The best things to do in Galveston, TX whether you’re only there for a day before a cruise or heading there for a week long vacation! This guide has everything you need to know about what to do in Galveston while you’re there!
Note: While I was provided with some of these experiences for free to include in this post, all opinions are 100% honest and my own.
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, 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. But even my husband who grew up in Texas really thought Galveston was just a port town.
Best Things to Do in Galveston
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 top things to do and places to eat, skip to the bottom for a printable guide.
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. That mean a lot of people hanging out waiting for cruises to go out AND people missing flights when cruises couldn’t come in.
Moody Gardens Galveston
Moody Gardens in Galveston is a little hard to explain. It’s not gardens at all, it’s more like a series of interactive exhibits, museums, and attractions that all fall under the Moody Gardens umbrella, and all are located in the Moody Gardens area.
Moody Gardens in Galveston consists of:
- An aquarium
- An indoor rainforest (all those glass windows you see in the picture below)
- 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 (aka discovery museum)
- 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.
It used to be the home of the world’s tallest water coaster (now it’s Six Flags) but even without that record, it’s still one of the best water parks in the country with tons of water slides and other attractions. It’s now closed down sister park in Kansas City was amazing, and it was the smaller of the two!
Galveston Pleasure Pier
The Galveston Pleasure Pier is exactly what I envision a boardwalk being when you visit a beach town. It’s a great spot to hang out for a few hours.
It’s located right off of the main Seawall Blvd and juts out into the gulf coast 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!
It’s as close as you’re going to get to a theme park in Galveston so if that’s your thing, this is a must-do!
And don’t forget a funnel cake, just maybe not right before you ride said roller coaster.
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 this historic downtown 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 in front of the historical Galveston courthouse in downtown Galveston and walked around The Strand for a few hours each of the days we were in Galveston. With so many unique shops and local restaurants to try, there’s plenty to keep the entire family busy!
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.
We had the best time exploring Galveston on our own tree sculpture tour.
If you’re headed on a cruise, the Galveston Beach is probably not nearly as nice as the beautiful 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.
You can also check out Stewart Beach (we didn’t, but you could) which promotes itself as being Galveston’s premier family beach park!
Grand Galvez & Spa
The massage I had at Grand 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 fancy drinks (that I’m told was amazing) and the relaxation room are worth it.
Galveston Drive Around
Galveston Island isn’t very big, making it the perfect place to explore via car for a day.
We all piled into our car and drove around taking pictures of the pastel beach homes on stilts, found any colorful signs we could on Seawall, and explored historical sites.
There’s so much to see on Galveston Island that you can only find by driving around, not by Googling it.
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.
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
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. My full review of the hotel coming soon!
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.
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.
The closest airport to Galveston is Houston Hobby International (HOU) and a 40-50 minute drive depending on traffic. There’s a second airport in Houston as well, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), but it is a little further north and closer to a 75 minute drive to Galveston. If you don’t mind the extra drive and plane tickets are better into George Bush International, you can definitely fly into that one.
The best months to visit Galveston is either late fall (October or November) or early spring (March to April) so you can avoid the super hot Texas heat during summer. The cheapest time to visit is during the winter months but the weather will likely be too cold to really enjoy the beach.
We recommend San Luis Resort for its beautiful location, gorgeous rooms, and sweet amenities. It’s also waterfront giving you easy access to the beach.
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!
More Things to Do in Galveston
While I have not personally done any of these, I’ve heard that these are all also fun things to do in Galveston!
- Galveston Railroad Museum – celebrity the rich history of trains in Texas at this interactive museum.
- Bryan Museum – while this one may not be as fun for kids, if you want to learn about Texas history, this is a good stop!
- Moody Mansion – if you like historic buildings, Moody Mansion is a must-see! Another good option is Bishop’s Palace.
- Galveston Island State Park – if you like water sports, this is a great place to try them out! Another good option for nature lovers is Big Reef Nature Park (especially if you like birds).
- Seawolf Park – if you’re looking for something budget friendly, this has some great picnic areas and a playground for kids!
- Texas Seaport Museum – learn about the Galveston historic seaport (like the tall ship Elissa) at this maritime museum, another one that’s probably best for adults and teens, maybe leave the kids at home!
- Lone Star Flight Museum – this place makes our list of things to do because of all of the family fun special events they offer like this summer they’re doing a #planefun summer with all sorts of family activities!
- Seawall Urban Park – this is the site of one of the more popular beaches in the area and close to Pleasure Pier.
- Galveston Naval Museum – check out historical naval submarines and ships like the USS Stewart and more!
- Galveston’s Children Museum – if you only have a day or two, I’d recommend Moody Gardens over this but if you need more things to do, this is a good option to keep kids entertained on a rainy day you want to be indoors!
More Travel Guides
If you like to travel, don’t miss out on these other travel guides and tips!
- Pack Up and Go – ever considered a surprise vacation? Read this first.
- Things to do in Anna Maria Island – the best things to do in this cute island town in Florida!
- Gulf Shores restaurants – the best places to eat in Gulf Shores, Alabama!
- Beach packing list – the ultimate packing list for when you’re headed to any beach!
- Things to do in Ruidoso NM – if you’re headed west, make sure to check out this snow and ski town!
Download the Printable Galveston Guide
If you’re ready to download the free guide to use, simply click the button below or click here.
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!