Sandy beaches, ample sunshine, breathtaking resorts and captivating Victorian-era architecture. These are probably the first few things that come to mind when you think about Galveston. Visit the island during the holidays and you’ll have a very different idea of what this coastal city is all about. Throughout the holiday season, Galveston is transformed into a Winter Wonder Island as it hosts 50 days of remarkable events. Admire the stunning sculptures at ICE LAND, watch Santa hang ten at Schlitterbahn Waterpark and attend an unforgettable musical or concert at The Grand 1894 Opera House. These experiences are just three of the 10 reasons Galveston is an amazing place to be for the holidays. Read on to discover what else awaits in the Winter Wonder Island.
ICE LAND: Pole-to-Pole at Moody Gardens is a Must-See
Although Galveston is known as the Winter Wonder Island, ICE LAND: Pole-To-Pole takes it to a whole new level. Step into this glacial paradise and you’ll be surrounded by more than two million pounds of ice crafted by expert carvers all the way from Harbin, China. Wander through ice tunnels illuminated by neon lights and take your time to admire colorful sculptures of polar bears, penguins, humpback whales, snowy owls, walrus and of course reindeer. Glide down the giant glacier slide and visit Shivers Ice Bar for an ultra-cool holiday-themed drink, the perfect way to cap a magical journey into ICE LAND.
Dates: November 17 – January 6 OPEN CHRISTMAS DAY
The Festival of Lights Will Put You in a Festive Mood
Glide down an ice slide, show off your balance (or try to stay on your feet) on the ice skating rink, and savor a hot chocolate as you marvel at more than one million colorful holiday lights. Enjoy all of these experiences at Moody Gardens’ Festival of Lights, a veritable winter wonderland that offers an abundance of family-friendly holiday fun. Walk along the Festival of Lights path through Moody Gardens and you’ll see 100 whimsical sound-enhanced animated displays. Take your youngsters to the Arctic Slide or for a photo with Santa Claus before renting a pair of skates and doing a few laps on the only outdoor rink in the area.
While all of this is sure to keep you busy, that’s not all that is going on at Festival of Lights. Enjoy live entertainment every night of the festival, ride the train, get your fill at the buffet and stick around for a screening of a holiday film. With so many ways to enjoy the season, it’s no wonder Festival of Lights has become a Galveston holiday tradition.
Dates: November 17 – January 6 OPEN CHRISTMAS DAY
Miracle Pop-up Bar Offers Craft Cocktails with a Holiday Twist
Miracle, the beloved Christmas-themed pop-up bar launched in 2014 in New York City, will continue spreading holiday cheer around the globe in 2018, including a stop at Galveston's DTO. This year, Miracle will launch in over 80 locations around the world with Sippin’ Santa expanding to multiple locations in partnership with notable tiki-connoisseur Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.
Miracle locations throughout the United States and beyond will offer seasonally-themed cocktails in a festive setting through New Year’s Eve, Monday, December 31st, 2018. Miracle creator Greg Boehm and long-time manager Joann Spiegel are pleased to be able to continue expanding the concept to new cities across the U.S. and to locations in Europe, Asia and Central America.
Dates: November 23 – December 31
Watch Santa Surf at Schlitterbahn Waterpark Galveston
What’s more awesome than hanging out with Santa? How about watching Jolly Old Saint Nick catch some killer waves on his surfboard? That’s exactly what you’ll get when you check out Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark’s Holiday Splash, which turns the massive indoor water park into a festive aquatic retreat. Enjoy Bahn Borealis light show, holiday friends, holiday meal packages and more.
Dates: November 17 – December 30
Downtown Lanterns & Lights
This holiday season, historic downtown Galveston will be illuminated by lighting and décor encompassing the main corridors of this charming 36-block district. Downtown Lanterns & Lights will feature a magical display of lights and other holiday-themed attractions in Saengerfest Park and beyond, including an interactive photo frame and giant snow globe for visitors to enjoy on designated weekends. Lights will stretch throughout downtown from 20th to 25th streets on The Strand as well as along 23rd and Postoffice streets. In addition, visitors will find unique holiday gifts at the district’s many boutiques, art galleries and antique shops set among beautiful Victorian architecture.
Dates: Nov 24 – Jan 1
See Majestic Migratory Birds
Due to its location on the Texas Gulf Coast, Galveston is a prime location for birding. Every winter, thousands of birds arrive to roost and forage, with perhaps none as spectacular as the Sandhill Cranes. Hundreds of these majestic three- to four-foot-tall birds known for the red cap atop their heads migrate through Galveston during this time. If you are a birding enthusiast, or you simply enjoy seeing animals in their natural environment, then seeing the Sandhill Cranes can’t be missed.
Cirque Joyeux Awe-Inspiring Acrobatics at Moody Gardens
Amazing acrobatics and spellbinding feats of strength and skill are on full display at the spectacular Cirque Joyeux Dinner and Show at Moody Gardens. This original holiday spectacular is fun for the entire family and features a stellar cast of international cirque and variety performers from all corners of the world. *New for 2018 – Cirque Joyeux will offer several matinees on select dates. Matinees include the show and entrance to Moody Gardens Festival of Lights – The Gulf Coast’s Largest Holiday Lighting Event. Tickets are available online or by calling (409) 683-4186.
Dates: December 21 – Jan 4
Galveston’s Historic Downtown is a Shopper’s Paradise
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind Christmas present, you’ll probably find it in Galveston’s Strand Historic District. Step into the wide variety of shops throughout the 70-block district and you’ll find just about everything that is on your Christmas list, along with some surprises. For instance, the Old Galveston Trading Company stocks an array of local works of art, imported furniture and singing bowls made from antique brass, crystal and other materials.
Antiques, jewelry and all sorts of offbeat gifts fill the shelves at Hendley Market, while numerous boutiques stock everything from high-end fashion to surfing apparel. Shop until you drop, then treat yourself to a scoop of ice cream or some candy at La King’s Confectionary or get your fill at one of the many restaurants in the Strand.
Dates: November 23 – December 24
There Are Plenty of Unforgettable Places to Stay
From historic high-end hotels, to Victorian-era homes, to beachfront rentals, Galveston has the places to stay to make your holiday getaway one to remember. For a bit of luxury, stay at the Hotel Galvez and Spa, The San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center, The Tremont House or one of the other hotels and condominium rental properties on the island. To really feel like you are at your home away from home, stay in one of the vintage homes in the East End Historic District or reserve a few days at a beach house.
Many of these places are just minutes away from all of Galveston’s holiday action. To get the most bang for your buck, book your stay from Sunday through Thursday and you may save as much as 50 percent compared to the standard weekend rates. Learn more about all the places to stay in Galveston here.
All the Year-Round Fun
While there is a Santa’s sleigh full of holiday adventure to be had in Galveston, that’s not all that’s going on in town. Galveston’s miles of sandy beaches and mild winter weather means it has plenty to offer those who love being outdoors. For starters, Galveston has some of the best fishing in the Texas Gulf Coast. Cast a line from the beach or one of the piers and jetties for free, or book an offshore fishing trip on which you might snag a large tuna, wahoo or a white or blue marlin.
There’s plenty more to do in Galveston beyond fishing. Tour one of the many historic museums and art galleries in town, go for a hole in one at the Moody Gardens Golf Course, or enjoy a pint of locally brewed craft beer at Galveston Island Brewing or Beerfoot Brewery. For a fun night out with the whole family, enjoy the rides and games at the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. If you get a bit hungry, stop by one of the seafood restaurants perched along the Galveston’s famous Seawall Boulevard, or head to the Historic Downtown District for some high-end dining.
Should you somehow do all of these things while you’re in Galveston, then there’s only one place left for you: the beach. Jog or bike along the seawall, lay out a blanket on the sand and catch some sun, or kick back and listen to the waves crashing on the shore. Not everyone gets to enjoy a beach getaway during the holidays, but that’s exactly what you’ll get in Galveston.