Monday, September 28, 2015

Things to do on Galveston Island, Texas

As a native Houstonian, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time in Galveston. Although it isn’t known for for attractive ocean water, the island does have some lovely beaches for building sand castles, watching birds and examining hermit crabs. Galveston is unique for its charming shops, historical architecture and museums. Here are my top picks for a fun visit to Galveston Island.

The Strand

The Strand is Galveston’s historical shopping and dining district. I love the quaint boutiques and diners and can easily spend a day wandering here. My family, not so much. My daughters tend to be more patient about spending significant time on The Strand than my son and husband. I’d say - plan a full day for a girls trip if your party enjoys shopping. Plan an hour plus time for a meal for a family outing.


Galveston has so many museums! It makes a great educational destination for homeschoolers or families wanting to add learning value to their summer vacation. Most of the city’s museums are listed and described here. Some of our favorites are Seawolf Park and the Lone Star Flight Museum. In addition to the listed establishments, Galveston also has a number of historical properties that can be toured and serve as museums on their own. A family could spend an entire week or more on a history adventure just visiting these places.

Most of these museums aren’t very expensive to visit, but with a family, visiting several of them can add up. A good way to keep costs down is by purchasing a Galveston Island Pass. I like this pass because you are able to customize it and choose which attractions you actually want to visit. The pass is only good for 30 days though, so plan accordingly.

Galveston Island State Park

Texas has some amazing state parks and Galveston’s isn’t really one of my favorites. However, this park has something special that most others don’t - an extra fabulous ranger that plans extensive programming for people of all ages to enjoy. Ranger Lisa hosts educational walks, art activities, kayak tours and more. We recently attended one of her watercolor paint parties and everyone had a blast. The best part is that all of these activities are free with a state parks pass or daily entry fee. Stop by the nature center to borrow an explorer backpack full of fun stuff to enhance your visit (field guides, binoculars, sketch pad and crayons).

Ranger Lisa's Painting Party!

Being prepared for a park visit will make it more fun. Galveston Island State Park doesn’t have much shade or many facilities. It is mostly wild marsh land on one side and beach on the other. Bring lots of sunscreen, water and bug spray. The mosquitoes here are particularly aggressive and can quickly make a hike through the marsh a miserable experience. Water shoes with a good, gripping sole are also good to have a park visit. Some of the trails get flooded during high tide and aren’t fun to walk through without appropriate footwear.

Wading Through a Marsh Trail at High Tide


Schlitterbahn is fun place to spend a day in Galveston. This water park has a nice selection of slides and water playgrounds that are fun for all ages. My family loves this park, but I don’t recommend visiting in the summer. Lines get very long here and South Texas is HOT. Standing in line for an hour in 100+ degree heat just isn’t pleasant. The cost in this peak season is also too high for a day spent standing in line.

If you can, visit in late September or early October or consider a winter visit when some of the park is enclosed. Entrance fees drop by around $20 per person in late September (save even more by buying tickets online). The heat drops as well and the lines almost disappear. Schlitterbahn also allows guests to bring their own food and (non-alcoholic) beverages into the park which saves a huge amount of money. The food available in the park is expensive and not very good.

Moody Gardens

Moody Gardens is a complex of several different attractions that can be visited separately or all together with a day pass or season pass. The complex includes the Rainforest Pyramid which is kind of a small, indoor zoo, an aquarium, a small but fun water park and more. I really love Moody Gardens, but it’s an expensive outing for a family, so we don’t go often. However, I think the family season pass is a good value since one visit would basically pay for it. I think we’ll purchase one this year. I love the varied activities here and the opportunity for some indoor fun on a hot or rainy day.

Fun at Moody Garden's Water Park

Pleasure Pier

Although the Pleasure Pier isn’t a “must do” in my opinion and is overpriced for what it is, kids love this place and some nice memories can be made here. The best deal is on one of the family packs of all day ride passes. You don’t save much off the price of individual passes with those, but a buck is a buck. I’m not sure why it’s named the Historic Galveston Pleasure Pier when the park is brand new and was built by the Landry’s company. It looks antique-ish and once upon a time, Galveston had a pleasure pier that was destroyed by Hurricane Carla in the 1960s. So, just to be clear, this is a new historic pier. Whatever that means.