19 Best Attractions & Things to Do in Galveston
Authors Lana Law and Anietra Hamper have spent time visiting Galveston on many occasions, experiencing the attractions, and outdoor activities.
The beautiful beaches and historic downtown of Galveston, less than an hour from Houston, make this a year-round destination for Texans and tourists.
For much of the 19th century, Galveston was the largest and wealthiest town in the state, and for a brief period, it was even the capital of the Republic of Texas. The splendor of the period can still be seen in the historic buildings and handsome mansions.
In the heart of downtown, the Strand Historic District preserves many original façades, now home to restaurants, cafés, galleries, and shops. Among the many repurposed buildings are original old Galveston charms like the Star Drugstore, the oldest drugstore in Texas, and the first desegregated lunch counter in Galveston, where locals still gather for breakfast or lunch.
While many people, particularly in summer, come primarily to lounge on the beaches, Galveston also offers a wealth of other things to do, from sightseeing on the Galveston Trolley, bird-watching, fishing, and water sports to exploring museums and enjoying wonderful dining.
For more ideas on places to visit and how to spend your time, see our list of top attractions and things to do in Galveston.
1. Galveston's Beaches
Highlights: The Seawall, pedestrian promenade, and the entertaining Pleasure Pier
Turquoise water laps at the seemingly endless stretch of soft sand that fronts the ocean and draws crowds of people here for the stunning Galveston beaches from spring until fall. The Seawall runs for more than 10 miles along the beach, offering plenty of room to find your own patch of sand and space to play in the shallow and often calm water.
Several washroom facilities are located along here at various intervals, and behind the beach are restaurants, shops, and hotels. At the heart of the action along here is Pleasure Pier.
One of the most popular beaches, near the east end of the island, is Stewart Beach. It is also one of the beaches near Houston, often drawing urban visitors for the weekend. At this family-friendly beach, you'll find showers and restrooms, chair and umbrella rentals, a children's playground, concessions, and a lifeguard.
If you are looking for more nature and activity, head west to Galveston Island State Park, where you can go walking along the boardwalks, kayaking through the bayou, and bird-watching on either the bay or ocean side.
2. The Strand Historic District
Highlights: Walkable streets around the district with shops, restaurants, and entertainment all in one place
The Strand Historic District in Galveston — also known simply as the Strand — is a National Historic Landmark District consisting mainly of Victorian-era buildings, many of which survived the Great Storm of 1900. Now housing numerous restaurants, cafés, galleries, and antique stores, it's a pleasant place for a little sightseeing, shopping, and dining.
The district stretches all the way down to the busy wharf area, with its old restored warehouses, and is home to many of Galveston's most important tourist attractions. Also in this area, you'll find Pier 21, with the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, the nearby Texas Seaport Museum, and places to eat overlooking the water.
Be sure to stop in at the Pier 21 Theater to watch The Great Storm, a film on the 1900 Hurricane that hit Galveston and changed it forever.
The Strand is also home to an eclectic mix of retail and dining, from old-fashioned candy stores, like LA King's Confectionery, where you can watch taffy-making demonstrations, to more upscale restaurants, like the long-running Rudy and Paco, next door to The Grand 1894 Opera House, or the more modern Vargas Cut and Catch across the street.
3. Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Highlight: Non-stop family entertainment, rides, and activity on the pier; suitable for people of all ages
The most prominent feature along the Seawall is Pleasure Pier. Jutting out into the ocean like a carnival on stilts, the pier's roller coasters and colorful structures can be seen from well off in the distance along the beachfront.
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, as well as games and activities, and a restaurant.
If you are visiting Galveston with kids, this is a great family thing to do and a fun way to spend some time. The Pleasure Pier is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and on weekends during the winter.
Address: 2501 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, Texas
4. Dolphin Sightseeing Tour
Highlight: Learning about the local ecology and wildlife in addition to spotting dolphins
Playful dolphins frequent the Gulf of Mexico waters around Galveston, which is why Galveston Dolphin Sightseeing Tours are popular for visitors to the island. The guided trip takes you on a one-hour narrated boat tour that departs from the harbor at Pier 21 to look for pods of dolphins.
The sightseeing trip is nice for visitors, since the guides also share information about the ecology and marine wildlife around Galveston Island. The covered boat makes for a comfortable trip out on waters that are prime for seeing dolphins. They generally jump alongside the boat.
The trip runs seasonally from March through October, when the water conditions are best for dolphins. Tour times range throughout the day, so you can select a morning, afternoon, or evening time to fit your schedule.
Address: Pier 21, Galveston, Texas
5. Galveston Naval Museum
Highlight: A hidden, worthwhile gem located away from the main tourist areas
The Galveston Naval Museum at Seawolf Park on Pelican Island is one of Galveston's most spectacular treasures. With the USS Cavalla WWII submarine and the USS Stewart WWII warship, the small museum and memorial park are a must-visit.
This is a great place to visit if you have a couple of hours to kill or are waiting for a cruise ship. There is a wealth of American history in one location and the opportunity to step foot on two preserved vessels that played an important part in WWII.
The USS Cavalla is a World War II submarine that sank IJN aircraft carrier Shokaku, which was involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Step onboard and descend into the tiny corridors to see how sailors lived and worked during wartime.
Having the rare experience of walking through the submarine galleys, bunk areas, and operational rooms gives new respect and perspective for the service members who called the USS Cavalla home for many months at a time.
The USS Stewart was originally used as a training ship for young officers. The ship escorted three serving U.S. presidents during its time in service.
Visitors can walk through the ship to see the large artillery up close and experience how the sailors lived on board. On Saturdays, docents are available on-site for additional information.
Address: 6341 Stewart Road#249, Galveston, Texas
6. 1892 Bishop's Palace
Highlight: Option to take a behind-the-scenes tour to areas of the home that are off-limits during regular tours
Built as a private residence, the Bishop's Palace, also referred to as Gresham's Castle, is often described as one of the most significant Victorian mansions in America. It was completed in 1893 after seven years of construction.
Highlights include its castle-like exterior, complete with turrets and towers and sculpted granite, limestone, and sandstone. The grand interior displays elaborate carved woodwork, high ceilings, stained glass windows, fireplaces, and fine furnishings.
Now a National Historic Landmark and museum, the home is open for tours. For a more in-depth visit that takes you literally from the attic to the basement, book in for a specialized tour that takes place only on Saturday mornings.
Address: 1402 Broadway Street, Galveston, Texas
7. Moody Gardens and Aquarium Pyramid
Highlight: You can make a full-day visit to Moody Gardens by adding in the Palm Beach waterpark.
Moody Gardens is a huge complex with things to do for the whole family. It can easily be an all-day outing, or you can target just one of the many attractions here and spend a few hours. The most dominant features are the three glass pyramids.
The main attraction for many people is a visit to the Aquarium Pyramid. This huge aquarium showcases the marine life of the Pacific, the Antarctic, the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea, and the Caribbean. Some of the highlights are the underwater tunnel, touch tanks, and the giant river otters and the penguins, both of which are part of the animal encounter programs.
The Rainforest Pyramid is home to flora and fauna from the tropics, including free-roaming monkeys and sloths, birds, and fish. A boardwalk at canopy level takes you right through the heart of the rainforest. The aptly named Discovery Pyramid focuses on science and offers a range of displays.
Afterward, head to Palm Beach waterpark with its white sands, freshwater lagoons, slides, lazy river, and replica paddle steamer. Also, check out the elaborate seasonal displays.
Movie buffs will want to take note that Moody Gardens has the largest movie screens in Texas. These towering screens have the latest projection technology and are a great spot to see MG 3D and 4D Special FX features. Visit the Moody Garden's website to see what's showing when you are visiting.
Address: 1 Hope Blvd, Galveston, Texas
8. Take the Freedom Walk
Highlight: The mural is in the heart of the Strand Historic District, so you can park and walk to enjoy other attractions in the area.
Many people may not know that Juneteenth, when the announcement that all slaves were declared free on June 19, 1865, happened in Galveston. To commemorate Galveston's place in African American history, there is a self-guided Freedom Walk that you can take through town to learn about the historical sites that are significant to Juneteenth.
The Freedom Walk starts at the Middle Passage Marker at the Texas Seaport Museum and takes you to the African American Museum, several local churches, and the Juneteenth historical marker at the Osterman Building. One of the most compelling stops is at the Absolute Equality Mural on Strand Street.
You can download the Freedom Walk route from the Visit Galveston app and take your time going from site to site.
9. Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum
Highlight: Stepping onto the pipe deck for a rare glimpse into how the oil rigs operate in the region
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. A visit to the Ocean Star Offshore Oil Rig and Museum offers a fascinating insight into the energy business.
Based on an actual oil rig — the massive Ocean Star, built in 1969 — the museum showcases 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.
Address: 2002 Wharf Road, Galveston, Texas
10. Texas Seaport Museum and the Elissa
Highlight: The limited tickets to participate in one of the daily sails of the tall ship 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 a look at the history of the Port of Galveston, including the names of the more than 133,000 migrants who passed through. If you want to see more, drive over to nearby Seawolf Park for a peek at a WWII-era US Navy submarine and the USS Stewart, a destroyer from the same period.
Address: 2200 Harborside Drive, Galveston, Texas
11. Ship to Shore
Highlight: Several seaport attractions are located close together so you can combine visits on the same day.
One of the newest attractions in Galveston is the Ship to Shore experience at Galveston's Historic Seaport, which gives visitors a hands-on education in what it was like for immigrants heading to the island in the 1880s. Inside the interactive museum, you become one of the early immigrants to the island.
Assigned the profile of a real Galveston immigrant, you experience what it was like on the ship voyage to America and the challenges that new arrivals had as they were processed in the 1880s in one of the busiest ports. You will receive a digital card during the visit, which personalizes your experience each time you go through Ship to Shore.
There are several other historical attractions around the Historic Seaport, like The Elissa tall ship, which you can combine into the same visit. Stop for lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants in the district.
Address: 2200 Harborside, Galveston, Texas
12. The Bryan Museum
Highlight: Fascinating history about the Galveston Orphans Home on display; art galleries
Housed in a fabulous historic building, the Bryan Museum, which was once the Galveston Orphans Home, showcases a diverse collection of art and artifacts from the American West, spanning more than 12,000 years. The permanent collection deals with everything from Native American history to the Spanish Colonial Era, and Texas Independence.
The Texas Masters Gallery displays the art of Texas-born artists, as well as those who traveled through the area and captured it on canvas. Around the museum, you'll also find works by various artists, including pieces by Andy Warhol.
iPads on displays help explain the pieces and their significance, but the best way to appreciate the collection and learn about the history is to take a tour. If you are lucky, you may even see the founder, Mr. J.P. Bryan, who opened the Bryan Museum in 2015.
Address: 1315 21st Street, Galveston, Texas
Highlight: Galveston offers one of the easiest access points for various types of saltwater fishing from the piers to bays and offshore.
Fishing is a regular pastime for people in Galveston and vacationers. Galveston is one of the best places for deep sea fishing in Texas, but it is also prime for surf fishing, fly fishing in the wetland areas, and from local piers.
Experienced anglers can arrive with gear and a Texas fishing license and try their hand at redfish and sea trout. One of the best local spots to fish is Galveston's 61st Street Fishing Pier. Daily fishing rates apply, and you can rent rods right at the pier office. Bait is also available at the pier.
The 61st Street Fishing Pier is fun whether you are fishing or not. It is also a perfect spot to learn from the locals about what to catch and how to catch in-season species. It is a family-friendly spot, too, if you are looking for something local to do with children.
Guides and fishing charters are available on the island for a wide range of fishing excursions, from bay fishing to open water.
Address: 6101 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, Texas
14. Moody Mansion
Highlight: The children's museum at Moody Mansion has hands-on creative activities just for kids.
Built in 1895, this 28,000-square-foot home is one of the finest of its kind in the state of Texas and is registered on the National Register of Historic Places. The interior of the 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.
The meticulously maintained grounds with tropical plants are worth strolling around, and be sure to see the vintage Cadillacs parked in the garage. There is also a children's museum located on the ground floor of the home.
Address: 1 Hope Blvd, Galveston, Texas
15. The Grand 1894 Opera House
Highlight: The many ways to enjoy this restored opera house from orchestra seating to luxurious box seats.
Another of Galveston's fine old structures is the Grand 1894 Opera House, a splendidly restored Victorian theater that has withstood multiple hurricanes. It still hosts a full lineup of musical and theatrical performances, along with a selection of fun shows for kids of all ages.
The Grand 1894 Opera House has been the official opera house for the state of Texas since 1993. The main performance auditorium has three levels of seating along with smaller side balconies closer to the stage.
If you are unable to go inside, the windows along Postoffice Street feature interesting displays on a regular basis. On the wall inside the main entrance, a plaque shows the level of the high water mark from Hurricane Ike, which swept through in 2008.
Address: 2020 Post Office Street, Galveston, Texas
16. Galveston Island State Park
Highlights: The viewing platforms for birdwatching and photography
For bird-watching, kayaking, SUPing, fishing, or simply enjoying a natural beach environment, head to Galveston Island State Park, near the west end of the island. Galveston is situated along the Central Flyway, making it a popular spot for birding, with opportunities to see migrating and resident birds.
The most popular area is the lovely beach on the ocean side. On the bay side are a number of trails and observation platforms. The park also does a good job of presenting family activities on a regular basis, so be sure to check the calendar to learn about things to do when you are visiting.
Address: 14901 FM 3005, Galveston, Texas
17. Galveston Railroad Museum
Highlight: Spend the night on a train at the museum's rail hotel.
A fun attraction for young and old, the Galveston Railroad Museum features six permanent exhibits showcasing 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.
The museum isn't all about train equipment. A visit to the People's Gallery takes you back to 1932 and an era when people wore fancy hats and dresses and suits and caps to catch a train. The waiting area has been exquisitely recreated down to the finest detail, complete with statues and even a newsstand.
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, Texas
18. Galveston Tree Sculpture Tour
Highlight: Looking for sculptures is a great way to explore some of Galveston's residential areas.
Hurricane Ike launched a devastating blow to Galveston Island in 2008, but the city has turned some of that destruction into works of art. The Galveston Tree Sculpture Tour is a self-guided tour along some of Galveston's streets, where destroyed oak trees have been carved into artistic sculptures.
One of the largest concentrations of sculptures is in the East End Historic District. The self-guided tours to see them can be done by walking or biking the route and finding them elegantly located in yards and gardens.
Highlight: Being able to experience some of the best birding opportunities along the Gulf Coast
Birding is a year-round activity in Galveston. The diverse ecological habitats that exist on the island make it a major birding destination. Early in the year, you will find large numbers of water birds congregating on the island and on the nearby Bolivar Flats. Species like sandpipers, herons, egrets, and wading birds like roseate spoonbills are in abundance.
Springtime is when the tropical birds begin to arrive on the island. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, waterthrush, and songbirds arrive, ready for their migratory rest. Birding in the summertime is great in the mainland forests, where you can hear the chorus of breeding birds. Midsummer is ideal for shorebirds. Head to the wildlife refuges for the best viewing opportunities.
Fall brings the migratory birds and early winter arrivals of species like phoebes. Later in the year, resident species like raptors and red-tailed hawks return. There are many places to visit for bird-watching, from the coast to Galveston Island State Park. You can find birding tours and workshops on the island if you are new to the sport.
Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Galveston
Galveston, TX - Climate Chart
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|Average minimum and maximum temperatures for Galveston, TX in °F|
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|Average monthly precipitation totals for Galveston, TX in inches.|
The best time to visit Galveston is May, June, July, August, and September, which is the height of the summer season. During these months you are almost guaranteed to have sunny days, and all the top attractions are open. These months have the warmest temperatures, ranging from the low 80s to the low 90s (Fahrenheit), and some of the best beach weather. The added benefit of these months is having prime beach days when the water temperatures are at their warmest and local festivals and entertainment are in full swing. Rainfall begins to pick up in late August and September.
If you are looking to travel with less intense Texas heat during your Galveston visit, your next best times to travel are October and November, when temperatures cool a bit but are still warm, in the low 70s to the low 80s. On the other side of the winter season, March and April are also comfortable months with temperatures in the high 60s to high 70s. You will probably find some deals on accommodations during these months coming into, and out of, the high summer season.
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