Contrary to popular belief, Galveston, TX isn’t just a place to leave on Galveston cruises. With so many things to do in Galveston from an indoor rainforest at Moody Gardens Galveston to amusement rides for kids of all ages at Galveston Pleasure Pier, there’s enough to keep you busy for an extended vacation. But if you’ve already booked one of the cruises out of Galveston, this guide will give you a great idea for things to do in Galveston before you go!
I’ll be the first to admit that before we visited Galveston, Texas two weeks ago, I knew one thing about it – it was another place you could go on a cruise. That’s it. I didn’t even know that Galveston is actually an island or that there was a Galveston beach. I’ve lived on the east coast for the better part of my life and Galveston just never even made it on my radar.
The sad part is that my husband, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend who all have lived in Texas for a good portion of their lives, also thought of Galveston as just a cruise port. I’m hoping this guide can convince you that there are more things to do in Galveston, TX than just Galveston cruises.
Things to Do in Galveston TX
There are so many things to do in Galveston, TX that I’m only going to hit the highlights, the things I recommend you check out first or if you have just a day or two before taking one of the Galveston cruises. And then I recommend you plan another trip to return to explore for a longer period of time. If you don’t want all the details and just want a list of things to do and places to eat, skip to the bottom for a printable guide.
Not headed to Galveston yet? Pin this guide for future trips!
Galveston Weather & Galveston Cruises
I’m bringing up the Galveston weather first because it’s important. It’s not a bad decision to go on one of the cruises out of Galveston. I’d just recommend booking a day or two before or after your cruise to explore Galveston like it deserves to be explored. It’s actually a great departure port option for people in the midwest or west who don’t want to travel all the way to Florida.
I’ve never been on one of the cruises from Galveston, but after our week there I do have one tip for booking – book your flights to Galveston and flights from Galveston with at least a day of buffer time, especially if you’re cruising in the winter. It doesn’t happen often, but two of the three days that we were on Galveston Island were so foggy that cruise ships couldn’t come in, which also means the new cruises couldn’t go out. We ran into a lot of people who were hanging out in Galveston waiting for the fog to lift so they could head out on their cruise.
Don’t mess with the weather – give yourself at least a day or two buffer time on either end so you don’t miss flights, etc. If you do get stuck, it’s a good thing there are so many things to do in Galveston while you wait!
Things to Do in Galveston TX with Only 1 to 2 Days
Moody Gardens Galveston
Moody Gardens Galveston is a little hard to explain. It’s not gardens at all, it’s more like a series of interactive museums and attractions that all fall under the Moody Gardens umbrella, and all are located in the Moody Gardens area. Moody Gardens Galveston consists of:
- An aquarium (closed for renovations until May 27, 2017)
- An indoor rainforest
- Two theaters – one MG 3D theater and one 4d Special FX theater
- A paddleboat
- A ropes course & zip line area
- A discovery pyramid with themed attractions (SpongeBob & Dinosaurs in Motion)
- Seasonal activities like a water park area, an ice village and more.
- Interactive animal adventures
You could easily buy a Moody Gardens day pass and spend the entire day just exploring everything it has to offer or pick the attraction that interests you the most. We walked through the rainforest pyramid during our recent visit and enjoyed seeing a variety of animals close up from butterflies to tropical birds. It’s definitely kid-friendly yet exciting for the adults as well.
In the same area as Moody Gardens is the largest waterpark in Galveston – Schlitterbahn. We weren’t able to actually visit the park because we visited in January when the waterpark is closed, but if it’s anything like its sister park in Kansas City or the other Texas locations, it’s a great place to spend the day cooling off from a hot Texas day if you’re visiting in the spring or summer. Buy tickets to Schlitterbahn Galveston here.
Galveston Pleasure Pier
The Galveston Pleasure Pier is exactly what I envision a boardwalk being when you visit a beach town. It’s located right off of the main Seawall Blvd and juts out into the gulf waters creating a scenic picture from all angles. With over 15 rides and attractions, midway games, and plenty of amusement park style dining options, it’s a fun way to spend a few hours.
Since buying tickets individually can be a bit expensive, I’d recommend getting buying an all-day ride pass or a family all-day ride pass because I’m sure once you’ve tried out the iron shark roller coaster once, you’re going to want to do it again! And don’t forget a funnel cake, just maybe not right before you ride said roller coaster.
Explore The Strand Galveston
Easily one of my favorite things to do in Galveston is to explore The Strand, Galveston’s form of a downtown. Don’t be confused like we were and stick to just the street, The Strand, it’s the entire area that’s worth checking out. And luckily it’s right by the Galveston cruise ship terminal, so you could even just stop by for a few hours before you board your ship.
The Strand Galveston is the home to cute boutique shops, historical homes and museums, delicious mom and pop style restaurants, and lively entertainment and people watching. We parked our 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe in front of the historical Galveston courthouse and walked around The Strand for a few hours each of the days we were in Galveston. Good thing the Santa Fe had a huge trunk to fit all of our purchases in!
You definitely want to give yourself enough time, so you have time to stop in and watch a taffy pull in La King’s Confectionary, to see who can find the best graffiti wall art, to pick up a unique souvenir in Hendley Market, and find one of the tree sculptures created from the wood of beautiful trees destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Get a Spa Treatment at Hotel Galvez & Spa
The massage I had at Hotel Galvez & Spa was one of the best I’ve had in my life, and I’ve had a lot of massages. If you have at least two hours to spare and there’s availability, make your life a little better by booking a spa treatment here. Treatments are a bit expensive compared to strip mall type massage joints, but the service and the free bonuses like lavender champagne (that I’m told was amazing) and the relaxation room are worth it. And my friend Cori raved about the facials at Hotel Galvez & Spa!
Take a Drive All Over Galveston Island
Galveston Island isn’t very big, making it the perfect place to explore via car for a day. We all piled into our 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe (with room for seven people + our bags!) and drove around taking pictures of the pastel beach homes on stilts, found any colorful signs we could on Seawall, and explored historical sites like the Railroad Museum and Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum. The Hyundai Santa Fe with its all wheel drive was perfect for driving right up onto the beach and the easy to use built-in navigation system made it so we never got lost. So much to see on Galveston Island that you can only find by driving around, not by Googling it.
Eat at One of the Best Galveston Restaurants
Galveston restaurants are local, authentic, and delicious. There’s not good Thai takeout within miles (we tried!) or bad food to be had. Well, that’s probably not true but everywhere we ate was tasty. Because the food is fresh and high-quality, the prices seemed to be a bit more than I’ve paid elsewhere, but the price was worth it. I’m putting together a full writeup of our favorite restaurants in Galveston, but for now here’s a list of some of the best Galveston restaurants to get you started. Pick one of these and you can’t go wrong:
- Number 13
- Home Cut Donuts
- Sunflower Bakery
- Grotto or Blake’s Bistro at San Luis Resort
- The Gumbo Diner
- The Spot Galveston
- BLVD Seafood
- Mario’s Seawall Italian
Spend a Day by the Pool at the San Luis Resort
There are many hotels in Galveston but if you’re looking for one where you can check-in and never leave again, San Luis Resort is your best bet. With restaurants, multiple hotels, a spa, a beautiful pool (with waterslide), and even a gelato shop right on site, you won’t have to leave the resort grounds until it’s time for your cruise or flight. You can get more details and my full review of the hotel including details on rooms, prices, and amenities on TravelingMom.com here.
Better yet, if you’re coming sans kids, splurge a little and stay in one of the San Luis Resort private villas where you’ll have a gorgeous villa space, a personal jacuzzi, and even a butler all to yourself. It’s a splurge but a splurge that would start your vacation off in the most relaxing way possible.
Things to Do in Galveston, TX with More Time
Run the Fantastic Galveston Race
The Fantastic Galveston Race is inspired by the show The Amazing Race and a great way to get acquainted with a variety of businesses, sites, and restaurants in The Strand Galveston area. My friends and I ran, okay walked, it and had a fantastic (ha!) time. We loved how it gave us a quick glimpse into so many fun local Galveston establishments.
The only reason I am recommending to do it with more time in Galveston is because during the race you search for clues and complete challenges in a number of places throughout Galveston that you’ll likely want to go back and explore later. We almost wished we weren’t racing the race, so that we could stop and explore instead of hurrying on to the next challenge. My friend Heidi did a great writeup on the Fantastic Galveston race if you want more info, so I won’t give you any more details now, just know I recommend booking it the first day you’re in town!
Play Games at Board Game Island
I’m convinced that every city needs a board game cafe like Board Game Island. There’s a small coffee/pastry counter in one corner, and the rest of the cafe is literally covered from floor to ceiling with board games. Oh and some tables.
The entire purpose of the cafe is to serve as a place where people can come and play board games with friends and family. It’s now my life’s dream to create a board game cafe and encourage people to play more. It’s the one place I regret that we didn’t have more time to visit.
Visit the Galveston Beach
If you’re headed on a cruise, the Galveston Beach is probably not nearly as nice as the beaches wherever you’re going. I’d skip the beach and go explore any of the options above instead. But if you’re going to be in Galveston for an extended trip, I’d plan in a day to explore the Galveston Beach, even if it’s just to walk around and enjoy putting your toes in the sand.
Ride the Free Galveston Ferry
This isn’t actually something I’ve done, but it’s something many of the locals recommended to us. There’s a Galveston Island Ferry you can take from Galveston Island to Port Bolivar and back for free that’ll give you good views of the gulf and often times you’ll see dolphins swimming alongside the ferry boat. Tickets for the ferry are free and you can even bring your car; just beware that we were warned numerous times to leave our car behind because the wait times for cars can be atrocious.
Other Things to Do in Galveston, TX
If this list of things to do in Galveston, TX still isn’t enough for you, make sure to check out the what to do tab on Galveston.com.
Printable List of Things to Do in Galveston, TX
Since I’m sure you probably aren’t going to want to be pulling up this blog post every five minutes on your trip to Galveston, I’ve created a handy printable guide for your trip. Either print or save to your computer and take along with you so you don’t miss out on any of the best things to do in Galveston! Click on the image below to print.