I know, I know. Real beaches are only in Florida. I get it, I really do. I grew up in the Southeast, where the beautiful white sand beaches of the Sunshine State are just are a short drive away. So let’s just get this out of the way upfront — Texas beaches are not Florida beaches.
And Galveston Island, the subject of this article, is the most “Texas-y” of all the Texas beaches.
If you’re looking for sugar-sand shores and clear blue water, you can stop reading now. BUT, if you’re up for a fun and easy, convenient family vacay that checks a lot of the boxes, Galveston may just be perfect for you!
The first time I visited Galveston, my expectations were low. I mean, lower than low. As I mentioned, my idea of beaches is Florida. My happy place is the Caribbean. But, as fate would have it, I married a man from Houston, had two travel adverse toddlers, and needed a budget-friendly getaway.
So Galveston it was! I’m not going to lie — when I first stepped out on the beach, the best reaction I could muster was “well, this isn’t sooo bad”. But, over the course our first visit, Galveston worked its magic. Our family fell in love with the simplicity and fun of this very Texas beach. We now look forward to returning each summer and making more memories. Someday we probably take our kids to those “other” beaches. But, for now, there’s no place like Galveston!
Here are just a few of the reasons to love Galveston Island – plus some tips for making the most of your trip!
The beach really isn’t that bad.
I realize this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but hear me out – this is really good news! Like many things in life, it is all a matter of expectation and perspective. I think the Galveston coast actually has a special, natural beauty. And, either way, it is a ton of fun!
The brownish sand is still soft and is great for making sandcastles. The water is surprisingly clear up close and teaming with interesting sea life. The waves (which sometimes even have whitecaps) are great for splashing and boogie boarding. The sunsets are gorgeous, the shells are plentiful, and the sea breeze is refreshing, even on the hottest Texas days.
The convenience factor is a win.
This cannot be overstated. Getting to Galveston is so easy. No expensive flights, no long, tiring road trips. If you leave Frisco really early in the morning, you can enjoy a late lunch on a Galveston patio! Galveston is especially great for certain reasons and seasons of life. For families with young kids, it’s a total win. The kids will absolutely love the beach and the convenience factor more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings.
Galveston is also great for large gatherings of family and friends, with much easier logistics (and lower costs) than a more far-flung destination. Galveston’s close proximity (and plentiful lodging choices) make spontaneous trips a breeze! Whether you are going for a week or just taking a quick getaway, Galveston is Frisco’s easiest beach.
Historic flair and charm.
Galveston’s well-worn charm and historic appeal are actually one of my favorite parts of the Island. If you’ve spent time in places like New Orleans or Savannah, please note: this is not that. Visiting Galveston isn’t an immersive or rigorously preserved tour of the past. Rather, the Island has a homey, nostalgic vibe and gives you the feeling of “wow, I can’t imagine how many people have had good times in this place”.
If you’re a history buff, Galveston is actually a really interesting place with plenty to explore. If not, you can still enjoy the Victorian Era buildings of downtown and the little pieces of history that pop up all over the Island.
Galveston Island 411
Location: About an hour south of Houston (5 hours from Frisco)
Best time to visit: The summer season is May through the end of September, with peak months of June and July. If you can sneak away in mid-May or mid-September, you’ll find good rates and warm weather. October and November are also nice months to visit, with moderate weather and low crowds.
Getting there: Galveston is just a short drive from Houston and a very easy car trip from Frisco. Buc-ee’s mega convenience store, in Madisonville, provides a great place to stop and fuel up (with bbq, beaver nuggets, homemade fudge, and endless kitschy fun!).
On the Island: People tend to prefer either the East or West end of Galveston. The east end is more crowded but also has more to do (like restaurants, the pier, and historical sites). The west end has fewer restaurants and amenities but a more relaxing, slower place. We have stayed in both areas and you can’t go wrong!
Places to stay: Galveston has tons of wonderful condos, beach houses, and seaside communities. Take time to explore all the options – there is sure to be something perfectly suited to your tastes and budget. Here are a few favorites:
- The Galvestonian: A family-friendly condo building with a quiet, private beach on the bustling East end. The best of both worlds! Easy beach access and some “hotel-type” amenities available.
- Pointe West: A Westside favorite located at the quiet far end of the Island. This community has a combination of condos and beach houses, with beachside and bay view options. With an on-site restaurant, multiple pools, and a convenient private beach, it is ideal for a relaxing getaway.
- San Luis Resort: If you are looking for a hotel experience (instead of a condo or beach house), check out the San Luis Resort. This beachfront hotel has restaurants, pools, coordinated activities, and a spa.
- Hotel Galvez: This historic hotel is located right on the seawall near the pier and attractions. Hotel Galvez is over a century old and is a unique experience, ideal for adults or tourists wanting a quick getaway.
To do in (and around) Galveston: We are basically an “all beach all the time” vacation family, but Galveston has plenty of other attractions to enjoy! Here are just a few in the city (and close by):
- Moody Gardens: This seaside theme park complex features a fun variety of attractions, from its iconic aquarium pyramids to the Palm Beach water park. It also has a Discovery Museum, zip lines, a ropes course, and more.
- Schlitterbahn: This waterpark features more than 30 thrill rides and attractions. It is an exciting way to beat the heat if you want a break from the beach.
- Pleasure Pier: What beach town is complete without a boardwalk amusement park? Galveston’s Pleasure Pier has a fun mix of dining, attractions, and entertainment. It is exactly what you would expect (think: overpriced, cheesy fun) and can be a fun add-on to your trip. I love the ambiance it adds to the seawall!
- The Strand Historic District: Home to one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, the Strand is a nice break from the beach. The Strand has a fun mix of restaurants, souvenir stores, antique shops, and art galleries. It is a great place to browse and explore!
- Kemah Boardwalk: Located about 30 minutes north of Galveston, Kemah is a cute seaside destination. The boardwalk is kid-friendly and fun, with attractions (like a train and kiddie rides) great for younger children. Kemah also has a fun mix of carnival-type dining options (funnel cakes!) and restaurant choices (our favorite is the patio at Landry’s, where you can eat great seafood and watch the sailboats go by).
- NASA Space Center: The Space Center, located in Houston, is a great educational add-on to your trip. Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of “out of this world exhibits” included space shuttles and spacecraft.
Best Restaurants: Galveston has no shortage of great dining options, from family-friendly fare to five-star cuisine. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Best brunch: Miller’s Seawall Grill might actually be the best brunch anywhere. The shrimp and grits are the best I’ve ever had and all of the breakfast standards are delicious. Add in a homey, historic atmosphere and you’ll see why you need to arrive early (or be ready to wait).
- Best beachside dinner: The Porch Café is right on the beach and just feels like a vacation! This airy, seaside restaurant is relaxing yet refined. With an upscale but laid back vibe, the Porch Café is perfect for a special night out (and still kid-friendly).
- Best family dinner: Fish Tales, located on the seawall, is our family go to. It has a big balcony overlooking the Pier and a fun, beachy atmosphere. The experience is great for families, with a large menu, good food, and an ice cream counter. When we arrive in Galveston, our first stop is Fishtales, to load up on fried seafood and beachy vibes!
- Best local spot: Locals love Mosquito Café, an eclectic East end eatery. The award-winning restaurant serves up fresh, diverse, (and healthy!) food choices in a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
- Best ice cream shop: Do not miss the historic La King’s Confectionery, located on the historic strand. This old fashioned ice cream and candy shop is a great destination for family’s and the ice cream really is as good as advertised! A visit to La King’s is a fabulously fun trip back in time and a must for Galveston tourists.