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Why you should go gallivanting in Galveston, Texas

Aerial photo of Galveston, Texas. Photo by Eric/

Walk around Galveston for any length of time and you’ll peer into the past and the present. There’s the Tremont House, built in 1839 and now a modernized hotel. On Postoffice Street, you can tour the Victorian-era Grand 1894 Opera House, which still hosts shows and concerts. Under the arches of the Strand—called “The Wall Street of the South” in the island’s late-1800’s heyday—are restaurants and souvenir shops frequented by vacationers, day-trippers, and cruise passengers.

To visit this barrier island 50 miles southeast of Houston is to bear witness to the tenacity of Texans. Galveston has rebuilt and reinvented itself while embracing its history—even disasters like the Great Storm of 1900 that knocked this historic town off its perch as the South’s premier shipping port.

Today, the big ships are back in the deep-water port, catering not just to commercial ventures but also to vacationers. Galveston is the country’s fourth-busiest cruise port, bringing in a million passengers a year on lines like Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean.

Royal Caribbean is leading the way with its new cruise terminal on Pier 10. Opened in November 2022, the $126 million, 161,300-square-foot facility allows the port to serve some of the largest ships in the world, including Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships Allure of the Seas and Adventure of the Seas, with itineraries in the Caribbean. The high-tech terminal promises to simplify boarding and disembarkation with mobile check-in and facial recognition.

That leaves more time to explore this island that delights with a quiet Southern resort charm. You’ll find lots of reasons to linger and stay a few nights, including new and renovated hotels, top-rated restaurants, and many family-friendly leisure opportunities.

What to do in Galveston

To really get to know Galveston, start at the Bryan Museum. Built in 1895 as a home for orphaned children, the building now houses Western books, artifacts, and art—look for pieces by Frederic Remington. Explore the city’s heritage from its prehistoric and Native roots to present day and see what it was like to experience the Great Storm of 1900, the hurricane that devastated the island. Admission, $14.

Grand Galvez Hotel

Grand Galvez hotel. Photo courtesy Visit Galveston

In a city incorporated in 1839 and with a history of disaster, there are bound to be ghost stories, and several companies mine them for tours. Melissa Hall, a concierge and “Ghostess of Galveston,” leads a spirited 90-minute tour at the Grand Galvez hotel. Illustrated with digital images on her tablet and punctuated with humor, her tales spotlight the ghostly children, tragic lovers, and servicemen who haunt the hotel’s halls, elevators, and rooms. Tickets, $25.

Pleasure Pier

Pleasure Pier. Photo courtesy Visit Galveston

To entertain the kids, take an afternoon to play on the Pleasure Pier, with its Iron Shark roller coaster, Ferris wheel, 2-level carousel, and other rides (single-ride tickets, $5–$7). Then head over to the nonprofit Moody Gardens, which bills itself as educational but is anything but boring. With 240 acres, the complex is home to a hotel, golf course, and conference center. 

Father and young son looking at fish inside Moody Gardens Aquarium

Aquarium Pyramid at Moody Gardens. Photo courtesy Visit Galveston

You’ll want to visit its 3 pyramids, which house an aquarium, a science center, and a rain forest replete with flora and fauna (including monkeys, snakes, bats, and birds) from 3 continents. Admission for single attractions, $9–$36; day pass for multiple attractions, $60–$100.

Don’t miss

Galveston Island offers prime bird-watching, and some of the top spots to see egrets, herons, and more are the East End Lagoon Nature Preserve and Galveston Island State Park, at the island’s west end. The state park’s beachside area, which was closed for 3 years for a $10 million renovation, now has a hiking trail, new multi-use camping sites, and a remodeled nature center. Posted signs warn to watch out for alligators.

You may also like: 3 delightful Texas beach towns

Where to stay in Galveston

Tremont House guest room

A guest room in Tremont House. Photo courtesy

The 135-room Tremont House, which dates to 1839, once housed victims of the 1900 hurricane. Its recent face-lift preserved many of the hotel’s historical features—you’ll see oak flooring in the guest rooms and antique furniture on guest floors. Musicians entertain on some evenings in the Toujouse Bar. Rooms start at $209.

The 220-room Grand Galvez recently completed a large-scale renovation that unearthed hidden photos and other historical objects. The property, which was built in 1911 and has hosted several presidents, now sports a cheerful pink exterior. The result is an elegant tropics-style resort, with myriad spaces to sit and watch the waves lap the shore. Rooms start at $189.

Steps from East Beach, the oceanfront Hotel Lucine was slated to open in late 2022. The 2-story building is one of the oldest examples of a mid-century modern beachfront hotel on the island. In addition to 61 rooms, it will have a rooftop bar with views of the Gulf and a new restaurant, The Fancy, that brings together the talents of veteran Houston restaurateurs and James Beard Award winners Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel. Rates had not been set as of press time.

What to eat in Galveston

Rudy & Paco Restaurant and Bar

KT Delicias de Mar with jumbo lump crab, avocado, and shrimp at Rudy & Paco Restaurant and Bar. Photo courtesy Visit Galveston

Galveston has about 200 restaurants in its 211 square miles. That means you won’t go hungry, and you’ll have a lot of variety to choose from. There are many excellent options downtown within walking distance of the cruise port.

If you’re seeking a celebrity-level dining experience, head to Rudy & Paco Restaurant and Bar.

Owner Francisco “Paco” Vargas wanders the room chatting with diners and steps in where needed to help the staff. The menu features local seafood and dishes that nod to Paco’s Nicaraguan heritage, such as a crab cake with a chipotle-infused cream sauce.

You’ll appreciate the Mosquito Café, owned by sisters Sasha Clark and Kyla Wright, for its breadth of cuisines and choices. Open for breakfast through dinner, the restaurant offers breakfast classics (crab Benedict), Southern sandwiches (grilled shrimp and pulled pork), and comfort foods such as burgers, meatloaf, and tacos. Across the street, PattyCakes Bakery, which the sisters co-own with their parents, supplies the café’s pastries and desserts; try a slice of their deliciously moist Lemonade Dream Cake.

Riondo’s Ristorante is the hands-down choice for sophisticated, locally sourced Northern Italian–style food, serving classics such as veal piccata and lasagna Bolognese as well as catch-of-the-day seafood and local beef and veal chops. Housed in a restored 1895 bank building, the stylish space uses historical architectural details like exposed brick and arches to create an elegant dining environment.

Don’t miss

Love oysters? Shucks Tavern and Oyster Bar, which opened in 2021, is the place to go. It serves the bivalve in all forms—raw, fried, grilled, marinated—along with other local seafood, such as Gulf shrimp.

Recent Texas transplant Vani Rangachar has written for the Los Angeles Times and Westways.

You may also like: A day-tripper's guide to Galveston

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