This Texas City Is Home to Beautiful Beaches, Delicious Gulf Coast Eats, and the Birthplace of Juneteenth

Here's what you need to know before visiting Galveston, Texas.

For decades, Galveston has enjoyed a reputation as a tried-and-true Texas vacation getaway filled with beaches, historical treasures, and coastal cuisine all delivered on “island time” about an hour southeast of Houston.

But it’s a destination that offers a great deal beneath the surface, too. Galveston’s rich historical roots include the birthplace of Juneteenth, now a national holiday. It’s an island filled with mystery, ghost stories, and legends swirling around pirate routes of yesteryear, the island’s days as a central port for immigration, and the devastating losses of the Great Storm of 1900.

Nowadays, Galveston has become a popular cruise ship port city, with Royal Caribbean most recently investing $125 million in a new cruise terminal, paving the way for more visitors to come in the future.

Related: The 10 Best Resorts in Texas

Things to Do in Galveston

Stewart Beach on Galveston Island

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Learn about Galveston's role in the history of U.S. immigration.

Though Ellis Island and Angel Island are mainly credited as the primary U.S. immigration ports of the 19th and 20th centuries, Galveston played an important role, too. Referred to as the “forgotten gateway,” an estimated 750,000 immigrants, including a significant number of Jewish people from Eastern Europe, arrived here from the 1830s to the 1920s, even before Ellis Island opened in 1892.

You can learn more about this important chapter in Texas and American history with an interactive exhibit called “Ship to Shore” at the Galveston Historic Seaport that gives you a glimpse into the journey immigrants took to America, with immersive experiences based on true stories.

Celebrate Juneteenth where it began.

Continue your historical journey by deepening your knowledge of Juneteenth in Galveston, the site of U.S. Major General Gordon Granger’s famous proclamation that announced the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 (two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued).

Galveston’s Freedom Walk Tour app is available for free through the Visit Galveston website, highlighting various points of interest, including the spot where Granger read General Order No. 3. You can also visit a new exhibit called “And Still We Rise … Galveston’s Juneteenth Story,” housed at the 1859 Ashton Villa, which showcases interactive stories, photos, and other archival documents.

Enjoy a shrimp besito or a muffuletta for a taste of Gulf Coast flavors.

Galveston’s location on the Gulf of Mexico, just a few hours west of the Louisiana border, means that some of the cuisine here goes a little “Tex-Cajun.” It’s fun to create your own food crawl on the island, with eateries serving everything from seafood and barbecue to Vietnamese, Greek, and Japanese cuisines.

An iconic Galveston dish called besos or besitos (kisses/little kisses) is made of Gulf shrimp-stuffed jalapeño peppers (or just shrimp) wrapped in bacon. You’ll find them at several island restaurants including Shrimp ’N Stuff and Taquilo’s. Another popular eatery is third-generation family business Maceo Spice & Import, which serves up favorites — including phenomenal muffuletta sandwiches — from a small bodega in Galveston’s West Market district.

Downtown Galveston at night

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Take a ghost tour.

Because of the Storm of 1900, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history that claimed an estimated 6,000 lives, and the many other deadly hurricanes that have passed through this area, those with a supernatural inclination might pick up on a few ghostly vibes. 

A walking ghost tour is a unique way to familiarize yourself with Galveston’s history and geography. Local historian and author Kathleen Maca offers scheduled and private guided cemetery and ghost tours.

Tip: Pay attention to the buildings as you stroll through Galveston’s Historic Strand District to see the plaques that identify the structures that withstood the strongest storms. 

Drone Shot of Beachfront in Galveston

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Hit the beach.

It’s tradition to spend some time soaking up the sun and playing in the waves when you’re in Galveston, and there are dozens of beaches to choose from. Some tourists enjoy visiting the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, with midway rides and carnival-style games that light up the skyline after dark. Galveston Island State Park offers a spacious beach with camping and a new beach hiking trail and boardwalk.

Visit the pyramids.

Three glass pyramids herald your arrival at the Moody Gardens complex in Galveston, home to a collection of educational and entertainment venues along with a full resort and conference facility. Each pyramid contains new discoveries: There’s a humid rainforest filled with animals and flora, an aquarium, and a discovery museum with multisensory theaters. There’s even a small beach and seasonal paddlewheel boat, and the complex hosts various events throughout the year, including an indoor ice sculpture spectacular during the holiday season.

Hotels in Galveston

Grand Galvez

This historic beachfront hotel located on Seawall Boulevard recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation for its debut as a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel. Filled with fixtures and photographs that highlight its 110-year legacy on the island, the Grand Galvez harkens back to a time of sophistication and luxury. 

Tremont House

Closer to Galveston’s Historic Strand District, you’ll find Tremont House, another historic island hotel with roots dating back to 1839 — the same year Galveston was founded. The stunning mahogany bar in the lobby, Toujouse Bar, dates back to 1894 and sets the stage for a memorable stay. A newly refurbished rooftop bar is expected to open later this spring, offering the best views of the city with outdoor fire pits and telescopes, allowing guests to scan the surrounding bay. The rooms inside the Tremont have a stately feel with oversized windows and original crown moldings. If you need more room to spread out, you can reserve a suite at The Quarters across the street. These offer full kitchens, exposed brick walls, and ample closet space for large families or groups.

Hotel Lucine

Slated to open in late spring 2023, an old 1960s motel will be fully renovated and rebranded as Hotel Lucine. This midcentury boutique property will include a pool and a rooftop bar overlooking the Gulf, as well as a much-anticipated restaurant dubbed The Fancy.

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