by Andrea Guthmann
For over a century, the stately Hotel Galvez has reigned Queen of the Gulf, located in the Texas port town of Galveston. Named after Bernardo de GÃ¡lvez, the Spanish colonial governor who explored the coast of Texas and for whom the city was named, this grand dame has maintained a position of dignity and a reputation for old-world elegance, even as her surrounding neighborhood has fallen on hard times.
Sitting in the Adirondack chairs on the hotel’s majestic front lawn overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, it’s hard not to daydream about the glory days when Galveston was the grandest city in Texas. Today, it’s the summer beach playground for many residents of the ultra-modern Houston, just over an hour away. From the ornate lobby with its crown moldings and detailed stenciling, to the elegant mahogany bar and the graceful baby grand greeting visitors as they enter, Hotel Galvez pays tribute to Galveston’s important place in Texas history.
Galveston, in fact, has a stormy history. It was the site of one of the United States’ worst natural disasters, the hurricane of 1900 that killed over 6,000 people and destroyed just about every building along the coast. After the devastating hurricane, a consortium of local businessmen came together to build Hotel Galvez as a way to bring tourists back to Galveston Island. “Build it and they will come,” thought the investors… and they did.
Over the decades, numerous presidents and A-list celebrities have overnighted at Hotel Galvez. Their stories and many more are brought to life by the hotel’s gracious guest ambassador, Bobby Hilton. He’ll take you on a lively historical tour, pointing out what parts of the hotel are original, along with plenty of fun stories about the days when celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart and Sammy Davis Jr. stayed here. He’ll also share tales of presidential visits from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. If you can’t arrange a tour with Bobby, step down into the hotel’s Hall of History and check out the exhibit and archival photos.
Hotel Galvez isn’t just living in the past though. This iconic oceanfront property has undergone numerous facelifts over the years, adding luxury suites with ultra-modern bathrooms and refurbishing the restaurant, bar and lobby. The hotel pool is a tropical oasis with a poolside grill and swim-up bar in the warmer months. A luxurious spa built in 2008 houses modern treatment rooms, and a garden courtyard serves as a peaceful relaxation retreat. Hotel Galvez has done an impressive job of modernizing its amenities, while honoring its important place in history.
Hotel Galvez sits directly across the street from the Gulf of Mexico, and although Galveston doesn’t have the most picturesque beaches, strolling along the city’s famed seawall, built after the hurricane of 1900, makes for a fun walk. Just two blocks away is Galveston’s fun-filled Pleasure Pier. Reminiscent of Coney Island, this old-fashioned boardwalk is filled with amusement park games and rides, including a Ferris wheel and roller coaster.
Galveston’s charming historic district, known as The Strand, is only a five-minute drive away. The pedestrian-friendly Strand makes for a pleasant afternoon stroll with its unique boutiques, candy shops and brightly colored Victorian-era buildings. To help you make the most of your stay, a complimentary hotel town car will whisk you in style to the local destination of your choice.
Our Editor Loves
- Historic hotel
- Beach across the street
- Elegant, tropically landscaped pool
- Onsite Dining
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There's a push-pull between tradition and modernity felt throughout the hotel. There are unique, original, turn-of-the-century elements like the ornate mailbox in the lobby, but there are also flat screen TV's in all the rooms. Over the last century, the rooms have been updated repeatedly, most recently in 2011, when they were given new bedding and windows were replaced. Still, much of the guestroom furniture seems a bit worn. Our room's pullout sofa was torn in certain areas and was missing the actual mattress. We had to call room service to have them deliver two rollaway beds instead. Also, being a historic hotel, the rooms are a bit smaller.
Standard rooms come with two double beds or one king and fit four people, but you can request a rollaway bed for a one-time fee. Tip: The hotel won't typically let you put a fifth person in the room if you book online. Instead, you'll have to call the hotel directly. Cribs are available free of charge.
The hotel's Parlor Suites are also designed for four people, but have a separate bedroom with a king bed and a flat-screen TV. The parlor (or living room) has a pullout double sofa and a flat-screen TV as well. Families larger than five would need to request adjoining rooms. Tip: Rooms in the center of the building, towards the elevator, are slightly bigger.
If you're looking for a luxurious modern bathroom (and who isn't?), choose a room on the 6th floor. All of the 6th floor rooms have modern spa-like rain showers, but no bathtubs. Gilchrist & Soames bath products complete the luxury bath experience.
Every room contains a flat-screen TV, coffee maker, ice bucket, mini-fridge, blow dryer, shampoo, conditioner and soap. The hotel will provide a complimentary razor, toothbrush, toothpaste or hairbrush upon request.
We had a great stay with Hotel Galvez. Thank you for having us! The hotel is at a prime location right across the street from the beach and right down from the pier. The food was great, the buffet is AMAZING. The poolside Cabana was a great touch as well. The boys got to watch football while the girls relaxed by the pool. Overall a great stay.
The hotel and grounds are absolutely fabulous. Easy walk to the beach and restaurants and bars.
The staff is very friendly and attentive to all your needs.
We rented a cabana poolside during our stay and we were blown away by our pool attendant Kelly Spinelli. This guy is the hardest worker I have ever seen. We never wanted for anything as he took great care of us and made our day very enjoyable!
Hotel Galvez does not have a children's club, but if a vacation filled with opportunities for family bonding via boredom-busting activities appeals to you, you're in the right place.
The pool area is elegant and tropically landscaped. There's a tiered fountain flowing into the free form pool and plush furniture set up in patio areas for everyone to enjoy. There's a large Jacuzzi as well, and plenty of lounge chairs and towels. In the warmer months, you'll enjoy the poolside grill and swim-up bar.
The beach is right across the street from the hotel and although it's not the most scenic stretch of sand, it still makes for a fun couple of hours with the kids. Make sure to stop by the iconic souvenir shop, Murdoch's Pier, just a block away. Destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008, it was rebuilt one year later, and serves as a symbol of Galveston's rebirth after the costliest natural disaster in Texas history.
Walk one block further down Seawall Boulevard and you'll be at the fun-filled Pleasure Pier. It's the Coney Island of Galveston Island -- an old-fashioned amusement park on a wooden pier extending over the Gulf of Mexico. There are plenty of carnival games and rides, including a roller coaster and Ferris wheel.
Hotel Galvez has complimentary adult beach cruiser bicycles for guests. A local bike shop will bring children's bikes over for a small fee. A great place to ride is Stuart Beach. Just two miles away, it's a kid-friendly beach with a playground. If you don't want to ride the bikes, the complimentary hotel town car will gladly give you a ride.
Other great family activities include a visit to Moody Gardens, a massive tourist complex made up of a zoo, botanical gardens, an IMAX theatre and a discovery museum, all housed in enormous glass pyramids. You can also dive into the fun at Galveston's massive indoor waterpark, the Schlitterbahn.
You can save money by just enjoying Galveston's charming historic district, The Strand. Take a stroll and enjoy the colorful painted ladies and other historic buildings that keep the area's Victorian heyday alive. Historic street markers are plentiful, making it easy for tourists to learn a lot during a self-guided tour of the area. Be sure to stop at La Kings, an old-fashioned ice cream and confectionary shop. The Strand is lined with plenty of these mom-and-pop candy shops and souvenir stores.
Interested in Galveston's maritime history? Make sure to stop by the Texas Seaport Museum, where you can tour the restored 1877 tall ship, Elissa. Kids might get a kick out of the "PIRATES! Legends of the Gulf Coast" pirate museum.
History buffs will enjoy touring the town on the electric bus, run by the Galveston Historical Foundation. Another great way to get a glimpse into the grandeur of Galveston's past is a visit to the Ashton Villa, an 1859 mansion. Admission is $6 for adults and the tours run on the hour between noon and 4 p.m.
Hotel Galvez has an elegant restaurant, Bernardo's, in its lobby. The only onsite restaurant (except for warmer months when the poolside grill is open), it serves a nice mix of locally inspired dishes, such as a Texas cobb salad, shrimp po' boy sandwich and tequila chicken quesadilla, as well as your typical children's menu of pizza, burgers, chicken fingers and hot dogs. There are also healthy options on the kids' menu, including chicken soup and fruit salad. Bernardo's provides high chairs, booster seats, crayons and coloring pages.
The breakfast buffet at Bernardo's is terrific any day of the week, and includes an omelet bar and oatmeal bar with a variety of dried fruits and spiced nuts. But the Sunday brunch is legendary. The champagne brunch includes a meat carving station, omelet and waffle stations, cocktail shrimp and crab legs, and a decadent dessert table.
Food is also available via room service, at an additional charge.
If you want to eat along the beach, walk a few blocks down Seawall Boulevard to Fish Tales. It has a fun beachfront balcony and specializes in seafood straight from the Gulf of Mexico.
In the mood for crawfish or jambalaya? Walk just a few more blocks to Benno's on the Beach (1200 Seawall Blvd). Benno's is a casual family restaurant specializing in Cajun seafood.
Planning & Tips
There's a fitness center with plenty of equipment (but no fitness classes) in the lower level of the hotel, adjacent to the spa.
A charming gift shop sells everything from T-shirts to beach toys and sunscreen.
The hotel has complimentary self-parking in a lot across the street, or you can choose to valet.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel. Don't want to bring your laptop? A complimentary business center features two complimentary computers and a printer for guest use. The front desk is also happy to fax anything you need sent.
The Art of Smart Timing
Summer is high season for Galveston, when everyone in Houston is looking for a way to escape the heat. Late August through September and October is hurricane season. Although the Gulf waters in the winter are chilly, air temperatures can still be in the 60's and 70's, making for a pleasant winter vacation.
In October, the hotel offers ghost tours of the property, a ticketed event that books up months in advance.
Galveston is one hour and fifteen minutes from George Bush International Airport in Houston, and 45 minutes from the smaller Houston Hobby. If you are driving from George Bush Airport, take John F. Kennedy Boulevard to Greens Road and follow it eastward to Route 59 South. Route 59 will cross Interstate 45. Take I-45 south to Galveston and cross the bridge to Galveston Island. Turn left onto Seawall Boulevard. Hotel Galvez will be on your left at 2024 Seawall Blvd.
For Mom and Dad
The best relaxation for parents is a couple's massage in the luxurious Spa at Hotel Galvez. This is pampering at its finest. Built in 2008, this 10,000-square-foot spa features luxurious treatment rooms, a charming outdoor relaxation/meditation courtyard and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms. Enjoy the complimentary champagne in the courtyard as you wait for your massage.
Another great way for mom and dad to enjoy some alone time is in the hotel's elegant bar. While enjoying your favorite drink accompanied by the graceful sounds of jazz from the musician at the baby grand, drink in the history as well. Ask the bartender about the ornate hand-carved wood at the bar, which comes from the Old Galveston Club, considered Galveston's last speakeasy.