Galveston Attractions

July 20, 2023

Paul Kay

Are you a well-informed traveler who is interested in taking a vacation to Texas? We have quite a few posts on Texas. This post is all about Galveston attractions. We loved our visit to Galveston, and we will recommend the top five things you might want to see. You can look at our posts on Galveston Fun Facts and Galveston Hotels to complete your Internet journey to Galveston.

I’ve broken the post into major attractions in Galveston. Hopefully, you are making Galveston a vacation destination. To start with, let’s talk about beaches in Galveston.


Galveston Beach Galveston Texas

When you visit Galveston, you probably are coming for the beach. It’s a very long beach and it allows the more than 7 million annual visitors to all stake a claim for some entertainment on the beautiful sand. Galveston beach is not like Miami beach or what you might see in Cancun. The water is greener than blue. Some people call it brownish green. Is there something wrong here?

The main factor explaining the color of the water is the Mississippi River which empties directly into the Gulf.  It carries almost 2 million tons of sediment with it each day!  All of the sediment empties into Gulf of Mexico and eventually makes its way to Galveston.

So, why isn’t Florida or Cancun suffering from this? They both have sea life on the floor of the ocean which traps the sediment and makes the clean blue water appear. Galveston water is mostly shallow with little sea life on the floor and too much sediment.

If you take a boat out away from the shore, the water will turn back to blue when the sea level is deeper. The deeper water and the sea life trap the sediment.  Galveston’s watercolor may not be as beautiful as other beaches, but it is just as safe, fun and relaxing. It’s the same Gulf of Mexico that you find in other cities, so the beach is still a very popular place in Galveston.

The Pleasure Pier

Pleasure Pier in Galveston Texas

The pier is hard to miss on the main drag along the island. The most prominent feature along the Seawall is Pleasure Pier. When Madeline visited the island as a child, there was a pier but there was no amusement park. Now, the pier looks like a carnival on stilts. It has a Ferris wheel, roller coasters and the whole Texas shebang.

The new pier opened in 2012 on the site of the original pier, which was destroyed, naturally by a hurricane, in 1961.  If you are coming with your children or grandchildren, this is a very nice spot to visit. It’s open every day between Memorial Day to Labor Day. It shifts to weekends then until Memorial Day.

Bolivar Ferry

Gull flying alongside our ferry

Madeline wanted to ride the Bolivar Ferry. It sounded like a fun thing to do. You can take your car on the ferry or simply park and walk aboard. We had nothing to do at Port Bolivar that would require a car, so we planned our trip to simply go on the ferry and return on the same ship. The ferry travels between the east end of Galveston Island and Port Bolivar.

Dolphins near Galveston Port

I had no idea that we would see dolphins in Galveston. If you look carefully at the picture above, there is a bottlenose dolphin happily swimming in the bay. There are dolphins in Galveston because they are a common species found in the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding waters. The Gulf of Mexico is home to a healthy population of bottlenose dolphins, which are often seen near the coast and in bays and estuaries. Dolphins can be found in Galveston Bay and along the coast due to the rich fishing grounds, warm water temperatures, and abundance of food. The presence of dolphins in Galveston is a popular attraction for tourists and is often viewed on boat tours and dolphin-watching excursions.

I thought there would be a charge for the ferry, but it is free – even if you drive your vehicle aboard. The Texas Department of Transportation provides the ferry service free to everyone 24 hours a day. They’ve been doing it since 1934. Each trip covers about 2.7 miles and takes about 18 minutes.

They operate six diesel powered ferries that carry 52 standard size cars and 400 passengers. Directions to the ferry are quite simple. From Houston you take Interstate 45 all the way to Galveston. At mile marker zero, the highway is now Broadway. You will then see signs directing you to the ferry.

Another reason we didn’t want to take our car was the wait. You can wait up to an hour to get your car on a ferry. It simply depends on the demand at that time of day. During the summer, particularly, the lines can be very long.

At Galveston Port Bolivar Ferry landing

We parked at the main parking lot offered, for free. We simply walked across the street where a ferry operator told us where to wait. They load the cars first and then the passengers. We walked up the stairs where there is an air-conditioned room where you can travel in comfort. For us, the temperature outside wasn’t bad and there would be a breeze shortly because of the transit. We went outside and stood and watched where we would be going soon.

Pigeon resting on our ferry

There were also plenty of seagulls, pelicans and the occasional pigeon flying about. Some seemed to want to hitch a ride on the ferry.

It is a beautiful and short ride. The whole experience from parking to return was slightly over an hour. After that, it was time to explore more of Galveston. 

The Strand Historic District

Boone Powell Arch in the historic Strand district. Galveston, Texas

The Strand Historic District in Galveston is commonly known as the Strand. It is a National Historic Landmark District with plenty of Victorian-era buildings. Many of these houses survived the Great Storm of 1900. Amidst the Victorian era buildings and homes are new additions. Here they have lots of restaurants, cafes, art galleries and antique stores.

A turn-of-the-century, 1800's office building along Galveston’s historic Strand

The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976 for its unparalleled collection of commercial Victorian architecture in Texas, and its role as the state's major port in the 19th century.

Once you’ve explored the Strand, you can continue to the wharf area where you can find Pier 19 and the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum. The Texas Seaport Museum is also nearby. These didn’t make our top five list but there is plenty to watch.

If you want to get out of the heat for a while, stop at the Pier 21 Theater to watch The Great Storm. This is a great documentary about the 1900 Hurricane that hit Galveston and changed it forever.

Grand Opera House Galveston

I think the Grand 1894 Opera House would make the top five but it’s on the Strand. I would highly recommend the beautifully maintained Opera House if you wanted to see what life might have been like before 1900.

Moody Gardens and Aquarium Pyramid

Rainforest Pyramid in Moody Gardens Galveston Texas

The Moody Gardens began in 1986 as a horse barn with a riding area. It was designed to help people that had suffered from head injuries. In 1988, white sand was shipped across the Gulf of Mexico to create Palm Beach. In 1993, the Rainforest Pyramid opened along with the first IMAX 3D theater.

Today, Moody Gardens is a huge complex with things to do for the whole family. You can spend all day here or just come to visit what you want. What you’ll notice right away are the 3 glass pyramids.

The main attraction for many people is a visit to the Aquarium Pyramid which has marine life of the Pacific, the Antarctic, the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea, and the Caribbean. They have a see-through  underwater tunnel and touch tanks for some of the aquatic life. You can also see giant river otters and penguins, both of which are part of the animal encounter programs.

The Rainforest Pyramid is where you see flora and fauna from the tropics. Here you will see monkeys, sloths, birds and fish. The third pyramid is called Discovery and is all about learning about science.

Of course, the park is also famous for the beach with the Palm Beach waterpark. In the park, there are freshwater lagoons, slides, and a lazy river.

So, that’s our top five things to do in Galveston. You’ll enjoy yourself I’m sure. Y’all need to visit more places in Texas 😊

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