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galveston seawall
Photograph: Courtesy Galveston CVB

The 10 best things to do in Galveston, Texas

For the prettiest beaches and splashiest waterparks in Texas, look no further than the best things to do in Galveston.

James Wong
Written by
James Wong
Justine Harrington

Ask any Texan about the best place to spend the holidays, and they’ll direct you to Galveston. The charming, kitschy beach playground sits just 50 miles south of Houston, close to the northern tip of a 600-mile stretch of coastline that straddles Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s where families in and around the state have been going for decades to celebrate the holidays no matter the weather (July 4th, Christmas and New Year's are all peak seasons despite their varying temperatures). They come for the beaches, colorful seaside shops, freshly caught seafood at some of the best restaurants in Texas and above all, to relax in laid-back, Lone Star State-style. Whether it's your first time or you’re an expert in the area, you'll have a blast checking out the best things to do in Galveston next time you head south. 

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Best things to do in Galveston

Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Photograph: Courtesy Galveston CVB

1. Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

Originally built in the late 1940s, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier was an iconic family vacation spot—until Hurricane Carla struck in 1961. Thankfully, the park has since been rebuilt, and today, it’s a wonderfully nostalgic, sprawling pier featuring 16 amusement rides, tons of fun games, live entertainment and plenty of dining options. A day spent at Pleasure Pier will delight everyone, adults and children alike.

Galveston Island State Park
Photograph: Courtesy Galveston CVB

2. Galveston Island State Park

If you’re craving a dose of nature and coastal charm, a visit to Galveston Island State Park is just what the doctor ordered. Home to over 2,000 acres of natural landscape and scenic coastline, there are tons of island activities to enjoy here. Admire the views of the park’s marshes, wetlands and estuaries; go hiking or biking on picturesque trails; or, simply pack a picnic and lounge on one of the park’s beaches. The lovely state park is nestled on the western end of the island.

Schlitterbahn Galveston Island
Photograph: Courtesy Galveston CVB

3. Schlitterbahn Galveston Island

This 26-acre aquatic extravaganza is widely considered to be the best waterpark in Texas, so bring the kiddos and have one mega splash of a time. There are 33 incredible rides and attractions here, including several high-speed slides, kids’ water playgrounds, lazy rivers, wave pools and water coasters, in addition to plenty of snack bars, restaurants and even a swim-up bar.

The Strand Historic District
Photograph: Shutterstock/Stephanie A Sellers

4. The Strand Historic District

Spread across five blocks in downtown Galveston, the Strand Historic District is home to a variety of art galleries, shops and restaurants, in addition to several majestic historic buildings. This National Historic Landmark District not only has some of the cutest shops and best waterfront restaurants in Galveston, but the buildings themselves here are simply beautiful: Soak up the eye-catching Greek Revival and Victorian architecture as you stroll around, ideally with an ice cream cone in hand.

Moody Gardens
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/

5. Moody Gardens

A dazzling, 242-acre aquatic theme park with nine major attractions, made famous for its three giant glass pyramid structures which house interactive exhibits, an aquarium and a rainforest habitat. The pyramids at Moody Garden are much more than just architectural wonders: They’re immersive worlds. Visitors will have the chance to explore the rainforest, get an up-close-and-personal look at sea creatures and discover dozens of exhibits that will educate and inspire kids of all ages. And, if you’re up for an adrenaline-fueled adventure, be sure to ride the zip-line and experience the tallest rope course on the Gulf Coast.

Stewart Beach
Photograph: Courtesy Galveston CVB

6. Stewart Beach

Stewart Beach is located where Broadway Avenue and the Seawall connect. It’s a favorite for families, thanks to the pretty stretch of coastline and abundant amenities offered here: Stewart Beach has several concessions, restrooms, showers, beach volleyball courts, chair and umbrella rentals, covered tables, a children’s playground and a pavilion. Plus, there are always trained lifeguards on the lookout, so particularly if you have kids, this beach is likely your best bet for a fun day in the sun.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Katie Haugland Bowen

7. Elissa

The 1877 Tall Ship Elissa, located at the Texas Seaport Museum, has been designated one of America’s Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Exploring this historic ship is a surprisingly fascinating experience: The Elissa is one of the world’s oldest sailing hulls that’s still in operation. Visitors can peruse the ship’s exhibits, check out the museum and delve into the history of the Port of Galveston. 

Galveston Seawall
Photograph: Courtesy Galveston CVB

8. Galveston Seawall

The city’s famous seaside boulevard and urban park is a hive of activity, from the beaches to the many tourist attractions and restaurants located here. Whether you want to take a sunset stroll, bike along the oceanfront (the nation’s longest continuous sidewalk is located here!), eat tasty seafood or just people-watch, the Seawall is the picture-perfect spot to do so. 


9. Pier 21

Located on Galveston’s historic harbor, Pier 21 is a waterfront dining and entertainment district that’s home to three museums, a variety of restaurants, upscale lodging and other tourist attractions. Check out BayWatch Dolphin Tours, which offers daily 45-minute tours that allow visitors to see dolphins in their natural habitat, or stop by the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa. In addition, the Pier 21 Theater regularly shows documentary films that chronicle the major events of Galveston Island, if you’re interested in learning about the history of the area.

Bishop’s Palace
Photograph: Courtesy Galveston CVB

10. Bishop’s Palace

Also known as Gresham’s Castle, this Victorian-style home is Galveston’s most famous building. Cited by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America, Bishop’s Palace is a national architectural treasure. The home is named after Civil War Colonel Walter Gresham, for whom it was built, and today, it’s undeniably the grandest house around for miles. The intricate carvings, stained glass, sculptures and other flourishes are simply stunning, and the guided audio tour is well worth doing.

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