10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Galveston
Just 50 miles southeast of Houston on a narrow island in the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston was briefly in the spotlight in 1836 as the capital of the Republic of Texas. For much of the century, it had been the largest and wealthiest town in the state, and the splendor of the period can still be seen in its many historic buildings and handsome mansions, particularly Victorian landmarks such as Bishop's Palace and the Grand Opera House. Also, the well-restored warehouse district known as the Strand still preserves many original façades, now home to restaurants, cafés, galleries, and shops. Nature lovers, too, are drawn to Galveston for its fine open spaces, whether to manicured places like Moody Gardens, or the more rugged setting of Galveston's excellent 32-mile long beach. The Port of Galveston has also increased in importance as a cruise destination, with many major players - including the Disney Cruise Line - now based here.
See also: Where to Stay in Galveston
1 Texas Seaport Museum and the Elissa
The Texas Seaport Museum is home to the tall ship Elissa, built in 1877 and considered one of the finest restored historical vessels in the US. This lovely old ship still puts to sea regularly, and her fascinating story - including her rescue from the scrapyard - is told in the museum on shore. Other highlights include an excellent look at the history of the Port of Galveston, including the names of the more than 133,000 migrants who passed through. Afterwards, head to nearby Seawolf Park for a peek at a WWII era US Navy submarine and the USS Stewart, a destroyer from the same period. Another interesting ship-related attraction is the Clifton Steamboat Museum, an hour's drive northeast in the town of Beaumont and home to displays and artwork relating to the area's maritime history, along with the Hercules, a tugboat from the 1930s.
Address: 2200 Harborside Drive, Galveston
2 Moody Gardens and Aquarium Pyramid
Famous for its three pyramid-shaped attractions, Moody Gardens is as much about having fun as it is about education. The highlight of a visit is the superb Aquarium Pyramid, one of the largest in Texas and a showcase for the marine life of the Pacific, the Antarctic, the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea, and the Caribbean. The other pyramids include the Rainforest Pyramid, home to flora and fauna from the tropics including free-roaming monkeys and sloths, and the aptly-named Discovery Pyramid with its science-focused displays. Afterwards, be sure to walk along the splendid white sands of the Palm Beach waterpark with its freshwater lagoons, slides, lazy river, and replica paddlesteamer.
Address: 1 Hope Blvd, Galveston
3 Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum
The Port of Galveston is home to many rigs and supply vessels, and with a nod to Galveston's important role in the Gulf of Mexico's bustling oil and gas industries, the Ocean Star Offshore Oil Rig and Museum offers a fascinating insight into the energy business. Based on an actual oilrig - the massive Ocean Star, built in 1969 - the museum can easily swallow up a large chunk of your day thanks to its many excellent exhibits. Highlights include a visit to the pipe deck where some of the larger equipment needed to drill the rig's more than 200 wells is stored, along with interactive displays showing the process from exploration to extraction (guided tours are available).
Address: 2002 Wharf Road, Galveston
4 The Strand Historic District
One of the most attractive downtown areas of any US city, the Strand Historic District in Galveston - also known simply as the Strand - is a National Historic Landmark District consisting mainly of Victorian-era buildings. Now housing numerous restaurants, cafés, galleries, and antique stores, it's a splendid place for a little sightseeing while you shop and take in the area's unique ambience. Encompassing some 60 buildings spread over five city blocks, the district stretches all the way down to the busy wharf area with its old restored warehouses, and is an easy walk to many of Galveston's most important tourist attractions (it's also the site of events such as the Christmas Dickens Festival).
Address: 2228 Mechanic Street, Galveston
5 Lone Star Flight Museum
The Lone Star Flight Museum describes the history of aviation through its many displays of restored aircraft and aviation artifacts. It's also home to the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame, an exhibit providing an overview of the history of flight from gliders to modern jet aircraft. An added highlight is the chance to see the museum's planes in action, as the vast majority are maintained or have been restored to operational status. One of the most notable examples is the huge B17 Flying Fortress, a bomber that saw combat in WWII, as did the museum's P-47 Thunderbolt (both often appear at air shows across the US). Hot Tip: For a truly memorable experience, consider taking a ride in one of the museum's classic planes.
Address: 2002 Terminal Drive, Galveston
6 Moody Mansion
Built in 1895, the interior of the fine Victorian Moody Mansion features stained glass, custom carved woodwork, decorative tiles, and plasterwork, along with fine stencil work throughout. The home also impresses with its red brick, unique architecture, and numerous arches, along with its many fine antiques, photos, and artwork. Guided tours through its 20 rooms are available, and many special events and programs are also hosted here. Also of interest are the meticulously maintained grounds.
Address: 1 Hope Blvd, Galveston
7 1892 Bishop's Palace
Built as a private residence, the Bishop's Palace was completed in 1893 after seven years of construction. Ranked as one of the top 100 homes in the US for its architectural significance - it's unique in its Victorian adaptation of Renaissance style - highlights include its castle-like exterior, complete with turrets and towers and sculpted granite, limestone, and sandstone. A particular highlight is the grand interior with its elaborate carved woodwork, high ceilings, fireplaces, and fine furnishings. Now a National Historic Landmark and museum, the home is open for guided tours.
Address: 1402 Broadway Street, Galveston
8 Galveston Railroad Museum
A fun attraction for young and old alike, the Galveston Railroad Museum features a large collection of steam and diesel engines, passenger and freight cars, cabooses, and related artifacts. A highlight is the famous streamlined Texas Limited passenger train and the impressive Santa Fe diesel, along with a large HO model train layout. If you can, try to plan your visit to coincide with one of the regular train shows for a chance to take a ride on these historic machines.
Address: 2602 Santa Fe Place, Galveston
9 The Grand 1894 Opera House
Another of Galveston's fine old structures is the Grand 1894 Opera House, a splendidly restored Victorian theater that still hosts musical and theatrical performances. In addition to its adult programming, the Opera House also hosts fun shows for kids of all ages, including the always-popular Grand Kids Festival.
Address: 2020 Post Office Street, Galveston
10 Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
One of the city's newest attractions, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a fun way to pass time, especially if traveling with kids. Opened in 2012, this 1,130-foot-long pier - built on the site of its predecessor, which was destroyed by a hurricane in 1961 - boasts numerous fun rides suitable for all ages, including a roller coaster, as well as carnival-style games and activities, and a restaurant.
Address: 2501 Seawall Blvd, Galveston
Where to Stay in Galveston for Sightseeing
We recommend these excellent resorts in Galveston, near top attractions like the beach and Moody Gardens:
- Moody Gardens Hotel Spa & Convention Center: 4-star luxury, beautiful botanical gardens, indoor lap pool and hot tub, aquarium, kids' activities.
- The Galvestonian: mid-range ocean-view hotel, private beach, palm-lined pool, full kitchens.
- Harbor House: affordable waterfront resort, near cruise ship terminal, complimentary continental breakfast, large rooms.
- Best Western Plus Galveston Suites: budget rates, ocean views, modern rooms, outdoor pool and hot tub.