What comes to mind when you think of Galveston Island, Texas? Perhaps you think of the miles of beaches, the fourth largest ship port in the U.S., or the birthplace of Juneteenth.
I knew little of Galveston initially, not even realizing it was an island. However, once I peered into the destination, I discovered 32 miles of Gulf of Mexico coastline beaches; exciting news for a Chicagoan looking to escape the cold! Digging deeper, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the beaches are just the beginning of gems on the island.
There are 50,000 residents on the island, yet over 7 million visitors annually. While on the island, I met some of the visitors. Many have been vacationing there for years and decades. They told me stories of their favorite things to do and the best places to eat. Maybe these visitors were like me initially. They came for the beach but stayed for the culture, rich history, architecture, seafood, and island pace. I knew my four days on the island wouldn’t be enough after I began exploring. Galveston Island is a place you return to again and again.
There’s much to do and see on Galveston Island, so a golf cart is a way to go if you want to cover an area more quickly. We absolutely loved the Model-T golf carts from Carriage Haus Rentals. The colors and stylish carts were a fun treat. Another amusing way to travel around the island is by Slingshot!
Galveston Island Beaches
Galveston Island boasts 32 miles of coast and is well known for its beautiful gulf beaches. There are over 20 beaches with something for every beachgoer’s preference. Some beaches are less crowded and good for relaxing while others are buzzing with people and activities. A few famous area beaches include Stewart Beach, East Beach, and the beaches along the seawall. We spent a much-needed sun-filled day on East Beach; it was lovely. However, a beach day is just the beginning. Here are a few things to do after you soak up the sun.
Exploring Beyond the Beaches
Dive into Galveston Island’s Incredible History
Galveston Island has a rich history that may surprise you. The island’s main shopping street, The Strand, was once known as “the Wall Street of the South’. The island hosts the country’s third largest Mardi Gras celebration, with roots dating back to 1867. It was the first city in Texas to have gas and electric lights and a telephone. And was once the 2nd most prosperous city in the U.S., with one of the most important ports in the country. There is a bevy of unique museums and historical sites across the island to explore and learn about the storied past of this unique destination.
Galveston Railroad Museum takes visitors back to when the train depot was the Gulf, Santa Fe, and Colorado railroad headquarters. There are 40 restored railcars, locomotives to walk through, and interactive exhibits. The restored depot precisely reflects its glory days as the hub for Galveston rail service.
The Bryan Museum, a former orphanage, houses one of the world’s largest collections of historical artifacts, documents, and artwork relating to Texas and the American West.
Moody Mansion, a restored 28,000 square-foot historic home listed on the national registrar, depicts the past life of the wealthy Texan W.L. Moody. Furnishing and personal effects of the family fill the home.
Take a historical self-guided tour through the USS Cavalla Submarine and USS Steward Destroyer Escort at Galveston Naval Museum. I was so impressed by this experience.
Retrace the history of Juneteenth, where it originated through year-round exhibits like the Galveston Historical Foundation’s, ‘And Still, We Rise‘ and The Juneteenth Legacy Project at Nia Cultural Center. Or journey through the steps of emancipation on the Juneteenth Freedom Walk tour and admire the 5,000 square-foot ‘Absolute Equality’ Juneteenth mural at 22nd and Strand.
Activities and Attractions on Galveston Island
A visit to Moody Gardens is a must. The popular entertainment complex features a rainforest pyramid with an up-close, interactive experience with exotic plants and endangered animals and an aquarium pyramid showcasing a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that connects guests with specific ocean habitats. In addition, the complex has a museum, theaters, ropes and zipline activities, and a paddlewheel boat. One can easily spend a fun-filled day here.
The historic downtown area on Galveston Island has beautiful architecture-lined streets with boutiques, art galleries, and antique shops. After shopping, catch a show at The Grand 1894 opera house, one of Texas’s few remaining theaters of its era. The interior is stunning!
Fly above the Gulf at Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier waterfront amusement park. The massive, family-friendly pier offers rides, carnival games, food, a 5D theater, and retail shops.
Enjoy an up-close view of playful dolphins during a narrated dolphin-watching tour through Galveston Harbor. The guided tours are usually an hour long and include facts about marine life, the harbor’s history, and some comedic commentary.
A self-guided tour of the wooden sculptures is also a rewarding way to spend a few hours. Galveston Island’s magnificent oak trees were destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike. The homeowners hired sculpture artists to create beautiful art from the dead tree trunks. You’ll find these spread across the island in the gardens and yards of the residents. I was invited into one resident’s yard to get an up-close look at his sculpture depicting the figurehead of the historic tall ship, Elissa. The detail was marvelous.
Where to Eat and Drink on Galveston Island
Galveston is an ideal location for fresh seafood. Katie’s Seafood House sits next to Katie’s Seafood Market, where you’ll find a fresh supply of Gulf catch. The restaurant serves fresh seafood straight from the boats. I’m still thinking about the red snapper I had there. Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront restaurant is another spot that we loved for fresh local seafood.
Start your day in one of the cafes on the island. The award-winning Mod Coffeehouse in the historic downtown area is a relaxing gathering spot with great coffee and a lovely, shaded patio. I also relished the coffee and vibes at Red Light Coffee Roasters, a small-batch roaster named after its historic Red Light District location. The building it’s in was once a bordello.
Stop by Maceo Spice & Import Company for a muffuletta but don’t stop there; try the gumbo, red beans and rice, and cannoli too. You can’t go wrong with anything at this spot. Shop from their range of specialty imports and spices afterward. We met some of the friendliest travelers here, and the owner, Concetta Maceo, was so personable and pleasant. After you leave Maceo’s, stop by Daquiri Time Out for one of their famous craft cocktails.
For fine dining, try Rudy & Paco. The restaurant serves grilled seafood and steak with incredible South and Central American flavors. Or indulge in the authentic Italian Fare of Riondo’s Ristorante.
We stopped at the Original Mexican Cafe for lunch at the suggestion of a long-time Galveston vacationer. We were not disappointed! It’s the longest continually operating restaurant on Galveston Island. I don’t recall ever having TexMex food that good! I was initially confused by the yellow cheese but dived right in. Those tacos were incredibly flavorful and delicious!
There’s no shortage of activities and sights to see on Galveston Island. Head to Visit Galveston and start planning your trip. Their website has all the resources you’ll need for a memorable vacation. They also feature webcams if you want to see the beach in real-time. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy a bit of island time soon!
This is a sponsored post, however, all opinions are my own.