Summer is undoubtedly beach season, and there are few places better to go for sun, sand and surf than Galveston Island. After all, its 32 miles of pristine beaches offer plenty of space to swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Yet there’s far more to see and do here this summer than you’d expect, including some truly extraordinary experiences you won’t find anywhere else. From exploring a World War II submarine or soaring above Galveston in a helicopter, these adventures serve up unique ways to spice up your stay when you need a break from the beach. Discover just a few of these things to do below and book your next summer getaway to Galveston Island.
Insider’s Tip: Stay midweek and save up to 50 percent on your hotel booking. Not only is this friendlier for your wallet, but Galveston’s attractions are typically less crowded during the week.
1. Step into a World War II Submarine
It was on her maiden patrol in the summer of 1944 that the USS Cavalla avenged an American tragedy. With a salvo of six torpedoes, the Gato-class submarine brought down the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Shokaku, one of six aircraft carriers that launched the fateful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This authentic piece of American history still lives on at the American Undersea Warfare Center (soon to be known as the Galveston Naval Museum). Better yet, you can explore its inner workings.
Imagine what daily life was like for the “Lucky Lady’s” crew as you tour the quarters and mess hall, and explore the torpedo rooms, control room and the officer’s wardroom. Then make the short walk across Seawolf Park to visit the USS Stewart, a destroyer escort that primarily served in the North Atlantic. Together, the Cavalla and Stewart tell the stories of predator and protector in the crucial fight for the open sea during World War II.
2. Embark on a Dolphin-Spotting Adventure
Yes, you read that right. Not only are there dolphins in Galveston’s coastal waters, but it’s actually quite common to see them swimming alongside ferries and boats between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. Watch these playful creatures on a dolphin watching tour. One such excursion, offered by BayWatch Dolphin Tours, takes you out on a dolphin-friendly boat with no propellers, allowing up-close views and memorable photo-ops. There’s even more sightseeing to be had on the Seagull II Harbor Tour & Dolphin Watch, which is led by a knowledgeable guide that includes a look at the birds and animals that call this part of Texas home.
Both tours depart from Pier 21 near the Strand Historic District, leaving you with plenty to do once you disembark.
3. Get a Bird’s-Eye View of Galveston Island
Although strolling along the Seawall and lounging on a sandy beach are some of the best ways to enjoy Galveston’s coastal charm, there are more adventurous ways to take it all in. Watch the ocean tides roll on the shore and enjoy a spectacular view of the Seawall, Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and other hotspots from the cockpit of a helicopter during a flight with Galveston Helicopter Tours. Take your pick from four different tours, each of which provides a unique way to explore the island.
Looking for your next rush of adrenaline? Try leaping out of an airplane 14,000 feet above Galveston with Skydive Galveston. Free fall at 120 miles per hour as you admire a view of miles of coastline before landing right on the beach. Every dive is accompanied by a seasoned skydiver, so don’t worry if you’re a first-timer trying to cross this off of your bucket list.
4. Shop for Fresh Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico
The Texas Gulf Coast is all about the seafood, and you won’t find it any fresher than at Galveston’s own Katie’s Seafood Market and Sampson & Son’s. Step into either market and you’ll see whole red snappers, redfish, tilefish and groupers, as well as shrimp that were caught just hours before. Fillets are available as well, just in case you don’t know how to clean a fish. Cook up your fish of choice at your condo or vacation rental, or have your own shrimp boil right on the beach. Don’t have a kitchen? Take your taste of the Gulf to Olympia Grill at Pier 21 and they’ll prepare it for you. Since Gulf-fresh fish is hard to find, make sure to stop by on your way out of town to stock up.
5. Meet a Penguin
With their black and white feathers and adorable waddle, Humboldt penguins are just about the cutest animal you’ll see. Fortunately, you don’t need to travel to the coasts of Peru or Chile to see them. They’re among the many penguins that call Moody Gardens’ Aquarium Pyramid home. Watch these small and energetic birds swim in the Humboldt Penguin habitat and get a close-up look at King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins in the South Atlantic Pacific Habitat. In addition to the penguins, the Aquarium Pyramid is home to immersive exhibits housing sharks, tropical fish and an abundance of other aquatic life. By the end of your time here, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled 20,000 leagues under the sea … without the giant squid, of course.
Summer presents all sorts of other opportunities at Moody Gardens beyond the Aquarium and Rainforest Pyramids. Float along the lazy river and soar down the 18-foot tower slides at Palm Beach and show off your strength and agility on the Ropes Course, the tallest of its kind on the Gulf Coast.
6. Enjoy a Drink on a Rooftop Bar
Sip on a cocktail and watch the sun set over historic downtown Galveston at The Rooftop Bar, a sophisticated open-air joint perched on top of The Tremont House. Drink in a stunning view of downtown Galveston you won’t get anywhere else and order up a tasty cocktail or a pint of craft beer. Once the sun sets, bask in the soft glow of lights from the eight-foot-tall Manzanita tree as you find a cozy spot on one of the sectional couches.
The Rooftop Bar is just as ideal for a romantic date night or an evening with friends, but it’s not the only unique spot in town. Indulge in a craft cocktail, or your choice of a selection of beer and fine spirits, at the upscale Daiquiri Time Out. For tropical drinks, seafood eats and views of the beach, the Rum Shack is for you. Regardless of where you end up, you’re guaranteed a good night out on Galveston Island.
7. Discover Galveston’s Historic Architecture on a Segway or Electric Bike
Before the destructive hurricane in 1900, Galveston was a thriving seaside city second only to Ellis Island as an immigration port. Although the storm changed the course of history, much of the grand and glorious architecture of the era still stands to this very day. You can see these historical treasures everywhere, but one of the best ways to really get to know Galveston’s historic side is on a Segway tour with SegCity Segway Tours Galveston. On your majestic two-wheel steed, you’ll pass the Galveston Railroad Museum and venture into the largest collection of Victorian-era homes in the country on your way to the seawall. Led by a knowledgeable guide, it’s a great way to learn about local lore.
You can also visit the island’s historic landmarks and its beaches on the Island EBike Adventure with Zipp-E-Bikes. Prefer to chart your own course? Rent an electric bike for an hour, two hours, half of a day, or a full day and cruise wherever your mood takes you.
These are just a few of the unique things to do in Galveston, but there’s far more going on here in the summer. Hang out at the beach, visit five craft breweries, delve into the diverse dining scene and treat yourself to a seaside getaway like no other. Discover what the other possibilities are here.