So you're thinking of moving to Galveston? To that, I say, welcome! I hope you choose to be a part of this unique island community. However, before you make the big decision, I want to share with you some things I wish I had known before moving to Galveston. I hope these tips make the transition easier and help you consider things you haven't thought of yet.
Quick note, these are just my personal opinions. If you can, I highly recommend visiting Galveston before you move to get your perspective and talk with some other residents. Everyone will have valuable information to offer!
If you don't see something you think should be on the list or have more questions before moving, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the island is small and relatively easy to get around, certain locations, for example, are ideal, depending on what you're moving here for. For example, consider living closer to the school on the island's east end if you're a student. However, if you live on the west side, you will fight traffic on Seawall and Broadway, about a 15-20 minute daily commute to school.
Here are some pros and cons of each location:
Pros: The further west you go, the more quiet and peaceful the island is. This side is mostly beach houses owned by locals or long-time rental owners. Here the water is beautiful, and you avoid a lot of the tourism from Seawall.
Cons: When you pass Jimmy's On The Pier, you are starting to enter the more rural part of Galveston. Past this point, there are not many restaurants or things to do. If you live on the West End, you will have to primarily take the road on Seawall to get to anything on the island, which can become very congested during tourist season.
Pros: Close to popular restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and shops. You can primarily walk or bike to anything in this area. Overall, it's safe since this location is where many tourists come in and out. Good area for UTMB students to look into living.
Cons: It can get noisy due to the popular location. Because it is a high-traffic area for cruise ships, Harborside Drive can get stopped up on the weekends. Living in this area might be a bit more expensive compared to other parts of the island.
Pros: Popular area for UTMB students, doctors, and residents to live. Close to downtown proximity without having to live in it—good neighborhoods for families and homeowners in this location. If you are close enough to the hospital, you will be on their electricity grid (perfect for storm season).
Cons: Unlike downtown, you will probably have to drive to get to most of the island. Certain areas are more developed than others, so the location's safety can vary.
Pros: Within 5-10 minutes of everything on the island. Great for people with jobs closer to Seawall side. It can be more quiet and away from island buzz.
Cons: Some areas are more developed than others which can be very hit-or-miss for safety. Many Airbnb or vacation rentals will be on the central part of the island, significantly the closer you get to Seawall. Will need to drive to most places.
#2 House, Apartment, or Loft
Before moving to the island, ask yourself if you want to buy/rent and what style of living you want. Here's what you should know:
House: We all know the housing market has been crazy lately, and that's no exception to Galveston. One thing to note when looking for a home is that some houses are older and/or historical. There are few "new builds" unless you're looking for a beach house or upscale remodel. Due to rental costs, many students will find a place to live and share as roommates. If you're a family looking for a home, there are some great spots near the ferry/marina on the East End, near or/in Evia Main, or the Historic District.
Apartment: There are apartment options on the island, but I will be the first to warn that not all apartments are the same. Apartments complexes in Galveston can look different than your city complexes because some allow Airbnb while others do not. If this is something that is important for you to avoid, be sure to ask the leasing office what their policies are on short-term rentals. Here are some apartment complexes some of my personal friends have lived in and enjoyed: The Club of the Isle, Waterfront Apartments Galveston, USNB Apartments, and Port Aux Princes.
Loft: Before moving to Galveston, I did not realize how many loft-style apartments there were. This is especially true for the downtown area or large homes with guest houses in the back or living quarters above garages. Not all of these are listed online because many locals find them through word of mouth or just put a sign up in the windows. Go walk around in the area of the island you may be interested in looking at and see if you spot any "for rent" signs in the first-story windows, or ask a local business owner if they know of any available. Another option is joining local Facebook groups dedicated to buying, selling, or renting properties. They may be listed in a FB group vs. an apartment hunting website.
#3 Hidden Costs
We all know that there are usually hidden costs to everything. That is why I will share some of the expenses I wish I had known about before living in Galveston.
Parking: Unfortunately, if you choose to live in an apartment complex or loft, there is a good chance you will have to pay for parking in addition to your rent. This is especially true if you live in the downtown or seawall area. You must pay to park on the street in both places, whether a resident or visitor. There are parking lots and garages that offer monthly parking options. However, know they all have different pricing, so shop around. For example, the garage we parked in our first year increased from $115 a month per car to $175 a month per car. We checked with the lot across the street, and they had parking for $100 a month per car. So when considering where to live, know what parking is available and add that cost into your budget.
Flood Insurance: Because Galveston is an island, there is a higher risk of flooding and hurricanes. This should be considered when looking at flood insurance for your house or car. When my husband and I were looking for places to live, we thought renting a home would be cheaper than an apartment. However, when we looked at our rent and the cost of our house's flood insurance, we realized we could move into a luxury apartment for the same price (which didn't require us to have flood insurance). And to complicate things more, some insurance companies won't cover houses or cars in this area because of the high risk. So if you are considering living here, be sure you know what your insurance will and won't cover + what the rates will be. You might find that you can afford a better place that doesn't require insurance than a cheaper place that does.
#4 Small Town Feel with a Big City Buzz
Galveston is unique because it can feel like a small town when you live here. You may start running into people you know at restaurants or coffee shops, or your best friend knows someone's brother who is your neighbor. This is great for building friendships or business connections, plus most people living here are extremely friendly.
However, something is always going on because it is a vacation location. Almost every weekend, you can expect some events to be happening. Some of the more popular ones include Mardi Gras, Shrimp Festival, Sandcastle Building Weekend, Surf Competitions, animal parades, bar crawls, and more! If you're ever bored here, it's your fault. Also, with people coming and going from out of town, you can be assured that not every place you go will be filled with just people you know. As someone who came from a small central Texas town, this aspect has been refreshing! Here you have a small-town feel with a big-city atmosphere.
Though I've already mentioned throughout the post that certain areas are safer than others, one common misconception I hear from outsiders is "Galveston isn't safe." While I wish I could say there is no crime, that would be a lie. However, crime is in any city you move to, and it's all about staying smart. Most days I feel perfectly fine walking outside by myself on the beach, downtown, or on The Strand. However, I would not walk anywhere alone after 11 PM in the dark...but I wouldn't do that in any city I am in. If you are concerned about what areas are safe to live in it, call the local Galveston Police non-emergency line and ask them about the crime rate in the location you're looking at. That can give you a better idea of your new home's safety. Pro Tip: I found this company that specializes in discrete stylish smart jewelry called InvisaWear. The jewelry Bluetooths to your phone so if you press it then it texts your emergency numbers, tracks your location, and can call 911. I wear mine all the time no matter where I go, and you can get 10% off your purchase with the code BrookersM.
#6 Resident Population
While I might get a little pushback from this take, I believe there are about four types of people that live on the island. 1. Students (35%) 2. BOI (Born on Island) Business Owners (35%) 3. Medical Professionals (20%) 4. Professionals (10%).
UTMB is the only major medical facility in Galveston, meaning many nurses, doctors, techs, etc., live and work here. UTMB also has major student programs such as nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician, and public health. All of these programs can be between 1 - 4 years. That means students are constantly moving to and off the island every year.
While not ALL business owners were born on the island, many have lived here their whole life. They pride themselves in being BOI and have made a living by opening a restaurant, boutique, art gallery, visitor tours, rentals, etc. These individuals can tell you all about how Galveston has changed over the years, storm stories and places to visit that are off the beaten path.
Professionals not in the medical or tourist industry can be harder to come by. Usually, these people are significant others of people who are in those industries or individuals just looking for a slower pace of life from the hustle and bustle of the city. Since I fall into that category, I can tell you that this niche group may be the smallest of the island's population, but it is great for networking! Places like Marmo or organizations like the Galveston Chamber of Commerce hold events for professionals to get to know one another.
#6 History & Art
I had never visited Galveston before moving here. However, I learned quickly that this little island has a big history, and the people here are very proud of it! Prior to 1900, this town was considered the "Vegas" of America before the infamous Issac Storm hit it. This hurricane killed almost the entire population and is still known to be America's worst storm. Galveston is also a significant location for black history, as it is known for civil war battles and where the Emancipation Proclamation was first read. Other notable history includes Karankawa Indians, Pirates like French Jean Lafitte, and immigration. To learn more about Galveston's rich history, check out Galveston Unscripted, the world's largest free museum.
Galveston residents are very proud of the architecture that has been preserved over the years that reflect its rich history. Driving around the Historic District, The Strand, and Broadway, you can see old Victorian-style homes and buildings. In addition, many cemeteries have old gravestones and mausoleums that are filled with people with unique stories. Kathleen Mama gives graveyard tours that tell you more about the resting place of these beloved island residents. I highly recommend taking the time to go on a tour.
The art scene is popping in this area of the Gulf Coast! Throughout the island, you will see murals painted by local artists on the side of buildings, in alleyways, or art galleries. When you arrive over the Causeway Bridge, you will see the work of Gabriel Prusmak. Just one popular artist creates pieces in Galveston. Downtown, many galleries rotate art, vintage clothing stores, and antique furniture shops. In addition, the Artist Lofts, above The Proletariat, often has events or workshops for creatives, like poetry night, open mic night, and story-telling competitions.
And mark your calendars because every six weeks, Galveston has Art Walk! During this event, shops and galleries stay open late and provide complimentary drinks and snacks as visitors stroll the streets. Usually, there is tons of live music and happy vibes on these nights! You won't want to miss one.
#7 Spooky Stories
With Galveston's rich history also comes some spooky stories. Galveston is known as one of America's most haunted places. Some houses and lofts are known to have supernatural tenants, but don't worry; many living residents say more are friendly and harmless than those not. Almost all of the business owners on The Strand and Airbnb owners of The Historic District have some ghost stories to tell. If you are worried about sharing a space with a spirit, research your building (I checked mine before I moved in, lol! It was built after the storm, so I felt good about signing the lease). Many local mediums and priests have performed rituals and prayers in homes to help people cleanse their living spaces! So this is another option if you feel uneasy in your new space.
In the fall, Galveston is full of visitors enjoying Ghost tours. So if you want something fun to do, play tourist and sign up for one. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, it's a great way to hear about some of the more historical locations on the island.
#8 Food & Drinks
The island is mainly filled with mom-and-pop restaurants and bars. This helps keep residents' small businesses alive; however, we have some fast food options. Grocery and liquor stores can be limited, but almost anything not on the island can be found about 30 minutes inland if needed.
Fast food: Whataburger, McDonald's, Sonic, Panda Express, Hooters, Shipley's Donuts, Taco Bell. Jack-in-the-Box, KFC, Burger King, Ben and Jerry's, and Domino's Pizza. Other than that, everything is primarily local spots.
Grocery stores: Kroger, Randalls, Arlan's, and Walmart. There is an HEB in Texas City which is about 25 minutes away. The closest SAM's is in La Marque, 30 minutes away, and Costco is in Webster, 40 minutes away. There are also locally owned grocery stores throughout the island, but their prices are usually a bit higher and their selection is smaller. But you are supporting a local business and can avoid some of the chaos big groceries stores can bring.
Liquor Stores: Spec's, Frankie's. 10th Street, and Ferry Liquor.
Similar to food and drinks, there are many locally owned stores. There is not a Galveston mall nor any major department stores...unless you include Target. The boutiques on the island are pretty trendy, and there are various price-range options. However, for major retail stores, most residents will make the 30-minute drive to Baybrook Mall. There are also quite a few resale and thrift stores between Galveston and Houston, which is popular among island locals.
#10 Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
There will be people who say Galveston is ugly and boring, and maybe for them, it is. And guess what? That's okay! Every place is not for everyone. However, the more you learn about the island's history, make an effort to know the locals, get involved in organizations, and attend events, the more likely you will enjoy the island. It truly is up to you to make the best out of where you live. Don't let others' opinions deter you from soaking up all the Galveston has to offer. Only you can decide if this island is the place you want to call home.