Galveston Island is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Texas. This lovely barrier island on the Gulf Coast has it all: miles of wonderful white sandy beaches, a port for cruise ships, a beautifully restored historic old town and a distinct Southern charm. Elegant Victorian architecture, endless festivals, and fantastic outdoor adventures will make you want to come back. Here are the best things to do in Galveston, TX.
1.Seawall Urban Park
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With ten miles of the nation’s longest continuous sidewalk, plenty of beach side entertainment, and a plethora of restaurants, resorts, and beach side attractions, the Seawall Urban Park is one of top Galveston attractions and guaranteed fun for the entire family. Whether visitors like to splash in the water, sunbathe, go for a walk or jog, or people watch, a sunny beachside is the best place to do it.
Away from the water, visitors can shop for souvenirs at the beachside shops or relish in a fresh seafood meal. The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park is packed with rollercoasters that soar over the Gulf of Mexico, carousels to take the little ones on a ride, and other exciting attractions.
2.Galveston - Port Bolivar Ferry
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Until 1929, the only link between Galveston Island and the mainland was the skiff, The Tarpon, and later, two barges. The ferry, when it started taking people back and forth in 1929 was toll-free, but it was so popular that a fee had to be imposed. Today, free again, the Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry takes more than eight million travelers between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula every year.
While one vessel operates 24 hours a day, up to six ferries can be added if there is need. The ferry bridges two parts of State Highway 87, the only highway that goes around Galveston Bay. The ferry is the only way for motorists to cross the water between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.
502 Ferry Road, Galveston, Galveston Island, TX, United States, 361-749-2850
3.1877 Tall Ship ELISSA
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ELISSA, a three-mast sailing vessel, is one of the world’s oldest sailing hulls still in operation and one of the best things to do in Galveston, Texas. ELISSA has a rich history as a merchant vessel, and it was launched in 1877 from Aberdeen, Scotland – she’s also sailed under Norwegian, Finnish, Greek, and Swedish flags.
Visitors can explore the decks of this now floating National Historic Landmark and imagine themselves as the daring sailors who were once onboard taking on the world’s oceans. There is a museum and theater for visitors to gain a better understanding of ELISSA’s history as well as her rescue from the shipyard and her restoration.
2200 Harborside Drive, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-763-1877
4.Bishop's Palace, Galveston, Texas
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You cannot miss it: Bishop's Palace, also known Gresham's Castle, is a riot of colored stone, rare woods, exquisitely carved decorations, bronze dragons, and stained glass – and that is only on the outside. On the inside, it is 19,082 square feet of Victorian opulence, with immense fireplaces, luxury furniture, sculptures of all kinds, and beautiful textiles.
The Victorian beauty, completed in 1892, is located in the East End of the Galveston’s Historic District and is considered one of the city’s dearest treasures. Galveston’s premier architect Nicholas Clayton designed the palace, and it was built for prominent city lawyer Colonel Walter Gresham. This spectacular Victorian building is considered by the American Institute of Architects as one of America’s most important buildings.
1402 Broadway Avenue J, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-762-2475
5.Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark
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Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark is 26 acres of fun. With dozens of spectacular adventures, it provides year-round entertainment to kids of all ages and those who are kids at heart. It has over 30 innovative, high adrenaline attractions, including the award-winning three-river system named Transportainment®. While a great number of adventures are seasonal, the Wasserfest area of the waterpark transforms into an indoor park in the winter in order to stay open year around.
There are three speed slides, four tube slides, three kids' activity areas, a heated pool, a secluded beach, a surfing wave, and the famous Torrent Tidal Wave River. The Soaring Eagle gondolas will let you fly 100 feet in the air, offering the best way to see the whole of Galveston. With fun private cabanas to create your own picnic or a party and a number of diverse restaurants, Schlitterbahn will keep you happy for days.
2026 Lockheed Rd, Galveston, TX 77554, United States, 409-770-9283
6. The Strand Historic District
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The Strand Historic District, or the Strand, is located in downtown Galveston, Texas and is registered as a National Historic Landmark District. It consists of a number of beautiful Victorian buildings that today house boutiques, restaurants, galleries, and antique stores. Start your self-guided tour at the Galveston Railroad Museum on the corner of 25th and Strand. Give this popular museum at least half an hour.
Check the stores on the Strand and remember that many of them survived the storm of 1900 when a hurricane killed more than 6000 people in Galveston. Don’t miss Galveston’s famous restaurants on the waterfront – the seafood is spectacular. In Harborside, on Pier 19, visit the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum, check what is showing at the Pier 21 Theater, and enjoy the beauty of the tall ship Elissa at the Texas Seaport Museum.
2228 Mechanic St, Galveston, TX 77550, United States
7.Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum
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If you have always been curious about the life on one of the drilling rigs, come and visit the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, an actual tried, tested, and retired jack-up drilling rig. Located about an hour from downtown Houston, the world's oil capital, the museum is operated by the Offshore Energy Center and is located on Galveston's Pier 19 just a block off The Strand.
You are welcome to roam free through the rig and take a self-guided tour through its three levels and see the drilling equipment and some fascinating exhibits and videos. One of the most interesting exhibits is Offshore Drilling: The Promise of Discover, which takes you behind the scenes and shows the real process of drilling for oil and gas offshore.
2002 Wharf Rd, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-766-7827
8.Galveston Island Railroad Museum and Terminal
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The Galveston Island Railroad Museum and Terminal has been a part of the Galveston community for over 30 years and was created to depict the history of rail transportation. By accumulating the largest collection of rail artifacts, memorabilia, and railroad rolling stock, the museum was able to accomplish just that.
Visitors can enjoy permanent exhibits such as The Depot, which was an active passenger depot for over 30 years, and the “Ghosts of Travelers Past” exhibition, where plaster molds depict individuals who passed through the area. The museum hosts events throughout the year – museum train shows, parades, and Mardi Gras celebrations – all fun for the entire family.
2602 Santa Fe Place, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-765-5700
9.East End Historic District
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The East End Historic District has been designated a National Historic Landmark and covers 50 city blocks. The district, placed on the National Register of Historic Places, will take visitors back in time; horse-drawn carriages, the architectural details of the homes and buildings, ornate carvings found throughout, and a brightly-colored stained glass window all give visitors a peek into what it was like in Galveston’s “Gilded Age”.
Preserved by the East End Historical District Association (EEHDA), visitors are urged to attend and enjoy a host of events such as block parties, neighborhood clean ups, and Christmas light contests.
1501 Post Office St, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-763-5928
10.The Grand 1894 Opera House, Galveston, TX
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The Grand 1894 Opera House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been a part of Galveston history since 1894. The community, headed by Henry Greenwall, built the Grand in 1894, and then thousands of residents reconstructed it between 1974 and 1990 after a storm caused severe destruction. If you are looking for things to do in Galveston on a romantic date, attend an event at the Grand 1894 Opera House.
Now, visitors can enjoy events throughout the year, from musicals to food and wine festivals and everything in between. The theater hosts art shows and other memorable events; visitors can create memories by renting the opera house for lavish meetings, receptions, and parties.
2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-765-1894
11.Galveston's 61st Street Fishing Pier
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A chilled beer, fresh bait, and a fishing pole is all you need to have a good time at the Galveston 61st Street Fishing Pier – the best part is that visitors don’t need to take any of that stuff with them, as it’s all available at the pier.
The family fun goes on all night on the pier, and for a small fee, visitors can rent equipment, buy bait, and indulge in delicious pier-side snacks and foods. The pier is open for fishing all night, and it offers a great way to spend the day under the sun or the stars.
12. Moody Mansion Museum
© Moody Mansion Museum
The former home of W.L. Moody Jr., one of Time Magazine’s Top 10 Wealthiest Americans in 1950, the Moody Mansion Museum is filled with antiques, furnishings, and personal effects from the Moody family. Visitors are invited to tour the 28,000 square-foot, four-story structure that was the home to the Moody family for over 80 years.
Tours include a description of the history of the Moody family, who started in the cotton industry and branched out to banking, insurance, ranching, and hotels. Each room is decorated in a different style and portrays the architecture and taste of the ‘80s.
2618 Broadway – Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-762-7668
Next read: Moody Gardens
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Stewart Beach is Galveston’s premier family beach park, and its visitors are in for a treat as the beach provides a perfect getaway on a nice day. It is home to numerous concession stands filled with beach favorites such as hotdogs, burgers, and funnel cake and has many restaurants nearby.
Amenities such as a pavilion, restrooms, showers, beach volleyball courts, and chair and umbrella rentals are available, and lifeguards regularly supervise the area, ensuring the safety of visitors. Family Vacation Critic voted Stewart Beach one of the “10 Best Beaches for Families” in 2013.
201 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-797-5182
14.NOAA Fisheries Service Galveston Laboratory
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, manages fishery species and characterizes their habitats. Visitors go there mainly for the amazing work taking place to conserve endangered sea turtles and other marine species. A popular sea turtle tour is given weekly – visitors need to book this in advance.
The tours are a great way to learn about sea turtles and are led by volunteers who have extensive backgrounds in marine biology. The laboratory has an annual Ocean Discovery Day where visitors can tour the facilities, interact with scientists, and check out the cool technology being used. NOAA is a fun way for the entire family to learn about varying marine species.
4700 Avenue U, Galveston, TX 77551, United States, 409-766-3500
15.Hotel Galvez Spa, Galveston, Texas
Located in the 100-year-old majestic Hotel Galvez right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the Hotel Galvez Spa is a 10,000 square foot oasis of tranquility. Opulent and luxurious, the spa is designed to pamper both your body and your mind. This soothing space and the highly qualified staff will improve your circulation, relive muscle soreness and reduce stress through a series of customized services.
Treat yourself to rejuvenating massages, refreshing facials, and a range of body treatments with the spa’s own ingredients. The spa has nine wonderfully decorated and equipped treatment rooms, a professional salon, and a well-equipped fitness center. Stroll through the spa’s meditation garden and stop by the boutique to replenish your supplies of beauty products.
2024 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-765-7721
You may also like: The Tremont House.
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Cool Tours will make your exploration of Galveston Island an absolute pleasure. In cooperation with Baywatch Dolphin Tours, they are now offering a very popular Land and Sea Tour to cover everything that makes the island and the city so unique. Starting at the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier, a comfortable air-conditioned bus will take you around the island, while your charming and well-informed guide will share with you facts and fables about Galveston, its history, and its most colorful characters.
You will spend about half an hour touring the East End Historic District and its fabled magnificent 19th century Victorian mansions, as well as one of the city’s landmarks – the famous tree sculptures. At Pier 21, you will board special jet propulsion Baywatch Dolphin Tour boat to explore the Galveston Harbor and delight in pods of frolicking dolphin that live permanently in the harbor. Your two and a half hour tour ends at the historic Strand District with its colorful shops and excellent restaurants.
2500 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77551, United States, 409-539-5374
17.The Bryan Museum
© The Bryan Museum
It all started when eight-year-old J.P. Bryan bought an 1859 four-barreled .22-caliber Derringer with the money he earned mowing lawns and delivering papers. It was the first item in his life-long collection of American West historic objects. The collection now has over 70,000 pieces and it includes such curiosities as a Mexican silver saddle and a Walker Colt, a revolver used in the war with Comanches. J.P. Bryan’s collection is now part of the museum that made its home in the fully reconstructed historic former Galveston orphanage.
It is the world’s largest collection of its kind. Different museum galleries contain historically relevant documents, superbly crafted saddles, antique firearms, spurs, rare maps, books, fine art, folk and religious art, superb portraits, and much more. Read more about The Bryan Museum.
1315 21st St, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-632-7685
18.Galveston Island State Park
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The Galveston Island State Park is over 2,000 acres of beaches, ponds, estuaries, wetlands, and dunes. Visitors can bring a picnic, swim and splash at the beach, hike, mountain bike, or just relax and enjoy the surrounding nature. The park is a great place to bird watch or go fishing – a canoe and kayak launch and a fish cleaning station are available on premises.
Visitors can rent a cabin or stay at one of the beach or bay campsites for overnight camping and experience the beauty of Galveston Island State Park at night.
14901 FM3005, Galveston, TX 77554, United States, 409-737-1222
19.Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX
© Rosenberg Library
Successor to the Galveston Mercantile Library, which was founded in 1871, Rosenberg Library is the oldest continuously operating public library in Texas. The main building was dedicated in 1904, and the Moody Memorial Wing was added in 1971, doubling the floor space and allowing for the addition of a history center, a children's library, several galleries that house museum collections, and recently, a computer lab.
The Galveston and Texas History Center collection contains materials about early Texas and Galveston; Major Manuscript collections has, among other documents, the papers of Samuel May Williams, Gail Borden, John Grant Tod, Jr., and James Morgan. The Twentieth-Century collections cover modern activities and events in Galveston and on the Gulf Coast.
2310 Sealy Street, Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 409-763-8854
20.BayWatch Dolphin Tours
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The BayWatch Dolphin Tours is a family owned and operated business on Pier 21 in Galveston, Texas. Passengers are taken on a boat tour to get up close and personal with dolphins in their natural habitat.
For 45 minutes, visitors will learn about the history of dolphins in the area and get an opportunity to see the dolphins swim and play around in the water – visitors are encouraged to take photographs. The BayWatch Dolphin Tours offers an educational and memorable experience.
2100 Harborside Dr., Galveston, TX 77550, United States, 832-859-4557
21.Tree Sculpture Tour
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Tree Sculpture Tour is the most delightful treasure hunt. You can see tourists with a little brochure and a Google map driving slowly through the East End Historical District and poking their noses into people’s backyards, looking for the famous Tree Sculptures. Tge Tree Sculptures are the product of three local sculptors – Jimmy Phillips, Earl Jones and Dayle Lewis – who have been working since 2009 to convert the trees that died from the sea surge after Hurricane Ike.
They had a lot to choose from – more than 35000 trees died, some of them planted after the previous city tragedy, the storm of 1900. The sculptures are carved from the tree stumps and still in the ground, and the artists are converting them into dogs, birds, angels, and dolphins. It started as a way for the citizens to cope with the tragedy and ended up being one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
22.Galveston Children's Museum
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Located in Moody Mansion, the Galveston Children's Museum is a place for children to safely explore and discover the science and arts at a young age through entertaining and educational programs. The hands-on exhibits are interactive and give children a unique way to experience the unknown, from building robots to studying bugs under a microscope.
Visitors could plan their visits around one of the museum’s many events or special programs, which are scheduled throughout the year. Classes such as painting, yoga for kids, and story times are available to ensure that children have a great time.
2618 Broadway, Galveston, TX 77880, United States, 409-572-2544
23.Moody Gardens Golf Course, Galveston, TX
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Moody Garden Golf Course is a lavish 18-hole public golf course open all seven days of the week. Visitors can book a tee time and get ready to hit some balls on the breathtaking seaside course, which has a unique tropical feel thanks to its view of the sea, the upland and lowland native areas, natural wetlands, and swaying palm trees.
Visitors can enjoy incredible vistas from the clubhouse patio, dine at the Pelican Grille restaurant, or stock up on golf gear at the pro shop. Visitors planning an event or celebration can visit Moody Gardens’ banquet venue with onsite catering.
1700 Sydnor Lane, Galveston, TX 77554, United States, 409-683-4653
25 Best Things to Do in Galveston, Texas
- Seawall Urban Park, Photo: Courtesy of hildeanna - Fotolia.com
- Galveston - Port Bolivar Ferry , Photo: Courtesy of Alexandre - Fotolia.com
- 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA, Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie - Fotolia.com
- Bishop's Palace, Galveston, Texas, Photo: Courtesy of Vetmari, LLC - Fotolia.com
- Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, Photo: Courtesy of valiza14 - Fotolia.com
- The Strand Historic District, Photo: Courtesy of Alexandre - Fotolia.com
- Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, Photo: Courtesy of pichitstocker - Fotolia.com
- Galveston Island Railroad Museum and Terminal, Photo: Courtesy of DmyTo - Fotolia.com
- East End Historic District, Photo: Courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC - Fotolia.com
- The Grand 1894 Opera House, Galveston, TX, Photo: Courtesy of Isaiah Love - Fotolia.com
- Galveston's 61st Street Fishing Pier, Photo: Courtesy of Berlin 85 - Fotolia
- Moody Mansion Museum, Photo: Moody Mansion Museum
- Stewart Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Kubyshin - Fotolia.com
- NOAA Fisheries Service Galveston Laboratory, Photo: Courtesy of Mohamad Zaki - Fotolia.com
- Hotel Galvez Spa, Galveston, Texas
- Cool Tours, Photo: Courtesy of BJ Ray - Fotolia.com
- The Bryan Museum, Photo: The Bryan Museum
- Galveston Island State Park, Photo: Courtesy of dplett - Fotolia.com
- Rosenberg Library, Galveston, TX, Photo: Rosenberg Library
- BayWatch Dolphin Tours , Photo: Courtesy of Fritz - Fotolia.com
- Tree Sculpture Tour, Photo: Courtesy of drhfoto - Fotolia.com
- Galveston Children's Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Maksim Kostenko - Fotolia.com
- Moody Gardens Golf Course, Galveston, TX, Photo: Courtesy of Jacob Lund - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Kubyshin - Fotolia.com