Forty-five minutes outside of Houston lies an island get-away that you need to re-discover. Yes, I'm talking about Galveston Island, and you will be amazed at the fun awaiting your family there. My childhood memories of Galveston's tar-filled beaches could not be further from the beautiful, clean, family-friendly beach and top-rated attractions we recently experienced on our trip to the island.
The main attraction in Galveston for families is of course the beach. To quote our family: "God makes the BEST playgrounds!" We only had one afternoon, but our kids could have spent days jumping the waves, learning to boogie board, and building sandcastles. The beach has to be the most carefree of all family vacations. We spent our time at Stewart Beach and highly recommend it for families (a small entrance fee is required). Stewart Beach has public restrooms and showers, seasonal beach chair and umbrella rentals, and sand volleyball courts. We appreciate that alcohol is not allowed thus keeping the atmosphere appropriate for families.
Beyond the beach, Galveston boasts some of the state's best family attractions. Schlitterbahn Galveston Island is a unique indoor/outdoor year-round waterpark that has been voted one of the nation's best indoor waterparks. We loved it! Since we visited during the indoor season, most of the outdoor attractions were closed, but it was our favorite waterpark experience because of the minimal lines. I would highly recommend families visit Oct-April (during the indoor season). With seven open slides, two kids' play areas, and a "tidal wave" lazy river, we had plenty of fun to discover, and we were told that the lack of crowds was very typical for a weekend in the indoor season. Awesome! We also loved that many of the tube slides could be ridden with a 2-person tube which is wonderful for young ones wanting to ride with parents. After about twenty trips down the waterslides, we were exhausted and ready to explore more of Galveston.
Moody Gardens is the other major attraction for families in Galveston. Our visit occurred during a transition phase for Moody, and only one of the three pyramids, The Aquarium, was open. With penguins, seals, sharks, and an octopus, the Aquarium was impressive, though. In May 2011, the Rainforest Pyramid will re-open after a multi-million dollar renovation that will enable visitors to enter the rainforest "canopy" in addition to viewing the ground-floor exhibits. The Discovery Pyramid usually has traveling science exhibits. A Moody Gardens day-pass includes admission to the pyramid exhibits, 3-D IMAX movie, 4-D movie experience, a ride-film, a paddleboat ride in the bay, and (seasonally) a visit to Palm Beach (Moody's white-sand beach with kids spray park and small waterslide). We were quite impressed with Moody Gardens and would recommend it. The price is steep, but if you visit when all the attractions are open and plan out your day to maximize what you get to do, it is worth it.
In addition to the beach, Schlitterbahn, and Moody Gardens, there is still more to experience in Galveston. The Strand, the historic shopping and dining district, is fun to explore, and the famous La Kings Candy Factory in The Strand is a must-do. Stop in to see the master candy maker standing at the hundred-year-old taffy machine cranking out his homemade morsels. You'll also want to pick-up a sweet souvenir or two while you are there. Within walking distance to the Strand, the tall ship, Elissa, is a National Historic Landmark. Lastly, don't leave the island without taking your sons to Seawolf Park to tour the WWII era submarine and escort ship. Our boys loved exploring the vessels, and it provided us with opportunity to discuss the price of freedom.
While in Galveston, we discovered one of our new favorite restaurants, Mosquito Cafe. Much to the disappointment of our 6-year-old, they do not actually serve mosquitoes. Instead, this counter-service restaurant with a line out the door blessed us with delicious fare. The pomegranate-mint iced tea and grilled salmon has me longing for another trip to Galveston. For a fun, beach hangout meal, we enjoyed The Spot. Eating a burger overlooking the ocean is a must on vacation. Galveston also has a Rainforest Cafe restaurant. Our family enjoyed our unique and "wildly" fun dinner experience complete with jungle animals, a "thunderstorm", and a volcano that erupts from the restaurant's roof.
We stayed at the Moody Gardens Hotel and Convention Center. While our room was not anything special, the location was fantastic. It was so convenient to be at Moody Gardens and right next to Schlitterbahn. The hotel is very family-friendly and offers fun resort activities like a bounce-house, movie by the heated pool, and kids-eat-free in the restaurant. The only major drawback is the hotel is not located on the beach. If you were primarily interested in a beach vacation as opposed to experiencing the attractions, a different hotel such as the San Louis Resort would be preferable.
We spent three days in Galveston and did not have time to see and do everything we would have liked. We truly were blown away by how much fun is on Galveston Island. You and your family will love re-discovering this Texas island as well.