Know Before You Go: Galveston Edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, the beach days to be had in Galveston. The Boardwalk, the awesome food joints, and all the sunshine you could ever want! GLORIOUS!

When the beach is about 50 miles away from the heart of Houston, you head down whenever you can and enjoy!

But knowing exactly HOW to enjoy Galveston is key and thank goodness Houston Moms is here to help!


 

It’s Galveston Island time!

kids on beachThere is something about crossing the causeway to Galveston Island that slows down the clock. Everything is bathed in sand and sun, and you subconsciously slip into vacation mode. You can practically smell the sunscreen as you pass rows of Victorians and brightly colored homes perched on stilts.

A big fan of our beachy neighbor, I’ve had the privilege of taking several tours of the island both on my own and through their tourism board. Based on my own meandering experiences, here are my best insider tips for a memorable Galveston vacay.

Let’s dive in!

group of girls and women on a giant beach chair in GalvestonWhere to Stay in Galveston

One of the first things you’ll have to figure out is where to store your suitcase. Essentially, the island can be broken down into three main categories: 1) hotels/resorts, 2) vacation rentals, and 3) historic homes.

Hotels & Resorts

If it’s luxury you’re after, you can’t go wrong with the San Luis Resort or the Grand Galvez. Both are different experiences, but impeccable service and attention to detail.

If you are bringing the whole family or spending a significant portion of your time at Moody Gardens, their on-site hotel is extremely convenient.

Tremont HouseFor us, the magic was at The Tremont House. The Tremont is a boutique experience with high ceilings and custom-crafted furnishings. If you appreciate historic architecture, you won’t be disappointed. You can also visit their rooftop bar if you just want a glimpse.

There are several other seaside spots including the Casa del Mar, Commodore, and Beachfront Palms.

Vacation Rentals

Victorian rentalDepending on the size of your crew—or the character—having a place to yourselves may sound more appealing. There is no shortage of rentals on the island. You’ll be able to spread out your beach towels, play board games, make picnic lunches, and in general feel right at home. The thing to consider is the location and what you’ll be doing the most.

Many West End homes have private access to the beach where you can watch the waves in the morning with your coffee or scurry over the dunes when you’re ready to hit the sand. It’s also easy to access when everyone is hungry or needs a nap.

Many East End homes may require a bike ride or walk to the beach, but are closer to restaurants, shopping, tours, and some of the other popular tourist sites.

Historic Homes

We have hit my soft spot. When in Galveston… A huge portion of the island is known for its incredible architecture and beautifully restored homes. If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend staying in one.

Carr MansionOne of my favorites is Carr Mansion. Harrowing from the 19th century, the owners have taken great care to restore this gem making it a mix of modern elegance and historic preservation. Heavy drapes, clawfoot tubs, luscious bedding—you’ll find it all here. Plus, breakfast!

George ManorI almost hate to give up this secret, but George Manor is another must-stay. Just walking up to this stately manor sets the tone for your entire stay. Meticulously restored and home to an iconic tree carving, you’d never guess that it is stocked with modern conveniences and topline products. And you won’t want to miss the spread provided by their German chef.

Most of these B&Bs are within walking distance to The Strand or the Seawall. Others worth looking into are The Lasker Inn, Lost Bayou Guesthouse, Galveston East End Guest House, and Avenue O.

What to Eat in Galveston

You really can’t have a solid vacay without some great food and let’s be honest, there is a slew of eating options in Galveston! While on the island I do recommend shying away from the chains when you can. I tend to hurt myself on seafood when I’m kicking around in the waves, but never fear if shellfish isn’t your thing, there’s plenty to choose from.

Here are some tried-and-trues that have never let us down!

BLVD. Seafood

BLVD Seafood
If you are a crab cake fan, theirs are an absolute must. Our crew nearly burst at the seams by the time we were done with scallops, escargot, smoked salmon crostini, and crab-stuffed shrimp bites. BLVD is the ideal spot to pass around grade-A apps.

Non-seafood: Italian herb-crusted pork chop

Gaido’s

You can’t go wrong with a classic like Gaido’s. I’m a sucker for the pecan-encrusted Mahi-mahi myself. Mahi is traditionally a light fish and that pecan breading—mwah! Warning: the shrimp and grits have caused people to actually faceplant into their bowls.

Non-seafood: Chicken ponzini with Swiss cheese and wild mushrooms

Shrimp N Stuff

ShrimpNStuff
Great casual atmosphere, even better patio. Honestly, one of their po-boys with just about anything is the way to go. Their oysters are some of the best and don’t skip the shrimp tacos with black bean relish.

Non-seafood: Chicken fried steak

Yaga’s Café

Yaga's fish tacos
When we are downtown and need a bite, Yaga’s is a definite favorite. They have a great patio for people-watching that is Fido-friendly. The crawfish risotto croquette is beyond and the seafood flautas are a unique item I haven’t found anywhere else. Ziggy’s peppered shrimp or the Baha fish tacos will never steer you wrong.

Non-seafood: Roasted jerk chicken

Black Pearl

We stumbled in here on the recommendation of a local shop owner, and it’s a winner! It’s a local hangout, so get a seat early. The boiled shrimp is heaped with creole seasoning and complements the crab poppers quite well. It’s an oyster bar so order the Rockafeller with spinach cream cheese and Parmesan.

Non-seafood: Red beans and rice

Sunflower Bakery & Café


I cannot say enough cute things about this institution. Personally, I’d get in there for breakfast or brunch. I break my seafood rule for them and order the barbacoa omelet with breakfast potatoes. The crab cake and eggs are my other go-to. But whatever you do, order those potatoes.

Non-seafood: pancakes & fresh berries

Waterman’s

Waterman Oysters
For food with a view, this is your spot. Ideal for a sunset meal that will blow your camera roll up, Waterman’s serves an impeccable shrimp ceviche. The Texas blackberry salmon always gets my vote, but the stuffed shrimp is another stunner.

Non-seafood: 16 oz. Ribeye and brown butter crème brûlée

Riondo’s Ristorante

Riondo's Ristorante
Every time my husband gets to choose, he will pick Riondo’s. Aside from incredible Italian dishes, the eatery is repurposed inside a historic bank building—which is a whole vibe. Without a doubt, if grilled calamari is on the menu, order it. Game-changer. Blackened sea scallops will rock you and seafood ravioli are heavenly little pillows of goodness.

Non-seafood: Gnocchi di Spinachi a la Panna

Rudy & Paco’s

Rudy and Paco
For an adult outing or celebration, I strongly recommend visiting Rudy & Paco’s! The calamari appetizer tossed with caramelized onions and sweet peppers has a slightly different note but is scrumptious. All of their red snapper dishes are incredible and the gulf shrimp sauteed in white wine and garlic butter will wow you. (Note: Shorts are not allowed in the main dining room during dinner.)

Non-seafood: Lamb chops in a smoked chipotle sauce

The Gumbo Diner

The name is everything it promises. Located right across from the water, this comfy spot welcomes you in like a warm hug. Hands-down our favorite apps are the Cajun pistolettes (buttery rolls bursting with crawfish etouffee) and the bacon-wrapped shrimp. I’m never disappointed with the oysters or bourbon street platter.

Non-seafood: Hangover burger 

La King’s Confectionery

LKings
Listen, you can’t stroll downtown without stopping by La King’s. Share a scoop or a float while you wait for the next taffy-making demo.

Don’t worry, it’s all non-seafood…pretty sure.

Galvez Brunch

Galvez brunch
If you happen to be around on a Sunday, add the iconic Galvez Brunch to your itinerary. It sounds pricey at $44.99/adult, but if you are strategic, it’s worth it. Our guide told us, “Skip the salad and fruit, you can get that anywhere. Head straight for the seafood!” And we probably ate our weight in crab legs and boiled shrimp. There were no less than four tables of dessert. You have to do it at least once. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

Non-seafood: Omelette station

Things to Do in Galveston

Pleasure Pier Galveston ferris wheelThere is no shortage of things to do in Galveston. You can race down slides at Schlitterbahn or explore the pyramids at Moody Gardens. Pleasure Pier is especially fun at dusk when all of the rides light up with an array of colors.

SchlitterbahnBut, if you’re looking for something a little more off the beach-en path, well right this way my friends…

Splashin’ Fun

Take a Dolphin Tour

dolphin tour
We did this on our last Galveston trip and it was so much fun. During the excursion, you’ll receive some fun facts and island tidbits with some dad jokes thrown in for good measure along with possible fin sightings.

Kayak with Artistic Boat
If you feel like you’ve experienced Galveston in the past, I’d suggest this new perspective. Choose from 2-,3-, or 4-hour adventures inspired by coastal preservation. Select tours include a Plein-air watercolor art experience.

Galveston Island Horse & Pony Rides
It’s as cool as it sounds. Go ahead and scratch riding horses on the beach off your bucket list.

Jet Boat Thrill Ride
Okay so my father-in-law isn’t the biggest fan, but your tween/teen crowd will love it. Race around the Gulf at accelerated speeds. Be prepared Aunt Jan, your hair will get wet.

Sailing Adventures

sailing at seastar bay
Let an experienced crew give you your sea legs. Perfect for celebrating special occasions or just earmarking a vacation with a truly unique offering. You can book half-day, full-day, or even overnight packages.

Movies on the Beach
This fun little treat runs from May to September and rotates between locations. Like drive-ins, the movie starts when it’s dark so the 8:30 pm curtain call may be tough for littles. If you park on the beach, the pricing is per car.

Seawall
Maybe it goes without saying, maybe it doesn’t—the beach! Galveston offers 32 miles of shoreline and a variety of parks. Find a patch of stand and stake your umbrella. It is a dog-friendly beach so bring Dragon along! But remember, your fur-bestie needs a leash and fresh water.

Learn a Little

1877 Tall Ship ELISSA

Elissa
This lady is impressive. Climb aboard this functioning vessel and experience history. Not to mention the photo opps are pretty stellar.

Ship to Shore
A sister attraction to the ELISSA, the Seaport Museum recently opened this interactive experience! You will take on the persona of your immigrant as your move through the exhibit and will find out by the end what happened to you. Fair warning, it’s a lot of reading. May not be suitable for younger viewers or ADD adults.

Pirates!

Pirates
Shiver your timbers and search for buried treasure at Galveston’s very own pirate museum.

The Bryan Museum

Bryan Museum
I know this might not be high on your list, but don’t skip over it. The Bryan is the world’s largest collection of Texas and American West history. The hand-crafted diorama of the Battle of Jacinto alone is jaw-dropping.

Galveston Railroad Museum

Railroad museum
If you have any locomotive fans in your crew, this is the spot. The 1932 Depot has five acres of trains, and there is approximately 40 rolling stock, including locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and cabooses.

Naval Museum

Naval Museum
Step aboard the USS Cavalla, a WWII submarine nicknamed the “Lucky Lady.” Entice young enquiring minds with a trip to the torpedo room.

Island Adventures

East End Lagoon Nature Preserve

East End
Got you here, didn’t I? Yes, 684 acres of undeveloped coastal prairie and salt marsh. Perfect place for your budding scientist to explore or practice your nature photography skills.

Historic Home Tours

Moody Mansion
Moody Mansion and Bishop’s Palace provide an intricate look into years past. Both are ranked at the national level for architectural significance. Bishop’s now offers basement to attic tours so there’s even more to see!

Turtles About Town

Turtles about Town
If you’ve spent any time on the island, you’ve likely noticed some colorful turtles around, but they are part of a larger community art project created by Turtle Island Restoration Network to protect endangered sea turtles and there are 50 throughout the island! Make a list with their names and locations and see how many you can find.

Rail Trolley
The trolleys have returned! Galveston’s historic transportation has been restored and is a great option for getting around town. It’s only a dollar for adults (minors ride free) but bring exact change.

Seawolf Park

Located on Pelican Island, Seawolf Park offers a spattering of things for the family. It’s a popular fishing pier, has picnic sites for all-day fun, as well as a good-sized playground. For the history buffs, you’ll be rubbing anchors with a WWII submarine, the USS Cavalla, and one of only three destroyer escorts, the USS Stewart.

For the ‘Gram

mural
Aside from the obligatory yoga pose on the beach, Galveston offers an eclectic mix of vibrant murals and photo spots sure to inspire post-worthy images. The larger-than-life Galveston postcard is a must, but shutterbugs will find everything from bees to umbrellas.

Katie’s Seafood Market

Katie's Seafood Market
It honestly doesn’t get fresher than Katie’s. From the boat to your pan! I personally enjoy going by Katie’s just to watch the flurry of activity and see what the daily catch is. Highly recommend this option if you’re in a rental and have the freedom to do your own cookout.

Red Light District
Of all the bootleg joints! Learn the seedier side of Galveston’s history on this 90-minute walking tour of the red light district. Material is PG-13; plan accordingly.

1894 Grand Opera House

Grand Opera House
If possible, my favorite thing to do while on vacation is to embed myself in the local culture. The Opera House is the perfect spot! Beautifully restored, this gem is an incredible link between past and present. Upcoming shows are listed on their calendar.

The Strand

It doesn’t matter how many times you waltz between the historic streets you’ll always find something new. Some of our frequent stops include Mercantile, Gracie’s, The Admiralty, Pelican Island, and Hendley Market.

Helicopter Tours

Galveston Helicopter tours
If it’s your first time on the island or if you’ve been going there for years, seeing it from a bird’s eye view is next-level. Packages range from a 7-mile tour hitting popular highlights to a 25-mile tour at sunset.

The island is your oyster! Make the most out of your pearly memories and remember to tag #LoveGalveston on social media. You never know when you could be featured by the locals!


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Kirsten C. was born and raised in Texas Hill Country. After becoming a hopelessly devoted Bobcat and earning a degree in Mass Communications-Public Relations at Texas State University, she was wooed by the never-ending culinary options and vibrant street art of Houston and became a transplant. By day she is a marketing enthusiast for a downtown engineering firm, and by night, an over-the-top {and unashamed} dog mom. She and her husband William are licensed foster parents—advocating for children and families—who hope to one day grow their family through adoption. You can follow their unruly journey on their blog, Cornell Chaos. When she’s not trying a new restaurant, playing behind the lens of a Cannon, piddling in the yard, or scouring markets for hidden gems, Kirsten is often found teaching student ministry through Kingsland Baptist Church or escaping at a local coffee spot.

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