Dallas and Austin aren't the only cities that Texas has to offer. One of its best is the island city of Galveston, which is so much more than it seems. Galveston is more than "just" on the Gulf Coast and more than "just" cruises; it's an excellent family vacation spot with unique attractions you won't find anywhere else. It's a captivating place to visit at all times of the year; you can swim in the beautiful waters, marvel at the Moody Gardens, or go on an adventure to discover all the wonderful things to do in Galveston.
Despite their name, the Moody Gardens are responsible for bringing a lot of joy to their visitors. Whether you're staying onsite at the Moody Gardens hotel, admiring its glass pyramids from afar, or exploring the rainforest, aquarium, and history contained within them. Each pyramid has its own unique pull, from the aquarium tunnels where you can watch sealife from under the sea and the overgrown foliage of the rainforest. The rainforest pyramid even has its own corpse flower for you to meet, Morticia, who only blooms once every 20 years.
Once upon a time, Galveston's Pleasure Pier was the center of tourism for the Texas Gulf Coast. Even now, it remains one of the most exciting family-oriented destinations around. The existing pier took the place of the previous one, which was built in the 1940s, and featured an arcade, aquarium, and ballroom but was then destroyed by a hurricane in 1961. Thankfully, there doesn't appear to be anything that can part Galveston and its pier amusement park. In 2008 it was reopened as a nostalgia-fueled amusement park that rivals the old days of Atlantic City and Navy Pier. Ten years on, we can all relive the state fairs of our youth with cotton candy-coated fingertips and huge smiles.
In the historic East End of Galveston, there's a gem waiting for you in plain sight. That gem is the Bishop's Palace. Also known as Gresham House, this sprawling Victorian mansion was built between 1887 and 1892. It was owned by Colonel Walter Gresham, the founder of the Colorado and Santa Fe railroads, after he and his wife relocated to Galveston after the Civil War. Bishop's Palace is a stunning display of architecture, and a simple glance can render you speechless. Visitors can look into tours of the ornate home, and while the house isn't wheelchair accessible, the Galveston Historical Foundation welcomes you to contact them to make special arrangements.
Galveston is full of unique architecture, from elaborate Victorian homesteads to an odd structure that looks more suited to hold coffee than people. The so-called Kettle House is possibly the strangest of them all. For years, nobody even knew of its origin or why it was there. While you can't visit the tiny landmark, the property recently went under a very public restoration on the Big Texas Fix, and you can rent it. After safely surviving Hurricane Ike, the Kettle House is the safest kettle of them all.
Galveston isn't just home to architectural oddities; it's also home to the biggest collection of oleanders in the country. Although oleanders are gorgeous to look at, they're extremely toxic, so it's very important to just look at them. The Betty Head Oleander Garden Park gives you a safe space to do this en masse. For more than 50 years, people have wandered the floral-surrounded esplanades and gardens here to the point where the flower and the City of Galveston seem to go hand in hand. As well as being ADA accessible, the park also throws events during the year with live music and vendors.
The Germanic word "Schlitterbahn" roughly translates to "slide," so it'll come as no surprise that Schlitterbahn is Texas's best-loved waterpark. If you're visiting Galveston during the summer, the heat can sometimes call for some well-needed water fun, which is exactly what you'll find here. As well as being voted the World's Best Indoor Waterpark for six years straight, it has more than 26 acres worth of thrilling water rises and adventures. Better yet, the park is open throughout the year, not just in summer.
Texas and oil are synonymous; there have been movies about it, television series, and books. Off the shores of Galveston harbor, you can head out to a retired drilling rig that's now home to a museum dedicated to the industry. There's nowhere better on the Gulf Coast to learn about offshore oil rigs and their history, and its location just seems to make it all the more special. The former oil rig houses three floors worth of exhibits and artifacts from an industry that's the beating heart of the Lone Star State.
Bishop's Palace isn't the only extravagant home in Galveston. The paths of the East End Historic District are lined with blocks of beautiful, towering 19th-century properties designed to take your breath away. While you're there, you'll do well to take a quick trip to the Strand District, which has its own share of Victorian architecture and dozens of small boutiques and curio shops to explore. The Strand and the East End districts are reminiscent of downtown New Orleans with their special Texan flare.
Galveston has the best attraction for you on the 61st Street Fishing Pier if you're a keen fisherman- or woman. You don't even need to bring your own rod or bait - you can rent and buy them from the pier! If you want, while Dad occupies himself at the end of the pier with his fishing, Mom can grab a margarita and sit on the observation deck, listening to the calming lap of the Gulf's waves. After the sun goes down, you and the family can grab a delicious pizza together before you head back to your vacation home.
If you're in Galveston and yearning for nature, Galveston Island State Park has a wealth of opportunities for adventure. As with many state parks the country over, Galveston Island State Park offers campsites, hiking trails, bird and wildlife watching opportunities, and the chance to put in your kayak across various types of water. Wherever you might be staying on your trip to Galveston, you should still look into spending at least a night camping by the surf and the golden sands.
Galveston's Strand Historic District is a must-see for visitors who are interested in history and architecture. The district spans six blocks and is home to more than 60 historic buildings, including homes, shops, and restaurants. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll down the area's brick streets, tour art galleries and museums such as the Galveston Island Railroad Museum, or spend the day shopping and dining at one of the district's many restaurants.
The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a popular amusement park. The pier features thrilling rides, games, and attractions for guests of all ages. Rides like the Iron Shark roller coaster, the Gulf Glider swing, and the Texas Star Flyer are sure to excite thrill-seekers, while the many restaurants and gift shops ensure there's plenty of time to rest and refuel between rides and games.
The Galveston Island Ferry is one of the best ways to view the Gulf of Mexico. This free ferry service crosses the channel between Bolivar Peninsula and the Port of Galveston, giving riders the opportunity to take in panoramic ocean views and, in some cases, the chance to see dolphins in the wild.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to a large variety of marine life, and the Texas Seaport Museum is one of the best places to learn about it. Visitors can explore the museum's exhibits, which feature both marine life and maritime history. The Marine Biology Harbor Tour is offered daily and teaches guests about the specific marine life and ecology of the Galveston Bay area.
Galveston visitors in search of romantic date night ideas can schedule a sunset cruise on the Baywatch Dolphin Tours. This cruise takes place on a catamaran that sails Galveston Bay at sunset, offering incredible views of Galveston's coastline and the chance to view some local marine life, including dolphins. The Baywatch Dolphin Tour catamaran also features an onboard bar and cozy seating that's ideal for couples.
The Grand 1894 Opera House is an important part of Galveston's history. This historic building has been restored in previous years to reflect its original design and architecture. Visitors can enjoy a range of performances at the opera house, including concerts, plays, and musicals. Past performers include Liza Minnelli and Tony Bennett.