THE FERRY TO BOLIVAR PENINSULA,which you catch from Galveston’s northernmost point, is magical. It’s free; it runs 24/7; there’s rarely a wait; you can often see dolphins swimming alongside it; and, unlike some other ferries, you can hop out of your car to snap photos during the 20-minute ride. Much rougher than Galveston, which looks downright posh in comparison, the peninsula hasn’t fully recovered from decimation at the hands of Hurricane Ike. But it’s still a wonderful place to visit, with a wild-child, feral feel. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys fishing, building (legal) bonfires on the beach, and having a burger in a smoky bar, then the vibe is right for you.
This seven-mile community in the middle of the Bolivar Peninsula is the place to set up for a day on the beach; make sure to pick up a $10 tag. If you’ve got the kids, a visit to theFun Spot Waterslide,which opens up for the season Mother’s Day Weekend, is required.
This relaxed and friendly Crystal Beach joint offers live music through the warm months. Crab nachos, fried fish, and Karen’s Special—half a grilled pineapple with jumbo shrimp and mozzarella cheese—are the things to order.
The sanctuary on the western end of the peninsula is a designated Globally Important Bird Area—the highest honor—for the wide range of birds on view, the result of a unique topography that combines beach, mud flats, and salt marsh.
This man-made channel, set into the narrowest part of the peninsula, is celebrated as one of the state’s top spots for fishing. A wide array of species—red and black drum, speckled sea trout, and flounder, among them—come through here, traveling between the East Bay and the Gulf. But if you want to visit, better hurry; last year, after a long battle, Galveston County bought the surrounding land and announced plans to close the pass down, citing erosion of the peninsula.
Still not ready to head back? This decommissioned U.S. Army fort, located near the ferry port, is fun to explore. Completed in 1899 and severely damaged almost immediately, during the 1900 Hurricane, it underwent a WWII-era expansion that saw 2,500 troops stationed here. Today, visitors can explore its crumbling insides and climb its steep stairs to the roof for a breathtaking ocean view. Then it’s time to board the ferry and head back to reality.