Galveston: A Beachy, Celebratory Playground

From family-friendly attractions to letting the freak-flags fly, welcome to the city that knows how to have a good time

If Houston is the industrial hub of the state, then Galveston is its playground. Known for its quaint beaches and close proximity to Houston, Galveston boasts an unrivaled party scene. Some of the biggest events in the United States are celebrated in Galveston, including the third largest Mardi Gras festival and the Lone Star Bike Rally, the biggest motorcycle rally in the world. Whether it’s a sandcastle competition or a historical tour of the city, Galveston has something for everyone.

Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler

Mardi Gras revelers in Galveston

Grab a feather boa and some beads and celebrate Mardi Gras in true, Texas style. Each February, Galveston offers an unrivaled party experience. Featuring a couple dozen parades, masked balls, balcony parties, live entertainment and DJ laser shows, Galveston gives the “Big Easy” a run for its money. Two weeks of partying not enough? Maximize fun time by setting sail on Carnival Triumph’s Cruise Krewe, a five-night cruise departing from Galveston and traveling to Cozumel and Progresso, Mexico. Prior to take-off, this unique cruise offers party-goers the ability to participate in all Mardi Gras festivities available, including tickets to Galveston’s hot entertainment district. If the kids are in-tow, take the family to the annual Sunshine Kids Parade, Shriners Hospitals for Children Parade or enjoy cotton candy and games at the beachfront carnival. Be sure to leave room for funnel cake.

Historical Context

After all that partying, change pace and travel back in time with the Galveston Historical Homes tour. As a testament to survival, the Galveston Historical Foundation hosts the annual event during the first two weekends in May. Houses on the tour serve as tribute to the men and women who called Galveston home during the early 19th century and serve as reminders to the growth and struggles during the era, including the Great Storm of 1900, which is known as the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Small private schools, a pioneer grocery store and the house of one of Galveston’s most prominent physicians are just a few of the stops along the tour that help tell the history of a resilient island that has endured for more than 200 years. There are also many homes available to see year-round, like The Bishop’s Palace, 1861 Custom House and Moody Mansion & Museum.

If They Build It, Visitors Will Come

In the beginning of June, the American Institute of Architects celebrates its annual Sandcastle competition on the east beaches of Galveston Island. Architects, designers and engineers alike bring their buckets and shovels to create some of the most extravagant and imaginative castles ever created. Moats and bridges are for amateurs; these competitors design everything from the pyramids in Egypt to Winterfell, the notorious kingdom in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” More than 60 teams will dig their way through the five-hour competition, with prizes being awarded to the crowd favorites. Bring the kids and judge the competition, all while catching some rays.

Rockin’ Rally

Lone Star bikers

Too cold to build a sandcastle? No problem! Motorcycle dudes and ladies alike flock to Galveston in the fall to experience the Lone Star Bike Rally, the largest motorcycle rally in the world. Expected to attract more than 500,000 bike fanatics, the 2014 event is Nov. 6-9; the 2013 rally included a free concert by rock star Bret Michaels, celebrity appearances and several bike shows. Come check out the scene and take part in one of the biggest events of the year. Tattoos and leather chaps optional.

A Beach for the Holidays

For visits during the holiday season, Galveston has prepared an elaborate Christmas scene that dates back to the 1800s. Intended for all ages, Dickens on the Strand will take you back in time on an English journey of pomp and pageantry where Dickens characters and the queen herself will re-create Victorian London in the early 19th century. The family festival will include a parade and non-stop entertainment including strolling carolers, street musicians and a variety of entertainers.

Continue the holiday extravaganza with Moody Gardens’ Festival of Lights. With a winter wonderland theme and more than 1 million twinkling lights, Festival of Lights features one of the largest holiday displays in the region that thousands of visitors flock to see. Covering the famous Moody Gardens pyramid and surrounding areas, attendees are able to stroll through an elaborate light display and see Santa and his reindeer, nutcrackers, toy trains and angels heard on high. Nightly live entertainment, an outdoor skate rink, pictures with Santa and a new Arctic Ice Slide are just a few reasons many families choose to make this event an annual tradition.

If one’s schedule doesn’t allow for donning leather and cruising on a Harley, or noshing King Cake and boogying to jazz at Mardi Gras, Galveston is still a party in and of itself. Stroll the downtown cultural arts district, which offers more than 20 art galleries, shops and theaters, as well as a family park home to a life-size chessboard and live entertainment. For those nights under the stars, head to Saengerfest Park in March for Movie and Music Nights. Ask the concierge for a few fold-out chairs and some blankets, and turn this evening into a romantic date night for two, or a relaxing evening with the kids.

With a city so rich in culture and history, tourists and locals agree that Galveston is an activity-filled mecca for any lifestyle.

Paige Donnell
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