Galveston, oh Galveston

Tour this island paradise off the Texas Gulf Coast

by Janis Turk

Galveston may be one of Texas’ best-kept secrets, but not for long. Visit once and it might become a favorite spot for your tour groups. A paradise perfect for a magical island bus or motorcoach adventure, Galveston is the kind of place visitors of all ages will love.

Here are five reasons why:

#1. Galveston is an island with 32 miles of beaches. Folks may think of it as just another wind-blown beach town, but it’s really a sweet little barrier reef island averaging two miles wide with sunny, clean, sandy beaches, all linked to the mainland by a causeway. Just 41 miles southeast of Houston Hobby Airport, Galveston is easy to reach. (Houston Intercontinental Airport is farther away.)

#2.  Kids think Galveston is cool. It’s possibly the best place in Texas for family-friendly tours. Groups of all ages will love Galveston’s famous seawall, broad, newly replenished beaches and fun, family-friendly spots like the famous Pleasure Pier, a world‐class amusement park featuring 16 rides, midway games, fun retail shops and lots of food options. The pier is built to accommodate large groups. Don’t forget the Schlitterbahn Galveston Waterpark with its cool splash of water rides and rivers.

Galveston’s Moody Gardens thrills kids and adults with everything from movies and aquariums to water park rides, all anchored by three enormous glass pyramid buildings.

Moody Gardens was designed with large tour groups in mind and can handle charter bus parking. At the Aquarium Pyramid, one of Texas’ largest aquariums, arrange in advance for your group to enjoy a special animal encounter with a river otter, penguin or even (safely!) a stingray.

Then take the group into the Rainforest Pyramid to see tropical plants, animals, birds, butterflies, reptiles and other tropical creatures. Finally, check out the Discovery Pyramid, which holds science-oriented exhibits and activities.

Don’t miss a summer stop at Palm Beach, a white sand spot with a small water park for children, freshwater lagoons, a lazy river, tower slides, a hot tub, zip lines and a splash pad for tots. Moody Gardens also has a fun RideFilm Theater with motion-based pod seating, an MG 3D Theater featuring the largest screen in Texas, a 4D Special FX Theater, a paddlewheel cruise boat, a hotel, golf course and convention center.

#3. GALVESTON is for lovers and the perfect romantic getaway because it has so many wonderful places to explore throughout The Strand Historic District. The main drag of The Strand is Galveston’s tamer and sweeter version of Key West’s Duval Street, lined with historic iron-front buildings containing unique boutiques, island-inspired art galleries, bars, music venues, outdoor cafes and fine dining restaurants.

The district edges the harbor of Galveston Bay and the Historic Strand Seaport where yachts, sailboats and fishing boats are docked along with the Texas Seaport Museum. The Strand Historic District also is home to several museums, including the Galveston Railroad Museum and the interactive Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast museum. At Pier 21 Theatre, enjoy films about pirates and Galveston-hitting hurricanes and then enjoy a JetBoat Thrill Ride or Harbour Tour.

For arguably the town’s best stay in The Strand Historic District, check your group into the Tremont House, A Wyndham Grand Hotel, with a gleaming white marble-lined lobby, high atrium and a sexy rooftop bar overlooking the water and downtown. Arrange for the group to stop and enjoy a cold drink or cocktail on the rooftop, or listen to jazz on weekends in the 1888 Toujouse Bar off the lobby; then have the group walk to nearby restaurants and boutique shops. After a stroll down to the pier, take a cruise from Galveston’s Cruise Ship Terminal. Many travelers join tour groups for a stay in Galveston before or after embarking on a cruise.

#4. Galveston is a favorite with foodies. The biggest surprise guests will find in Galveston is its many world-class fine-dining spots with remarkable wine lists, expert chefs and mixologists and fabulous fresh farm-to-fork (and hook-to-table) fare. It’s not all seafood. For some of the island’s best upscale dining experiences, don’t miss Rudy & Paco, Vargas Cut & Catch, Riondo’s Ristorante and Gaido’s coastal classic fish house. For great eats in a much more casual setting, enjoy muffulettas at Maceo Spice & Import Company, have a fun seafood lunch at BLVD Restaurant or enjoy a filling poolside breakfast at the San Luis Resort.

#5. Galveston is big on history. If your group is geared toward architecture and history tours, Galveston’s got it all. See Texas’ largest and most impressive ultra-grand historic mansions in the East End Historical District. And to step back in time, enjoy an old-world-style luxury beachfront experience at the grand Hotel Galvez & Spa, which has majestically stood overlooking the sea for more than a century. Groups love to take in the Galvez’s decadent southern Sunday brunch buffet, which can serve more than a hundred guests at a time. Then visit the Bryan Museum with one of the world’s largest collections of art and artifacts related to the American West.

But the best thing to see and sail upon, and the ultimate place to get a sense of this port city’s history, is aboard Galveston’s Tall Ship ELISSA, a three-mast, 19-sail, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877.  It’s not a replica but a fully functional vessel manned by dedicated, specially trained volunteers. Make plans ahead of time to bring a group on this bucket-list-worthy sailing excursion.

So make Texas’ best-kept secret your next tour destination.

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