an eye toward the future, especially in recent years with the 2012 redevelopment of the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier, offering 16 rides in an old-school waterfront amusement park complete with a boardwalk. The attraction is back after a more than 50-year hiatus courtesy of 1961’s Hurricane Carla.
Groups can do a full or partial buyout (four or five rides, the use of the bandstand and catering) of the Pier.
The newest attraction in Galveston promises to be a big draw for meetings, events and other social gatherings, according to Winchester.
“The most exciting thing we have coming on this year is The Bryan Museum, with the largest collection of Southwestern artifacts in the United States,” Winchester says, adding that, at press time, the facility was scheduled to open last month (June 2015).
One highlight of The Bryan is a large glass atrium that will serve as a splashy reception site.
Another off-site special event option is Moody Gardens, which features an aquarium with a large shark tank, and the rainforest museum, which is an actual working rainforest attraction. Winchester noted that Moody Gardens recently completed a $20 million renovation of its hotel.
Also on tap is a complete renovation of Galveston’s beach, stretching from 51st Street to the Seawall, which will then move on to other beaches on the island. Groups can use two city beach parks for festive events such as shrimp boils.
The major convention facilities are the Galveston Island Convention Center at the San Luis Resort, which offers 140,000 square feet of space with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. Shuttle service over a 10-mile radius is available during shows, and the facility offers free Wi-Fi for up to 1,500 devices. Winchester says the free services at the convention center translates into healthy bottom line savings, and the city is willing to discuss incentives for groups fitting the right profile.
There are approximately 800 rooms within close proximity of downtown’s walkable 36-block area, filled with restaurants, art galleries and nightlife opportunities.
Major properties include the Moody Gardens Hotel, two Wyndham hotels (the 100-year-old Hotel Galvez and its sister property The Tremont House) and the newly renovated DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Galveston Beach, offering a retro feel right on the seawall and within walking distance of the Pier.
5 Fantastic Off-SITES
1877 Tall Ship Elissa & Texas Seaport Museum
This floating National Historic Landmark features 19 sails and three masts. Meeting planners can host events for up to 500 on the museum site and 300 seated for dinner on the pier. The Texas Seaport Museum, adjacent to the ship, documents 19th century seafaring culture, and offers a computer database with the names of the more than 133,000 immigrants who entered the U.S. through Galveston, dubbed “The Ellis Island of the West.”
1892 Bishop’s Palace
This stunning off-site option offers an ornate collection of rare woods, intricately carved ornaments, stained glass and other sculptures that will put an exclamation point on any event. This Victorian jaw-dropper was named one of the top 100 most important buildings in the U.S. by the American Institute of Architects.
The Bryan Museum
Housing the world’s largest collection of artifacts, documents and art relating to the Southwestern U.S., The Bryan, built in 1895, boasts a collection of some 70,000 items, including Native American cultural artifacts, antique firearms, saddles, folk and fine art, portraits and rare maps, and offers numerous indoor and outdoor event locations.
Lone Star Flight Museum
More than 30 vintage aircraft are showcased at the museum in two conjoined hangars that are over 60,000 square feet, providing ample opportunities for themed events for up to 1,500, or a stand-up reception for 800. Featured planes include WWII fighters, bombers, liaison trainers and executive aircraft, and as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, rental fees go right back to maintain the museum. The facility offers more than 50,000 square feet of exhibit space.
The Moody Mansion
This 28,000-square-foot, four-story venue offers 20 rooms to tour, and can be rented for receptions, meetings, dinners and other events. Highlights include a formal ballroom, a less-formal space on the ground level and a new garage exhibit area. Groups can also gather on its newly landscaped grounds and antique brick patio. The mansion was the family seat of the Moody family, which became one of the wealthiest in Texas from its financial, agriculture, ranching, insurance and hotel interests.
Galveston Island CVB
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