Galveston’s most remarkable characteristic, and a prominent reason its history is studied so extensively, is its ability to evolve often despite notable resistance. As a town that has always been influenced by visitors whether immigrants, international tradesmen, or tourists, this ability to transition and accommodate the trends of the world is not merely a side effect—it is a necessity.
One concept that has recently garnered both momentum and resistance equally is that of micro-mobility—a catch-all term for alternate modes of transportation including golf carts, scooters, mopeds, electric bikes, and motorized skateboards. Although some concerns have been raised over safety, which are easily rectifiable with more comprehensive regulation and enforcement for the operation of these vehicles, the underlying approach to the subject often portrays a frustration over the inconvenience they pose for residents.
This is a precarious mindset given that Galveston’s trademark as a resort destination was decided upon over a century ago; this requires constant innovation to keep up with the trends of the public. But more decidedly, this perspective does not consider the elevated island experience that micro-mobility provides, one that promises to enrich and increase visitation, prompt repeat visits, and give more exposure to the myriad of Galveston’s offerings.
The island’s most sought-out elixir and the main ingredient that binds all its attractions together is that vibrant concoction of fresh air, nature, and sunshine. An electric bike offers a much more potable dose than a car.
Most visitors can only sit on the beach for so long, and then what? Usually, the answer is to get up, get in the car, and go straight to the hotel, a restaurant, or even home.
But what if that time outdoors (and away from screens) can be expanded, while at the same time increasing the visibility of Galveston’s amazing architecture and downtown cultural district? What if there is a way to provide fun in the journey, not merely the destination?
Most importantly, the minds behind this new wave in tourist transportation are small business owners—the heartbeat of Galveston’s economy. The only thing more notable than their entrepreneurial skills are their sincere efforts to make micro-mobility as safe as possible.
No matter the number of rules or regulations, these owner/operators are fully cognizant of the fact that they are the most vital component in the education and safety of their customers and other drivers.
Each of them arrived here with big ambitions and even bigger ideas, and they work everyday using their creative capacities and genuine affection for Galveston, both to enhance the island experience for visitors and drive a broader vision for the future of our city.
“What a treasure this island is,” says Bert Dagnon of Saltwater Gift Shop. “I grew up on the east coast of Maryland, so I am familiar with coastal living, and there is almost nothing like Galveston anywhere in the United States. If we see Galveston and value it for what it is, it can (and has been) an economic engine. Sometimes, we tend to see the Boulevard as a thoroughfare, and it’s not, especially from April to September. We need to consider that maybe cars shouldn’t have [priority] on the Seawall.”
Bert attests that the vast popularity of his rentals is evidence that this is what visitors want, and it is by meeting modern demands that Galveston assures one of its main assets—visitors—will be there in the future.
Brett and Veronica Von Blon have been together for 39 years, and they have worked together for 37 of those. Most recently, they owned a commercial landscaping and homebuilding business which they sold to their two kids after deciding they needed a new adventure.
“It was COVID, really, that did all of this,” says Brett, gesturing to their extensive inventory of 1920s Model-T replica golf carts, shiny and gleaming and looking perfectly at home inside a building on the historic Strand.
The couple has had a weekend home in Galveston since 2013 and moved their business and permanent residence here two-and-a-half years ago. “We had just sold the last home we built, out at the Reserve at Grand Beach on the East End, in February of 2020, right before COVID struck,” Brett shares, remembering that he and Veronica both had a similar response when the reality of the situation began to sink in.
“We looked at each other and said—do we really want to keep doing this?”
Their weekend house turned full-time home happened to be located nearby a golf cart rental business. “We would always see the carts coming and going, so it seemed like a good business to get into,” Brett says.
“But we wanted to do something different.” Veronica began to look around online and discovered the antique replica carts, recognizing immediately what a perfect fit they would be for historic downtown.
They contacted the manufacturer, but it was a sizable investment and one that could not be undertaken sight unseen, and so, they located a rental business in Gettysburg.
“We flew to Washington, D.C., in June of 2020!” Brett says incredulously, indicating that not even the pandemic could contain their curiosity and interest. It proved to be well-founded.
The antique-style carts are undeniable showstoppers at the first glance. They combine the whimsy of nostalgia with modern innovation to create an unforgettable experience that fits seamlessly into Galveston’s historic culture. They elicit images of Galveston’s Prohibition-Era heyday when the island oozed with 1920s and 30s Hollywood glamour.
Especially combined with the return of the trolley railcars, Galveston’s downtown seems poised to be a living tableau of yesteryear—a wildly fun and immersive sight for any visitor—punctuated by sounds of the delightful “Ahooga” horn featured on every Carriage Haus cart.
The carts are well-made, easy and enjoyable to drive, and they are entirely electric which provides a green mode of transportation for visitors. They are not built on a golf cart frame but rather on a John Deer Tractor chassis, and for this reason, they are quite larger and sturdier than a normal golf cart.
As a built-in safety precaution, the carts are governed to 20-21mph, and they also have doors that offer added safety especially for children. Available in 5-seater and 8-seater, the rear seats are large enough to accommodate child car seats as well, which Carriage Haus now has available if walk-up customers do not have convenient access to their own.
Available in an array of colors both historic and modern, customers can choose their color depending on availability.
For a personal touch and an homage to those closest to them, Veronica and Brett named each of the vehicles after their children and grandchildren.
As for the name, Carriage Haus, the original idea was to secure an actual historic carriage house for their brick and mortar. “That didn’t work out,” says Veronica. “But I still wanted to carry over the name to keep with that historic theme.”
Carriage Haus is located at 2007 Strand Street, open M-Sa 10am-7pm and Sun 12-7pm. Walk-ups or online reservations, delivery not available. Must be 25 years or older with a valid driver’s license to operate the vehicles. 2, 3, 4-hour and daily rates available, no overnight rental. Carts cannot be taken/delivered to the west end or used on beaches.
For more information or to make a reservation, call 409.572.9797 or visit CarriageHausRentals.com.
SALTWATER GIFT SHOP
Bert Dagnon started his first business when he was 13 years old. A couple of years later, he launched a vitamin nutrient supplement company that he operated for 35 years until it was purchased by United Natural Foods (UNFI), the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor of health and specialty food in the U.S. and Canada.
Thus it is really no surprise that he took a struggling seaside gift shop that he won in a poker game (true story) and in less than two years, has turned it into a monolith of Seawall Boulevard.
His girlfriend and business partner Brianna Lancaster deserves ample credit as well. “It was always her dream to own a business, so she kind of drug me out of retirement to do this,” he laughs.
“Originally, I had big plans for the inside of the store. I was going to change almost everything,” Bert remembers. “But after a while, it grew on me.”
Indeed, the interior of the store certainly earns its self-proclaimed moniker, “The Cutest Little Gift Shop in Galveston.” It is charming and tropical with bright, sunshine-colored walls and a kaleidoscopic inventory of beach necessities and keepsakes.
Instead, the source of Bert’s expansion and vision took its place outside on the sidewalk, where innumerable electric and motorized vehicles, as well as traditional bikes and surreys, sit in anticipation of providing an extended outdoor experience for island visitors.
Saltwater’s massive inventory currently includes 6 golf carts; 12 “Fat Boys,” electric scooters with oversized tires; 12 mopeds that are 49cc and require only a regular, valid drivers license (not a motorcycle license), offered in partnership with Slingshot Rentals (below); 4 electric trikes that seat two people; 15 surreys for 2, 4, or 6 people; and traditional and tandem bikes.
Other novel options are Onewheels in Pint and XR versions, they blend gyroscopic auto-balancing technology with a go-cart tire to create a combination of a unicycle and a skateboard; motorized skateboards from Backfire, available in five different styles (short- and longboards), each with a wireless handheld remote; Mod Bikes, electric bikes styled like the old Harley Davidsons with three modes: pedal, pedal assist, or 100% powered; and Razor and Archer sit-down electric scooters.
And new this month, Saltwater will debut their newest offerings, 50cc/72V/2500amp electric Italian (Vespa-style) Mopeds that are fully street legal and will travel up to 45 mph.
This burgeoning wonderland of electric transport is not merely ambitious, it is the fulfillment of a growing demand—as evidenced by the line wrapped around the building during Spring Break. “People want options,” Bert affirms.
“And Galveston should be a place that encourages people to park their cars and get out and get mobile. It allows people to appreciate the environment, and it gives them more mobility. And the more places they see, the better experience they will have. With an extended range of mobility, they will go somewhere and see things that they cannot experience in a car.”
“More than anything, we are all about safety here,” he says. “We put them on the vehicle and make sure they are comfortable. There has been more than one occasion where we have told the customer it was not right for them. Sometimes people have what I call ‘vacation immunity,’” he laughs.
“’Nothing bad can happen to me! I’m on vacation!’ So we stay aware of that and ensure that they can properly operate the vehicle before it leaves the sidewalk.”
Saltwater Gift Shop is located at 1728 Seawall Boulevard, open every day from 10am-9pm. Must be 21 years or older with a valid driver’s license to rent a golf cart, 18 and up for all other options. Multiple rate options vary for each vehicle.
Safety consultation, maps outlining permissible roadways for vehicles, and operational information and laws are provided to each customer. For more information, call 409.497.2571 or visit SalwaterGiftShop.com.
Already established business owners with a construction and restoration company that specializes in disaster recovery, Tiffany and Jesse Gibson immediately realized the demand for golf carts when they moved to Galveston in 2019.
“We were living in Minnesota the twelve years prior to moving here,” Tiffany explains. “And while we were planning the move, I told my husband, ‘We need to get a golf cart. That’s what they do down there right? Have golf carts?’” she laughs.
“So we bought a golf cart, and everywhere we went, people would ask us about it,” she says. “We were asked numerous times if it was available to rent,” adds Jesse. “It got to a point where it was constantly rented out.” Then, one of their kids came to visit, and they could not find a single golf cart available to rent for him anywhere on the island.
“Aside from our other company, we knew we wanted to put roots down here,” says Tiffany. “And this seemed like a fun business that was obviously in demand, but we had no idea it was going to take off like it did.” Beachin’ Rides started out with three rental carts in October 2020. Their inventory now numbers 35.
The Gibsons did know, however, that they wanted a product that was a cut above the typical golf cart. Their first cart was a custom rebuild produced in Minnesota, so they decided to keep with this concept so that every cart would be uniquely theirs. Beachin’ Rides primarily purchases Yamaha 4-seater golf carts, and they are now built locally by On Point Restoration.
“They are all pretty new. The oldest cart by far we have ever rebuilt was 4 years old,” Jesse explains. The carts are then completely rebuilt—taken apart, given new bodies, new tires, vibrant paint jobs, and added amenities like stereos and seatbelts.
“We also want to maintain a certain standard,” Jesse continues. “We always work to keep them clean and well-maintained.”
Tiffany adds, “We did not want them to feel like rental carts. At first, I didn’t want to put any signage on them at all, but that was not a good business plan: we get a lot of business from the carts themselves, people calling the number. So, we did end up putting signage on them, but it is minimal. We definitely didn’t want big ‘Rent Me’ signs on the front.”
Through the excitement of designing and offering a superior product, Tiffany notes that their primary concern has always been safety. Each customer is given safety training, and they do not allow more people in the carts than the number of seatbelts. They also provide maps and operational guidelines in every carts.
Additionally, Jesse maintains that carts can help make the entire island experience safer. “The carts are more economical than cars, and they actually loosen traffic congestion,” Jesse maintains.
Like most people who find their forever home on the island, both Jesse and Tiffany are propelled not only by visitation but also the diverse community of local small businesses—which often become much more accessible with an outing on a Beachin’ Ride.
“We love our locals, we send them to local restaurants, we really push the local economy,” says Tiffany. Jesse points out that the maps that they provide both highlight approved roadways and offer insight to the island that their customers may not have had otherwise.
“When the mobility is there, with the maps, and the golf carts, it enriches the island experience for people,” Jesse says. “Not to mention, there is nothing wrong with slowing down a little,” says Tiffany. “We could all use a little of that.”
Beachin’ Rides is located at 2602 61st Street, open M-Sa from 9am-9pm, Sunday 9am-8pm. Drivers must be 25 years or older with a valid driver’s license to operate. Hourly, daily, and extended rental rates available.
Safety consultation, maps outlining permissible roadways for vehicles, and operational information and laws are provided to each customer. For more information, call 409.443.5321 or visit BeachinRides.com.
GALVESTON SLINGHSOT RENTALS
Day rental’s super flashy cousin—the Slingshot. Head-turning, eye-catching, and addicting, according to Galveston Slingshot Rentals owner Billy Wiesner.
“I love to drive them. I probably drive a Slingshot more than I drive my regular car,” he admits. “They are so fun to drive, and they handle so well, and some people don’t like the attention, but I definitely love it.”
The idea for Slingshot Rentals was initially sparked during a trip to Las Vegas. “I was working for my dad who owns an oil company business, and he decided to move to Las Vegas,” Billy recalls. Billy chose to stay in Galveston and was calculating his next move when he took a trip to visit his father.
“When I got there, I said to my dad, ‘I want to rent a Slingshot,’” he says. “And while I was driving it around Vegas, it struck me—I bet this could work in Galveston.”
With his obvious penchant for excitement, touched with an ample amount of tenacity, Billy financed his first two Slingshots in May 2018 and started parking them in random spots along Seawall Boulevard with a “Rent Me” flag.
“The city would show up and chase me off,” he remembers with a soft chuckle. “I had insurance and waivers and everything, but you are supposed to have an actual brick and mortar and permits to rent vehicles. I’d go jumping around all over the Seawall, trying to stay in business.”
Undeterred, Billy kept at it for eight months until he finally had the resources to purchase two more Slingshots and at last, an office. “From there, it just took off,” Billy says, and recently, his reach has extended far beyond Galveston.
His success caught the attention of Polaris Adventures, who offered him a collaborative deal that streamlines his reservation system as well as business logistics such as insurance and website building.
After much consideration, Billy took the deal, and he has since opened additional locations in Gulf Shores, Alabama and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with plans for two future sites in Austin and Fort Lauderdale. Billy has also recently added 49cc street legal scooters to his Galveston inventory, which are also available in partnership with Saltwater Gift Shop. Future plans include offering a Premium option for upgraded Slingshots.
Billy sees his three-wheeled fun-mobiles as much more than an exotic vehicle. It is an experience, and it is part of a growing need here on the island.
“We need alternate transportation for visitors,” he says. “There are not enough Ubers on the island. We need Slingshots and scooters and golf carts. This is a beach town, everybody has fun.” At least, they undoubtedly will if they rent a Slingshot.
“It is like driving a car, but you have the open-air experience of a motorcycle,” Billy describes. “It’s like an adult go-cart. It just makes people feel like a Rockstar when they drive it. Plus the performance and driving—you simply can’t not have a good time. Even if people don’t like the attention, they still rent them because they just love the way they drive.”
Apart from serving the growing needs of tourists with a quality product and outstanding service, Billy stays locked in on the importance of the island community. “We definitely care about Galveston, and we are always doing what we can to give back,” he says.
“We donate to special causes and silent auctions, and we definitely take care of our locals. Come and see us on a weekday, and we will give you a great deal.”
Galveston Slingshot Rentals is located at 2115 61st St. #101, open Su-Th 10am-9pm, Fr & Sa 10am-10pm. Hourly rates for 2-12 hours and weekday daily rates available. Major credit card or $500 deposit required. Drivers must be at least 25 years of age and minimum age for passenger is 5 years old.
Vehicles are not allowed on the beach or any off-road surfaces and must only travel within Galveston County, Surfside, and Bolivar Peninsula. For more information, call 409.392.6010 or visit GalvestonSlingshotrentals.net.