Galveston’s stunning beaches and historic center make it a popular year-round destination for both Texans and tourists.
The Strand Historic District, located in the heart of downtown, has several original façades that are now home to restaurants, cafés, galleries, and stores. Original old Galveston charms like the Star Drugstore, Texas’ oldest drugstore, and Galveston’s first desegregated lunch counter, where residents still gather for breakfast or lunch, are among the numerous reused buildings.
While many visitors come to relax on the beaches, especially in the summer, Galveston also has a plethora of other activities to offer, such as sightseeing on the Galveston Trolley, bird-watching, fishing, and water sports, as well as exploring museums and dining.
Best Places to Visit in Galveston
See our list of the top attractions and things to do in Galveston for more ideas on where to go and how to spend your time.
1. Beaches in Galveston
The Seawall, the pedestrian promenade, and the amusing Pleasure Pier are all highlights. From spring to fall, turquoise water laps at the seemingly unending expanse of fine sand that fronts the ocean, drawing crowds to the magnificent Galveston beaches. The Seawall continues for more than ten miles along the beach, providing plenty of space to choose your own spot of sand and play in the shallow, typically quiet sea.
Several restrooms are located at various intervals along this stretch, while restaurants, stores, and hotels are located behind the beach. The Pleasure Pier is the hub of activity along this stretch.
2. The Strand Historic District
The Strand Historic District in Galveston is a National Historic Landmark District comprised primarily of Victorian-era buildings, many of which survived the Great Storm of 1900. It’s now a great place for a little sightseeing, shopping, and dining, with various restaurants, cafés, galleries, and antique stores.
Many of Galveston’s most major tourist attractions are located in this region, which spans all the way down to the lively waterfront area with its ancient rebuilt warehouses.
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In this region, you’ll also discover Pier 21, which houses the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum, as well as the neighboring Texas Seaport Museum and restaurants with water views.
3. Historic Galveston Island Pleasure Pier
Pleasure Pier is the most visible landmark along the Seawall. The pier’s roller coasters and colorful structures can be seen from far away along the seashore, jutting out into the ocean like a carnival on stilts.
If you’re in Galveston with children, this is a terrific family activity and a fun way to spend your time. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, and on weekends during the winter, the Pleasure Pier is open daily.
4. Tour of the Dolphins
Dolphins play in the Gulf of Mexico waters around Galveston, which is why Galveston Dolphin Sightseeing Tours are popular among island tourists. The guided journey takes you on a one-hour narrated boat tour that departs from Pier 21 in the port to look for dolphin pods.
The tour is enjoyable for visitors since the guides provide knowledge about the environment and marine animals of Galveston Island. The covered boat provides a nice ride out on waters ideal for sighting dolphins. They usually leap alongside the boat.
The tour is only available from March to October, when the water conditions are ideal for dolphins. Tour slots are available throughout the day, so you can choose a morning, afternoon, or evening tour to accommodate your schedule.
5. Galveston Naval Museum
One of Galveston’s most beautiful assets is the Galveston Naval Museum at Seawolf Park on Pelican Island. The tiny museum and memorial park, which include the WWII submarine USS Cavalla and the WWII cruiser USS Stewart, are a must-see.
If you have a few hours to kill or are waiting for a cruise ship, this is a nice area to visit. There is a richness of American history in one site, as well as the opportunity to step foot aboard two intact WWII boats.
The USS Cavalla is a World War II submarine that sank the IJN aircraft carrier Shokaku during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Step onboard and explore the narrow corridors to observe how sailors lived and worked during the conflict.
6. Bishop’s Palace in 1892
The Bishop’s Palace, also known as Gresham’s Castle, was built as a private residence and is widely regarded as one of America’s most prominent Victorian mansions. After seven years of building, it was completed in 1893.
Its castle-like facade features turrets and towers as well as sculpted granite, limestone, and sandstone. Extensive carved woodwork, towering ceilings, stained glass windows, fireplaces, and rich furnishings grace the vast interior.
The house is now a National Historic Landmark and museum, and tours are available. Book in for a specialty Saturday morning tour for a more in-depth visit that takes you literally from the attic to the basement.
7. Moody Gardens and the Pyramid of the Aquarium
Moody Gardens is a large complex featuring activities for the entire family. It’s easy to spend an entire day here, or you can focus on just one of the many attractions and spend a few hours. The three glass pyramids are the most prominent characteristics.
The Aquarium Pyramid is the main attraction for many people. This massive aquarium displays marine species from the Pacific, Antarctic, Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, and Caribbean. The underwater tunnel, touch tanks, and gigantic river otters and penguins, both of which are part of the animal contact programs, are among the highlights.
8. Go on a Freedom Walk
Many people are unaware that Juneteenth, when all slaves were pronounced free on June 19, 1865, occurred in Galveston. To commemorate Galveston’s significance in African-American history, there is a self-guided Freedom Walk across town where you may learn about the historical locations associated with Juneteenth.
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The Freedom Walk begins at the Texas Seaport Museum’s Middle Passage Marker and continues to the African American Museum, various local churches, and the Juneteenth historical marker at the Osterman Building. The Absolute Equality Mural on Strand Street is one of the most appealing stops.
9. Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum Ocean Star
With a reference to Galveston’s key role in the Gulf of Mexico’s thriving oil and gas industry, the Port of Galveston is home to several rigs and supply vessels. A visit to the Ocean Star Offshore Oil Rig and Museum provides an intriguing look into the energy industry.
The museum, which is based on an actual oil rig—the huge Ocean Star, erected in 1969—has several interesting displays. A visit to the pipe deck, where some of the bigger equipment required to drill the rig’s more than 200 wells is stored, is one of the highlights, as are interactive displays depicting the process from exploration to extraction.
10. The Texas Seaport Museum and the Elissa Museum
The tall ship Elissa, built in 1877 and regarded as one of the finest preserved historical vessels in the United States, is housed in the Texas Seaport Museum. This wonderful old ship is still in service, and her remarkable story, including her rescue from the scrapyard, is detailed in the museum on shore.
A look at the history of the Port of Galveston, including the names of the more than 133,000 migrants who went through, is another highlight. If you want to see more, head over to adjacent Seawolf Park to see a WWII-era US Navy submarine and the USS Stewart, a WWII-era destroyer.
Galveston was the largest and wealthiest town in the state throughout much of the nineteenth century, and it was even the capital of the Republic of Texas for a brief period. The magnificence of the era may still be observed in the ancient structures and elegant houses.
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