Texas is known for big-hearted hospitality. And Galveston, among the Lone Star State’s hidden treasures, does the state proud by sharing its natural beauty, historic charm and welcoming ambience with family travelers -- kids, their parents and grandparents.
In Galveston, some 50 miles southeast of Houston, families will find miles of beaches lined with palm trees, spectacularly restored Victorian homes, charming historic districts and world-class adventure attractions, all in a picturesque, Gulf Coast setting.
Now the fourth-busiest cruise port in the U.S., the Port of Galveston offers an increasing number of itineraries from which to choose for families. Offering four-, five- and seven-night schedules, cruise ships in Galveston travel to destinations including Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Jamaica, the Bahamas and beyond on Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.
So, when making your seafaring plans, be sure to earmark a few days to explore Galveston on the front end (or extend a few days after) because the options for family fun in this Texas beach community are supersized.
There is so much to see, do and learn in “The Oleander City” (the flowery shrub was brought to the island in the 1840s), you might have to call a family meeting to prioritize the options!
With 32 miles of beaches, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect spot for your crew to build sandcastles, swim, fly kites or simply settle in with a good beach book.
Many of the 32-mile-long barrier island’s beach parks offer welcome amenities including outdoor showers, restrooms, beachfront restaurants and even free concerts.
You’re sure to hear about Galveston's famous Seawall, built in the early 1900s to protect the city from hurricane damage. Today, it’s the centerpiece of an urban park, home to what’s considered the nation's longest continuous sidewalk. Head there for beach time, a run, or strolling and biking with the kids.
Stewart Beach is also popular among families. Expect sandcastle-building lessons, lifeguards, a playground and sand volleyball courts, as well as chair and umbrella rentals.
Cast a line
Whether you cast a line into the surf or off a pier, the kids will love the chance to hone their skills in search of trout, redfish or flounder.
Go deep by booking a bay or offshore charter trip during which family members could pull in a red snapper, marlin, mackerel, dorado or an Insta-worthy hefty tuna.
The calm waters of Galveston Island State Park provide the perfect setting for novice or experienced paddlers. Kayakers, canoers and stand-up paddle-boarders might want to explore the park’s marked trails that range from 2.6 to 4.8 miles in length. Later, take a break on land and head for nearby hiking trails along the dunes.
Located on the trans-Gulf migration route, Galveston is a hot spot for novice and expert birders and is great place to pique the kids’ interest in winged creatures. Grab the binoculars and feast your eyes on the more than 300 species that reside, rest and travel through Galveston during fall and spring migrations. In April, the annual Featherfest offers photography workshops, field trips and special tours to see rare and unique birds.
Nature-loving families will also want to visit the East End Lagoon Nature Preserve. Its ADA-compliant nature trail offers interpretive signage and the opportunity to explore the lagoon’s 684 acres of coastal prairie, where bird sightings are plentiful.
Attractions and Tours
Your clan could spend days exploring this entertainment complex, where there is something of interest for every age group. Thanks to a $37-million renovation to the aquarium, jellyfish and tropical penguins are now part of an environment that features marine life from four regions of the world. You’ll also want to explore the living tropical rainforest, 3D and 4D theatres, a ropes course and zipline. Other options include a ride on an historic paddlewheel boat, the Palm Beach water park and a golf course.
Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark
The kids will sleep well after a day at this 26-acre, year-round water park where more than 30 attractions will vie for your family’s attention. There is something to suit every age group including lazy rivers, a man-made surfing wave, tube slides, beaches, heated pools and water activity areas for the youngest participants. Bring a picnic or choose from a wide array of casual dining experiences. Consider reserving a cabana to serve as a basecamp for your active day.
Throughout the 20th century, historic Pleasure Piers became a centerpiece for preeminent entertainment and family amusement in America. The Galveston Pleasure Pier was among the finest.
However, the original Pier was destroyed in 1961 when Hurricane Carla battered the Texas coast. In 2012, the Pier reopened to the delight of locals and visitors. Today, with 16 rides, such as the Texas Teacup, the Pirate’s Plunge and the Iron Shark roller coaster, there is plenty of waterfront fun to be had by every member of the family. Test your skills at the Ring Toss, Whac-a-mole, Big Shot Hoops and other Midway games before sampling the flavors at Sweet Scoops or other family-friendly dining spots.
Tours & Sightseeing
How will you tour?
Galveston’s rich history unfolds during the many tours offered for your education and enjoyment. You’ll want to match your family’s interests and attention spans with offerings that include boat, walking, Segway and riding tours to learn about historic homes (one of the largest collections of well-preserved Victorian architecture in the country), the historic downtown area, dolphins in the bay and the role pirates played in the port city.
For those who like spooky stories, consider tours that uncover the chilling past of Galveston’s “haunted” hotels, harbor happenings, cemeteries and Victorian mansions.
Ride the Galveston Island Ferry
Pull your car onboard or simply walk on. It’s fun and free and a great way for the whole family to soak up some fresh air, spot dolphins and fish in the water and birds overhead. You’ll be out to Bolivar Peninsula and back within 40 minutes.
Kids,18 months to 12 years, will love the hands-on and interactive activities offered by the Galveston Children’s Museum. Your child can learn about Hammerhead sharks, channel an inner engineer or budding Picasso, or take part in impromptu stage performances when your family visits this nonprofit educational center.
Consider the Texas Seaport Museum where a new interactive experience focuses on Galveston Island’s rich immigration history. The Gulf Coast city served as the second-busiest immigration station in U.S. history, second only to Ellis Island. Next door, you can tour the historic Tall Ship Elissa.
Also of interest are The Bryan Museum, which houses the largest collection of Southwestern artifacts in the world, the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling and Rig Museum and the Galveston Railroad Museum.
Lynn O’Rourke Hayes has traveled to more than 100 countries, across deserts, down rivers, over mountains, under the sea, through jungles and to 48 of our 50 states, often with her three sons and other family members in tow. A syndicated travel columnist and the editor of FamilyTravel.com, she is always on the lookout for a new adventure.
Learn how a stay in Galveston makes the perfect complement to your cruise vacation!