Family Fun in Galveston

  • Distance from Houston: 50 miles
  • Best time: June to August
  • Best for: FamilyRomanticFood and Wine

Whether you choose to spend your time building sandcastles at Stewart Beach, pondering penguins at Moody Gardens, or splashing in the pool at the Hotel Galvez, Galveston is the kind of place that encourages lingering. A splendid little beach town located just an hour's drive from Houston, Galveston has plenty of family-friendly options for a weekend getaway. While Galveston has its share of natural disasters (Hurricane Ike in 2008), it always seems to rebuild better than ever. So block out a weekend, pack some sunscreen, and hit the road: your kids will thank you. –by Kristin Finan

Friday

1 Even if you've never been to Galveston, you probably have heard of The Strand Historic District, and it's a great place to kick off a weekend trip. Located along Avenue B between 20th and 25th streets, The Strand is filled with shops for all ages. Some favorites include Hendley Market, a quirky trinket, gift, and souvenir shop; The Old Strand Emporium, which features hard-to-find, locally sourced food items; and Conversation Pieces, a little girl's dream store stocked with items such as tutus and hair bows.

2 When your stomach starts rumbling, head to Yaga's Café, a laidback spot featuring beach-inspired favorites like roasted jerk chicken, coconut shrimp, and seafood flautas. Afterwards, top it off with a sweet treat at La King's Confectionery (2323 Avenue B, 409/762-6100), where the long candy cases and numerous ice cream flavors are sure to delight.

3 If you're traveling with older kids, they may just be up for an evening out at the The Grand 1894 Opera House, which is a lot less formal than it sounds. The Galveston landmark, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, regularly courts touring musicians. Everyone from Smokey Robinson to the B52s have played here.

Saturday

1 Kids and adults alike will appreciate the fare at Mosquito Café, a local institution that serves up dishes such as homemade corned beef hash tacos, crust-less quiche, and eggy breakfast bowls stuffed with ingredients like potatoes, spinach, bacon, and cheese.

2 Rent a beach cruiser from Island Bicycle Co. (1808 Seawall Blvd.; 409/762-2453) and soak in the sights and the sounds of the Seawall, which is lively with activity on an average Saturday morning.

3 Pedal over to Stewart Beach, arguably the most family-friendly beach on the island. Amenities include a children's playground, umbrella and chair rentals, a bathhouse, a souvenir shop, and a snack bar.

4 If you've got restless kids who don't want to hang out on the beach, here's another option: head out with Galveston Duck Tours, a ride in an amphibious vehicle that gives riders an up-close view of the Strand shopping district, historic mansions, and the scenery along Offatt's Bayou.

5 Whatever activity you've chosen, you're sure to have worked up an appetite by now. Grab lunch at Casey's Seafood Café, little brother to the upscale (and very popular) Gaido's. The sprawling outdoor patio is where to dine on deep-fried zucchini, lobster tacos, and the famous Juicy Lucy (a bacon burger covered with chili con queso). There's also a full selection of cocktails, wine, and beer.

6 Take a break from all that sun at the Texas Seaport Museum. The highlight here is the Elissa, a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 that holds the title of "the Official Tall Ship of Texas." Afterwards, walk next door to the Pier 21 Theater, which shows a variety of films about historical events that have affected Galveston.

7 If you're seeking something hearty, have dinner at Mario's Ristorante, which was founded in 1967. The motto here is, "We speak very little English, but we make the best pizza," and that's pretty apt. The portions are gigantic—think soup bowls as big as buckets.

8 Once the sun dips down, one of the hottest places on the island—particularly for families—is the Pleasure Pier. This entertainment complex stretches 1,130 feet over the Gulf of Mexico and features attractions such as roller coaster, Ferris wheel, and carnival games.

Sunday

1 They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so start your day out right with the Champagne brunch at the Hotel Galvez, an island favorite that includes a variety of options including a prime rib carving station, Belgian waffles, pastries, eggs Benedicts, and unlimited Champagne (a special treat for you deserving parents!).

2 After you've fueled up, get ready for some family fun at Moody Gardens, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. And for good reason: there's enough here to keep kids of all ages busy for hours. Highlights include the penguin encounter program in the Aquarium Pyramid (watch penguins eat, swim, and hang out—all from behind the scenes), the freshwater lagoons and waterfalls at Palm Beach, and the Colonial Paddlewheel Boat.

3 Before you head home, don't miss the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Galveston's historical homes. One can't-miss home is Bishop's Palace, a gorgeous mansion that was built in 1892 and is noted as one the most "significant Victorian residences in the country." Another must-see is Moody Mansion, a four-story, 28,000-square-foot home that once belonged to Galveston's influential Moody family.

Where to Stay

If you're going with the kids, consider Hotel Galvez (rooms from $200/night), which is located directly on the Seawall and is home to a sprawling pool and full-service spa. It's perfectly located for excursions throughout the day and convenient to everything on the island.

Another solid option is the San Luis Resort (rooms from $250/night), a much-loved, upscale beachfront hotel with a world-class spa, a mouthwatering steakhouse, a sprawling, Vegas-style pool, and a private balcony in each room. Families will also appreciate the San Luis' proximity to the kid-favorite Rainforest Café, located right next door.

When to Go

Because Galveston is a beach town, it's a great place to visit all year round. Summers are a particularly good time to go if you're interested in water-based activities; fall and spring are also extremely pleasant.

Notable Galveston festivals include: Mardi Gras (February); Lone Star Bike Rally (November); Dickens on the Strand (December); and the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights (December).

How to Get There

By Car: Just take I-45 South from Houston until you hit Galveston.

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