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Galveston beach in Houston (Photo: Carlos Bruzos Valin/Shutterstock)

Things to Do in Galveston Before a Cruise

Galveston beach in Houston (Photo: Carlos Bruzos Valin/Shutterstock)
Syd Kearney

Last updated
Jun 30, 2023

Read time
5 min read

Galveston has more than 200 years of history -- and the attractions to prove it. The island is so small, however, that it's easy to experience much in a single day.

If there's a downside to the island, it's the lack of good public transportation. The best way to get around is by car, but parking can be difficult, especially on the weekends and holidays. If there's a bright side to chauffeuring yourself around, it's that you're generally never more than 10 minutes away from anything on the island.

Breakfast: A day of exploration needs a good foundation, and there's nothing better than a substantial breakfast at incessantly cheery Sunflower Bakery & Cafe (512 14th St.). You might be tempted to grab a box of pastries and enjoy Sunflower's fist-sized cream puffs and sinfully rich cinnamon rolls on a bench on the seawall. (And, certainly, that's a fun option.) Instead, grab a seat in the eye-popping yellow dining room for a breakfast filled with locally sourced products. Consider the chicken fried steak and eggs. Covered in a peppery white gravy, CFS is Texas comfort food, and the accompanying jalapeno cheese toast is a nod to another Lone Star obsession: Tex-Mex.

Morning: As you leave Sunflower Bakery, you are in the heart of the East End Historical District. Budget some time to look around this neighborhood, home to many grand-scaled homes that survived the Great Storm of 1900. The Galveston Historical Society, which was founded in 1871, has a mobile app you can download that offers the histories of many these private residences. Don't miss the Ashbel Smith Building on the nearby campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Known affectionately as Old Red, the Romanesque Revival landmark was built in 1891. The Bishop's Palace (1402 Broadway) offers you an opportunity to see inside one of the island's most significant houses. Designed by Nicholas Clayton for a family with nine children, the three-story stone and steel building features 14-foot ceilings and a stunning mahogany octagonal stairway. Filled with locally made art and island-centric books, the basement gift shop is worth a look-see.

Lunch: The Strand Historical District is filled with fine options for lunch. The casual New Orleans-inspired Gumbo Bar (2015 Postoffice) specializes in stews and soups cooked in shiny kettles on the bar. The barbecued oysters are terrific. Riondo's Ristorante (2328 Strand) is a two-fer: terrific Italian fare (pesto risotto with sweet seared scallops) and the chance to see inside the handsome gray and pink granite Hutchings Sealy Building, another of Clayton's designs.

Consider the more island-style option that is Olympia Grill at Pier 21 (100 21st St.). The attractive, contemporary dining room sits dockside on Galveston Bay. Its wide, covered porch is the place to be on a temperate day. The Kriticos family's menu is filled with dishes that fuse Greek, Creole and Gulf Coast cooking. The menu is large and family friendly.

Afternoon: One of the first families of Galveston, the Moodys established an equine therapy program in the 1980s to help people with head injuries. From that has grown Moody Gardens (1 Hope Blvd.), a nonprofit campus of attractions that welcomes more than 2 million visitors annually. You could spend a weekend taking in its aquarium, science center, theaters, zipline adventure, paddlewheeler and white-sand beach. If there's only time for one attraction, make it the Rainforest Pyramid. A $25 million renovation in 2011 added a treetop walk in the rainforest habitat, which is home to giant river otters, komodo dragons, Rodrigues fruit bats and piranhas. In the canopies live dozens of species of birds, including bleeding heart pigeons, parrots and flashy scarlet ibises.

Afternoon Drinks: After a walk in the rainforest, it's time for some sunshine. No place is sunnier than Jimmy's on the Pier (9001 Seawall). Located on the second floor of the privately owned Galveston Fishing Pier, Jimmy's is one of the few spots where you can sip a pina colada (or the local favorite, a margarita) over the Gulf. Grab a seat on one of the colorful oversized Adirondack chairs on the deck, and enjoy the sea breeze. If beer is your thing, this is a chance to try some small batch brews from local breweries like Galveston Island Brewing, Karbach and 8th Wonder. When you're done with your drinks, head downstairs for a walk on the pier. (Entrance is free when you patronize Jimmy's.) Be sure to ask the locals "what's biting."

Dinner: Overlooking Offats Bayou and a marina filled with yachts, No. 13 Prime Steak & Seafood (7809 Broadway) is a relative newcomer to the Galveston dining scene. The dramatic dining room has two views: the marina and the open kitchen, where a platoon of young up-and-comers man the grills. The specialty there are in-house 28-day dry-aged steaks with the classic accoutrements. No. 13 is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner. Just know that you probably won't meet any locals, who generally consider the joint way too pricey.

Evening: Galveston is not a late-night, party-till-the-wee-hours place. Anglers and families are early risers. Depending upon your mood, there are a couple of places to recommend for nightcaps. The Rooftop Bar at the Tremont House (2300 Mechanic) lures locals and tourists alike. The open-air lounge is plush and sophisticated. The menu matches the setting with modern takes on classic cocktails. If you're looking for something a bit more youthful, consider H20 at the San Luis Resort (5222 Seawall). The poolside bar is just steps from the resort's valet stand. The sexy lounge has a Moroccan feel with swirling red, orange and yellow textiles. Sink into one of those loungers, sip a mojito and savor your day on the island.

Publish date December 05, 2019
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