Have you been dreaming of a winter island getaway? Look no further than Galveston. You’ll arrive during the peak season for most other island getaways, where you’d have to contend with big crowds and high prices. But winter months are low season in Texas, and this barrier island offers budget-friendly accommodations and a relaxed vibe. With average highs in the 60s and lows in the high 40s, you’ll be able to enjoy all of the indoor and outdoor activities available on the island.
As Texas newbies (we’ve been here about 3 years), my husband and I headed south from our East Texas home to discover great eats, tons of outdoor activity, cultural attractions, and superb shopping in Galveston.
Here are nine reasons to put this charming coastal island on your winter getaway list.
1. Easily Accessible By Car Or Plane
Galveston is a barrier island boasting a 32-mile stretch of sandy beaches located about an hour south of Houston, Texas. It’s connected to the mainland by a causeway, making it as easy to get to an island as possible. If you’re not within driving distance like us, the closest international airport to Galveston is William P Hobby Airport. Located on the southern side of Houston, it’s only about an hour’s drive from the terminal to the beach.
While Galveston is 32 miles long, it’s only a couple of miles wide, making it easy to navigate. If you find yourself on the island with no vehicle, it’s not a problem. Uber and Lyft rides are readily available, and the Galveston Island Trolley runs on most weekends.
2. Abundance Of Accommodations
Every accommodation type imaginable is available for your winter getaway on Galveston Island, from major hotel chains to unique vacation rentals and RV destination campgrounds. There are several B&Bs on the island, and you can even stay in the historic district for a unique Victorian feel.
Suppose you’re looking for a more resort-like experience. Check out the Grand Galvez Hotel and Spa, built in 1911, or head inland a bit to the nearly 250-acre Moody Gardens Resort.
Pro Tip: It’s important to remember that most properties in Galveston are not directly on the beach. They are predominately located directly across Seawall Blvd. We stayed directly on the beach at the Holiday Inn Club Vacation — Galveston Beach Resort. It was nice not to have to cross the street for beach access, but you’ll be several miles from the downtown area and restaurants.
3. Galveston Island Beaches
Galveston Island boasts 32 miles of sandy beaches. My husband and I loved the hard-packed sand, perfect for long walks and sunset bike rides. There are even a few spots where you can drive your car on them.
The historic Galveston Pleasure Pier juts out into the Gulf, making for dramatic photographs, especially at sunrise.
Pro Tip: Take a stroll, or better yet, ride a bike along the Galveston Seawall. You’ll see loads of public art, including the famous 1900 Great Storm Statue erected in memory of the victims of the 1900 hurricane.
4. Galveston Island History & Heritage
A bustling maritime port and the birthplace of Juneteenth celebrations, Galveston celebrates its rich history and heritage year-round.
First settled in the 16th century, Galveston’s citizens have weathered civil war, survived massive storms, and created celebrations that spread to the nation. Spend some of your time in Galveston appreciating the city’s historic buildings and homes, such as the 1895 Moody Mansion, the Bryan Museum, and more.
Spend the day walking streets lined with Victorian homes, or get up close and explore 19th-century mansions on eye-opening tours. Many tours run only on the weekends in winter, but don’t despair. My husband and I spent hours walking the streets, marveling at the magnificent displays of Victorian architecture. Stop by the Visitors Center for a map.
Pro Tip: Be sure to visit the historic district and see the tree sculptures. After Hurricane Ike destroyed many of the massive oak trees which flanked the streets in 2008, residents came together and hired artists to come in and carve sculptures from the stumps.
5. Extraordinary Galveston Museums
Explore locomotive history with one of the largest restored railroad collections in the United States at the Galveston Railroad Museum, or imagine life on the high seas aboard the tall ship ELISSA at the Galveston Historic Seaport. Take a leisurely self-guided tour through the retired Ocean Star jack-up rig at the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum.
My husband, a Navy veteran, loved the Galveston Naval Museum. Located on Pelican Island, we took a self-guided tour; guided tours are available of the World War II submarine that sank one of the Japanese aircraft carriers responsible for bombing Pearl Harbor and the USS Stewart, the only Edsall-class destroyer escort preserved in the United States.
Art lovers will enjoy the Galveston Arts Center, which hosts world-class exhibits in its historic First National Bank building. Visitors may also take art classes and workshops, join in on an ArtWalk, and attend exciting events throughout the year.
6. Kayaking And Art On The Artist Boat
Speaking of art, one of the unique things I did during our trip was kayaking with the Artist Boat. Artist Boat offers guided paddling trips through the wetlands and coastal prairies of Galveston Bay. My knowledgeable guide explained the ecological impact of the area as we glided through the water.
After a couple of miles, we pulled the boats onto a sand bar and opened the plastic art boxes strapped onto the back of the kayak. Inside were all of the supplies to create a watercolor painting. After some brief instruction, we painted the landscape using seawater to wet the brushes. Although my painting was less than spectacular, the experience was a big win. Highly recommended!
7. Moody Gardens
If you’ve ever seen pictures of Galveston, you’ve probably seen the iconic glass pyramids on Galveston Bay at Moody Gardens Resort. If you’re not staying at Moody Gardens, it’s worth a trip.
The three pyramids consist of an aquarium pyramid, a rainforest pyramid, and a discovery pyramid. The world-class aquarium contains tuxedo-clad penguins, sharks, jellyfish, and thousands of brightly colored tropical fish. The Discovery Pyramid has a hands-on museum geared more toward children and teens. Something to keep in mind if you’re bringing the grands.
My favorite of the three is the rainforest. We entered through the tree-top canopy entrance filled with over 1,700 exotic plants and endangered animals that range from giant Amazon river otters to an ocelot, Komodo dragons, and other reptiles. Saki monkeys, cotton-top tamarins, and sloths roam freely, and birds fly between the trees as visitors walk the trails.
8. Great Eats On Galveston Island
Fresh seafood and Southern favorites are plentiful on the island. Gaido’s has been on the island since 1911 and serves excellent seafood and steaks. If the weather is okay, Fisherman’s Wharf offers excellent outdoor dining with gorgeous views of the tall ship ELISSA. You may even see one of several cruise ship glide by.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss Gaido’s next-level pecan pie. Served year-round, the Pecan Crunch is a fan favorite. They ship thousands across the country during the holiday season.
If you’re looking for a nice lunch spot or more casual dining, check out The Spot. You’ll have a great view of Pleasure Pier while enjoying an enormous burger washed down with a refreshing cocktail from the Tiki Bar.
9. Galveston Island Fishing
Galveston has got you, whether you’re after a top-rated deep-sea fishing charter or simply want to drop a line from the pier. The bayside is known for redfish, speckled trout, black drum, and flounder. In contrast, the Gulf has large cobia, wahoo, mahi-mahi, red snapper, kingfish, marlin, and various tuna species. Learn more about fishing in Galveston here.
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