The Oleander City, the Playground of the South, and the Ellis Island of the West. Located an hour southeast of Houston, Galveston Island has had many names over the years.
Today, Galveston is known as one of the most charming beach towns in the country (according to Country Living). Full of fascinating historic architecture, sandy shores, first-rate restaurants, and unique places to stay, the island offers an endless number of ways to enjoy your next Texas Gulf Coast getaway. To help plan your next visit, we put together a list of our favorite things to see and do that belong on your bucket list.
pictured: Skydive Galveston
Soft sands that envelop your toes in a warm hug, the soothing sounds of rolling waves and swaying palm trees, and the unmistakably salty aroma of a fresh sea breeze. When you’re ready for some beach time, look to Galveston Island. Home to 32 miles of sandy shoreline, the island is a fantastic destination for seekers of sun and surf.
Play a game of pickup volleyball and enjoy the lively vibe at the sprawling East Beach. Pack a cooler of your favorite kind of beverage (including alcohol) or stop by the concession stands for food and drinks. The beach is almost always a happening place, especially during the summer, when it hosts festivals, concerts, and the much-acclaimed AIA Sandcastle Competition.
If you want something lower key, head to Stewart Beach. Once named among the “10 Best Beaches for Families” by Family Vacation Critic, the beach provides a relaxing getaway on the north side of the island’s famous Seawall. Not only is this a great spot to bask in the warm Texas sun and play in the Gulf, but it’s also just a short walk to a multitude of restaurants and hotels. Of course, these are only two of the island’s many beaches. Do some exploring and find one that's perfect for you!
Cruise around Galveston’s historic neighborhoods and you’ll quickly see that the past is very much part of the present. Each Victorian-era home, magnificent in its opulence, reveals the Galveston that was Texas’ first major city. After all, it was here that the state’s first opera house, hospital, golf course, and post office were built. Although the hurricane in 1900 forever changed the island, it still retains much of its sophistication, unlike anything else in the Lone Star State.
Start your journey to the past at The Bryan Museum, where one of the world’s largest collections of historical artifacts and documents, as well as art related to Texas and the American West, is showcased in what was once the Galveston Orphan’s home. Then head to the breathtaking 1892 Bishop’s Palace before visiting the 1895 Moody Mansion, named among the nation’s most famous homes by The Travel Channel.
While these homes are must-sees, there’s far more history to uncover. Walk the decks of the USS Stewart and descend into the USS Cavalla, a World War II-era destroyer escort and submarine, respectively, at the Galveston Naval Museum. After that, experience a bygone era of transportation at the Galveston Railroad Museum, where you’ll find one of the largest restored railroad collections in the Southwest. Located within a 1930’s art-deco depot, the museum is full of all sorts of memorabilia and exhibits, along with more than 40 pieces of restored locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars.
Galveston Island is best known as a beach destination, but its history is unlike any other in the Lone Star State.
In one moment, you’re amongst macaws and monkeys in a lush rainforest. Minutes later, you find yourself standing under swimming sharks surrounded by tropical fish of all shades and sizes. It’s not every day you can go on a globe-spanning adventure to the world’s many unique habitats, yet that’s exactly what you can do at Moody Gardens. Step into the Rainforest Pyramid and you’re transported to the rainforests of Asia, Africa, and the Americas, as you’re surrounded by more than 1,700 exotic plants and animals. Meanwhile, the 10-story-tall Aquarium Pyramid takes you deep under the world’s oceans, from the Gulf of Mexico to the South Pacific, on an immersive journey that includes close encounters with penguins, seals, jellyfish, and more.
Although both pyramids offer plenty to see and do, we’re just getting started. Catch a show in the state-of-the-art 3D and 4D theaters and book an hour-long voyage on the Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, a replica of an 1800s paddlewheel boat. For the full experience, stay at the Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center, savor all the on-site dining options, and play around on the picturesque golf course adjacent to a shorebird habitat. There’s a world of adventure at Moody Gardens, so make sure to set aside plenty of time to take it all in.
Stately Victorian-era buildings, fascinating shops, one-of-a-kind restaurants and pubs, and more than its fair share of surprises. Needless to say, the Downtown Historic District is well worth taking your time to explore. Start your day with a handcrafted latte or espresso at MOD Coffeehouse, then walk down to The Witchery to pursue your own kind of spiritual enlightenment. Peruse the impressive array of herbs and essential oils before losing yourself in the collection of all kinds of religious and self-empowerment books.
If you’re an antique hunter, check out the eclectic goods that stock the shelves at Hendley Market. With its Victorian-era jewelry, vintage textiles and medical instruments, and other goodies weird and wonderful from around the world, this is the kind of place you’ll want to take your time.
Your tour through the downtown area takes you to Pier 21, where you’ll find the magnificent Tall Ship ELISSA. A three-masted barque, the Elissa, built in Scotland in 1877, is one of the world's oldest sailing ships. While you’re here, stop by the Texas Seaport Museum and the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum before getting a bite to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf or Willie G’s. Finally, you can end your day with a sweet-tooth-satisfying stop by La King’s Confectionery, a local ice cream parlor and candy shop open since 1920. Come on the weekends to watch toffee made right before your eyes, and enjoy a drink from the old-fashioned soda fountain along with some ice cream or your choice of pecan pralines, hand-dipped chocolates, fudge, and more made in house.
If you think there’s nothing better than casting a fishing line under a luminous Gulf Coast sunrise, you’d better bring your fishing gear to Galveston Island. Whether you’re fishing in the bay or deep in the Gulf, you’ll find endless opportunities to catch the kind of fish you can brag to your friends about.
The piers along the Seawall are just the spot for catching croaker, speckled trout, and bull reds, while Seawolf Park is a hotspot for bagging flounder. To make an adventure of it, charter an offshore fishing excursion and you may hook a mackerel, red snapper, or even shark. No matter where you fish or what you catch, you’ll get to enjoy the glowing sunshine and bright blue skies of the Gulf Coast.
Is there anything better than a delicious meal after a long day at the beach? Enjoying it outdoors, of course. Beyond its plethora of restaurants with patios and balconies, Galveston Island is an amazing place to dine al fresco because you can do so throughout the year. For views of the Tall Ship Elissa and Galveston Harbor, find a spot on the patio at Fisherman’s Wharf and take your pick from the eatery’s multitude of mouthwatering steaks and fresh seafood and pasta dishes.
The seafood doesn’t get any fresher than what you’ll find at Jimmy’s on the Pier, which somehow tastes even better as you nosh on it at your table on the patio perched over the waves along the Seawall. For a more upscale dining experience, including wine tastings, look no further than Porch Café. The restaurant’s menu features sophisticated seafood and steak dishes best enjoyed on the wraparound porch set near East Beach.
Hungry yet? We’re just getting started. Here's 20 Galveston Restaurants Open For Outdoor Dining.
Lounge by a swimming pool at a luxurious hotel, greet the morning sunrise with a cup of coffee on a patio overlooking the beach or stretch out your legs in your own spacious private rental. Galveston Island has no shortage of spectacular places you can stay with 5,000 hotel rooms and 3,000 vacation rentals of all sizes and budgets. The Tremont House, located in the heart of the Strand, and the Hotel Galvez and Spa have both upscale accommodations and an abundance of historic charm. Meanwhile, The San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center and the Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Convention Center, with their sparkling pools and upscale guest rooms, are high-end resorts that are just the places to stay when you’re looking to treat yourself.
Regardless of where you choose to stay, you’ll find yourself on Island Time before you know it.
While the soft sands and mellow winds of Galveston Island will have you feeling relaxed, there’s no reason you have to keep things low-key throughout your stay here. In fact, there’s plenty for you thrill-seekers out there. Take in the ultimate bird’s-eye view from thousands of feet above terra firma with Skydive Galveston, or go on an aerial tour of the island with Galveston Helicopters. Choose several excursions, such as the seven-minute Great Value Beach Tour that gives you a picturesque overlook of the island’s beaches or the Sunset Tour, an excursion that makes for a romantic end to a day well spent.
Heart-pounding thrill rides, an old-fashioned midway illuminated by vibrant neon lights, and the aroma of pizza, hamburgers, and funnel cakes wafting from various restaurants … all on a historic pier. Welcome to the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, a truly one-of-a-kind attraction set over the Gulf of Mexico's rolling waves. Feel a rush of adrenaline as you soar through the loops of the Iron Shark Rollercoaster and admire a view of the Seawall from 200 feet high as you swing around the Texas Star Flyer. When you’re not experiencing the rides or getting your fill at the pier’s eateries, shop for souvenirs at Pelican’s Bag or Bubba Gump’s retail store or satisfy your sweet tooth at Lolli & Pop’s Candy Shoppe. No matter what brings you here, a stop by the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a must.
When the summer heat sets in, you’ve got to go to Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston. A premier Texas waterpark, Schlitterbahn is full of thrills and spills for excitement seekers of all ages. Soar through the twists and turns of MASSIV Monster Blaster, the tallest water coaster in the world, and feel a rush of adrenaline as you zoom through the eight-story-tall Infinity Racers mat slide. Body, tube, and raft slides, lazy rivers, and more round out the multitude of attractions here, yet that’s not all. Take the kids to the special play areas just for them or unwind with a drink at the Wasserfest Heated Pool & Swim-Up Bar. Whether you’re looking to cool off or for your next exhilarating adventure, Schlitterbahn Galveston has it all.
Texas is synonymous with the petroleum industry, yet few get an up-close look at how it operates. That’s exactly what you can do at the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum. Set on a retired jack-up drilling rig, the museum takes you through the ins and outs of oil and gas production on the Gulf Coast. Explore its three levels and you’ll see offshore drilling equipment and a wide range of exhibits. Although most oil rigs are far from shore, you don’t need a boat to reach this one. The museum is located near Pier 21 and the Downtown Historic District, making it a must-visit while you’re exploring the downtown area.
Located about 12 miles southwest of Historic Downtown Galveston, Galveston Island State Park feels like it’s a world away from the city. Containing lagoons, saltwater marshes, coastal grasslands, and beaches, the 2,000-acre park is a crucial habitat for more than 300 species of birds, as well as a stunning array of wildlife. Immerse yourself in the island’s wild side as you traverse four miles of hiking or 10.2 miles of paddling trails. Bring a pair of binoculars as you follow the Caracara Trail or the Heron’s Walk Trail. The former offers the chance to see crested caracaras and the latter taking you through bayous and salt flats to a popular roosting area for wading birds. Like much of the Gulf Coast, the park is visited each year by flocks of migrating birds as well, so you’ll see different birds here in all four seasons.
Many of Galveston's popular attractions are participating in the Galveston Island Pass.
Pick a minimum of four attractions to receive the discount. Please note the schedule of operations for each attraction outlined in the terms and conditions. Each attraction operates independently and on a limited schedule.
Where the Texas Coast begins.
by Mary Beth Bassett
by Visit Galveston
by Kristine Rivers
by Clayton Kolavo
by Karla Klay
by Visit Galveston
The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (GICVB) is the official destination marketing organization for Galveston Island, Texas.