Family fun awaits on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, about an hour southeast of Houston. There are lots of fun things to do in Galveston with kids!
It’s a vacation destination for many Texan families looking to relax in the salty breeze blowing in from the Gulf. Whether you want to sit on the beach, cruise the harbor, tour an aquarium, zoom down waterslides, or tour old mansions, the city takes its responsibility as a vacation spot seriously!
It’s also a city rich in history, particularly as the site of Freedom Day, a booming port city in the late 1800s, and survivor of “The Great Storm” in 1900. The architecture throughout historic downtown, as well as the huge collection of art and artifacts at the Bryan Museum, beautifully reflect this history.
Here are our picks for the best things to do in Galveston with kids.
Explore more of the state. Here are the best things to do in Texas with kids!
Things to Do in Galveston with Kids
1. Explore Pier 21
Pier 21 is on the bayside of the island and within walking distance of historic downtown, a.k.a. The Strand. It’s a great place to get acquainted with Galveston because the Pier 21 Theater regularly shows two short, historical films.
One is about the 1900 hurricane that decimated the island and local population, while the other is about Jean Lafitte, the legendary pirate of the Gulf of the Mexico.
Pier 21 is also home to the Texas Seaport Museum, the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa, Galveston Harbor Tours, and The Ocean Star Drilling Rig.
The Seaport Museum’s exhibit From Ship to Shore showcases the island’s history as a port of entry for immigrants from the 1840s to the 1920s. The museum also documents the restoration process of Elissa in the early 1980s.
Jump aboard The 1877 Tall Ship Elissa to see a unique, restored sailing vessel up close and personal or choose from a variety of harbor cruises that launch from the pier.
Last but not least, your little scientists won’t want to miss a tour of The Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum to learn the science behind underwater drilling for oil.
2. Experience Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast
This little pirate exhibit, just a block inland from Pier 21, packs a pretty big punch as far as making education hands-on, entertaining, and just a little silly.
Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast set up like a pirate ship and your group will tour it by sequentially following the clues to help you discover the Pirate’s Code.
You’ll learn about pirate life while listening to a handheld audio device that narrates what you are seeing as you proceed. It’s quite well done and something all ages can enjoy!
3. Enjoy Art and Food on The Strand
Historic downtown Galveston is the place to see some great murals, including the Absolute Equality mural documenting the events leading up to Freedom Day in 1865 and the Galveston edition of the now iconic Welcome mural series.
Additionally, you’ll come across some large, ceramic turtles from the Turtles About Town project and plenty of fun boutiques and antiques shops.
However, unless you’re an architecture buff, the main draw of downtown is the excellent restaurants, and for kids, the famous La King’s Confectionary.
Housed in a 150 year old building, La King’s immediately transports your family into a 1920s ice cream parlor. Load up on candies, fudge, chocolates, and ice cream and watch the experts pull seemingly endless lengths of taffy.
4. Spend Time at the Beach
The Galveston seawall is a whopping 10 miles long! There is parking and easy access to the sand and Gulf of Mexico at various points all along the seawall.
These are nice for a quick visit to the beach. However, the beaches on the eastern end of the island, particularly Stewart Beach and East Beach, have better facilities and are further from the noise of the seawall.
Both of those beaches have chair rentals, restrooms, concessions, and a playground. On Saturday in the summer, there are free sandcastle building lessons on Stewart Beach.
Additionally, Galveston Island State Park is toward the western end of the island, about 30 minutes from downtown Galveston.
It spans the the width of the island, offering access to both the Gulf and West Bay and a wide array of activities include fishing, hiking, biking, and birding. The gulf side of the park will emerge from extensive renovations in 2022.
For a special occasion, take a sunset ride on the beach with Galveston Island Horse and Pony Rides.
Ready for another Texas beach vacation? Check out all the things to do in South Padre Island.
5. Have a Blast on the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Pleasure Pier juts right out from Galveston’s Seawall into the Gulf of Mexico. While this incarnation debuted in 2012, Galveston has had some form of amusement park for families since 1906.
Today, the pier is packed with 16 rides, quick bites, and midway games. The thrill level of the rides runs from kiddie rides for tiny tots all the way up to extreme rides for only the most daring of visitors.
You can buy an all access pass, a single ride pass, or a walk-on pass if you won’t be riding anything.
The 5D theater across the street from the pier uses motion and special effects to take viewers on a ride through a forgotten mine or across the bottom of the ocean.
6. Do it All at Moody Gardens
Moody Gardens is a large entertainment complex east of downtown Galveston on the bayside of the island. There is a hotel, spa, golf course, water park, ropes course/zipline, and three pyramids for families to tour.
The pyramids are the Aquarium Pyramid, the Rainforest Pyramid, and the Discovery Museum (similar to a science museum with rotating, hands-on exhibits). Each pyramid is large and families could certainly spend an entire day exploring them.
In addition to observing the animals of the aquarium and rainforest, there is a movie theater for 3D and 4D shows, an interactive live performance, and unique animal encounters.
Concessions are available throughout Moody Gardens, including a food court in the Aquarium Pyramid, a sit-down restaurant in the Visitor Center, and a poolside grill at Palm Beach.
Additionally, the restaurant inside the Moody Gardens Hotel, Café in the Park, is quite good and can be less crowded midday than the ones in the pyramids. It’s a short walk across the parking lot to the hotel.
Book your stay at Moody Gardens. As a Booking.com affiliate Trekaroo can guarantee the lowest rates.
The Moody Gardens water park, Palm Beach, features a lazy river, wave pool, tower slides, and splash pad. It’s smaller than Schlitterbahn and may be preferable for families with small children that are less interested in the larger, thrill rides there.
While there is not a lot of natural shade in the park, beach chairs with umbrellas are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Since there is so much to do at Moody Gardens, it is featured as one of our Awesome Weekend Getaways in Texas for Families.
7. Splash the Day Away at Schlitterbahn
Schlitterbahn is a Texas institution and the Galveston location has the largest collection of thrill rides out of all the Schlitterbahn waterparks.
Body slides, tube slides, lazy rivers, you name it, it’s here. Families can spend an entire day having fun in the sun here. It’s located right next to Moody Gardens, so it’s within walking distance of the Moody Gardens Hotel.
8. Have Some Educational Fun at Galveston History Museums
Little cowboys and locomotive enthusiasts may just find themselves having a grand ole’ time at one of these history museums in Galveston.
The Bryan Museum has a large collection of artifacts from the American West including saddles, spurs, cowboy chaps, Native American tools and weapons, and antique firearms. It opened in 2015 in a beautiful, historic building that the kids may not appreciate, but their grownups certainly will.
The Galveston Railroad Museum is in the depot that used to be the headquarters of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroads. Explore 40 trains and the restored depot, and take a harborside caboose ride on Saturdays.
9. Take a Haunted Tour
Spend enough time in Galveston and you will begin to hears whispers of haunted hotels, graveyards, and mansions. You may even spot a specter spying on you from one of the old downtown buildings.
Ghost City Tours offers a family-friendly Ghosts of Galveston walking tour packed with the history of the most haunted sights including Moody Mansion and the Galveston Railroad Museum.
The Haunted Cemetery tour focuses exclusively on the Old City Cemetery and is also family-friendly. If your family is up for a just a little bit of spook, this tour is a great way to see the sights of the city while learning some of the history as well.
Plus, touring at night is the way to go if you’re visiting in summer. Have we mentioned that it can be very hot in Galveston in July?
10. Celebrate the Holidays
From Halloween to Christmas to Mardi Gras, Galveston celebrates the holidays in a big, big way! If your family is looking to do something different for any given holiday, or just amp it up a notch, Galveston will not disappoint.
Search for ghosts at Boo on the Boardwalk (and of course all those graveyards and haunted mansions!) in October. Bundle up in your finest Victorian attire for Dickens on the Strand, the Festival of Lights, and the Polar Express in December. Or just let loose at the biggest Mardi Gras parade this side of Louisiana.
See our list of Best Resorts for Christmas Vacation in Texas for more on celebrating the holidays in Texas.
Where to Stay in Galveston with Kids
We recommend thinking about where you’ll be spending most of your time in Galveston before deciding where to stay.
If you know you want to spend most of your time at Moody Gardens and the water parks, Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa, and Conference Center is our top pick. You just can’t beat the convenience of being able to walk to those attractions from the hotel.
However, if you want to prioritize time on the beach and ocean views, the Hotel Galvez may be a better bet. It’s right on the seawall and is within walking distance of Pleasure Pier and closer to The Strand.
Where to Eat in Galveston with Kids
Galveston is overflowing with great family-friendly restaurants. Downtown, try Taquilo’s Tex-Mex Cantina and Mama Teresa’s Flying Pizza.
Mama Teresa’s has been serving up pizza since the 1980s. Follow either one of those up with a visit to La King’s Confectionary for special treat.
For ocean views, try The Spot on the Seawall, which is quick counter service burgers and tacos, or Jimmy’s on the Pier for a classic po’boy.
Galveston Restaurant Week is usually in the late winter or early spring and is a great time to hit a bunch of great restaurants with a more budget-friendly way.