Birding, beachcombing and basking in the sunsets all add to peninsula’s charm
Just a ferry ride from Galveston, Bolivar Peninsula is a beach community experience all its own. It’s a beautiful strip of Texas Coast full of history and surprises. We asked writer Valerie Wells and her husband to spend a day on the peninsula.
8:30 a.m. The car is packed and we wait in line for a Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry at 1000 Ferry Road, Galveston. The free ride over the water to Bolivar Peninsula is a short adventure in itself, with seagulls flocking astern and an occasional pelican floating nearby. We keep a lookout for dolphins, which are frequently spotted by ferry passengers. It’s a 2.7-mile trip and takes about 18 minutes to cross one of the busiest waterways in the world.
8:50 a.m. Just about the time we climbed to the ferry’s upper deck, it’s already about to dock. We get to the car, wait our turn to drive off and head along state Highway 87. The first thing we notice is the Bolivar Point Lighthouse. Its dark metal exterior dominates the landscape, and three egrets pose in the narrow body of water between the lighthouse and the highway. The privately owned lighthouse is not open to the public.
9 a.m. We stop to read a historical marker about Jane Long, a pioneer woman. By 1820, she had joined her husband, James, at Bolivar Point, where they established an outpost in an effort to help free Texas from Spanish rule. When James Long left Bolivar Point on an excursion in September 1821, Jane was expecting another child. She stayed behind and vowed to remain at the fort until his return. The plan failed, however, when James was captured and later “accidentally” killed in Mexico City, according to historians.
A pregnant Jane Long was home at Bolivar Point with her daughter and a slave. They endured a particularly harsh winter and the threat of Indians. In the midst of such difficulties, Jane Long gave birth to a baby girl, which led to her honorary title of “Mother of Texas.”
9:20 a.m. We find Third Coast Coffee, 1136 state Highway 87. It’s a drive-through shop on a little man-made mountain, but has earned some praise for coffee, pastries and a friendly owner. We drive up the steep hill, get our java fix and hit the road.
9:30 a.m. We head to High Island, which is about another 30 miles along state Highway 87. We make up a list of 87 things we love about Highway 87 that starts with five egrets we see.
10 a.m. Birding is big on Bolivar Peninsula. International birders travel here to see the vast expanses of woods and marshland that provide sanctuary to migrating birds. We travel to High Island to see birds because we heard about the adorable hatchlings. The Houston Audubon Society has several sanctuaries here. The Smith Oaks Sanctuary, 2205 Old Mexico Road, is one of them. The entry fee to the sanctuary is $8 a person.
11:30 a.m. We pull over from the highway right on the beach, and we’re the only people at this moment at this spot. The waves call, and we wade in the water a little bit. We walk along the shore and find larger seashells and even complete ones. We bend and inspect and compare shells. No shark teeth here today. It’s legal to drive on Bolivar Peninsula beaches, but the only drivers we see are on Highway 87.
12:45 p.m. We’re hungry and decide to pick up some food at The Big Store, 2385 state Highway 87, a must-see for anyone visiting Bolivar Peninsula. It’s really three stores in one — a hardware store, a souvenir shop and a grocery store. I lose my husband to the hardware for a short time, just long enough for me to find a requisite seashell necklace for my niece. At the deli, we pick up some fried chicken, cold drinks and napkins.
1:30 p.m. We head to Fort Travis Seashore Park, which is almost all the way back to the ferry landing and near the Jane Long marker. You have to take 10th Street in Port Bolivar all the way to the Gulf of Mexico to get to the fort, which is now a Galveston County park. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic. We walk across large green fields with four historic batteries to sit at a picnic table by the seawall. Several large ships are entering the channel. We can see the lighthouse from here, too. After we eat, we walk around the old Army fort and read the interpretive signs.
2:45 p.m. We debate about what to do next. We could go to the North Jetty Bait Shop, 802 17th St., Port Bolivar, and ask about the best place to fish in the afternoon. We saw a lot of folks at Rollover Pass, so maybe that’s an option. And we’d have to get some basic gear.
2:47 p.m. We make a firm decision to get ice cream instead.
We had passed by Ritas & Cream, 1945 state Highway 87, so we knew where to go for a couple of scoops. Like many things on the peninsula, this place isn’t what it seems. It’s not just an ice cream parlor, it’s also a pizza joint. We sit on the big porch and enjoy our ice cream.
3:45 p.m. Like most serene beach communities, Bolivar Peninsula attracts artists. We stopped at Gallery by the Gulf, an artist cooperative and art gallery, 1980 state Highway 87. Artist Charlotte Stirling, a member of the Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation, runs the gallery. About seven artists are on the cooperative side, which offers display and workspace. It’s the only art gallery on Bolivar Peninsula — the last one was wiped out by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
4:30 p.m. Checked into our Crystal Beach rental house. It’s just a couple of blocks from the Gulf. We walk past the sand dunes and look for shells. I hope today is the lucky day I find some sea glass or a whole sand dollar. We sit in our camp chairs and just stare at the Gulf. This is our living room.
6 p.m. We get ready for dinner at Stingaree Restaurant & Marina, 1295 N. Stingaree Road, Crystal Beach. The restaurant is a favorite among locals and visitors for its fresh seafood and its views. Our plan is to get a window seat for the best view of the sunset. I opt for the grilled seafood platter and a Stingarita, a margarita with fizz. A barge pushes by us on the waterway, a busy highway of its own. We take our time pulling crabmeat out of the shells while we wait to see the stunning sunset.
8 p.m. Nightcap anyone? We stop by Ship’s Wheel, 1271 state Highway 87, the place to go if you want to experience what some locals call old-time Crystal Beach. The Ship’s Wheel is one of the few longtime bars left on Bolivar Peninsula. Most of the older places were washed away by Hurricane Ike. Drinks are good and so is the vibe in a place where local shrimpers mingle happily with vacationers.
9 p.m. We sit on the deck of our rental house and look at the stars and ships and talk a long time.
7:30 a.m. Rise and shine!
For breakfast, we stop at Dannay’s Donuts, 2124 state Highway 87, which came highly recommended by locals. Dannay’s is more than doughnuts, offering up a menu of savory items, including ham, egg and cheese on a crescent roll.
It was a nice start to the end of our peninsula visit.