Galveston, Texas, is one of those little sleepy beach towns with a whole lotta charm. So much charm, in fact, that Glen Campbell wrote a song about it. Located 45 minutes from Houston, Galveston is one of Texas’s best-kept secrets, unless you’re an avid cruiser. Then you know that it’s the 4th busiest port in the U.S. as far as cruise terminals go.
Don’t miss out on the fantastic museum scene on the island. Galveston’s early days are peppered with characters such as explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, and infamous pirate, Jean Lafitte, along with a robust history of immigration (Galveston was once the second-largest immigration station in the country behind Ellis Island).
One saying prevalent in Galveston is “You’re on Island Time” and this is true for the entire city. Time is not as important as the experiences and things you do. Whether you’re a busy family looking for a kid-friendly spot, a couple who needs a break, or a girls’ trip ready to break loose—Galveston should be in your Top 5 Destinations this year.
15. Dolphin Gazing, JetBoat Thrills and Horseback
No trip to Galveston is complete without taking at least one Dolphin cruise. Dolphins love the warm Gulf waters, and the many boats and activities challenge them to a race. Baywatch Dolphin Tours is one of the top-rated charters in the area. They even allow your dog along for the ride.
If you want to experience a true boat ride, book a venture with Suntime Jetboat Thrill Ride, where you’ll experience 360-degree turns and walls of water. You will get wet.
If you’ve ever dreamed of riding surfside, Galveston Island Horse and Pony Rides offer a variety of rides, including Sunset rides that are unforgettable.
14. Fishing Charters are waiting for you
If you want to try your hand at deep-sea fishing and reel in your own dinner, Galveston has you covered with over 100 charter and guide companies. Many are privately owned and will give you a great experience out on the water with experienced captains.
You’ll also get to keep what you catch, making for a great dinner on the freshest fish you can catch. You can even choose from inshore fishing to offshore and everything in between.
13. Day Tripping Houston
(image via Space Center Houston)
If by chance you came through Houston and didn’t stop – turn around for a day trip or tack extra days on your vacay. Obviously, Space Center Houston is a can’t miss and it’s a full day of activities on the slowest of days. Grab some Houston Astro action at Minute Maid Park or take in one of the many concerts that roll through.
Explore the Rothko Chapel and experience a stillness that moves and quiet disruptions. For curiosity seekers, visit the National Museum of Funeral History for an educational experience like no other. Discover America’s largest collection of funeral service items through a time-honored tradition of compassion.
12. Daytrip over to Bolivar Peninsula
(image via Crystal Beach)
Just a quick ferry ride away lies Bolivar and Crystal Beach. This tiny little hamlet of perfection doesn’t have any of the traffic of Galveston but offers plenty of charm. The beaches are a little rougher on the feet, but the views are amazing.
This tiny town offers tons of rentals at fantastic prices. Crystal Beach has delightful, dog-friendly beaches where you can pull right up to the water. This hot spot also has plenty of restaurants to ensure a pleasurable experience on your travels. Plan on taking leftovers back to your vacation home. If you’re a Jeep aficionado, this is your homeland, as Jeep Weekend is one of the wildest experiences you can have in this town.
11. I like Nightlife! I like to Boogie!
Whether you’re ready to relax, drink in hand, listen to top-notch bands perform live music, or step into your dancing shoes – the island’s vibrant, thriving nightlife scene is ready and waiting. SoundBar offers up the island’s only karaoke bar, so grab a partner and head out for the fun.
Grab a live country band over at Buckshot Saloon, where you’ll find a wide variety of island brews and IPAs. Float Pool and Patio Bar offers up a unique experience where you can literally float and drink. Open mic night is always happening at 23rd Street Station Piano Bar.
10. Foodie Paradise
Everyone needs a meal, and Galveston has a variety of restaurants to satisfy every palate. Kick the chains to the curb and choose from over 100 spots, from seafood to Mexican and everything in between. For upscale bistro dining, try out Tremont Café in downtown Galveston and enjoy hand-turned pizzas and sammies.
You’ll have trouble deciding on where to grab some great Tex-Mex, but you can’t go wrong with The Original Mexican Café, in business since 1916.
The freshest seafood you can imagine is found at Katie’s Seafood House, where locals rave about the Best Cajun Shrimp PoBoy. One spot you have to visit, though, is The Spot, which is five venues all in one. Their burger and hand-dipped onion rings will beat out any around, hands down.
9. The Strand
At 27 miles long and 3 miles wide, you’d be surprised to find a thriving downtown area, but the Historic Strand District fits that bill nicely. Fronting Galveston Bay, The Strand is a National Historic Landmark that harkens back to Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the buildings here are more than a century old, stunning in their detail and craftsmanship.
Storefronts here are a mix of antique shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, and more. The Strand serves as the commercial center of downtown Galveston. In and around the district are nightclubs, hotels, and much more. The Strand is also the center of Galveston Mardi Gras festivities, the annual holiday celebration Dickens on the Strand, and other seasonal festivals and activities.
8. Outdoor life
Galveston is one of the best places in America for birdwatching and outdoor living. In Galveston State Park, you can camp just 1.5 miles from the beach. For avid birdwatchers, you can expect to see spoonbills, egrets, and of course, pelicans.
FeatherFest is a birding and nature photography festival catered to the birdwatching faithful. Galveston is known for its 32 miles of coastline- and there’s always a perfect beach to fit your vibe. While Stewart and Seawall Beach offer unparalleled views of the gulf, East Beach is a different funky vibe altogether and allows alcoholic beverages. Soak up the Vitamin SEA and partake in a sandcastle competition or two.
7. Water Sports Everywhere
Take a surfing lesson at C-Sick Surfing or grab a kayak or paddleboard down at Jungle Surf Rentals. One of the most fun things you can do is rent a jet ski from one of a dozen locations like Jet Ski Galveston.
Most offer a variety of packages from one hour to half a day. Make sure you have your ID because you must be 18 with a valid driver’s license to ride alone. Whatever your brand of fun is, make sure to slather up in sunscreen!
6. Special Kids Fun
(image via Galveston Children's Museum)
Kids have their own special brand of Island Time activities, too, in Galveston. The Galveston Children’s Museum includes hands-on activities as well as entertaining interactive exhibits and great play areas. For adventure seekers, check out Galveston Fun Center and try your hand at one of their games, throw a few axes, or race go-karts.
If you like scavenger hunts – you’re sure to love Island Treasure Hunts – a bonafide treasure hunt complete with historical trivia and challenges. No vacation to the coast is complete without pirates. Check out Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast. It’s a must-see for even the littlest buccaneers. Learn about the Battle of New Orleans and encounter some pretty skeevy pirates.
5. Activity Museums
Head inland to check out The Bryan Museum and experience the story of Texas and the American West. If seaports are your jam, then stop in at Galveston Historic Seaport, where you can tour an 1877 Tall Ship named Elissa, one of only three of its kind to still sail as well as serve as a historic landmark.
If you’re looking for something a little offbeat- plan to visit Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum. This education center and retired drilling rig will give you the 411 on life aboard an offshore drilling rig and the importance of these operations. Ride the rails over at Galveston Railroad Museum and discover all the locomotives plus model trains. It’s sure to be a hit with your future rail engineers.
4. Art and Historic Building Museums
Check out the arts and historical museum scene in Galveston. 1892 Bishops Palace is one of the most architecturally significant Victorian residences in the country. The Moody Mansion details the lives of one of Texas’s wealthiest families, The Moodys, who established one of the greatest American financial empires that started with cotton and continued through banking, ranching, insurance, railroading, and hotels.
The Galveston Arts Center down on the Strand has an impressive collection of modern art and sponsors an art walk every 6-8 weeks. Visit GAC, and you could find yourself in an art class, workshop, or another exciting event that is hosted daily.
3. Schlitterbahn Water Park
(image via Schlitterbahn Waterparks)
Wild water fun is your ticket to happiness, and Schlitterbahn Water Park in Galveston is definitely your jam. From excitement-seeking teens to small kids, there is something for everyone at Schlitterbahn, with the largest collection of heart-pounding, fast, tall, and thrilling attractions in the Schlitterbahn family of water parks.
If you prefer rivers, wave pools, and lounging in the sun, Galveston is a great place to visit. You can upgrade your experience to include cabanas and over six restaurants, plus a swim-up bar for adults. Book early – Schlitterbahn has been known to fill up on the busiest of weekends.
2. Pleasure Pier
If you’re longing for a Coney Island, Santa Monica, or Chicago Navy Pier experience, look no further than Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. This hot spot features waterfront fun and entertainment like no other Gulf Coast destination. The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier has family-oriented attractions, including rides, midway games, a wide selection of food venues, and retail shops.
The pier had its origin as a recreational facility for the US Military during WWII as one of the largest dance floors of its kind. Hurricane Carla swept it away, and a new pier was built. Today, rides reach out over the Gulf of Mexico that include coasters, water rides, a carousel, and a wonderous Galaxy Wheel. Multiple shops and dining options like Rainforest Café, Fish Tales, and Saltgrass Steakhouse line the pier for an all-inclusive experience.
1. Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa and Convention Center
(image via Moody Gardens)
While Galveston has plenty of choice condo rentals, AirBNBs, and hotels, there’s none quite like the Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa, and Convention Center as far as a home away from home in Galveston goes. Moody Gardens started in the mid-80s and is a large non-profit focused on utilizing nature in the advancement of education, rehabilitation, conservation, recreation, and research.
The campus includes attractions such as golf, spas, and dining options. These are all located on one property. The biggest attraction is comprised of 3 rather large glass pyramids – the Aquarium, Rainforest, and Discovery Museums. There is something for everyone at this enchanting site – whether you’re looking to relax and unwind or get up and go.
As you can see, Galveston has a lot to offer everyone. If you are looking to do more in the surrounding area, check out other weekend trips nearby Galveston, Texas.
These areas are perfect for a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore our favorite things to do or peruse some pre-built itineraries.