Since Galveston started hosting cruises out of their port, the island has grown into one of the biggest tourist towns in Texas. It is located near Houston, has plenty to offer to anyone who wishes to spend an extra day sightseeing before a cruise vacation.
We’ve put together a list of things to do in Galveston, TX before or after your cruise. Let’s find out how you can experience the Gulf coast island. Also, note that this article contains affiliate links we could earn a commission from.
If you want to have a little bit a beach fun before leaving on your cruise, then Galveston is a great place to be. The island offers plenty of beach options for you to choose from.
1. Pocket Part 1
This beach offers parking right on the sand – no need to find a parking lot! Just park where you want, pop the trunk open and enjoy the sounds of the ocean. The cost is $12 per vehicle Monday through Friday, and $15 per vehicle on the weekends.
2. Pocket Park 2
Just down the road from Pocket Part 1 is Pocket Park 2, and this one offers paved parking. On-site is the Tipsy Turtle Bar & Grill where you can sit on the sun deck and have an unobstructed view of the beach and shoreline, enjoy great food, fun games, and live music. This is a great beach to take the family to while you’re in Galveston, and admission is FREE.
3. Stewart Beach
Located right where historic Broadway Ave meets the Seawall, Stewart Beach was named as one of the “10 Best Beaches for Families” by Family Vacation Critic in 2013.
With regular lifeguard supervision, a pavilion, concessions (no alcohol), restrooms, showers, rentals, volleyball courts and more, this is the best beach for families to visit in Galveston. Click here to find out about the beach’s hours, prices and amenities.
4. Seawell Urban Park
This 10-mile long urban park offers plenty of beaches as well as the longest continuous sidewalk you’ll find in the U.S. You can run, bike or people watch to your heart’s content. Also enjoy access to various beachfront restaurants, resorts, and tourist attractions.
Parking is available along the Seawall for $1 per hour, $8 per day, or $25 for an annual pass. Go to www.paybyphone.com to register your vehicle or call 1-866-234-7275.
5. Galveston Island State Park
One of the “Best Gulf Coast Beaches”, as dubbed by Travel Channel in 2013, Galveston Island State Park has everything to offer for families before leaving on their cruise. Enjoy kayak tours, surf explorations, bird walks, nature trips, and fishing clinics at no extra cost. You can also camp on the beach the night before your cruise leaves if you wish.
Admission is only $5 for adults, while kids 12 years old and younger are free. Make your reservations online here.
6. East Beach
Situated at the eastern tip of the island, East Beach is the best place for your beach party. They host festivals and live concerts during the summer months, as well as a Sandcastle Competition every summer (run by the American Institute of Architects).
If you plan your trip around the time of the competition, you and your family may be able to join in! Contact the park at (409) 797-5111 for more details.
Historical Sites and Museums
If you’re a history buff, Galveston TX is a great place to explore as it has so many historical sites and museums to offer. Spend your time in Galveston visiting any of these locations to learn about the island’s unique and varied history.
7. Seawolf Park
Ship enthusiasts will enjoy visiting Seawolf Park during your stay in Galveston. Home to three naval ships: The WWII submarine the USS Cavalla; the USS Stewart, one of three destroyer escorts in the world; and the remains of tanker S.S. Selma, the largest concrete ship constructed.
Visitors to Seawolf Park can also go fishing off the pier. They have different fees for the naval shipyard and for fishing off the pier, so be sure to visit their website if you plan to make a visit.
8. Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Museum
Ranked as one of the top attractions in Galveston, this museum is not going to be as boring as you may think. Located right next to the cruise terminal, you could even stop by for a quick visit before your ship leaves. You’ll learn all about drilling, exploration, geology, seismology, and production.
9. Lone Star Flight Museum
Just as Seawolf Park has the naval ships and submarines, Lone Star Flight Museum houses dozens of historical airplanes, many of them from World War II. The best part is you don’t just look at planes here. You get to ride them. They offer flight sessions in any of five historic birds.
Additionally, you can safely try out your aviation skills in the Aviation Learning Center Simulator Bay and in the MX2 Flight Simulator.
10. Visit The Elissa
Originally built in 1877, the 141-foot long three-masted sailing ship has been restored and looks better than before. The Elissa is docked at Pier 21, right next to the Galveston cruise terminal. Come aboard anytime during your stay and tour the decks of this National Historic Landmark.
Then step into the nearby Texas Seaport Museum and learn about her fabulous history, dramatic rescue from the scrapyard, and immaculate restoration. You won’t regret it.
11. 1892 Bishop’s Palace
Also called the Gresham House, the palace was built for Colonel Walter Gresham, his wife Josephine, and their nine children.
Visitors to this National Historic Landmark can go on a tour that takes them from the basement to the attic, offering rare looks of the home that would normally be off limits. Bishop’s Palace also offers an audio tour, showing visitors historical images never seen before.
12. Seagull II Harbor Tour & Dolphin Watch
While visiting the Seaport Museum, take a harbor tour aboard the Seagull II, the museum’s 50-foot twin-engine motor vessel. Coast Guard certified and operated by fully licensed crew, this ship is the perfect vessel for sight-seeing, offering a full panorama of water and sky. While you’re aboard, you’ll also be able to watch for playful dolphins who love to show up and entertain.
Keep in mind they don’t offer reservations for groups of less than 20 people, so be sure to call ahead to confirm availability.
13. Pier 21 Theater
Learn about some of Galveston’s unique history at the Pier 21 Theater, located at 21st and Harborside Drive, above Willie G’s.
The theater offers three movies about the island’s history. “The Great Storm” tells the story of the hurricane that hit Galveston on September 8, 1900. Digitally restored from its 35MM slide presentation, you’ll get personal survivor stories and how Galveston recovered from such a natural disaster.
The 2nd movie offered, “The Pirate Island of Jean Laffite”, tells the store of the legendary Jean Laffite. Was he a pirate, patriot, smuggler, or businessman? Find out in this exciting documentary that chronicles Laffite’s adventures.
Lastly, “Galveston – Gateway on the Gulf,” tells the stores of thousands of immigrants who came to the United States through Galveston, Texas. Learn about the unique culture they added to the island and how they helped Galveston become the city it is today.
14. The Bryan Museum: The Romance of The West
Visit The Bryan Museum, founded in 2015 by Mr. J.P. Bryan and housed in the building that was once the Galveston Orphans Home. There you’ll see a collection of art and artifacts from Native American history, the Spanish Colonial Era, and Texas Independence. You’ll also see many works of art by Texas-born artists, including Andy Warhol.
Walkthrough on your own and learn about each piece’s significance from iPads on display or take a guided tour. The museum even offers a VR tour for teachers and their students to learn the museum and artifacts within in a unique way.
15. 1838 Michel B. Menard House
One of the oldest buildings on the island, this house was built in 1838 for Michel B. Menard, one of the founders of the City of Galveston. He died in 1856, but his descendants continued to live there till Edwin N. Ketchum bought the property in 1880.
Ten years later the house fell into such disrepair that the City threatened to tear it down, but the property was eventually donated to the Galveston Historical Foundation. Now the house is available to host private events. For more information on how to book a private event here, visit the website.
16. 1859 St. Joseph’s Church
St. Joseph’s Church is one of the four oldest church buildings in Galveston, and the oldest German Catholic Church building in Texas. Bishop John Odin had it built for German-speaking Catholics in 1859 and dedicated it St. Joseph in 1860, the patron saint of laborers.
The Church Diocese closed the church in 1968 and sold all it’s contents, but the Galveston Historical Foundation swooped in, recovered most of the original furnishings, and stabilized the structure. While it’s not open to public tours, you can book private tours or events in advance.
17. Rosewood Cemetery
The Rosewood Cemetery was founded in 1911 by the Rosewood Cemetery Association, a group of African American citizens. They purchased the land from the Joe Levy Family with the sole purpose of having a place where African Americans to be buried.
To this day only 20 graves are actually marked, but the cemetery is home to 411 graves total. Bought by John and Judy Saracco in the early 1980s, they had a full survey done and purposely built around the graves to not disturb any of them. The couple later donated the cemetery to the Galveston Historical Foundation.
The executive director of the Galveston Historical Foundation said that though they don’t normally purchase cemeteries, they purchased Rosewood in order to recognize it as sacred grounds for the families of those buried there.
18. Other African American Historical Sites
There are many other sites to visit that provide insight into the history of African Americans in Galveston, TX. Many arrived on the island as slaves but received their freedom on June 19th, 1865.
Various churches around Galveston were built by and for African Americans, serving as a constant source of stability for the community.
Galveston was also the first Texas city to provide a school and public library for the African American community. Juneteenth, Norris Wright Cuney, Jack Johnson, and Barry White all have ties to Galveston.
If you wish to learn more and maybe take a tour, contact Galveston’s African American Historic Places and Pioneers at (409) 392-0317.
Also Read: What You Can Do on the Island of Cozumel
Restaurants in Galveston
Galveston is full of local, authentic restaurants with delicious food available. The prices are a little higher than most restaurants, but you get your money’s worth in taste and service.
Here’s a list of some of the best restaurants Galveston has to offer. Dine at any one of these the night before your cruise and you won’t regret it.
19. Number 13 Prime Steak and Seafood
Located on Broadway St in the Pelican Rest Marina, Number 13 Prime Steak and Seafood, named after pirate brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte, offers cuisine that any pirate would be happy to enjoy.
While the warm and welcoming atmosphere and sweeping views make this restaurant enjoyable and unique, the food is what truly sets it apart. The steak will melt in your mouth from beginning to end. Reviews have placed this restaurant in the top three of restaurants to visit on the island.
20. The Gumbo Diner
The Gumbo Diner is a favorite among both locals and visitors and is a great combination of classic American Dining and New Orleans cuisine. From breakfast staples like chicken & waffles to burgers and Texas Gulf fried shrimp, they have just a little bit of everything to offer.
21. Papa’s Pizza
If you’re craving the best Italian food that Galveston has to offer, have your pre-cruise dinner at Papa’s Pizza. Voted as “Galveston’s Best Delivered Pizza”, they have everything you want including pizza, soup, sandwiches, and more. Everything is so fresh and delicious; you’ll regret not stopping by for a taste.
22. Taquilo’s Tex-Mex Cantina
If you’re browsing Postoffice Street and in the mood for some of the best Tex-Mex foods on the island, have a seat on the covered sidewalk patio of Taquilo’s Tex-Mex Cantina. Order your choice of chicken, shrimp, or Angus beef fajitas, all made with the freshest ingredients, and pair it with one of their specialty margaritas.
23. MOD Coffee & Tea House
With hundreds of Starbucks restaurants around the country (that you can visit any time of the year), why not take a break and visit a local coffee shop during your stay?
The MOD Coffeehouse serves locally roasted coffee from Katz Coffee Roasters, espresso, specially crafted lattes, as well as various teas, smoothies, and protein shakes. There’s something for everyone here. They even offer a wide selection of pastries baked fresh every morning.
While sipping your coffee (or tea or smoothie), enjoy artwork displays made by local artists either on the outer patio, or at one of their “collage” tables inside. MOD also offers free Wi-Fi, and there’s live music Friday & Saturday evenings.
24. La King’s Confectionery
When that sweet tooth hits, come over to the Historic Strand in Galveston for some homemade candy and ice cream. La King’s, owned and created by Jack King in 1976, features a 1920’s soda fountain and serves everything your sweet tooth needs including malts, shakes, ice cream sodas, sundaes, splits, floats, and fountain drinks.
But they don’t just serve ice cream. Their master candy maker also offers peanut brittle, pecan pralines, hand dipped chocolates, fudges, salt water taffy, and more. All made skillfully made on antique equipment.
In addition to all the ice cream and candy options, La King’s also has a full-service coffee shop for all your caffeine needs.
Other Fun Things to Do
25. Galveston/Port Bolivar Ferry
Although it might feel weird to get on one boat while you’re waiting for another boat, taking a ride on the ferry to the Bolivar Peninsula can still be fun. And it’s free, which is even better. The wait to get on can be long during busier times of the year, but you can simply park in the free lot and walk onto the boat for an easier trip.
26. Galveston Pleasure Pier
The Galveston Pleasure Pier used to be home to the Flagship Hotel, which was destroyed during Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The Pleasure Pier was later built where the hotel once stood. Complete with rides, shops, restaurants, and events for the entire family, the Pier has become a top attraction to visit while in Galveston. Stay in town an extra day or two to fully take advantage of everything the Pier has to offer.
27. Moody Gardens
What started out as a horse barn with a hippotherapy riding program eventually grew into one of the premiere education and leisure facilities in the area. Along with horticultural therapy, Moody Gardens provides education and employment for people with a wide range of disabilities.
For the tourist, Moody Gardens provides an all-inclusive educational and entertainment park, complete with an aquarium, rainforest, 3D and 4D theaters, a discovery museum, and so much more. The possibilities are endless, and there’s something for everyone here in Moody Gardens.
28. The Strand
Take a short walk to the historical Strand District where you’ll find popular shops, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, and more. If you only have an hour or two to kill before boarding, The Strand is the perfect place to visit.
Chess enthusiasts will enjoy the giant chess set nearby on the corner of 23rd Street and Strand. The chessboard is painted on the concrete and is accompanied with imported chess pieces, ready for anyone to play.
29. Galveston Island Brewing Co.
For the connoisseur of craft beer, a visit to the Galveston Island Brewing Co. should be high on your list. A kid and dog-friendly place to visit, they offer an indoor bar and seating, souvenirs, live music, picnic tables, and more. The perfect spot to sit and relax a bit before you get on your cruise.
30. Hotel Galvez & Spa
Face it, you’re on a vacation and it’s time to relax. Though you’ll be spending plenty of time doing that on the cruise, it’s never too early to start, especially if you’ve had a long drive to get to Galveston.
If you have a few extra hours to spare, treat yourself to a massage at the Hotel Galvez & Spa located right along the Seawall. And if you decide to stay there before your cruise, they offer a complimentary shuttle to the cruise port, and self-parking is available for $10 per night.
From beaches, historical sites and museums, to restaurants, amusement and water parks, there’s plenty to see and do in Galveston, Texas before your cruise. If you don’t have time before your cruise leaves, you might even consider staying for a few extra days after your cruise.
You won’t want to miss the variety of opportunities to partake in and learn about the diverse cultures represented on this island. No matter what you plan to do during your visit, we hope you have fun and stay safe.