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April 2, 2012 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Galveston Beach this summer - Help!

This year we decided to stay close to home and go to Galveston beach (TX) the last week of July (looks like 7/28-8/2). I've only been to Galveston to get on a cruise ship and I don't have a clue as what to expect. We chose Galveston for the beach, Moody Gardens, and it's proximity to Space Center Houston.

What should I know before booking this trip to make it a great experience for my family? My wife and I are in our early 30s and we have a 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter.

I've killed some time researching hotels on the beach (the rentals are way out of price range) but is that even necessary since Stewart beach is a drive away? Where should we stay (<$200/night ideally), eat, other attractions, should we bring our own chairs and umbrella, any discount ticket outlets? Thanks!
posted by doorsfan to Travel & Transportation around Galveston, TX (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you sure you want to stay on the island itself? When I was growing up we used to rent houses on the Bolivar peninsula and take the ferry into Galveston. It was cheap back then (my info is seriously outdated so maybe it's a lot ritzier now). The beaches there were wide, flat, and very nice, and also less regulated so we had evening bonfires on them, etc. I know Hurricane Ike just levelled a lot of that, but I wonder what you might be able to find that's a little closer and will give you that "away" feeling but would be less than $200/night.
posted by Miko at 7:26 AM on April 2, 2012

We are visiting Galveston for the third summer in a row with our 8- and 5-year old.

We've stayed twice here: It's cheap and right in town and right across Seawall Blvd. from the beach.'s also right next door to gas stations, fast food, and isn't terribly idyllic or quiet. But

This year we found a house to rent via VRBO. Not quite as cheap, but still <>
Yes, Moody Gardens is fun. The rainforest attraction and aquarium are the better things there, IMO.

Also the masted sailing ship down at the pier is cool.

There is now a Spec's on the island for your wine-after-bedtime needs.

Bring your own chairs, if you want them. Umbrellas tend to blow away in my experience, but maybe one of those little pop-up canopy things might be better....? I've never figured out the shade thing very well.

Have fun!
posted by pantarei70 at 7:50 AM on April 2, 2012

Still less than $200/night. Bad angle bracket usage - sorry.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:51 AM on April 2, 2012

The beaches are pretty narrow now since a lot of sand got washed out by Ike, but they're slowly rebuilding it.

The San Luis Resort or Hotel Galvez would be my first choice in hotels. They're both currently 100-120 a night, and right on Seawall Blvd.

Bring your own beach gear. There aren't many places that rent, and the ones that do will be pricey.

There are occasionally deals-site coupons for Moody Gardens, so I'd watch out for those since it can get pricey. The Space Center might be a little too oriented towards older kids, so I'd skip it. However, there's the zoo in Hermann Park that is affordable and fun for younger kids. The Museum Of Natural Science would also be a good one for younger kids, along with the Children's Museum.

There isn't just much really to do on the island itself with kids during the day, but after a day or so at the beach, driving into Houston will give you a ton more options.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 7:53 AM on April 2, 2012

Okay, so a quick search tells me that you can stay on the seawall at a Holiday Inn for less than $200 a night on the dates you've given. There are also plenty of other decent low-cost hotel chains available that are directly on the water, so I'm sure that those can accommodate you in terms of where to stay.

Some things to do if you've never been to Galveston before:

- 1900 Storm Museum. Maybe not with your little ones? It could be kind of scary for them. But it might be interesting for you and your wife if one or both of you want to take turns having a little alone time during the stay. It is on the bay side of the island, at Pier 21 (21st Street) and Harborside Dr. (which we locals still accidentally call Port Industrial even 20 years after they changed the name of the street).

- The Elissa. A tall ship which you can tour. That might be a lot more fun for the kids. That also happens to be right nextdoor to the 1900 Storm museum.

- Schlitterbahn waterpark. Right next to Moody Gardens on the west end of the island. It is an outdoor (covered in some places) water park, which might be a nice break from the beach. To be honest, the beach in July in Galveston is not particularly refreshing. The water temperatures are usually in the 80s, and the air temperatures are in the 100s, so unless you enjoy baking under a scorching sun (I know people who do!) a waterpark might be a way to really enjoy the summer weather without feeling like you might be approaching medium-rare.

- The Strand. This is a historic shopping district in downtown Galveston which runs from about 25th Street to 19th Street, and which has a number of touristy and fun shops that are enjoyable to poke around in. There are also a number of places to eat down there, and some candy shops to ensure that the children are as wired as humanly possible at all times. Be sure to check out La King's Confectionary, which is an old timey soda shop and candy emporium. Grab some ice cream there and enjoy the ambiance.

- Tree sculptures. Okay, so this is a really quirky thing. When Hurricane Ike hit the city a few years ago, most of the live oaks were killed by the saltwater backwash. In an effort to make lemonade out of lemons, many locals hired chainsaw artists to come and carve their dead oaks (many of which were over 100 years old) into interesting shapes. In the neighborhood I grew up in, there is a geisha, a tin woodsman, a frog, an angel, and an enormous eruption of local seabirds taking flight. These carvings range from 2' to 20' tall, and are pretty interesting. If you're interested in taking a drive around to look at them (which is a great opportunity to take a look at some of the local historic architecture in the East End Historical District), I can zap you over a map of the sculptures.

- As I mentioned above, there is some really interesting old architecture in Galveston. The Moody Mansion, The Bishops Palace, and even Sacred Heart Church are all pretty fascinating larger structures that warrant looking into. The kids might not be too thrilled with that, but you might be grateful for an opportunity to get out of the sun for a bit and into the air conditioning. If you don't want to go on any of the formal tours of the old homes/buildings, then just driving around the neighborhoods on the North side of Broadway between about 25th Street and 8th Street will provide you a great glimpse at some of the interesting old Victorian homes there.

- Moody Gardens. You seem to already be aware of this, but you might not be aware of all the things that they have out there. The pyramids are the main attraction, which house the Aquarium, the Rainforest, and the Discovery Space/Flight Museum. But they also have a 3D IMAX there as well as a "ridefilm" and a Smellovision theater that was playing Spongebob Squarepants when I was last there - something the kiddos are sure to love. They also have a children oriented place called Palm Beach, which is a little more like the beaches that everyone has come to expect. It is totally manufactured: white powdery sand and shallow crystal blue pools for splashing in.

- Space Center Houston. About 30 minutes north at Nasa Rd 1. Having grown up in Galveston, I was raised to be a total space cadet, so I loved this place and still do. Kids really enjoy putting on astronaut helmets and seeing movies about space and getting to ride in flight simulators. So I think that might be a fun way to go.


In Galveston, there are plenty of chains. Depending on your tastes and preferences, you might want to hit them up and you might want to skip them. Landry's owns pretty much everything along the seawall, so if there is a seafood restaurant along the water, chances are it is owned by the same company and you'll get different versions of the same thing at each one. (Gaido's at 39th and Seawall is the exception, and is locally owned.) There are some really great non-seafood options as well in Galveston, which I'd highly recommend. 14th Street has three great spots which you might miss if you were sticking only to oceanfront places. The Original Mexican Restaurant (14th and Market St), The Sunflower Bakery (14th and Postoffice St), and The Mosquito Cafe (14th and Winnie St.) are all excellent and reasonably priced. Olympia Grill is also pretty good with two locations (one on the harbor, one on the seawall).

Don't miss the opportunity to have a local Galveston specialty. La Estacion (25th and Ball St) and/or The Donut Shoppe (Broadway at 47th Street-ish) specialize in what we locals call "Broncos." They are basically enormous breakfast burritos with whatever permutation of eggs/bacon/potatoes/chorizo/salsa/etc. you prefer. They are

Anyway, I grew up there and my family still lives there, so if you have any questions, I'm happy to provide any information that might help you enjoy your time on the island! Just drop me a memail.
posted by jph at 8:14 AM on April 2, 2012

Oh. Also. Bring Meat Tenderizer for the unfortunate possibility that someone gets stung by a jellyfish.
posted by jph at 8:16 AM on April 2, 2012

The 5 year old might really enjoy the Lone Star flight museum, and or seawolf park. The LSFM will probably be flying planes at least one day you are there. My friends recommend the beach on the very SW tip of the island. This was pre-storm, so.... dunno. But when I went, it was quiet and secluded. I believe there can be huge differences between seawall and going outside town.
posted by Jacen at 12:59 PM on April 2, 2012

With 3 and 5 year-olds you would definitely benefit from hanging out at Palm Beach. They did a recent renovation and added a lot more fun stuff including water slides and a "lazy river" feature for inner tubes. Schlitterbahn is the better waterpark overall, but Palm Beach is the best prospect for kids being able to more or less entertain themselves while mom and dad sit in a beach chair and read or whatever. Last I checked a full season pass to Palm Beach was $45/person, so I figure it's got to be pretty reasonable for a few days' visit. Best kid playtime per dollar value on the island.
posted by cross_impact at 2:15 PM on April 2, 2012

The rock stacks near 50th and the Seawall are fun and free. You can stack your own or just admire how completely amazing some other the ones there are already. It's near a new Seawall park that you can stroll along.

I also love the tree sculptures jph mentioned. It's a nice way to see that neighborhood.

I love and will second jph's recs for The Mosquito Cafe, Sunflower Bakery, Olympia Grill and La Kings. I'll add the Gumbo Bar and Shrimp and Stuff. Love their poboys.

While you're at Kings on the Strand hit Col. Bubbie's army surplus and Hendley Market. Hendley's is just all around neat stuff and Col. Bubbies has been there forever and has wonderful stuff that's fun to look at. Plus there's cats all over the place in Col. Bubbies. A good thing if you like cats but stay away if you or the kids are allergic.

I LOVE the Galvez but it will be a splurge in July and August. Rooms that are $125 or so in winter are $299 in the middle of summer. BUT - this could be a nice splurge on the last night after staying in more budget minded places the rest of the week. They have a great salt water pool and a good buffet for breakfast. I like to stay in the nicer places at the end of trips since that's when I'm getting more travel tired and need/want those extra comforts. I splurge at the Galvez a few times a year both on season and off and have never regretted spending that money at all.

I've stayed at the Commodore in the middle of summer for around $100/night. It has a nice pool and great location on the Seawall. Every room faces the ocean and has free wifi. Read the online reviews on this place though since it varies according to likes and dislikes. I like how it's sort of older and retro, others think it's dumpy. Either way their neon sign is way cool.

Have fun. Galveston is great fun and so easy to enjoy.
posted by dog food sugar at 12:22 AM on April 4, 2012

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