Even though Houston and Galveston are less than one-hour apart, as you drive further away from Houston and enter the coastal city of Galveston Island, you will definitely notice the difference. Where Houston is known for its science and space exploration, theatre and arts, culinary prowness, and the Houston Rockets, Galveston offers 32 miles of calm beaches, resort hotels, and one of the largest and most beautiful concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country.
Things To See
Houston will definitely beckon the art lover in you. Expect to ooh, aww, wow, and gaze as you slowly peruse through museums, independent art studios, and pop up art shows. Some of the best ongoing art exhibitions and collections can be found at popular Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Contemporary Arts Museum, The Menil Collection, and the Houston Museum of African American Culture. And the Children’s Museum of Houston is a must-see for any child or child at heart.
Although Galveston does have its fair share of art galleries and museums, including The Galveston Children’s Museum, Galveston Railroad Museum, Lone Star Flight Museum and the Galveston Arts Center, visitors to the area may opt to enjoy their art outdoors. The Tree Sculpture Tour, Public Art Tour, and ArtWalk all feature visual art installations that help to promote the island’s art community. A visit to Bishop’s Palace may be worth your while too. One of eight historic buildings open for tours, this beautifully preserved Victorian mansion was named one of the 100 Most Important Buildings in America by The American Institute of Architects.
Galveston Island has a plethora of beaches, wetlands, and grasslands and has become one of the top locations in the country for birding. Using the Great Birding Guide, you’ll find it very easy to seek out different birding habitats, including Galveston Island State Park. And since Galveston has its birds, it’s only right that Houston has its bats. Houston is home to 11 bat species making the Waugh Drive Bat Colony in Buffalo Bayou Park an experience not to be missed. Although the bat emergence time is not completely predictable, the bats usually emerge after dusk each night with some of the best views being observed during the summer and fall months.
Speaking of parks, Houston has a plethora of them and they’re located all around the city. In addition to the bat colony, Buffalo Bayou Park features a skate park, miles of trails for bike rides, plus it offers the best views of the downtown Houston skyline. Discovery Green, located smack dab in the middle of downtown Houston, places the skyline in its background. With more than 300 events planned per year there is always something going on from live performances, a seasonal ice skating rink, to movies on the lawn, and more. Other notables include Market Square Park, Memorial Park and Hermann Park.
In Galveston, visiting the island’s top attractions is the way to go. With so much to see and do, jumping aboard one of the old-fashioned Galveston Island Trolleys makes getting around the area a breeze. The routes run up and down the famous Seawall making stops at the Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park (one of the world’s top-five seaside parks), transporting you straight to Galveston’s Historic Downtown and Strand District, and up to Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and Moody Gardens. Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark boasts the tallest water coaster in the world and Moody Gardens is a destination in itself featuring a massive resort, its own waterpark, an aquarium pyramid, 3-D theater, and a tropical rainforest. You can even save some dough by grabbing a Galveston Island Pass which saves you a lot if you’re planning to explore multiple attractions.
With its beaches and warm weather (most of the year), Galveston is ideal for those seeking a little fun in the sun. And it’s a must that you plan to spend several relaxing hours at the beach and getting an adrenaline rush enjoying a few intense water sports. The Seawall Trolley can take you to family-friendly Stewart Beach, and you can head to East Beach for some adult fun. East Beach is famous for its festivals, competitions (don’t miss the Sandcastle Competition in June) and live concerts; and unlike most of Galveston’s beaches, alcohol is allowed.
While Galveston is the epitome of beach town culture and offers small shops, Houston has an equally rich culture and is one of the most diverse cities in the nation. In addition to the many performing arts organizations (Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, Society for the Performing Arts, Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS), The Alley Theatre, and The Houston Grand Opera), galleries, and concert venues, the city offers some of the best shopping. “Mom & Pop” boutiques are plentiful, and Houston is home to Texas’s largest mall, The Galleria. Let’s break down your day of retail therapy: head to Montrose to shop for antiques, visit Chinatown for Asian gifts and no-frills discount shops, jump on over to Rice Village for some vintage stores and clothing boutiques, stop in the Heights for a ton of cute cafes, fashion and interior design shops, and end at The Galleria where you’ll find hundreds of high-end designers.
Aside from the above-mentioned activities, Houston and Galveston hosts some of the nation’s largest events as well. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is considered the largest rodeo in the world and one of the most anticipated events in Houston. Where else can you find Texas-sized treats like bacon-wrapped turkey legs and delicious deep-fried pecan pie? This event plays host to several concerts, cook-offs and competitions, culinary events, and of course, the rodeo. Mardi Gras! Galveston starts and ends just before the Houston Rodeo kicks into gear. Named the largest Mardi Gras festival in Texas, this event brings ten days of balcony parties, 22 parades, live entertainment and three million beads to the island.
Things To Eat & Drink When thinking about food and drinks in Houston, there are so many ways and directions to take it because of the city’s size. Then add in the fact it’s one of the most culturally diverse cities in the nation. The diversity of the city means there are countless choices for dining. Galveston is also diverse, but its size limits the culinary options exponentially. So let’s look at them by similar types of cuisine and bars!
The calm, chill, beachy vibe of Galveston, along with the Gulf of Mexico as its backyard, offers lots of casual spots (mostly seafood focused) that mirror that vibe. Black Pearl Oyster Bar & Grille is a must try if you are an oyster lover and their red beans and rice are pretty tasty! If you are looking for good fried food options, make sure you hit up Shrimp N Stuff and Benno’s On The Beach.
If you’re looking for fancier options, (these have a dress code) Rudy & Paco is highly recommended. This fine dining establishment is serving up delicious Central & South American fare with lots of seafood options. Additionally, Number 13 Prime Steak & Seafood offers upscale dining with a hint of casual elegance. The bar program at this one is equally as impressive as the meals. Bonus…they have live music on the weekends!
A few other go to spots on the island are a few of our faves. Looking for some delicious Texas BBQ?!?! Then make sure you get by Leon’s World Famous BBQ. They’ve been around for more than 25 years and truly have some of the best smoked meats in Texas. We suggest the links, boudin, and pork ribs. Want to be right on the Gulf in the mix with a little people watching, some partying, and good drinks and bites? Then The Spot is for you. It has a Tiki Bar, Rum Shack, and burger joint all in the same location. Don’t let all this distract you from the fact that they have a darn good burger!
Even though there are some good bars listed above, here are a few more you can add to your list… The Drunken Monkeyz Bar, Rumors Beach Bar, Lucky Lounge and DTO Galveston. If you can only get to one of these, we would suggest DTO (Daiquiri Time Out) Galveston! This Daiquiri Bar is serving up some of the best daiquiris and craft cocktails on the island.
If we were to take a look at Houston in the same way as we did Galveston, the casual, laid-back spots serving up some great bites are newcomers FM Kitchen & Bar, The Burger Joint, and The Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall. The Conservatory is Houston’s first food hall, and they have a good variety of dining and imbibe options. Other good casual options are Gumbo Jeaux (seafood), Himalaya (Indian & Pakistan), and Local Foods (gourmet sandwiches & salads).
On the fancier side, there are just so many that are serving up GREAT food! A few that are the talk of the town right now are Pax Americana, offering Modern American fare that is complemented by a stellar wine and cocktail program. Next up is Star Fish. This newcomer is serving some of best seafood in the city! The raw bar and cocktails are also showstoppers. A few more to check out are MF Sushi, Kiran’s, Nobie’s, Field & Tides and One Fifth.
Are we still talking Texas BBQ? Well, Houston has got plenty of that for you, and to make things simple (if that’s even possible) here are a few faves and what to try when you go! Gatlin’s BBQ (fatty brisket, venison and spicy links, and turkey), CorkScrew BBQ (everything), Pinkerton’s BBQ (brisket, beef ribs, and duck jambalaya), and Ray’s BBQ Shack (rib tips, brisket, Lott link sandwich, and fried corn). A few other go to spots we must mention include Tex- Mex favorites El Tiempo Cantina, Loma Linda, The Orginal Ninfa’s on Navigation, and La Mexicana. And these are also by type of cuisine: State Fare (elevated comfort food), State of Grace (modern American), Picos (authentic Mexican food), Salt Air (seafood), and Kata Robata (Japanese).
The only thing left are the bars that should be on your radar during your time in Houston. For craft cocktails make your way to Anvil, Better Luck Tomorrow, Julep, Public Services Wine & Whiskey, and Tongue-Cut Sparrow. A few that are more laid back with a much more casual vibe are Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails, Reserve 101, Poison Girl, Johnny’s Gold Brick and Eight Row Flint.
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