If the seaside is calling your name but a ten hour drive to the Gulf Shores is the last thing you want to do with the little ones, consider packing up your crew and heading for Galveston. The classic beach town, which was once considered the Ellis Island of the West, is less than five hours away and is full of history, southern charm, and (my favorite part) killer seafood. From little thrill-seekers to baby beach bums or even petite ghost hunters; there’s something for everyone.
Read on to discover the best places for families to eat, stay and play in Galveston.
What to Do
Reminiscent of the ’40s era version that originally stood in its place, Pleasure Pier has over 15 rides including a double-decker carousel, ferris wheel, bumper cars, log flume (look out for the wet zone!) and a small midway. You and your family can easily spend an afternoon seeking thrills and walking along Seawall Blvd. If the kids have cravings for classic carnival bites, try the funnel cakes, turkey legs, corn dogs, cotton candy and more.
25th & Seawall
The Strand Historic District
Island visitors can stroll Galveston’s Downtown Historic District in search of classic souvenirs, sundries, and sweets. You can admire the classic architecture; a mix New Orleans charm and Wild West, before stopping in at La King’s Confectionary for homemade chocolate, taffy and ice cream. From March – October, there’s a movie night on the first Saturday of the month followed by music night every second Saturday, and every six weeks the art stroll brings out wine and art aficionados in droves. History-buffs can check out the Galveston Island Railroad Museum, or the Texas Seaport Museum before taking in a screening of The Great Storm—a film recalling the big storm of 1900; the worst natural disaster in American history—at Pier 21 Theater.
It’s hard to pick and choose what you’ll do and see at Moody Gardens. There are three pyramids: the aquarium, the rainforest, and the discovery zone, all of which are super edu-taining for kids of all ages.
Currently in Wave 4 of the renovation project, the aquarium (the fourth largest in the Southwest) at Moody Gardens offers plenty for little eyes and ears. You can meet penguins and learn about their habitat during the Penguin Experience. Littles will love watching the stingrays glide gracefully through the water and will gape in awe at the one million-gallon sea tank, before walking underneath and becoming an ocean explorer.
Inside Tip: Little underwater explorers can identify different species and get their “passport” stamped at various locations throughout the aquarium.
When you enter this pyramid you’ll wander from above the canopy to the rainforest floor; see monkeys, sloths, bats, a Komodo dragon and other jungle creatures, while admiring rare and exotic flowers. Watch butterflies flit from flower to flower, see ant hills filled with busy workers (from behind glass observation windows, of course!) and look for fish in the streams that meander through the pyramid floor.
The Discovery Zone
With exhibits that change every six months, the Discovery Pyramid always has something new. The current Discovery Zone exhibit—Skeletown—is a miniature city filled with people, places, and things in their skeleton form, which helps guests learn about bones and why they are so important. You can also check out the SpongeBob Subpants Adventure, a one-of-a-kind interactive experience which takes guests on a submarine voyage to explore the world of Bikini Bottom. Choose your own path through the wild and silly deep-sea adventure and have real-time conversations with the captain! From digital to real time with exciting 4D elements that brings ride to life with scents, bubbles, and bouncing beach balls, this ride is on the cutting edge of entertainment.
If you’ve come to Galveston for the waves and water, Palm Beach is a seasonal, pristine, white sand beach located on the property. There’s an interactive 650-foot lazy river, wave pool, and two 18-foot tower slides. Sports fanatics can try their hand at beach volleyball and the Aquarium Adventure Play Area has plenty of water fun for little players. Music fans will want to stick around for the Bands on the Sands summer concert series; starting in June, this popular event runs through the summer—each show ends with a dazzling fireworks display!
Aquarium & Rainforest Pyramid: Adults: $21.95, Kids 3 & up: $17.95.
Discovery Pyramid: Adults: $14.95, Kids 3 & up: $10.95.
Palm Beach: Adults: $23.95, Kids 3 & up: $17.95.
One Hope Blvd.
Galveston is one of the most historic places in Texas and according to legend, also one of the most haunted. Brave island visitors can sign up for ghost tours or just a plain ol’ historical home and building tour. Little ghost hunters will be thrilled by Dash Beardsley’s Ghost Tours of Galveston and if it’s facts you want, check out Ride the Rails: a packaged tour that’ll take visitors to the Bryan Museum—which opened in 2015 and houses the largest collection of Southwestern artifacts, documents and artwork—the Galveston Railroad Museum, and the Moody Mansion, all for $29.95.
What to Eat
If you’re in the mood for amazing breakfast food (who isn’t?) head for Gumbo Diner. A mix between New Orleans spice and American classics, diners won’t be able to get enough of the very popular and very tasty beignets, the near-perfect waffles (made with Ben & Jerry’s secret waffle cone recipe!), or the large, savory portions of biscuits and gravy, make-your-own-omelets, and other classic breakfast items.
Insider Tip: During peak season, get in early or wait for the crowds to disperse, otherwise you’ll be waiting for upwards of an hour.
3602 Seawall Blvd.
Hungry diners can choose between two locations of this popular Mediterranean grill that also offers killer seafood fresh from the gulf. The Greek salad is a local favorite, the gumbo is made with creole flair, and the crab stack is a summer favorite. The restaurant offers alternative menu items for vegetarians and gluten-free diets, and the kids menu includes fried fish sticks and pita grilled cheese sandwiches. The Pier location offers gorgeous views of the gulf and the cruise ships coming in and out of port.
Pier 21 or 4908 Seawall Blvd.
Where to Stay
photo: courtesy Moody Gardens Hotel
Moody Gardens Hotel
Moody Gardens Hotel is a four-star hotel and spa located on the 242-acre resort. Guests can choose from rooms, junior suites, or full-sized suites, all of which include access to the three restaurants, pool, seasonal kids activities, and other fun events. There are special packages just for families, which will ensure your visit includes all the awesome Moody Garden attractions including: the colonel paddleboat, 3 and 4D theaters, the pyramids, and Palm Beach.
Seven Hope Blvd.
If you’d rather have a more personal experience when it comes to lodging opt for renting a home instead of a hotel room. Airbnb offers a ton of different spots ranging from a room to an entire beachfront pad.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Galveston? Share with us in a Comment!
All images by the author unless otherwise noted.