12 Reasons Galveston is the Best Place to be for the Holidays
Sandy beaches, ample sunshine, breathtaking hotels and captivating Victorian-era architecture. These are probably the first few things that come to mind when you think about Galveston. Visit the island during the holidays and you’ll have a very different idea of what this coastal city is all about. Throughout the holiday season, Galveston is transformed into a Winter Wonder Island as it hosts 50 days of remarkable events. Admire the stunning sculptures at Ice Land, watch Santa himself hang ten at Schlitterbahn and attend an unforgettable musical or concert at The Grand 1894 Opera House. These experiences are just three of the 12 reasons Galveston is an amazing place to be for the holidays. Read on to discover what else awaits in the Winter Wonder Island.
1) Victorian-Era Charm Comes to Life for Dickens on the Strand
Distinguished gentleman wearing top hats and waistcoats ride penny-farthings in the street, while dazzling dames donning intricate dresses watch a procession of kilt-wearing bagpipers march by. While this probably sounds like some kind of parade in 19th-century London, it is actually what you just might see when you go to Galveston’s celebrated Dickens on the Strand. All the whimsy of the Victorian era (inspired by Charles Dickens) is brought to life in the Strand Historic District. Enjoy a flavorful brew at Fezziwig’s Beer Hall, enjoy a holiday hand bell concert and see tons of live entertainment on the festival’s six stages.
Show up early and leave late, as there’s plenty of things to do at the festival. And if the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future come beckoning, don’t be a Scrooge. Tickets for Dickens on the Strand are available online. Show up in your Victorian costume and you’ll get half off, so make sure to don your finest frock coat or petticoat.
2) ICE LAND at Moody Gardens is a Must See
Although Galveston is known as the Winter Wonder Island, ICE LAND takes it to a whole new level. Step into this glacial paradise and you’ll be surrounded by more than two million pounds of ice crafted by expert carvers all the way from Harbin, China. Keep your jaw from hitting the floor as you soar down the towering oil rig ice slide to the spectacular Flower Garden Banks and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s here that ICE LAND’S theme, A Caribbean Christmas, comes to life. Wander through ice tunnels illuminated by neon lights and take your time to admire colorful sculptures of schools of tropical fish, eagle rays, turtles, dolphins and more. Make sure to stop by the brand new Shivers Ice Bar for an ultra-cool holiday-themed drink, the perfect way to cap a magical journey into Ice Land.
3) The Festival of Lights Will Put You in a Festive Mood
Glide down an ice slide, show off your balance (or try to stay on your feet) on the ice skating rink, and savor a hot chocolate as you marvel at more than one million colorful holiday lights. Enjoy all of these experiences at Moody Gardens’ Festival of Lights, a veritable winter wonderland that offers an abundance of family-friendly holiday fun. Walk along the Festival of Lights path through Moody Gardens and you’ll see 100 whimsical sound-enhanced animated displays. Take your youngsters to the Arctic Slide or for a photo with Santa Claus before renting a pair of skates and doing a few laps on the only outdoor rink in the area.
While all of this is sure to keep you busy, that’s not all that is going on at Festival of Lights. Enjoy live entertainment every night of the festival, ride the train, get your fill at the buffet and stick around for a screening of a holiday film. With so many ways to enjoy the season, it’s no wonder Festival of Lights has become a Galveston holiday tradition. (November 12 - January 8)
4) All the World-Class Shows at The Grand 1894 Opera House
From its spectacular auditorium to its charming 19th-century architecture and ideal location in The Strand Historic District, it’s fair to say The Grand 1894 Opera House lives up to its name. While the unique venue hosts a variety of shows throughout most of the year, its holiday events are not to be missed. Family-friendly musicals like Elf and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are followed by Elvis Christmas Memories Starring Jake Rowley, a performance by famed tenors The Priests and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Music stars Jerry Jeff Walker and Loretta Lynn – the Queen of Country Music – belt out their famous tunes at The Grand in mid-December. No matter what brings you to the Winter Wonder Island this year, your holidays aren’t complete without catching one of the top-class shows at The Grand 1894 Opera House.
5) Watch Santa Surf at Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston
What’s more awesome than hanging out with Santa? How about watching Jolly Old Saint Nick catch some killer waves on his surf board? That’s exactly what you’ll get when you check out Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark’s Holiday Splash, which turns the massive indoor water park into a festive aquatic retreat. Along with admiring Santa’s tricks, float on an inner tube through a giant snow globe, and admire the Bahn Borealis light show animated to popular Christmas tunes. If you’re kiddo is a budding artist, take them to the Ornament Factory so they can show off their creativity. There’s even a kid-friendly inflatable obstacle course, as well as a friendly snowman and happy reindeer that transform Schlitterbahn into a true holiday hotspot.
6) See Majestic Migratory Birds During Holiday with the Cranes
Due to its location on the Texas Gulf Coast, Galveston is a prime location for birding. Every winter, thousands of birds arrive to roost and forage, with perhaps none as spectacular as the Sandhill Cranes. Hundreds of these majestic three- to four-foot-tall birds known for the red cap atop their heads migrate through Galveston during this time. Although you certainly could see these cranes on your own, the best way to celebrate their arrival is by attending one of the events that make up Holiday with the Cranes. Check out a bird-inspired art show, embark on a guided birdwatching tour of the East End Lagoon or watch the cranes soar overhead at sunrise. If you are a birding enthusiast, or you simply enjoy seeing animals in their natural environment, then Holiday with the Cranes can’t be missed. (December 10-11)
7) Cirque Joyeux Noel’s Awe-Inspiring Acrobatics
Amazing acrobatics and spellbinding feats of strength and skill are on full display at the spectacular Cirque Joyeux Noel Dinner and Show at Moody Gardens. NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” finalist Christian Stoinev, an acrobat known for performing hand balancing acts with his dog, takes the stage with other expert performers that will leave you stunned. Marvel at the juggling of the Fusco Brothers and the spellbinding Risley act of the Poema Family, all paired with melodic music by “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” Michael Hix. Tickets are available online or by calling (409) 683-4186. (December 16-25)
8) Run with Thousands of Santa Lookalikes
You’ve visited with Santa and seen him catch some killer waves at Schlitterbahn. What’s next? How about joining thousands of Santa lookalikes wearing floppy red hats for the Santa Hustle Half Marathon and 5K? Jog on Galveston’s scenic streets and along an oceanfront path to festive holiday tunes as you try to set a personal best record. When you cross that finish line, you’ll receive some killer swag like a finisher’s medal and a lightweight performance hoodie. Stick around to enjoy the party and devour some cookies and candy. After all, you’ve earned it. (December 17-18)
9) Greet Santa at the Galveston Railroad Museum
Everyone knows that Santa’s preferred method of travel is by sleigh, but he makes a special exception for Galveston. Head to the Galveston Railroad Museum from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on December 10 to see Jolly Old Saint Nick arrive on the Harborside Express train. Bring your youngsters so they can share their holiday wishes with Santa, then take in the festive lights, decorations, and games in the museum’s Garden of Steam. In addition to all the holiday-themed family-friendly fun, you’ll get an up-close view of restored railcars, model trains and an array of artifacts that provide a glimpse of a bygone era of transportation. (December 10)
10) Galveston’s Historic Downtown is a Shopper’s Paradise
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind Christmas present, you’ll probably find it in Galveston’s Strand Historic District. Step into the wide variety of shops throughout the 70-block district and you’ll find just about everything that is on your Christmas list, along with some surprises. For instance, the Old Galveston Trading Company stocks an array of local works of art, imported furniture and singing bowls made from antique brass, crystal and other materials.
Antiques, jewelry and all sorts of offbeat gifts fill the shelves at Hendley Market, while numerous boutiques stock everything from high-end fashion to surfing apparel. Shop until you drop, then treat yourself to a scoop of ice cream or some candy at La King’s Confectionary or get your fill at one of the many restaurants in the Strand. (November 23 - December 24)
11) There Are Plenty of Unforgettable Places to Stay
From historic high-end hotels to quaint bed and breakfasts in gorgeous Victorian-era homes, Galveston has the places to stay to make your holiday getaway one to remember. For a bit of luxury, stay at the Hotel Galvez and Spa, The San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center, The Tremont House or one of the other hotels and condominium rental properties on the island. To really feel like you are at your home away from home, stay in one of the vintage homes in the East End Historic District or reserve a few days at a beach house.
Many of these places are just minutes away from all of Galveston’s holiday action. To get the most bang for your buck, book your stay from Sunday through Thursday and you may save as much as 50 percent compared to the standard weekend rates. Learn more about all the places to stay in Galveston here.
12) All the Year-Round Fun
While there is a Santa’s sleigh full of holiday adventure to be had in Galveston, that’s not all that’s going on in town. Galveston’s miles of sandy beaches and mild winter weather means it has plenty to offer those who love being outdoors. For starters, Galveston has some of the best fishing in the Texas Gulf Coast. Cast a line from the beach or one of the piers and jetties for free, or book an offshore fishing trip on which you might snag a large tuna, wahoo or a white or blue marlin.
There’s plenty more to do in Galveston beyond fishing. Tour one of the many museums and art galleries in town, go for a hole in one at the Moody Gardens Golf Course, or enjoy a pint of locally brewed craft beer at Galveston Island Brewing or Beerfoot Brewery. For a fun night out with the whole family, enjoy the rides and games at the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. If you get a bit hungry, stop by one of the seafood restaurants perched along the Galveston’s famous Seawall Boulevard, or head to the Strand Historic District for some high-end dining.
Should you somehow do all of these things while you’re in Galveston, then there’s only one place left for you: the beach. Jog or bike along the seawall, lay out a blanket on the sand and catch some sun, or kick back and listen to the waves crashing on the shore. Not everyone gets to enjoy a beach getaway during the holidays, but that’s exactly what you’ll get in Galveston.