Galveston is a coastal city in Texas, about 80 km from Houston, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It is perfect for escaping the metropolis, relaxing on the beach and experiencing its authentic southern city atmosphere. With nearly 50km of beaches, museums, and many historic buildings and neighborhoods registered on the National Register of Historic Places, Galveston is a destination that pleases everyone, from history buffs to those looking to do a seaside life.
In addition, there are attractions designed for families, such as the Moody Gardens or Pleasure Pier, a state park for enjoying nature, and the third largest carnival in the United States. Let's find out the main things to see in Galveston, a city that really has a lot to offer.
- Historical notes
- When to go
- How to get there, recommended itinerary and how to get around
- In which itinerary to insert it
- How to get around Galveston and where to park
- What to see in Galveston
- Town center
- Historic villas
- Galveston Museums
- Other attractions
- Galveston Island State Park
- Galveston Beaches
- Where to eat
- What to see nearby
The island on which Galveston stands was discovered in 1588 by the Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva, but the first to inhabit it were the troops of the governor of Louisiana in 1870. The city itself was born in 1817, on a settlement of the famous pirate Jean Lafitte. During the American Civil War, Galveston served in the Confederacy, for which he was an important one refueling port. This function continued later, in particular for the cotton trade, making it the main port of Texas.
It prospered thanks to this vocation, but in 1900 it was devastated by a violent hurricane, which killed 8000 people. Even after the reconstruction, it could no longer regain its commercial leadership, which passed to nearby Houston. In the 20s it reinvented itself as a seaside and tourist resort, thanks to the casinos (and other slightly less legal businesses) founded by the Maceo family.
In the 50s the casinos were closed, and the city had to find other forms of entertainment. Thus were born museums, commercial and historical districts, and other tourist attractions. Unfortunately, however, the fate of this unfortunate city was again marked by other hurricanes: in 1961, 1983 and 2008, which caused considerable economic damage, and a strong depopulation.
When to go
Galveston has an oceanic climate, let's see in detail what it means:
- mild winter, but not enough to swim or enjoy the beach, with temperatures around 10 degrees.
- spring with pleasant temperatures around 20 degrees.
- humid summer with very high temperatures, even 35-40 degrees. This is also the rainy season and the Hurricanes, which can occur in particular between August and September.
- autumn similar to spring, with less rain than summer and pleasant temperatures until late October.
Il best time to visit Galveston it is represented by the mid-seasons, when it is not too hot, and there is no risk of running into dangerous hurricanes. Spring break (college spring break, usually between March and April) and carnival are peak season, so accommodations are less available and more expensive.
How to get there, recommended itinerary and how to get around
You will most likely visit Galveston as part of a road trip, so here are the directions to reach the city by car:
- Da Houston, take I-5 south to the end of the freeway which becomes Broadway Avenue. From here, continue straight ahead to get to the center. The ride is 80 miles and the travel time is about an hour, but expect some slowdowns, particularly on the Houston ring road.
- Da New Orleans, take I-10 Northwest following signs for Baton Rouge. Always continue on the same road west to Exit 781A. From here, take TX-8, Houston's toll ring road for 14km, then follow signs for I-45 S / Galveston and continue to the end of the freeway, as above. The total journey is 615 km, with a travel time of approximately 6 hours.
- Da Corpus Christi, take TX-35 towards Portland, and stay on this road until Palacios. From here, take FM-521 Road E to Brazoria, then TX 332 E to Lake Jackson. From here, choose whether to take the faster FM 2004 N until it rejoins the I-45, or continue on the 332 to the coast, and continue to Galveston following the County Road 257. I recommend this second option, more panoramic because it runs along the Gulf of Mexico. The road is 355 km long, for about 4 hours.
In which itinerary to insert it
One day is enough to see the Galveston's main attractions. You can also think about a day trip from Houston, depending on how comfortable you are with your itinerary.
Here are two trips in which you can insert it:
- viaggio on the road in Texas, between Houston and Corpus Christi or some other location on the Gulf Coast.
- Southern itinerary, the so-called Dixie Land, also including Louisiana and Mississippi. In this case, put it between New Orleans and Houston. The drive to or from New Orleans is a long one, so a night on the town might be better.
How to get around Galveston and where to park
The center can be visited on foot, while to reach the other attractions you will have to move by car. Park on the side of the road for a fee (metered parking). Except that during the peak season there are no particular difficulties in finding a place. Prices range from $ 1,50 to $ 2,00 per hour between 9.00am and 18.00pm, with a daily maximum of $ 16.
What to see in Galveston
First, as soon as you arrive in the city, go to the Visitor Center, located in the Chamber of Commerce at 2228 Mechanic Street. They will give you maps and brochures, and will be able to advise you on any events. It is open from Monday to Friday from 8.30 to 17, Saturday from 10.00 and Sunday from 12.00.
The Strand Historic District is the historic district of Galveston, its beating heart. It extends into the rectangle between 20th, Mechanic Street, 25th and Harborside Street, and its main thoroughfare is The Strand, also known as Avenue B.
In the second half of the 800th century, when Galveston was the main port of Texas, goods were sold here, there were several auction houses, banks and law firms. Several newspapers were also born including the only one still in business, the Galveston News, from 1942. After the hurricane of 1900, as we have seen, the city lost its commercial leadership in favor of Houston, and The Strand became a warehouse area. .
In the 60s, an urban restructuring project was launched, aimed at making it a commercial area again. Today it is full of restaurants, clubs and shops, especially antiques and art galleries, alongside the more touristy souvenir and delicacy shops. But there are still many buildings from the Victorian era, reminding us of the ancient glories of the city.
Between these, The Grand Opera House, a Romanesque revival-style theater from 1894, which can hold 1040 spectators. This building is a real hero, as it has withstood all the hurricanes that hit the city, with only marginal damage.
Another noteworthy structure is theOld Galveston Customs and Court House, symbol of the wealth and power of the city. From 1861, it was used as customs, post office and court. In classic revival style, it is red brick with a beautiful white colonnade, Ionic and Corinthian styles, huge windows and a balcony. Its heavy cast iron structure allowed it to survive the fire of 1885.
Despite its unfortunate history, Galveston has maintained over 550 historic mansions and mansions from the late 800s, mostly concentrated in the area called East End Historic District.
It is located east of downtown between 10th, Broadway, 19th and Mechanic Street. The villas are built in different styles, from Victorian to Greek Revival, with colonnades, elegant arcades, wrought iron fences, surrounded by lush tropical gardens. This neighborhood, inhabited by politicians and businessmen at the time, is somewhat reminiscent of New Orleans and its Garden District. Among the most interesting villas are the Grover Chambers House, the oldest brick building in the city, and the Isaac Heffron House, from the end of the 800th century.
But the most famous is Bishop Palace, also known as Greshman Castle. It is unquestionably the most beautiful building in Galvestson, a Victorian stone residence from 1893. The first owners were the Greshman spouses, and in 1923 it became the seat of the diocese, which is why it is also called the "Bishop's Palace".
Since 1963 it has been open to the public, who can thus visit its luxurious interiors with sculptures, stained glass windows, stairways in precious woods, and fireplaces from all over the world, one of which is covered in silver. Bishop Mansion it is open from Wednesday to Monday, from 10.00 to 17.00. Admission costs $ 14 for adults, $ 9 for children between 6 and 18, free for children under 5.
Finally, even though it is not located in the East End Historic District, it deserves a mention there Moody Mansion, an 1895 mansion belonging to one of the most powerful families in Texas. Originally, the residence belonged to the Willis family, who endowed it with comforts and technologies unthinkable for the time: lift, dumbwaiter, communication pipes for the servants, heated clothes racks and electric lighting.
Financial magnate and philanthropist William Moody bought it shortly after the hurricane of 1900, and he lived there with his family until his death. The house remained inhabited until 1986, in fact it is still full of the furniture and personal effects of the Moody family, giving a good idea of their lifestyle. Moody Mansion is open every day except on American holidays, from 10.00 to 17.00 (last admission at 16.00). The ticket costs $ 15 for adults, $ 7 for children and teens between 6 and 17, free up to 5 years.
Here are some of the most interesting museums you can find in the city.
Texas Seaport Museum e veliero Elissa
Within walking distance of The Strand, the Texas Seaport Museum houses the ship Elissa, a three-masted brig from 1877. Built in Scotland, it sailed the seas under the Norwegian and Swedish flags. Passed from hand to hand, in 1970 it was withdrawn and destined for destruction. It was bought by the Galveston Historical Foundation, which completely restored it and brought it to the United States.
It has an iron hull and a teak side rail. The masts are Oregon pine, while her 19 sails were sewn in Maine. Today it is still in business, but when it is docked at the museum it is possible to visit it. The museum is open from Wednesday to Monday, from 10.00 to 17.00 (last admission at 16.30). The ticket costs $ 10 for adults, $ 7 for children between 6 and 18 years, free up to 5 years.
Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum
You would like to visit a real oil platform? In Galveston it is possible to have this unique experience at Pier 19, not far from the Texas Seaport Museum. There Ocean Star self-lifting platform it was built in 1969 and turned into a museum in 1997, after nearly twenty years of honorable career in the Gulf of Mexico, during which it dug around 200 wells.
In its museum, you can find out how oil and gas extraction from the depths of the ocean works. The topic may sound boring, but the show is very interactive, colorful, and uses visual content such as models and practical examples, to explain complex engineering concepts in a simple way.
One section is dedicated to the daily life of the crew, who could remain on the platform in the open sea for months. Outside, on the other hand, all the very bulky equipment is exhibited, such as huge safety valves, core drilling pipes, cementing tools and escape pods. There is also a Hall of Fame, which is reminiscent of all the prominent personalities of the industry. Hours vary according to day and season, so I recommend that you consult the site. The ticket costs 10 $ for adults, 6 $ for children and teens between 6 and 18 years, free up to 5 years.
Managed by the non-profit organization Center for Transportation and Commerce, il Railway Museum it is based in the old station of the Santa Fe Railroad, the legendary railway line that connected Kansas with Santa Fe in New Mexico. Among the vehicles on display we find wagons goods in use from the end of the 800th century to the mid-900th century and passenger wagons of the 40s and 50s, with berths, dining cars and luxury cabins.
Then there is a section dedicated to locomotives, in which the two stand out Santa Fe Warbonnet, recognizable by the bright red and yellow colors. This particular motif was devised by artist Leland A. Knickerbocker in the 30s, and over time it has become a hallmark of these cute locomotives. But there are also many others, some steam and others diesel, always dating back to the first half of the 900th century.
The museum is open every day from 10.00 to 17.00, and has free parking. The ticket costs $ 12 for adults, $ 6 for over 65s, $ 6 for children and teenagers between 3 and 12, free up to 2 years.
Il Naval Museum Galveston is home to two WWII boats. The first is the USS Cavalla submarine, famous for sinking one of the Japanese aircraft carriers involved in the Pearl Harbor attacks. The second is the destroyer escort USS Stewart, a warship that escorted military convoys in the middle of the ocean, built in 1942.
This ship had a crucial task; in fact, in October 1943 she escorted President Roosevelt's yacht to Tehran. During this meeting, the American president decided, together with Churchill and Stalin, to organize operation Overlord for the following June, that is the Disembarkation in Normandy.
It is possible to visit the two boats in all their environments, including the command decks, the engine rooms, the armaments. The private spaces of the military, full of photos and documents, offer a glimpse of daily life on board. The museum is open every day from 10.00 to 17.00 (last admission at 16). The ticket costs $ 13 for adults, $ 10 for over 65s, $ 8 for children and teenagers between 5 and 12, free up to 4 years.
The Bryan Museum
This eclectic museum was born only in 2015, and is housed in the former orphanage, a beautiful building in the Neo-Renaissance style. Collector and industrialist JP Bryan purchased it in 2013 to make room for his immense collection, previously displayed in the offices of his energy company, Torch Energy Advisors, Inc.
Bryan is a descendant of one of the founding fathers of Texas, Stephen Austin, and is therefore very attached to the history of the state. He began to collect books, old weapons and documents from an early age, up to the impressive goal beyond 70.000 pieces. The collection includes pieces of furniture, saddles, spurs, firearms, Indian artifacts and clothing, as well as 30.000 rare books and documents in different languages, paintings, photographs, religious art, stone tools and arrowheads. A real excursus on the history of Texas from antiquity to the present day, with particular attention to the Spanish influence.
The museum is open from Wednesday to Monday, from 11.00 to 17.00. The ticket costs $ 14 for adults, $ 12 for over 65s, $ 5 for children and teenagers between 5 and 12, free up to 4 years.
Following the hurricane of 1900, the city decided to equip itself with a protection system. Two years later Seawall, one was born wall 16 km long, 5,2 meters high, and almost 5. Its walkway is the longest promenade in the world, largely covered with marine-themed murals.
The price to protect the city, however, was steep. In fact, within 20 years, the barrage caused erosion of 90 meters of beach, with the consequent disappearance of many accommodation facilities and a heavy economic impact. Where wide beaches extended, today only a thin strip of sand remains.
The dam, which was useful against several hurricanes including Alicia in 1983, sadly could do little against Ike in 2008. For this reason, a more efficient way to contain the storm surges is now being studied.
Historic Pleasure Pier
The original wooden pier, from 1943, was destroyed by Hurricane Carla in 1961. The current structure, inaugurated after more than 70 years in 2012, is the symbol of a proud city, which does not give up despite its unfortunate history.
Il Galveston Pleasure Pier looks a bit like the one in Santa Monica. It's a amusement park, with rides like roller coasters, ferris wheel, bumper cars, rotating cups and many more. There are also souvenir shops, restaurants, and of course the great classics of each fair: cotton candy, hot dogs, funnel cakes, and many other high-calorie snacks. Times are variable, therefore, I recommend consulting the official website.
When it comes to pricing, there are multiple choices. Simple access to the Pier costs 10$ for adults, $ 7 for over 65s, and $ 8 for children under 1 meter 20 cm tall. Single rides cost between $ 4 and $ 6. If you want to ride as many rides as you like, get the unlimited pass for $ 26,99 for adults, and $ 19,99 for children.
The Pleasure Pier has paid parking, but if you can't find a place you can easily park on the street, along the Seawall.
Moody Gardens, with its unmistakable three pyramids, is the most iconic of the things to see in Galveston. Built in 1986, it is an educational playground, especially designed for families.
Each of the three pyramids is an exhibition on a specific theme: an aquarium with penguins and seals, a tropical forest with monkeys and parrots, and the Discovery Museum, dedicated to science. Plus, there are rides, 3D and 4D cinemas, interactive shows, and even a typical Mississippi steamboat.
Then there are a golf course, an adventure park and Palm Beach, one artificial beach with water slides, open only in summer. In November and December, on the other hand, it is possible to attend the evening light and sound show. The hours also vary according to the attractions, so I suggest you check the site.
You can choose whether to visit a single attraction, or do the day pass at $ 60 for adults, and $ 50 for children between 4 and 12, and for those over 65. Considering that the aquarium alone costs $ 36, the pass is probably the cheapest option, but it also depends on how long you have available. Consult the updated price table to decide which option is right for you. Parking is free.
Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island State Park is a Texas state wildlife park, a small one natural oasis where to swim, relax on the beach, or fish away from the chaos of the city. It overlooks an internal bay of the gulf and attracts a large number of birds, especially migratory birds in spring and autumn. For this reason, it is a very popular destination for bird watchers.
There are several trails that cross the various habitats of the park, from the prairie to the bayou. Some are dedicated to hikers and cyclists, while others are for canoeing or kayaking.
Among the walking trails, the most popular are the Caracara Trail, to see the falcons from which it takes its name, and the Clapper Rail Loop, which crosses a lagoon area, with sand dunes and marshes also inhabited by alligators. The two paths combined form an 8-foot path, approximately 1 mile long and level.
On the park's official website you can download the trail map, and find information for kayak rental. The park is open every day from 7.00 to 22.00, and is very crowded on weekends and holidays. Admission is $ 5, free for under 12s, and is valid all day.
With almost 50 km of beach, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the numerous beaches of Galveston. As we have seen, unfortunately the Seawall has "eaten" a lot of the original coast, but there are still several large beaches, always free but with the possibility of renting umbrellas and sunbeds. In addition, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is warm and shallow, making it perfect for families with children as well.
Here are the most beautiful beaches in Galveston:
- East Beach, at the eastern end of the island, famous for live music in the summer.
- Stewart Beach, not far from the center, which has a small play area for children.
- Porretto Beach, with a nice view of the Pleasure Pier.
- Galveston Island State Park, which we talked about in the paragraph above.
Galveston isn't particularly big or busy, attractions are scattered all over the place, and parking isn't expensive. For all these reasons, there is no specific area where it is preferable to sleep. However, I would advise you to look for something close to the beach, even if further away from the center.
Two good options are the Best Western Plus Galveston Suites and the Holiday Inn Resort Galveston On the Beach, which overlook the sea and will guarantee you beautiful sunsets.
All Galveston accommodations
Where to eat
Galveston is a great place to sample typical Creole cuisine, with rich seafood dishes. Two specialties above all are the gumbo, a fish soup made with okra and a thick mixture of flour and butter called roux; and then there is the po'boy, the typical Louisiana sandwich usually stuffed with fried meat or shrimp.
You can try these two dishes at The Spot, in an unbeatable location on the beach, or in the center, at Little Daddy's Gumbo Bar. But Texas is also the realm of Tex-Mex cuisine, whose name is precisely the union of words. Texas and Mexico. Taquilos, in the center, serves fajitas, enchiladas, tacos, and all the typical dishes of this tasty cuisine.
And for a snack? King's Confectionery, at 2323 Strand Street, is a real institution. Between freshly made fudge, candies, ice cream sundaes, cotton candy, biscuits and chocolates, this shop is a true paradise for gourmands… but not for those on a diet!
Galveston's most important event is the Carnival, the third largest in the United States, after New Orleans and St Louis. First celebrated in 1867, includes parades, allegorical floats and the traditional masked ball.
The two historic rival associations, the Knights of Momums and the Knights of Myth, each year challenged each other who proposed the most beautiful floats and the most spectacular parades, to the point of spending large sums of money and spending months and months taking care of their preparation. Partly due to the very high costs, partly due to the impact of hurricanes and wars, for several years the carnival was celebrated only privately, with masked balls but without parades.
Public festivities were restored in 1985, and the carnival has attracted every year ever since 250.000 visitors Worldwide. It is held in the two weeks preceding Ash Wednesday, with the culminating evening on Shrove Tuesday. To know the exact dates, consult the FAQ on the site.
What to see nearby
A very interesting attraction to visit in the vicinity of Galveston is the Johnson Space Center, Or the NASA headquarters in Houston. It's just 40 minutes from the city, and it's one operational space base which also includes a museum. You can take the tour of the base by tram, visiting the astronaut training camp, and the command center that managed the moon landing operations in 1969.
The museum includes several exhibits, including:
- Starship Gallery, where several spacecraft and a model of a space base are on display.
- Astronaut Gallery, with many suits worn on real missions in space.
- Mission Mars, the section dedicated to travel on the Red Planet.
- International Space Station Gallery, where you can learn everything about the ISS, the international space station that conducts important scientific research
- Independence Plaza, with the replica of the Space Shuttle Independence
Johnson Space Center opening hours vary by season and day of the week. I refer you to our article on visiting NASA in Houston for more details.