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The bright, shining Texas summer sun rises over the rolling waves of an inviting beach. Squawking seagulls fill the air with their calls while a warm and welcoming sea breeze washes over you. Sensations like these are what we spend fall, winter, and spring dreaming about.
With its seemingly endless shoreline, Galveston Island is the perfect destination to make this fantasy a reality. Yet there’s far more to the island than sand and sun; its museums, murals, historic architecture, and wealth of experiences make it stand apart from most other coastal cities. Read on to discover how you can have your best summer ever in Galveston.
These days, kolaches and Oktoberfest celebrations seem as authentically Texan as barbecue and country music. Yet none of this would’ve happened without the wave of Czech, German, and Italian immigrants that arrived in Galveston in the late 1800s and early 1900s, forever changing the state’s culture in ways that still resonate today.
In fact, Galveston became such a hub of immigration that it was once known as the Ellis Island of the West. Now, for the first time ever, you can walk a mile in the shoes of these Texas newcomers as you explore the Texas Seaport Museum’s Ship to Shore Exhibit (coming in August 2021).
Your journey starts in the Ship portion of the exhibit when you’re given a card that has the name of one of more than 20 real people whose story you will follow throughout. Then you’ll experience what life was like for those traveling across the Atlantic Ocean at the time, from what they ate to how they kept themselves entertained. The exhibit continues once you arrive, as you make your way through quarantine and customs before stepping foot into Galveston. This section highlights what was happening in Galveston at the time, as well as where many immigrants went upon arrival. You’ll also learn where your assigned person ended up as well.
At the end of your trip, you can leave a message in a bottle for future visitors and you can look through the ship manifests for any relatives of yours. Once you’re done, climb aboard the Elissa, the official tall ship of Texas. Built in Scotland in 1877, the Elissa actually made at least two visits to Galveston in the late 1800s amid its many expeditions around the world. Now a permanent resident of the Texas Seaport Museum, its presence mirrors the journeys of those who ultimately made Texas their home after arriving from Europe so long ago.
Towering walls, stately columns, and arched walkways, all right on the beach. No, we aren’t talking about an eccentric seaside home, but rather an awe-inspiring sandcastle that you can learn how to build. All you need to do is book a private sandcastle-building lesson with Sandy Feet Sand Castle Services. Learn the methods that the pros use to construct their breathtaking structures and incorporate them into your future projects. While you won’t be a pro after one lesson, you’ll certainly be well on your way to constructing your very own magnificent sandcastles.
Travel Tip: Get some sandcastle-building tips for free at Stewart Beach every Saturday at 11AM, 1PM, and 3PM.
Whether you’re an enthusiast or you just want to see something amazing, make sure you’re here for the AIA Sandcastle Competition (Aug. 21, 2021). Some of the best sculptors in the business converge on the island for what is one of the world’s largest sandcastle building contests, and you can see their creations all along East Beach.
Soft sands, gentle sea breezes, and the rolling waves of the Gulf of Mexico. When you’re ready for a day at the beach, Galveston Island is the place to be. The island has multiple beaches along 32 miles of shoreline, giving you plenty of space to soak up the sun your way.
For a lively day at the beach, East Beach is your spot. This stretch of sand frequently hosts events and concerts throughout the summer, and there are even concessions and a playground.
Located at the far eastern tip of the island, East Beach is home to a pavilion, boardwalk and entertainment stage as well as restrooms, showers, chair and umbrella rentals, children's playground, concessions and other amenities. Unlike most of Galveston’s beaches, alcohol is permitted at East Beach.
Stewart Beach is Galveston’s premier family-friendly beach park, named as one of the “10 Best Beaches for Families” by the Family Vacation Critic. Located near where Broadway meets the Seawall, Stewart Beach has all the amenities you need for a day of family fun at the beach.
With warm Gulf of Mexico waves from spring through October, there’s plenty of time to explore each beach’s unique personality. Whatever your sun-seeking fancy, Galveston has a beach for you.
Stroll through a tropical rainforest, step onto a retired oil rig, and get your thrills on heart-pounding rides perched on a historic pier. Galveston is full of beachside charm, but it’s also full of exciting things to see and do for kids of all ages.
Start at the towering glass pyramids of Moody Gardens, each of which holds its own awe-inspiring world of wonder. Watch as saki monkeys and cotton-top tamarins leap between branches as tropical birds fly overhead in the Rainforest Pyramid. Then explore the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, Pacific, and the Caribbean in the Aquarium Pyramid.
Both pyramids have more than enough on their own, but there’s more. The Discovery Museum features an array of exhibits ideal for youngsters, while the 3D and 4D theaters screen immersive educational films along with Hollywood flicks. Throughout the summer, you can also take on a five-tier ropes course (complete with a zip line) or go for a splash in Palm Beach, home to a lazy river, wave pool, slides, and more.
The oil and gas industry is a big deal on the Texas Gulf Coast, and your youngsters can learn all about it at this retired oil rig museum. Set on a former jack-up drilling rig, the multi-tiered museum’s exhibits offer the ins and outs of offshore drilling and production, and its two exterior areas let you feel like you’re an on-site worker.
The Pleasure Pier opened in May of 2012 to crowds of excited Galvestonians and tourists alike. This multi-million dollar family destination brings the glory of Galveston's famous history into the present with fun for the young and old. Focused on waterfront fun and entertainment like no other Gulf Coast destination, the Pleasure Pier features family‐oriented attractions including 16 rides, midway games, retail shops and a wide selection of food venues, including Texas’ first Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Experience the epic story of Texas and the American West! The Bryan Museum is located in the 1895 Galveston Orphans Home, and houses one of the world’s largest collections of historical artifacts, documents, and artwork relating to Texas and the American West. The collection spans more than 12,000 years, with pieces ranging from ancient Native American cultural artifacts to twenty-first-century objects. The adventure of history comes alive at The Bryan Museum.
Explore locomotive history with one of the largest restored railroad collections in the United States. The Railroad Museum has 40 pieces of rolling stock, the largest collection of dining car china in the Southwest and two incredible model railroad layouts. The museum also owns a mile of track and runs weekly caboose rides!
Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark is OPEN again after closing last year due to the pandemic. The reopening coincides with cosmetic updates at the park, which will be sporting brighter colors on its family slides, Wolfpack and Thunder Tub attractions. Additionally, the park’s Pointe Pizza restaurant has been remodeled and will feature a new menu.
Although the beach may bring you here, Galveston Island has many other family-friendly experiences that are worth the trip on their own.
Beyond its sunbaked beaches, the Gulf Coast is known for its world-class, year-round fishing. That’s especially true on Galveston Island in the summer when the angling here is the most diverse of any other time of the year.
Stop by one of the two piers along the Seawall and you can buy bait and rent the gear you’ll need, then drop your line into the shallower water for your chance at hooking a redfish or speckled trout. You can also fish from any of the rock groins along the Seawall or the south jetty at East Beach.
Looking to catch something you can brag about to your friends? Book an offshore fishing charter for an all-day excursion to the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Here you can try your luck at snagging amberjack, red snapper, kingfish, mahi-mahi, or even tuna. Whether fishing is casual fun or an essential part of any time on the coast, you’ll make unforgettable memories on Galveston Island.
Galveston Island has always been a place of great importance, yet no singular event matches what occurred here on June 19, 1865. On this day, Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the official end of slavery in the United States, and it happened right here in Galveston. Today, this event is known as Juneteenth, a holiday celebrated around the world.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Union Major General Gordon Granger, 1865
Experience this history for yourself as you take in the stunning Absolute Equality Mural. Created by Houston artist Reginald Adams and commissioned by the Juneteenth Legacy Project, the 5,000-square-foot art installation overlooks Granger’s headquarters in the Strand Historic District. Much more than a traditional mural, Absolute Equality is an interactive work of storytelling. Download the Uncover Everything App (use your phone in camera mode), hold it up to each of the four portals and a video will play that showcases a certain part of the island’s past.
Take it all in, then follow the African American History Tour for a deeper dive into the past. The tour includes spots like the Reedy Chapel AME Church, where early Juneteenth celebrations were held, and Old Central High School, Texas’ first African American high school.
A lot of people aren’t aware that Galveston was where Juneteenth, a monumental event in U. S. history occurred. This day has come to be known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. Take this self-guided Freedom Walk to learn about 5 historic sites and their importance to Juneteenth.
Galveston Island provides visitors with a special passport to adventure and savings with the Galveston Island Pass. The pass allows visitors to experience multiple Galveston attractions on one ticket and save 40% off regular admission prices.
For more information and to purchase a pass, visit GalvestonIslandPass.com.
Where the Texas Coast begins.