You may wonder how The V Fam ended up in Texas over winter break. It was really quite simple. I was trying to escape winter and the snow so I pulled up google flights and looked for the cheapest place we could fly (obviously on Spirit. AKA the Greyhound bus in the sky). Houston was it. I got 4 round-trip tix for under $500. I’d always wanted to see Galveston, the lodging was pretty reasonable and it felt like destiny. I got us a little AirBNB condo on the ocean and the weather was UGLY. Keep that in mind during my review because it almost never got above 45 degrees, there were flash flood warnings, and we saw the sun on our 6th day, just before our flight took off. Still, even if it wasn’t a favorite trip, it was a moderately good trip, and all in cost about $2500 for the week. We are all glad we went and even more glad that I had picked a resort with an indoor pool.
Galveston Island Overview
Transportation: We flew into Houston and rented a car at George Bush International airport. The rental car was convenient, just a shuttle ride and then we drove the 90 minutes to Galveston Island. It was a nice easy flight and drive. Directions were easy to follow. Traffic was pretty bad both directions but not as bad as in Chicago. The highways were super cool. They kinda looped all over the place way up in the sky. Felt like the Jetsons.
Atmosphere: Galveston reminded me of a little New Orleans? But it also had a “Pleasure Pier” which was really just carnival rides. It was pretty touristy, especially because the downtown is also a cruise port.
Activities: There was a cute shopping area, the beach, and trolley service. There was a movie theater at our end of town. Moody Gardens is apparently wildly popular but we opted against it. It was going to be hundreds of dollars and just not our thing.
Cost: It was pretty reasonable. Our
Weather: I already came clean on this. We had really bad weather in Galveston which will drastically cloud my normally sunny travel review. It was 40 and raining almost every day. Thankfully our condo had an indoor pool because we spent a lot of time in our condo just looking out over the Gulf. It was a nice break. I read a bunch of books. Kids played video games but we could do very little. There was a feral cat wandering around the hot-tub at the resort. It was harmless but cried a real lot and wouldn’t leave us alone where ever we went.
Once again, my review of this is not going to be perfectly accurate. We had rough weather to really enjoy the experience. The island is an easy drive from Houston. The road runs on the beach, so there is very little ocean-front property. The public beaches are clean but have a lot of rocks as breakers, parking is all paid online. The island itself is a very long strip with a trolley with stops along the main road. We didn’t get to use it because the stops weren’t convenient and it seemed easier to just drive. In nice weather, it looks like a good bike ride but pretty long. At the far north end of the island is ALL of the action. This is where you will find the carnival rides, adorable historic town with quaint shops, local art, and non-chain restaurants. Free street parking downtown was easy but annoying because you needed to move the car every 2 hours. I find cities who do that really short-sighted. We spent about 4 hours walking around and felt like that was a solid amount of time (probably would have stayed longer but didn’t feel like moving the car again).
Don’t miss the Stranded Corner Cafe. It is buried in the back of a building but has margaritas made with fresh fruit. They are the absolute best and I had quite a few. Well worth the $7, especially since the town is NOLA style… meaning you can carry any non-glass beverage with you as you shop. We had a Tex-mex dinner at Taquilos. Best steak tacos I’ve ever eaten. Service was great and atmosphere was really cute.
We obviously tried a Whataburger, which seems like the Texas answer to In and Out (it makes me proud that Chicago has Portillos). This will be unpopular, but I liked Whataburger a lot better than In and Out. The burger was huge and tasty– it did help that we got the complete Whataburger experience. We got to watch an employee flip-out and subsequently take off his apron and walk out the door. It was awkward and tense, but one of those moments that we all felt we were in the exact right place at the right time… being part of everything that makes this world beautiful and interesting and fun and crazy. Thea and I sent a few good vibes to all the people involved and then when we got in the car laughed and laughed about our perfect timing and that we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We got the FULL Whataburger experience.
We also hit Jimmy’s on the Pier while a storm was rolling in. The food was fine (I actually didn’t like my fish tacos but my husband’s burger was good). The atmosphere was amazing. You are right over the water and the whole experience was lovely. I would have gone every single day, and not just so I could at the fried pickles. Keep in mind that there is pretty much NOTHING beyond Jimmy’s. We drove for 45 minutes and barely hit another establishment. If you are trying to find lodging and want to be even reasonably close to the action and entertainment, find a place north of Jimmy’s.
It is probably because we are children of the 80s but NASA was awesome. If you are a family of 4+, strongly consider the membership. For our family with bigger kids, it was $125 to buy tix and parking. To buy the membership online ahead of time was $130 and included parking, we got to skip lines and a discount on food/souvenirs. It was well worth the extra $5. We went on New Years Day and it wasn’t very crowded. We took both tram rides. Both are on an outdoor tram so best to pick a day that isn’t dreadful out. Both were interesting. Lunch was delicious in the food court. They had wine! And I don’t remember how much it was exactly but reasonable. Like maybe $6? We
Houston Galleria Mall & Hermann Park
We flew into Houston and hit the Galleria Mall because our check-in time wasn’t for a few hours. The mall is beautiful and high-end. Parking was shockingly free. We just don’t get that in Chicago. The fountain from the sky was impressive. The indoor ice rink was fun. We liked the food court a ton. It had a bunch of healthy, unhealthy, and vegetarian options. My daughter and I hit Sult’an Pepper. The name made me laugh, it was the highest rated place in the food court, and the food appeared moderately healthy. The menu was confusing and the price was high but it tasted pretty good. We spent about 3 hours at the mall and that was enough time for us.
Our way back to the airport was seriously the only nice day we had (of course). We decided on Hermann Park in Houston. To me, it rivals Grant Park and Central Park. It was so lovely. It is in the middle of Houston and has manicured gardens as well as forest areas, ponds, and a Japanese garden. It was such a nice walk. There is an adorable little train that goes around the perimeter. It is $4 a person or $7.50 for an all-day pass. We were there on a random Friday afternoon and the line to get tickets and then get on the train wasn’t worth it for us. Not to mention that what we wanted was to stretch our legs on the only nice day of the trip. The park itself is free. We walked around for about 3 hours. The lunch options were not stellar so we actually left the area and looked for lunch elsewhere. You would think that some places would pop-up because it is such a great area. It was near the natural history museum and art museum and zoo. All seemed pretty expensive and since it was nice out, we skipped all of them.
Downsides of Galveston Island
Well… Not our favorite trip. The kids actually really liked Houston. I wasn’t so much of a fan. I’m sure I would have liked it better if the weather had been better but it just wasn’t that great of a trip (and this is from Pollyanna reincarnated). We had fun as a family but no more fun than if we had just stayed home. Maybe someday I’ll go back when it isn’t winter and write a new blog but I doubt it. I’ll probably try a different place.
Miscellaneous Planning Advice, Tips, Randomness, and Minutia:
- Texas is one of those places that doesn’t sell alcohol in grocery stores and liquor stores are closed on Sundays. Also closed on Christmas Day and New Years Day. So weird… And we were not prepared.
- We didn’t find live music in Galveston. We could have missed it or it was offseason.
- Lots of trucks. I guess that is to be expected, I was just surprised that it wasn’t really a stereotype.
- Galveston & Houston were fine but I probably wouldn’t go back. Once was enough.
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