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There’s no need to spend an arm and a leg when you visit Galveston Island this summer.
There are plenty of free and inexpensive things to do both on and off the beach. Here are a few of our favorites:
pictured: Saengerfest Park
Visitors to Stewart Beach can participate in “Sandcastle Days.” This free, family-friendly event series teaches beachgoers how to create spectacular sandcastles with lessons instructed by professional sandcastle builders. The Stewart Beach lessons will take place every Saturday during the summer. Registration is not required for the lessons and equipment will be provided on a limited basis. Participants are encouraged to bring their own sand buckets and shovels.
Giant battle ships, huge bean bags and limbo showdowns are coming to Stewart Beach this summer for the return of the Galveston Family Beach Challenge. The challenge, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on second Sundays May through August as well as the Sunday of Labor Day weekend – will transform a portion of Stewart Beach into a gigantic obstacle course.
Join the Bucket Brigade in exploring the creatures and features that make Galveston beaches unique. Tours are educational and fun for ocean lovers of all ages. Hands-on activities investigate topics including Galveston’s turbid water, marine debris, seaweed, and more. The beach tours take place at Stewart Beach and are offered on Saturdays and Sundays and last approximately 45 minutes.
In Galveston, you can explore African American history in living color thanks to a new interactive tour app offered by the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. The tour, found on the new Visit Galveston app, allows visitors to take a self-guided journey to learn about the island’s many historically black institutions and monuments celebrating black accomplishments. To access the tour, visitors can either download the Visit Galveston app on Android or Apple devices or visit the website at galveston.visitwidget.com. The African American History Tour itinerary can be taken as is or customized based on a person’s interests and time allocation.
Another free self-guided tour takes visitors throughout the island to discover colorful Kemp's ridley sea turtle sculptures. More than 50 of the sculptures are part of this effort meant to raise awareness for conservation and preserving this endangered species of sea turtles.
After Hurricane Ike, Galveston lost thousands of oak trees because of the saltwater surge. Soon after, island residents began commissioning artists to create sculptures from the damaged trees. Each of the more than 30 sculptures was designed to accent its surroundings and to express the homeowners’ personality and history.
Presented by the Galveston Arts Center, ArtWalk is Presented every six to eight weeks in partnership with downtown galleries, artist studios, nonprofits, and local businesses, ArtWalk also takes place inside existing art spaces. This popular event is free and open to everyone. After 35 years of organizing ArtWalk, Galveston Arts Center reintroduced this community program on April 24th, 2021 after a precautionary one-year hiatus.
The ferry travels between Galveston island and Bolivar Peninsula. Pedestrians and bicyclists can walk on, cars can drive on. The ferry is free, and most of the time, passengers can see dolphins playing in the water along the way.
Galveston is home to a working fishing and shrimping fleet that departs the harbor before dawn most mornings and bringing the bounty of the sea to area fish markets and restaurants later in the day. Known as the Mosquito Fleet, because the nets cast on the sides of the boats resemble the insects when they’re at sea. A visit to the harbor is a fun way to spend an afternoon and get a great view of the busy harbor and the many pelicans, gulls and dolphins that call it home.
Downtown Galveston is home to an impressive collection of Victorian architecture. It’s free to stroll Strand and Postoffice Streets and the quaint side streets that line this historic district.
The East End Lagoon Nature Park and Preserve (EEL) is located on the eastern tip of Galveston Island. A project of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, the City of Galveston and the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, the EEL is a unique and valuable area spanning almost 700 acres of diverse habitat. Recent improvements to the area include the addition of a half-mile walking trail that features educational signage. The lagoon is a hotspot for birders, especially during the spring and fall migration seasons.
Galveston Historical Foundation brought ELISSA, an 1877 square-rigged iron barque, from a scrapyard in Piraeus Harbor, Greece to Galveston to begin restoration work in 1978. By 1982, GHF staff and volunteers completed restoration and transformed this rare, historic vessel into a floating museum that would actively sail. Today, the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA is one of only three ships of her kind in the world to still actively sail and welcomes over 40,000 visitors annually. She also serves as the Official Tall Ship of Texas, a National Historic Landmark, and a symbol of the Gulf Coast’s historic beginnings as a seaport and active waterfront. The 1877 ELISSA welcomes visitors at the Galveston Historic Seaport. Experience Galveston’s maritime history daily. Tickets to visit the Elissa are $10 for adults. Kids five and under are free.
See Galveston Harbor up close aboard Seagull II, Texas Seaport Museum’s 50-foot twin-engine motor vessel. Don’t miss this chance to get a new perspective on Galveston Bay and the historic Port of Galveston. Knowledgeably narrated tours explore the wide variety of birds and marine life that teems in the Bay. (They have no contract with them, but playful dolphins almost always show up to entertain themselves by watching the red-and-white boat and its passengers.) And the human activity in this busy port can only truly be appreciated from the water. A tour aboard the Seagull II is always an hour well spent. A harbor tour is $12 for adults and children (four & up). Children (three and under) are free.
The Ocean Star is retired jack-up drilling rig that operated in the Gulf of Mexico from 1969 to 1984 and drilled over 200 wells during that timeframe. In 1995, the OEC purchased the Ocean Star, and after lengthy refurbishment, opened it as a museum in 1997. The museum is designed to be a self-guided facility with videos, information, interactive exhibits throughout, and takes most visitors about 1.5 hours to tour completely. Tickets are $10 for adults and free for children six and under.
The Galveston Railroad Museum is dedicated to the restoration, observation, and re-use of its historic facilities and equipment for the development of educational and interactive programs, which support railroading and transportation initiatives serving our regional community. Here, you can explore restored trains and a station that once served as a busy transportation hub for the region. Tickets are $12 for people three and up.
Home to one of the largest collections of art and artifacts relating to Texas and the Southwest, the Bryan Museum features items dating back more than 12,000 years. Kids and adults will appreciate the variety of paintings, saddles, weaponry and an impressive diorama that depicts the epic Battle of San Jacinto. Located in the former Galveston Orphans’ Home, a 1900 storm survivor, the museum also includes interactive, educational activities for children. Admission prices range from $14 for adults to $5 for children.
The 1892 Bishop's Palace (a.k.a. Gresham House) is a contributing building in the East End Historic District, a National Historic Landmark. The house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places at the national level of significance in the area of architecture. Architectural historians list the Bishop’s Palace as one of the most significant of Victorian residences in the country. Self-guided audio tours are $14 for adults and free for children five and under.
The Galveston Island State Park offers a wide variety of outdoor activities that are free to participate in. While each person over 12 must pay a $5 entry charge to get into the park, families can enjoy beach combing, geo-caching, kayaking, birding, nature field trips and fishing at no cost.
To save even more, plan your trip midweek to save on accommodations. And, take advantage of the Island Pass. Select at least four participating attractions and you can save up to 40% off on admission. For participating attractions and more information, click here.
Where the Texas Coast begins.
by Kristen Vale
by Visit Galveston
by Dr. Hal Needham
by Visit Galveston