Everyone's dreamt of enjoying family time at their favorite beach resort and relaxing with their toes in the sand and the sea breeze blowing through their hair. When traveling with the whole family, however, it's important to find a beach destination with enough activities to keep everyone happy. Not every beach town has both the simple beauty of the sea and historic landmarks and amusement parks. In south Texas, though, you can experience a Galveston family vacation sure to delight the whole family.
1. Experience nature from land and sea at Moody Gardens
Moody Gardens is not only one of Galveston’s top destinations for kids, but it's popular for adults as well. During your visit, you can explore underwater reefs at the aquarium, get up close and personal with animal friends in the rainforest, or even schedule a round of golf. Here, guests can entertain themselves at one of the location’s multiple 3D theaters, study fossils in Skeletown, cool off at the water park, or even take a ride on a classic paddlewheel boat, the Colonel. Moody Gardens is an excellent place to enjoy Galveston family vacations year-round, as they offer seasonal events themed toward different holidays.
2. Checkmate your opponent outdoors exploring historic downtown Galveston at Saengerfest Park
Saengerfest Park lies in the historic downtown area of Galveston. With a large, open-air chess board and outdoor stage, this is the perfect place to flex your chess skills or catch a live choral review. This quaint park is named after a singing competition that originated here around the turn of the 20th century when choral groups from around Texas would flock here to compete biannually. A piece of that history still lives with the pop-up performances by local groups on the Saengerfest stage. A city trolley stop is adjacent to this popular spot, as is the well-known Yaga’s Cafe where you can dine al fresco on a wide variety of foods—most notably, island fare. Well within walking distance of several other historic landmarks, pedestrians like to use the city’s colorful mural as a selfie backdrop or just relax on the brick steps and enjoy a picnic lunch.
3. Stretch your legs while window shopping and sipping in the historic Strand District
Galveston was once known as the “Wall Street of the South” and was, at one time, the Texas state capital. Today, the Downtown Galveston Strand District is home to incredible historic architecture and a bevy of walkable shops and restaurants. Grab the kids an ice cream cone or an adult beverage for yourself to enjoy (patrons may imbibe outdoors with drinks contained in plastic cups per the city’s open container law) as you peruse stores filled with comics, antiques, collectibles, decor, and art. For an extra dose of culture while visiting the Strand District, check out the Galveston Art Walk, a free artistry fair presented every 6-8 weeks by the city.
4. Hop aboard the Galveston Island Trolley for a breezy ride around the island
The Galveston Island Trolley has multiple loops that can transport you to several historic stops, shops, and even beaches along the way. It is one of the most popular family things to do in Galveston due to the ease of access at multiple points on the island and the low fare to board. The trolley passes by each stop roughly twice per hour, making it an easy spur-of-the-moment activity without a lot of delay or waiting in line. Let the kids delight in being transported in a vehicle sans doors and windows, while the adults in the group relax and take a load off their feet.
5. Keep the momentum going with a visit to The Galveston Railroad Museum
If you’re still on cloud nine after the island’s trolley ride, be sure to take the kids to check out the Galveston Railroad Museum, located west of the historical district. Here, you will find not only model trains to inspect, but also a real running train, the famous Harborside Express. History buffs can enjoy learning facts about the island’s vehicular history, while even the youngest visitors will enjoy boarding a real train ride. Walk through models of historic passenger cars to experience how commuters traveled in years past, and for even more fun, be sure to check out the steam engine cars as well.
6. Spend quality time, rain or shine, at the Galveston Children's Museum
Located centrally on the island, the Galveston Children's Museum is a popular place for family fun in Galveston. This site boasts hands-on exhibits for visitors of all ages as well as seasonal events geared toward its youngest patrons. The museum often offers exciting events on its calendar, such as themed markets, science exhibitions, and kid camps. Parking is available on-site, and with both indoor and outdoor areas to explore, this museum could be the perfect place to escape the sun for a quick reprieve from the heat after spending time together on Galveston’s beaches.
7. Cool off at Schlitterbahn Waterpark
Galveston is home to many notable water features, namely the beautiful beaches, but did you know that Galveston is also the location of the largest Schlitterbahn Waterpark? With dozens of heart-pumping slides for the daredevils in the family to a more relaxed lazy river for those desiring a slower pace, the Schlitterbahn Waterpark at Galveston will be sure to top your list of must-do Galveston kid activities. Adrenaline junkies, be sure to check out the Schlitterbahn MASSIV Monster Blaster, one of the park’s most thrilling slides stacking up at over 81 feet high. Featuring a near-vertical drop and swirling loops, this slide requires riders to hike up over 180 steps to reach the starting point.
8. See geography in action at the San Luis Pass
Located where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, the strait known as the San Luis Pass was once known as a pirate’s back entrance to the rich barrier island town of Galveston. Today, it is a protected area where you can spend time fishing, bird-watching, or kayaking. Protected beaches here offer the perfect opportunity to hunt for unique shells that often wash up on the shores. While wading and swimming are not allowed here due to safety concerns, there is a boat launch for those who wish to spend time on the water. In addition to meeting space, playgrounds, and hiking paths, the San Luis Pass area also offers campsites and RV sites available for rent.
9. Prepare to be scared on a Galveston Ghost Tours bus
The South is notorious for hauntings, and Texas is no exception. In fact, one may hear Galveston referred to as Texas’s most "spirited" city. Boasting both adults-only and family-friendly outings, Galveston Ghost Tours will take you and your bravest family members to several historic sites on the island that are known to be hot spots for spirits from the other side, from the island’s most haunted hotel to a massive spooky graveyard spanning 6 city blocks to the ruins of a historic home rumored to be too haunted to rebuild upon.
10. ‘Sea’ a real submarine at Pelican Island
Cross the bridge on the north end of Galveston Harbor to reach Pelican Island. While you're here, you can explore the Galveston Naval Museum and visit Seawolf Park, which draws visitors to learn about the USS Seawolf, a naval submarine accidentally sunk during World War II in 1944. Visitors can tour reproduced naval vessels and see how World War II sailors lived—there are decorated cabins and common areas—and even see how food was prepared onboard in galley kitchens. Pelican Island also boasts incredible sunsets with unimpeded views, so be sure to plan your trip around sundown for a free spectacle.
11. Paddle with your kids at Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island State Park showcases many of nature’s most beautiful features on their pristine walking trails, campsites, and fishing spots. Much of Galveston is picturesque and boasts opportunities to enjoy nature, but the island’s state park has a unique offering not often found elsewhere. The park’s protected bay water channels create smooth and still water trails, perfect for paddling. Whether your choice is by kayak, canoe, or even paddleboat, take advantage of the naturally still waters and spend the day exploring the aquatic trails.
12. Enjoy a family-friendly beach day at Porretto Beach
Porretto Beach is well known for its family-friendly atmosphere, and its stretches of white sand against clear seawater make this location a scenic must-see when visiting Galveston. A unique highlight of Porretto is that beachgoers here are permitted to bring along a charcoal grill for a beachside BBQ on the sand. If full service is more your cup of tea, however, you can find local beachfront restaurants that will deliver to loungers for a fee. It is not uncommon to see families select the same spots on the sand during the duration of their Galveston vacation, creating a neighborhood-like feel as families interact and spend time together in the sun.
13. Enjoy a carnival-style pier day at Pleasure Pier
Ravaged by a hurricane in the 1960s, Galveston’s original pier was rebuilt to its former glory in 2012. Boasting food, rides, and beautiful ocean views, the historic Pleasure Pier is a nod to the old-school beach holiday. Perfect for a day in Galveston with kids and adults alike, the pier offers everything from cotton candy to roller coasters and fried shrimp dinners to jewelry vendors. Enjoy a day in the sun that is sure to please all members of your family. You'll find amusement rides for thrill-seekers, shopping for the one who loves to take home unique souvenirs, and plenty of gourmand opportunities for the family’s foodie!
14. Spot a dolphin on BayWatch Dolphin Tours
Take a ride with an experienced dolphin-spotting captain with Galveston’s own BayWatch Dolphin Tours. Upon boarding the boat, prepare to check out the most intelligent and active sea life in Galveston. Dolphins are known to enjoy the warm waters of the entire Gulf of Mexico, and south Texas is no different. The most popular species of dolphin in these waters, the Bottlenose, can often be seen cresting and even jumping out of the waves. These marine mammals are known to approach the boat and appear to interact with passengers, a delight for both kids and adults. Dolphins travel in groups known as pods, thus, where there is 1, there are many. Keep your eyes out for babies trailing closely by their mamas.
15. Hop aboard for some free maritime fun on the Port Bolivar Ferry
The Port Bolivar Ferry offers transport from Galveston island to the nearby Bolivar Peninsula. In addition to human and inanimate cargo, the huge ferry can also transport over 70 vehicles. Atop the upper deck, families can spy marine life, take in breathtaking views of the surrounding waters, or check out other passing boats—there are often up to 5 ferries running at one time. Seagulls are known to perch aboard the ferry awaiting a snack. Best of all, this service is free, making it great for budget-friendly family fun in Galveston. Upon arrival in Bolivar, spend some time on Crystal Beach or check out the Bolivar Lighthouse.