6 Reasons You Haven’t Really Experienced Galveston Until You Go Beyond the Beach
History, Culture and Island Enjoyment
I love the seemingly endless shoreline, the sun-drenched pier and the saltwater as much as anyone who has ever had the pleasure of spending time in Galveston, but one can only spend so many hours swimming and lounging. When the urge strikes me to move beyond the ocean waves and warm sand, there’s nothing quite like leaving the beach for awhile and experiencing everything else that Galveston has to offer. From museums and history to outdoor attractions that are just as good as a day at the beach, here are six compelling reasons to go beyond the beach in Galveston.
Rainy weather is a bummer at the beach, but it’s perfect for having a museum day in Galveston. The area offers an impressive variety of museums for adults and children alike.
History lovers will marvel at The Bryan Museum, which features exhibits on Texas and the wild west. You’re definitely going to want to check out the Texas Frontier gallery, where you can see an artillery sword from 1832. Another awesome museum is the Galveston Railroad Museum. Here, you can take a ride on the Harborside Express, see an exhibit showcasing the fancy china that used to be available on passenger trains and check out the most intricate model train sets imaginable. Got small children? They’ll love the Galveston Children's Museum. This museum is geared towards kids 12 years or younger, but is especially fun for very young children, who will get a kick out of hands-on exhibits that let them play doctor, build a wall with Legos, put on a play with puppets and more. Lastly, you can make a whole day out of exploring Seawolf Park. Here you’ll find the Galveston Naval Museum, which allows you to take a self-guided tour of a the USS Cavalla, a World War II submarine, and the USS Stewart, an Edsall Class Destroyer Escort. One of my favorite things about this museum is its setting. After you’ve completed your tour, you can have a picnic in beautiful Seawolf Park and watch the ships pass by.
2. You Can Tour Galveston by Land (or by Air!)
One cool way to see the area is by taking a Segway tour. Trust me, Segways are easier to ride than you think. Try a tree carving tour (great for art lovers) or a romantic sunset tour. If you prefer riding a bicycle, take a bike tour with Island Bicycle Company and ride The Seawall, pedal through The Strand or sign up for a glow ride with lights, neon and a party vibe. Want to see Galveston by air? Take a helicopter tour. I love this option because it’s surprisingly affordable. Helicopter tours in other places are notoriously pricy, but here you can soar over Galveston for under $100.
3. It’s an Architecture Lover’s Paradise
I don’t know why more people aren’t drawn to Galveston for its wealth of Victorian architecture, because it really is one of the most charming things about the area. If you’ve never taken the time to appreciate it yourself, I’d suggest starting at The Strand, Galveston’s historic downtown district which includes an iconic opera house that survived a deadly hurricane. Next, check out Moody Mansion. You can tour all 28,000 square-feet of this sprawling home, which was built in 1895. Bishop’s Palace is another one to add to your list. This opulent home features stained glass windows, dramatic columns and mahogany staircases.
There is a ton to do at Moody Gardens, so I recommend devoting at least a whole day to this family-friendly attraction. There’s an aquarium, a zoo, a 3D theater, a 4D theater, a paddlewheel boat, a discovery museum, a zip line and much more. Plan before you go to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.
An awesome summer attraction is Schlitterbahn. Whether you have childhood memories of Schlitterbahn or you’ve never been before, this waterpark really is a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan of the Whitewater River, which lets you ride rapids to various attractions within the park.
And don’t forget about the Pleasure Pier. There’s something charmingly vintage about this seaside strip. Ride a 100-foot tall ferris wheel, take your family on the carousel and afterwards, treat everyone to funnel cake.
I love getting fresh air in Galveston—but that doesn’t always have to mean hitting up the beach. From strolling through Saengerfest Park and playing outdoor chess to bicycling around town, there are plenty of ways to get exercise and sunshine in Galveston. Golf lovers will be especially pleased to find an immaculate course at the Galveston Country Club (You must be a member or a guest of a member to golf here) and families will have fun at Magic Carpet Golf, which features two 18-hole courses and fun obstacles including big conch shells, caves, and pirate ships.
I love that there’s a vibrant, cultural aspect to Galveston with options for art, music and theater lovers. You could seriously dedicate an entire vacation to art galleries, stage productions and other cultural offerings, but if you can only pick a few things, start by touring the tree sculptures, which are uniquely carved trees situated throughout town. If you’re lucky enough to be in town for Galveston’s monthly ArtWalk, spend the evening touring over 20 different art venues for free. And lastly, add a stage production to your agenda. You can have an elegant evening seeing the Galveston Symphony Orchestra at The Grand 1894 Opera House or go low-key and catch a community theater product at Island ETC. Either way, you’ll have a fun and memorable evening in Galveston.
Jennifer SimonsonFreelance writer, photographer, and consultant. Jennifer Simonson has articles and photography that have appeared in Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, Slate Magazine, Houston Chronicle, Paste, Beer Advocate, Austin Monthly, Texas Lifestyle Magazine and more. Jennifer is based in Austin, Texas.