Oh, the beach days to be had in Galveston. The Boardwalk, the awesome food joints, and all the sunshine you could ever want! GLORIOUS!
When the beach is about 50 miles away from the heart of Houston, you head down whenever you can and enjoy!
But knowing exactly HOW to enjoy Galveston is key and thank goodness Houston Moms is here to help!
It’s Galveston Island time!
There is something about crossing the causeway to Galveston Island that slows down the clock. Everything is bathed in sand and sun, and you subconsciously slip into vacation mode. You can practically smell the sunscreen as you pass rows of Victorians and brightly colored homes perched on stilts.
A big fan of our beachy neighbor, I’ve had the privilege of taking several tours of the island both on my own and through their tourism board. Based on my own meandering experiences, here are my best insider tips for a memorable Galveston vacay.
Let’s dive in!
Where to Stay in Galveston
One of the first things you’ll have to figure out is where to store your suitcase. Essentially, the island can be broken down into three main categories: 1) hotels/resorts, 2) vacation rentals, and 3) historic homes.
Hotels & Resorts
If you are bringing the whole family or spending a significant portion of your time at Moody Gardens, their on-site hotel is extremely convenient.
For us, the magic was at The Tremont House. The Tremont is a boutique experience with high ceilings and custom-crafted furnishings. If you appreciate historic architecture, you won’t be disappointed. You can also visit their rooftop bar if you just want a glimpse.
Depending on the size of your crew—or the character—having a place to yourselves may sound more appealing. There is no shortage of rentals on the island. You’ll be able to spread out your beach towels, play board games, make picnic lunches, and in general feel right at home. The thing to consider is the location and what you’ll be doing the most.
Many West End homes have private access to the beach where you can watch the waves in the morning with your coffee or scurry over the dunes when you’re ready to hit the sand. It’s also easy to access when everyone is hungry or needs a nap.
Many East End homes may require a bike ride or walk to the beach, but are closer to restaurants, shopping, tours, and some of the other popular tourist sites.
We have hit my soft spot. When in Galveston… A huge portion of the island is known for its incredible architecture and beautifully restored homes. If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend staying in one.
One of my favorites is Carr Mansion. Harrowing from the 19th century, the owners have taken great care to restore this gem making it a mix of modern elegance and historic preservation. Heavy drapes, clawfoot tubs, luscious bedding—you’ll find it all here. Plus, breakfast!
I almost hate to give up this secret, but George Manor is another must-stay. Just walking up to this stately manor sets the tone for your entire stay. Meticulously restored and home to an iconic tree carving, you’d never guess that it is stocked with modern conveniences and topline products. And you won’t want to miss the spread provided by their German chef.
What to Eat in Galveston
You really can’t have a solid vacay without some great food and let’s be honest, there is a slew of eating options in Galveston! While on the island I do recommend shying away from the chains when you can. I tend to hurt myself on seafood when I’m kicking around in the waves, but never fear if shellfish isn’t your thing, there’s plenty to choose from.
Here are some tried-and-trues that have never let us down!
If you are a crab cake fan, theirs are an absolute must. Our crew nearly burst at the seams by the time we were done with scallops, escargot, smoked salmon crostini, and crab-stuffed shrimp bites. BLVD is the ideal spot to pass around grade-A apps.
Non-seafood: Italian herb-crusted pork chop
You can’t go wrong with a classic like Gaido’s. I’m a sucker for the pecan-encrusted Mahi-mahi myself. Mahi is traditionally a light fish and that pecan breading—mwah! Warning: the shrimp and grits have caused people to actually faceplant into their bowls.
Non-seafood: Chicken ponzini with Swiss cheese and wild mushrooms
Great casual atmosphere, even better patio. Honestly, one of their po-boys with just about anything is the way to go. Their oysters are some of the best and don’t skip the shrimp tacos with black bean relish.
Non-seafood: Chicken fried steak
When we are downtown and need a bite, Yaga’s is a definite favorite. They have a great patio for people-watching that is Fido-friendly. The crawfish risotto croquette is beyond and the seafood flautas are a unique item I haven’t found anywhere else. Ziggy’s peppered shrimp or the Baha fish tacos will never steer you wrong.
Non-seafood: Roasted jerk chicken
We stumbled in here on the recommendation of a local shop owner, and it’s a winner! It’s a local hangout, so get a seat early. The boiled shrimp is heaped with creole seasoning and complements the crab poppers quite well. It’s an oyster bar so order the Rockafeller with spinach cream cheese and Parmesan.
Non-seafood: Red beans and rice
I cannot say enough cute things about this institution. Personally, I’d get in there for breakfast or brunch. I break my seafood rule for them and order the barbacoa omelet with breakfast potatoes. The crab cake and eggs are my other go-to. But whatever you do, order those potatoes.
Non-seafood: pancakes & fresh berries
For food with a view, this is your spot. Ideal for a sunset meal that will blow your camera roll up, Waterman’s serves an impeccable shrimp ceviche. The Texas blackberry salmon always gets my vote, but the stuffed shrimp is another stunner.
Non-seafood: 16 oz. Ribeye and brown butter crème brûlée
Every time my husband gets to choose, he will pick Riondo’s. Aside from incredible Italian dishes, the eatery is repurposed inside a historic bank building—which is a whole vibe. Without a doubt, if grilled calamari is on the menu, order it. Game-changer. Blackened sea scallops will rock you and seafood ravioli are heavenly little pillows of goodness.
Non-seafood: Gnocchi di Spinachi a la Panna
For an adult outing or celebration, I strongly recommend visiting Rudy & Paco’s! The calamari appetizer tossed with caramelized onions and sweet peppers has a slightly different note but is scrumptious. All of their red snapper dishes are incredible and the gulf shrimp sauteed in white wine and garlic butter will wow you. (Note: Shorts are not allowed in the main dining room during dinner.)
Non-seafood: Lamb chops in a smoked chipotle sauce
The name is everything it promises. Located right across from the water, this comfy spot welcomes you in like a warm hug. Hands-down our favorite apps are the Cajun pistolettes (buttery rolls bursting with crawfish etouffee) and the bacon-wrapped shrimp. I’m never disappointed with the oysters or bourbon street platter.
Non-seafood: Hangover burger
Listen, you can’t stroll downtown without stopping by La King’s. Share a scoop or a float while you wait for the next taffy-making demo.
Don’t worry, it’s all non-seafood…pretty sure.
If you happen to be around on a Sunday, add the iconic Galvez Brunch to your itinerary. It sounds pricey at $44.99/adult, but if you are strategic, it’s worth it. Our guide told us, “Skip the salad and fruit, you can get that anywhere. Head straight for the seafood!” And we probably ate our weight in crab legs and boiled shrimp. There were no less than four tables of dessert. You have to do it at least once. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
Non-seafood: Omelette station
Things to Do in Galveston
There is no shortage of things to do in Galveston. You can race down slides at Schlitterbahn or explore the pyramids at Moody Gardens. Pleasure Pier is especially fun at dusk when all of the rides light up with an array of colors.
But, if you’re looking for something a little more off the beach-en path, well right this way my friends…
Take a Dolphin Tour
We did this on our last Galveston trip and it was so much fun. During the excursion, you’ll receive some fun facts and island tidbits with some dad jokes thrown in for good measure along with possible fin sightings.
Kayak with Artistic Boat
If you feel like you’ve experienced Galveston in the past, I’d suggest this new perspective. Choose from 2-,3-, or 4-hour adventures inspired by coastal preservation. Select tours include a Plein-air watercolor art experience.
Galveston Island Horse & Pony Rides
It’s as cool as it sounds. Go ahead and scratch riding horses on the beach off your bucket list.
Jet Boat Thrill Ride
Okay so my father-in-law isn’t the biggest fan, but your tween/teen crowd will love it. Race around the Gulf at accelerated speeds. Be prepared Aunt Jan, your hair will get wet.
Let an experienced crew give you your sea legs. Perfect for celebrating special occasions or just earmarking a vacation with a truly unique offering. You can book half-day, full-day, or even overnight packages.
Movies on the Beach
This fun little treat runs from May to September and rotates between locations. Like drive-ins, the movie starts when it’s dark so the 8:30 pm curtain call may be tough for littles. If you park on the beach, the pricing is per car.
Maybe it goes without saying, maybe it doesn’t—the beach! Galveston offers 32 miles of shoreline and a variety of parks. Find a patch of stand and stake your umbrella. It is a dog-friendly beach so bring Dragon along! But remember, your fur-bestie needs a leash and fresh water.
Learn a Little
This lady is impressive. Climb aboard this functioning vessel and experience history. Not to mention the photo opps are pretty stellar.
Ship to Shore
A sister attraction to the ELISSA, the Seaport Museum recently opened this interactive experience! You will take on the persona of your immigrant as your move through the exhibit and will find out by the end what happened to you. Fair warning, it’s a lot of reading. May not be suitable for younger viewers or ADD adults.
Shiver your timbers and search for buried treasure at Galveston’s very own pirate museum.
I know this might not be high on your list, but don’t skip over it. The Bryan is the world’s largest collection of Texas and American West history. The hand-crafted diorama of the Battle of Jacinto alone is jaw-dropping.
If you have any locomotive fans in your crew, this is the spot. The 1932 Depot has five acres of trains, and there is approximately 40 rolling stock, including locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and cabooses.
Step aboard the USS Cavalla, a WWII submarine nicknamed the “Lucky Lady.” Entice young enquiring minds with a trip to the torpedo room.
Got you here, didn’t I? Yes, 684 acres of undeveloped coastal prairie and salt marsh. Perfect place for your budding scientist to explore or practice your nature photography skills.
Historic Home Tours
Moody Mansion and Bishop’s Palace provide an intricate look into years past. Both are ranked at the national level for architectural significance. Bishop’s now offers basement to attic tours so there’s even more to see!
If you’ve spent any time on the island, you’ve likely noticed some colorful turtles around, but they are part of a larger community art project created by Turtle Island Restoration Network to protect endangered sea turtles and there are 50 throughout the island! Make a list with their names and locations and see how many you can find.
The trolleys have returned! Galveston’s historic transportation has been restored and is a great option for getting around town. It’s only a dollar for adults (minors ride free) but bring exact change.
Located on Pelican Island, Seawolf Park offers a spattering of things for the family. It’s a popular fishing pier, has picnic sites for all-day fun, as well as a good-sized playground. For the history buffs, you’ll be rubbing anchors with a WWII submarine, the USS Cavalla, and one of only three destroyer escorts, the USS Stewart.
For the ‘Gram
Aside from the obligatory yoga pose on the beach, Galveston offers an eclectic mix of vibrant murals and photo spots sure to inspire post-worthy images. The larger-than-life Galveston postcard is a must, but shutterbugs will find everything from bees to umbrellas.
It honestly doesn’t get fresher than Katie’s. From the boat to your pan! I personally enjoy going by Katie’s just to watch the flurry of activity and see what the daily catch is. Highly recommend this option if you’re in a rental and have the freedom to do your own cookout.
Red Light District
Of all the bootleg joints! Learn the seedier side of Galveston’s history on this 90-minute walking tour of the red light district. Material is PG-13; plan accordingly.
If possible, my favorite thing to do while on vacation is to embed myself in the local culture. The Opera House is the perfect spot! Beautifully restored, this gem is an incredible link between past and present. Upcoming shows are listed on their calendar.
It doesn’t matter how many times you waltz between the historic streets you’ll always find something new. Some of our frequent stops include Mercantile, Gracie’s, The Admiralty, Pelican Island, and Hendley Market.
If it’s your first time on the island or if you’ve been going there for years, seeing it from a bird’s eye view is next-level. Packages range from a 7-mile tour hitting popular highlights to a 25-mile tour at sunset.
The island is your oyster! Make the most out of your pearly memories and remember to tag #LoveGalveston on social media. You never know when you could be featured by the locals!