Some days, you just want to close your eyes, hear the seagulls calling, the sound of waves crashing on the shore and your kids laughing and playing in the sand. Here’s how to do it: get the family in the car, throw in some clothes, snacks and spontaneity and make it out of the city for a well-deserved road trip to Galveston, Texas.
In recent years, Galveston has undergone an extensive makeover, largely after the devastation of Hurricane Ike in Sept. 2008, when Galveston and Pelican Islands sustained 110 mile-per-hour winds and a 22-foot storm surge. Now it is revamped and even better than before: dozens of miles of picturesque beach make it a sought-after, family-friendly vacation destination.
Galveston is about an eight-hour drive from Oklahoma City. A faster but costlier way to get there is to fly to Houston then rent a car and drive about an hour to Galveston.
When you arrive, embrace your inner “Downton Abbey” at the stately Tremont House Hotel. With Italianate architecture, 14-foot ceilings, balconies and a four-story atrium, this place is pure grandeur. Families will love the breakfast buffet that keeps guests satiated all morning. Children under 17 stay free in their parent’s room. Live jazz can be heard on Friday and Saturday evenings in the atrium.
The original Tremont House was built in 1839. Although the original two Tremont Hotels were lost to fire and hurricane, the newest hotel maintains its old-fashioned feel with modern amenities.
Another kid-friendly hotel is the newly-renovated Hotel Galvez. Explore the island with your family using courtesy bikes and helmets when staying at this beach-front hotel. Named after Bernardo de Galvez, who surveyed the island in 1786, this 100-year-old hotel features multiple swimming pools and the Galvez restaurant showcasing fresh, local seafood.
A few blocks away from these hotels is The Strand, located at 25th and Strand. A main street in the historic shopping district, the street is lined with boutiques, art galleries, gift shops, a railroad museum, carriage rides and bistros galore, many housed in iron-front buildings. This promenade is perfect for strolling with kids.
While shopping and exploring should certainly be on the list, your kids will likely want their first stop to be at the beach. There are several Galveston Island Beach Parks available along the island and a handy website offers up-to-date information on beach conditions. The island recently unveiled 15 blocks of brand new beaches on a stretch of the Seawall west of 61st St.
After you’ve explored the ocean, take a moment to learn all about the plant and animal life you encountered with a visit to Moody Gardens. Enter the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid, home to more than 1,000 species of tropical plants and animals, including free-roaming rain forest animals, birds, an aquarium and spectacular butterflies.
Give kids a camera for this visit; it is a photographer’s dream. Children can get close to tropical birds, lush plants and trees and photograph butterflies and birds while they are feeding. It’s the perfect introduction to nature photography. Insider tip: be sure to catch the ray fish feeding in the aquarium at 11:30 a.m. every day except Monday and Thursday. Stingrays scuttle up the sides of the aquarium as they are fed by a museum staffer.
Moody Gardens also offers an incredible ropes course and zip line perfect for letting off some steam after your tour of all the animal and plant life. A junior version of the course is even available for kids as young as 2.
Kids go wild for The Pleasure Pier, a beautiful amusement park on the water with rides, food and bright neon lights. It is created in the likeness of an earlier Pleasure Pier built at the same location during the 1940s and includes shops, games and rides, including the Pirate’s Plunge, the sparkling Gulf Glider swing carousel and the Sea Dragon.
One more can’t-miss attraction in Galveston is Bishop's Palace, a stunning Victorian-era mansion complete with a butler's pantry and “warming kitchen” adjacent to the formal dining room upstairs and a servants working kitchen downstairs. Built in 1892, the house was designed of steel and stone for Walter Gresham, a railroad magnate and his family. This beautiful mansion is open for tours and displays breathtaking stained glass windows, ornate wood and stone carvings and grand fireplaces. Audio headsets provide a guided tour at your own pace.
From experiencing history and science to just indulging in some beach-front fun, Galveston has all the ingredients for the perfect spring break or summer getaway.
Where to Eat in Galveston
The Sunflower Bakery and Café is a gem for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Their baked goods carry-out includes pastries, cakes, rocky-mountain-peaked meringue pies, lemon bars and much more. Try their delicious Oysters Benedict breakfast accompanied with home-fried breakfast potatoes, toast and a selection of jam.
A must-stop shop on the Strand is La King’s Confectionary, which has been in business since 1927. Stock up on old-fashioned King family recipe candies, including yummy pecan pralines, salt water taffy, dark chocolate pecan sand dollars and milk chocolate turtles. Be sure to sample heavenly ice cream sodas, shakes and malts from a working 1920’s soda fountain.
The Tremont House offers the opportunity to experience a full afternoon tea, complete with assorted tea sandwiches, petit fours and chocolate scones. During tea, impress your family with this trivia note: did you know ‘high tea’ was actually a more substantial meal for the working class in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries whereas ‘afternoon tea’ was more of a social event for the upper class with lighter fare?
Breakfast and lunch are a special treat at the Farley Girls Café, which features homemade soups, salads, panini and a knockout breakfast menu. The breakfast pizzas, eggs benedict and authentic huevos rancheros are weekend must-haves. For lunch, the Farley Girl’s po boy with shrimp or fish and remoulade sauce, lettuce and tomato is the definite go-to sandwich.