A Day-Tripper's Guide to Galveston

With its miles of beaches, busy cruise port, and many parks and attractions, this barrier island  in Texas will keep everyone entertained

Fifty miles southeast of Houston, Galveston has a well-deserved reputation for fun in the sun. Vacationers flock to the 32-mile-long barrier island to go to Schlitterbahn water park or Moody Gardens' rainforest habitat and aquarium—attractions each worth a full day. Others hit the beach and the Historic Pleasure Pier's carnival rides. Three major cruise lines service the harbor, depositing nearly a million passengers in town each year. While the island escaped Hurricane Harvey unscathed in 2017, it has seen its share of damaging storms. Fortunately, islanders are resilient, which explains why their busy seaport is one of the jewels of the Texas coast.

8 a.m. The weekend brunch at Farley Girls Café (409-497-4454; farleygirls.com) is legendary, with signature dishes such as queso-loaded Texas Eggs Benedict and the filling Hangover Helper Bowl. On weekdays, early risers should check out Sunflower Bakery and Cafe (409-763-5500; thesunflowerbakeryandcafe.com). 

9 a.m. Beach access is available at several points along the Seawall, which stretches more than 10 miles (runners and cyclists love the broad sidewalk). Centrally located Steward Beach has lifeguards, showers, and assorted amenities. Surfers and stand-up paddle-boarders can rent boards at Ohana Surf and Skate (409-763-2700; ohanasurfandskate.com). To experience Galveston's wild side, check in with the non-profit Artist Boat, which offers two- and four-hour guided kayak tours, including a paddle along the shores of the Galveston Island State Park (409-770-0722; artistboat.org). 

11:30 a.m. Back at Galveston Harbor, make time to visit Elissa, a restored sailing ship built in 1877, as well as the Texas Seaport Museum (409-763-1877; galvestonhistory.org). Harbor cruises can be enjoyed aboard the Seagull II, which focuses on port history (Texas Seaport Museum Gift Shop sells tickets), or the dolphin-safe, family-owned Baywatch I (832-859-4557; galvestonbaywatch.com).

12:30 p.m. Enjoy lunch at the Olympia Grill's popular Pier 21 location, which serves a selection of Greek specialties and fresh seafood with stellar harbor views (409-765-0021; olympiagrill.com).  

2 p.m. Old house aficionados won't want to skip the 1892 Bishop's Palace, a National Historic Landmark (409-762-2475; galvestonhistory.org). With countless items of Western and Texas memorabilia, the Bryan Museum (409-632-7685; thebryanmuseum.org) is a must for would-be cowpokes and military buffs. History takes on a different meaning at the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier (pictured at top; 409-766-4950; pleasurepier.com), with carnival games, rides, and roller coasters that recall Coney Island.

4 p.m. Wind down by browsing the galleries and shops along the 36-block Historic Downtown District, with buildings dating back to the 1800s. The selfie-friendly Saengerfest Park has great people watching. Haunted Mayfield Manor (409-762-6677; hauntedmayfieldmanor.com), which welcomes kids 11 and older, and the family-friendly Pirates of the Gulf Coast (409-762-6677; piratesgulfcoast.com) offer campy fun.

6 p.m. The most romantic cocktail hour in town can be found at the Rooftop Bar at the Tremont House overlooking the harbor (409-763-0300; thetremonthouse.com).

7:30 p.m. With its throwback white tablecloths and tried-and-true seafood specialties, Gaido's has been an island mainstay for more than 100 years. Be sure to sample the oysters. Reservations recommended (409-761-5500; gaidos.com).  

9 p.m. Catch the last of the Outlaw Country troubadours at the Old Quarter Acoustic Café, founded nearly a quarter century ago by Wrecks Bell, a running buddy of the late songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Bell was memorialized in Van Zandt's song "Rex's Blues" (409-762-9199; oldquarteracousticcafe.com).

Spend the Night

The San Luis Resort, Spa and Conference Center towers over the Seawall and all rooms open onto private balconies with sweeping gulf views. The luxe, recently upgraded pool area has private cabanas and a swim-up bar. On-site restaurants include The Steakhouse, Blake's Bistro (with a killer breakfast buffet on Saturdays and Sundays), and Cup+Cone, serving coffee and gelato. (800-392-5937; sanluisresort.com)

All photos by Robert Mihovil