Looking for a road trip across Texas, perhaps you have a long weekend and want some beach time close to home? Head to the Texas Gulf Coast for a heavy serving of seafood and sand. About an hour south of Houston, Galveston Island offers a quick getaway. Stroll the Victorian historic district—The Strand— and then retreat to a luxury hotel and spa. Read on for the Ultimate Guide to 48 Hours in Galveston.
Must-See Sights in Galveston
There are plenty of must-see sights when you visit Galveston, from The Strand to museums to the pier. Here are some of our picks for the best must-see sights in Galveston.
As a National Historic Landmark District, The Strand is definitely a must-see sight when you spend 48 hours in Galveston. Explore the brick-paved streets created in the mid-1800s when Galveston boomed as a port and financial center for Texas.
The first wooden buildings couldn’t withstand the hurricanes, so the oldest buildings in the Strand Historic District date back to the 1850s.
Do a bit of boutique shopping and head to Hendley Market at 2010 Strand St. for vintage and funky finds. Then browse the art galleries around the Strand. you can find lots of eats and nibbles in the area.
To find the Welcome to Galveston mural, walk to the Saengerfest Park, located at 2302 Strand St. It is located roughly between 20th St. and 25th St. along Mechanic St. and Strand St. and within walking distance from the cruise terminal.
Historical Sights in Galveston
Because of its rich history, there are some fun historical sights you'll want to make sure you see during your 48 hours in Galveston.
Galveston Railroad Museum
Located at the edge of the Strand, the Galveston Railroad Museum is a must for train enthusiasts. First, walk through the re-creation of the 1932 Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Depot. Then explore a Pullman (sleeping) car, dining car, and a post office car.
Outside, the specially painted Santa Fe warbonnet engines look like the Texas Chief that ran from Galveston to Chicago.
Although both of these are closed for renovations during 2020, you'll want to put it on your list to go back and check out the model train and china displays. The model train displays include both HO and O gauge displays while the train china display showcases dining on rails.
If you happen to visit on Saturdays, you can take the Harborside Express. Available only on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Harborside Express train gives you a chance to travel one mile in an open-air caboose. The ride lasts for 15 minutes and tickets are $5 for those ages 3 and up.
The Galveston Rairoad Museum is at 2602 Santa Fe Place. It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission (13+) is $10.
1877 Tall Ship Elissa and the Texas Seaport Museum
If a sailboat sounds more interesting than a train, you can tour one of the oldest sailing ships. The Elissa is a three-masted barque with 19 sails.
The ship, built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland, sailed around Europe. She eventually landed in Greece where the Galveston Historical Foundation rescued Elissa. The iron hull, in bad shape, was repaired for a tow across the Mediterranean Sea to Gibraltar. Then more repairs were required before her tow across the Atlantic.
Explore the ship then take in the Texas Seaport Museum. The Elissa and the museum are at 2200 Harborside Dr. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $10.
Learn about Galveston history at the 19,000 square-foot Victorian-style Bishop’s Palace. It survived the devastating 1900 Hurricane since it’s made of stone. Find four floors and elaborate interiors to explore during your visit.
Originally named the Gresham House, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston bought the building. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bishop's Palace is at 1402 Broadway Avenue J and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and 6 p.m. on Saturdays) every day except major holidays. Adult admission is $14.
The Bryan Museum
Learn about Galveston’s history and the entire state of Texas in the former Galveston Orphan’s Home. Built in 1895, it opened as The Bryan Museum in 2015. This is a great place to see the world’s largest collection of historical artwork about Texas and the American West.
Located at 1315 21st. St., The Bryan Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Wednesday through Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday along with major holidays). Adult admission is $14.
Outdoor Activities in Galveston
Galveston sits on the beautiful expanse of the Texas Gulf Coast. With mild winters and long, lazy, summer days, there are plenty of outdoor activities waiting for you during your 48 hours in Galveston.
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Like Santa Monica and Coney Island, Galveston offers a family-friendly pier amusement park. Back in the 1940s, Pleasure Pier opened, but then Hurricane Carla destroyed it in 1961. Replaced by the Flagship Hotel in the 1960s, Hurricane Ike destroyed it in 2008.
In 2012, a re-imagined Pleasure Pier opened with 16 rides, midway games, shopping, and dining.
The Historic Pleasure Pier is at 2501 Seawall Blvd. Following the tourist season, check the website for operating days and hours, especially during the winter.
The centerpiece of Moody Gardens is its pyramids. Each pyramid offers a different focus.
The largest pyramid is also the largest aquarium in Texas. Find displays like the Gulf of Mexico rigging display, a jellyfish gallery, a penguin exhibit, and a Caribbean shipwreck.
The rainforest pyramid is ten stories high and houses 1,000 plants and animals. It's fun to discover that many of the animals are free-roaming. During your visit, see a giant Amazon river otter along with Saki monkeys.
The Discovery pyramid focuses on science exhibits.
During your visit to Moody Gardens, you can also hop on board the paddlewheel boat for an hour-long cruise. And the Palm Beach area offers white sand along with a lazy river, wave pool, tower slides, and splash pad.
Moody Gardens, located at 1 Hope Blvd., offers a convention center, on-site hotel, and golf course. It is open every day with seasonal hours. Several different tickets are available for 1- and 2-day value passes to individual attractions.
One of the best beaches in Texas, Stewart Beach is the closest beach to downtown Galveston. Find restrooms, showers, volleyball courts, a concession stand, rental chairs and umbrellas, and a playground.
Parking is $12 during the week, Monday to Thursday, and $15 on the weekends. Stewart Beach is at 201 Seawall Blvd.
Galveston Island State Park
For a quieter beach, Galveston Island State Park offers birding, shelling, and long walks on the beach. And it’s a popular place to fish since state parks don't require a fishing license.
Galveston Island State Park is at 14901 FM 3005 on the west end of the island. Adult admission (13+) $5 and kids 12 and under are free.
After the devastation of the Hurricane of 1900, Galveston decided to build a seawall. Now extending 10 miles, it protects the island from storm surges. Find it from 12th St. to pass 89th St.
It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and you can find murals along the seawall. Metered parking $1 an hour.
Where to Eat in Galveston
Since Galveston is on the seafood-rich Gulf of Mexico, you can enjoy fresh seafood breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
In the East End Historic District, find an extensive menu at the Mosquito Café. With offerings from omelets to Benedict to tacos, you'll be sure to discover your favorite breakfast item.
Mosquito Café is at 628 14th St. It is open daily and serves breakfast from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and all day on Sunday.
The Old Strand Emporium is a mainstay in Galveston, serving up great food for a generation. Grab a freshly-made po'boy sandwich at 2016 Strand St. and enjoy a picnic in the sunshine.
Or snag a table at the Gypsi Joynt, a bohemian-style eatery with beads and string lights hanging from the ceiling. Find a menu with burgers, salads, and vegan items. Gypsi Joynt is at 2711 Market St.
Since it’s a getaway, take time to sample the fudge La King’s Confectionary. This candy shop and ice cream parlor is definitely a throw-back to a bygone era. It is at 2323 Strand St.
After a few hours on the beach, find an outdoor table and watch the sunny sky slowly fade to stars. The Spot offers multi-level views of the Gulf of Mexico. Find live entertainment along with seafood and burgers, including locally caught shrimp and homemade po'boy buns. The Spot is at 3204 Seawall Blvd and is open until 11 p.m. most nights.
Gaido’s Famous Seafood Restaurant opened in 1911. At Gaido's, you'll find a bit of a pricey menu, but it features fresh Texas seafood—like Gulf shrimp and oysters—along with Texas crab. The pecan pie, the official state pie of Texas, is legendary. Gaido's is at 3828 Seawall Blvd. It opens daily from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
After dinner, take an evening stroll along the seawall when you can see the Ferris Wheel lights at The Pleasure Pier for miles.
For signature cocktails, take in the sunset at the Rooftop Bar at The Tremont House. The historic hotel is located in the 1879 Leon and H. Blum Building at 2300 Mechanic St.
Where to Stay in Galveston
During your 48 hours in Galveston, you'll want a comfortable place to stay that is close to all the activities. The Hotel Galvez and Spa offers a luxurious historic property with Gulf of Mexico views. It’s a AAA Four-Diamond property with tropical landscaping including an outdoor pool with a swim-up bar.
The weekend brunch is tops in the area. The elegant public rooms evoke the timeless charm from another era. And don’t forget the ghost tour. The Hotel Galvez and Spa is at 2024 Seawall Blvd.
If You Go to Galveston
As a beach destination, Galveston offers optimal weather during the summer. Though it’s also the high season. So May and September offer pleasant weather and fewer people.
Galveston Island is a cruise ship port so extend your cruise vacation with a stay in Galveston. Find 4-night, 5-night, 6-night, and 7-night Western Caribbean cruises with ports-of-call like Cozumel, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; along with Grand Cayman and Jamaica.
The closest commercial airport to Galveston is Houston’s William Hobby Airport (HOU), located seven miles south of downtown Houston. If traveling to Galveston, a car is recommended.
Parking can be challenging on busy summer weekends in Galveston, so keep your car at your hotel and take the Galveston Island Trolley instead. It’s $1 for adults and kids ride for free with accompanying adults.
The Galveston Island Trolley offers two routes: Seawall Loop—from Moody Gardens to Stewart Beach along the Seawall and Downtown Loop—from 23rd Street and the Strand to the Seawall. You can find maps on the website. Do be aware that both are cash only and exact change required.
No matter why you find yourself on the Texas Gulf Coast, you will discover many fun things to do during your ultimate 48 hours in Galveston. Be sure to check out more on Wander for things you can see and do during your visit to Texas. Looking for more great ideas on how to spend 48 hours? We have more Ultimate Guides to 48 Hours on Wander.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary meals, accommodations, and entrance to attractions for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.