Where to stay
Just an hour’s drive from Houston, Galveston is a world away in spirit, with 32 miles of sparkling coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. To enjoy a comfortable stay with gorgeous views, book a weekend or entire week at one of the island’s many beach houses. Beachtown offers luxurious options on the East End while Sand N’ Sea Properties boasts a plethora of options on the West End. For an alternative, consider a charming Victorian bed and breakfast, which can be found within many of the island’s historic neighborhoods. For shorter trips, book a stay at the beachfront Hotel Galvez, the only historic hotel on the Texas Gulf Coast, or the trendy San Luis Resort, which showcases all Gulf-facing rooms.
Beaches to explore
Let your hair down, kick your shoes off and spend some time on the beach. Galveston boasts some of the most spectacular sunrises in Texas. And, with 32 miles of beaches, finding the perfect stretch of sand to sink your toes in is easy to do. Along Galveston’s famous Seawall – the longest continuous sidewalk in the country – you’ll find long stretches of beaches lined with restaurants, surf shops, bicycle rental stands and other amenities. Next in line is Stewart Beach, which was named one of the “10 Best Beaches for Families” by Family Circle in 2013. It offers all the amenities for a comfortable and relaxing day by the water: a pavilion, a children’s playground, bathrooms, showers, a snack bar, and umbrella and chair rentals and even helicopter tours. Only a short drive from Stewart Beach is East Beach, a popular destination for festivals, concerts, horseback riding and special events. As one of the largest parks on the island, it is home to an entertainment stage, volleyball courts, a boardwalk, and even an outdoor bar—it’s the only local beach that permits alcohol. Galveston Island State Park is a go-to site for a fun and easy camping trip, providing picnic tables, barbecue pits, water and electrical hook-ups, restrooms, outdoor and indoor showers, and fish-cleaning shelters. The two West End Pocket Parks, by contrast, offer seasonal daytime havens away from the Seawall’s hustle and bustle. Pocket Park 1 includes a play area for children and beachfront parking, while Pocket Park 2 has educational wetlands and great sites for birding. If you’re looking for outdoor water adventure, head west to the Galveston Island State Park— a great place for kayaking, birding and nature exploration. Offering access to the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay, the 1,200-acre state park hosts many examples of barrier island habitats explored easily from the beach or by walking trails. The park also offers free, regularly scheduled activities, including kayak tours, beach and surf explorations, bird walks, nature field trips and fishing clinics.
Things to do off the beach
Known for its fascinating pyramids and adventure attractions, Moody Gardens is one of Texas’ premier destinations for families. At this educational resort, kids of all ages can explore the excitement of the wild in the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid, home to more than 1,000 endangered plant and animal species, including free-roaming rainforest monkeys and birds. The Aquarium Pyramid is just as impressive, allowing visitors to see penguins, tropical fish, sharks and other marine life from four oceans around the world. Moody Gardens also features a Discovery Museum, historic paddlewheel boat, Palm Beach water park, 3D, 4D and Ridefilm theaters, and the Moody Gardens Golf Course.
Marked by its beautiful Victorian architecture and colorfully painted storefronts, historic downtown Galveston is full of charm, offering an enchanting blend of boutiques, antique shops, chic eateries and lively entertainment. The district’s best-known street, The Strand, is the center of the island’s shopping scene while the popular Postoffice Street draws art lovers to its many galleries and the historic Grand 1894 Opera House. Downtown is also home to a variety of fascinating museums and attractions, including the Galveston Island Railroad Museum, Texas Seaport Museum & 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA, Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast and dolphin tours on Galveston Harbor. No stop in downtown Galveston is complete without visiting the iconic LaKing’s Confectionery for old-fashioned saltwater taffy and treats made right in the store!
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Fearlessly stretching more than 1,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a beacon of family fun offering thrill rides for kids and adults, midway games, shopping, entertainment and Texas’s first Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant! This amusement park pier is positioned in the same location a similar pleasure pier stood in Galveston during the 1940s, bringing the city’s history to the present.
Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Water Park
Make a splash at Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Water Park with more than 30 water adventures, including thrilling uphill water coasters, water slides, kid's playgrounds, whitewater rapids, a sparkling wave pool, hot tubs and the Boogie Bahn surf ride! This world-class park offers many family-friendly amenities, such as free parking and the ability to bring your own cooler of food and beverages. Not only is it a fantastic summer destination, Schlitterbahn Galveston Island is open year-round offering more than a dozen attractions in its heated, indoor section.
Historic Sites & Museums
Fly above the island in a helicopter. Take a tour of a Victorian mansion. Walk the streets of Galveston’s charming historic downtown district, where businessmen once developed this port city into “The Wall Street of the South.” There are so many experiences in Galveston that will take you back in time as you explore a town home to a very rich history and one of the largest collections of well-preserved Victorian architecture in the country. Tour through one of the stunning “Broadway Beauties” Bishop’s Palace and Moody Mansion, which are open for guided tours daily, or explore any of the island’s four nationally recognized historic districts. The most well-known of which, the Historic Downtown Strand Seaport District, is the heart of the island’s shopping, arts and entertainment scene while the East End Historical District is a popular destination for marveling at historic homes and the fascinating Galveston Tree Sculptures carved from Oak trees damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Additional historical attractions include The Bryan Museum, housing the world’s largest collection of Southwestern artifacts, the Galveston Railroad Museum, Texas Seaport Museum & 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA and The Bryan Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of southwestern artifacts – including original correspondence from the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte.
Entertainment & Nightlife
Whether you want to sink into the stylish, velvet chairs at The Grand 1894 Opera House to catch a live musical performance or keep your toes in the sand at East Beach's annual summer concert series, entertainment in Galveston can found in every corner of the island. Lovers of the arts won’t be disappointed in downtown Galveston, where they can watch local theater performances at Island ETC Theater or catch legendary musical acts in the eclectic atmosphere of the Old Quarter Acoustic Café before having a glass of wine at The Rooftop Bar to take in an amazing view of the city and harbor. Breathtaking sunsets can be seen at popular nightlife spots along the Seawall, such as the modern H20 Pool + Bar lounge at the San Luis Resort or the island-style RumShack recognized by its gigantic palapa roof.
Home to a stunning landscape of lagoons and nature preserves, Galveston is a top destination for lovers of the outdoors. Located on the trans-Gulf migration route, the island is a central location for novice and expert birders, offering more than 300 species of birds that reside and travel through Galveston during fall and spring migrations. Galveston’s diverse environment provides the perfect backdrop to take an Artist Boat Kayak Adventure or hike through the Lafitte's Cove Nature Preserve. The Galveston Island State Park is also a popular destination for camping, nature walks, hiking, kayaking, fishing and more.
Events & Festivals
Each year, Galveston is home to a variety of special events and festivals that bring added excitement to the island, including the nation’s third largest Mardi Gras celebration and Texas’ largest craft beer festival. In summer, the popular AIA Sandcastle Competition brings the talent of architects, designers and engineers to one of the world’s largest amateur sandcastle building competitions while events like the Galveston Island Shrimp Festival and Galveston Island Food & Wine Festival draw the taste buds of eager foodies for spring and fall. For the holidays, Galveston becomes the “Winter Wonder Island” of Texas, offering 50 days of holiday festivities and events, such as Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens and the Victorian Christmas festival Dickens on The Strand.
Where to eat
Galveston's culinary scene is a fusion of the cultures that have come to the island since it's time as the second busiest immigration port in the nation, offering exceptional tastes from nearly every part of the world. From fine dining options like the award-winning Rudy & Paco Restaurant & Bar, which offers a delicious Central American twist on steak and seafood, to casual restaurants like Olympia the Grill at Pier 21, serving traditional Greek fare with an incredible view of the harbor, Galveston has it all! The island has a thriving community of family-owned eateries, such as local favorites Farley Girls Cafe, EatCetera, Sunflower Bakery & Café, Mosquito Café, ShyKatZ, Shrimp N Stuff, The Spot and more. For fresh, local seafood with breathtaking waterfront views, there is no place like Number 13 Steak & Seafood located in beautiful Pelican Rest Marina or Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, which has been in Galveston for more than 100 years! If you’re staying at a beach house rental, pick up some fresh Gulf seafood to cook on your own at any of the island’s public fish markets, such as Sampson & Son’s Seafood, Galveston Shrimp Co. or Katie’s Seafood Market, which was famously featured as the focus of National Geographic Channel’s hit TV show Big Fish Texas.