Setting: Founded in 1838, Galveston occupies most of a narrow, 30-mile-long barrier island. Houston is 47 miles north via I-45. A 17-foot-high, 10.4-mile-long concrete seawall protects against storms. Population: 57,247.
Attractions: It's close to Houston's urban diversions yet far enough away to have a distinctive, history-steeped personality and small-town feel. The weather is temperate (although hot and humid in summer), making water sports, including fishing and boating, enjoyable most of the year. Festivals such as Dickens on the Strand at Christmas and Mardi Gras in February or March keep winter months active.
Drawbacks: Tourists in summer and raucous revelers during spring break line the seawall. Hurricane season runs June through November. Despite current growth, sections of the city remain poor, and the drug trade thrives in some areas.
Housing Options: The East End Historic District is largely settled, although properties can be found. The middle parts of the island have more options, as do the Moody Gardens and Offatts Bayou areas. Condos are readily available along the seawall.
Your Next-door Neighbors: Lots of lawyers, business executives, artists, and doctors. The island is a long-standing weekend and summer retreat for big players from Houston.
What It Costs: "A fixer-upper in the East End Historic District recently went for $80,000 but took another $125,000 to refurbish. Older homes in mid-island have asking prices in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, and sometimes higher. In the newer Lafitte's Cove estates off Bayside, on the western side, prices start at about $300,000. Lofts in the Strand are almost all rental rather than purchase, at about $1 per square foot.
Where You'd Spend Free Time: Along the seawall, joining or watching skaters, joggers, bikers, and strollers. Dining on fresh shrimp, snapper, or other seafood at such restaurants as Gaido's and Clary's. Or lingering at DiBella's Italian Restaurant, a local institution. You'll visit the Strand often, to cruise the shops and admire ships along the docks, including the 1877-vintage Elissa at the Texas Seaport Museum. Children love Moody Gardens, with an IMAX theater and aquarium.