Travel Guide: San Antonio + Galveston, Texas

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As I'm sure you know, last summer I moved to Texas for four months and had the greatest adventure of my life living in Austin. I'd only been in Texas once before last summer for a wedding, and we were only there for two short days. My mom and Madi hit the road with me last May, and we made a vacation out of it. We stopped in St. Louis, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Houston (only for a few hours), and Galveston Island before heading back to Austin. After that, my mom and Madi flew home and I started my summer in Austin. 

I was so impressed with San Antonio and Galveston Island, so I wanted to put together this little travel guide of my favorite places and things. We were only in each city for a few days, but I feel like we got a well-rounded experience in both San Antonio and Galveston. 


the best activities Travel Guide: Houston, Galveston, + San Antonio, Texas

T H E  A L A M O

One simply does not visit San Antonio without stopping by the Alamo. The Alamo is a major landmark that draws tourists to the city - it's definitely a "must-see." This iconic historical landmark is located in the heart of downtown San Antonio. It was founded in 1718, and is still amazingly in-tact. Since it is downtown, parking can be tricky. There are several parking lots around the Alamo, but it comes at a cost. If you are willing to walk a few blocks, you can score street metered parking. 

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We got to the Alamo fairly early in the day. I would definitely recommend that if you don't want to stand in really long lines. You will still likely have to wait in line, but the area where you wait to enter the Shrine is very serene. It is beautiful to look at, and is fortunately very well shaded. Entrance to The Alamo is free! They only allow a certain amount of visitors in at a time, which is great for viewing the Shrine as well as snapping outdoor photos. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside. The gift shop also offers a wide range of souvenirs for all age ranges. I picked up a book and some souvenirs for my travelers notebook.

Once you enter the Shrine, it is as if you are transported back in time. There are many rooms and displays showing artifacts from the fight for freedom that occurred at the Alamo. You can also listen to a cell phone tour that provides a rich history of the Alamo from its conception to its fall. It is very thorough, and tells you exactly where you need to be for each point.

When you leave the Shrine, you will want to be sure to take a walk through the gardens. This beautiful outdoor area is well-shaded and offers a "cooler" place to reflect on what you've just seen. Once you exit the Alamo, take a touristy photo right in the front. If you are patient, you can time it right and snap a photo when there are very few other people in your shot. It makes for such a cool memory!

I'm honestly not a huge history person, but seeing the Alamo was such an amazing experience. It's hard to imagine the battle that went on there and to fathom that the huge city of San Antonio was built up around this small historical site. The Alamo is a must-see when you are visiting San Antonio. If you have time, I would also recommend walking by the Alamo at night after closing. Seeing it lit up is amazing!

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T H E  R I V E R W A L K

We headed to the Riverwalk after our Alamo visit. This stretch of shopping and restaurants on the water really lives up to the hype. It is a mix of cultures that really are the heart and soul of San Antonio. First, we hopped on a boat tour and took about a mile trip down the river, listening to the pilot give a history of San Antonio. It is a great way to take in all the culture, architecture, and beauty of the walk. Admission is $12 for ages 6-59. They also offer special pricing for locals, military personnel, young kids, and older adults. Everyone is sure to find something they love - the Riverwalk has an abundance of unique shops and restaurant. It was very, very, very busy, but everyone moved at a casual pace. It was a very relaxing way to spend an afternoon. I was also impressed at how clean it was. Hanging out on the Riverwalk is a great way to beat the afternoon heat!

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G H O S T  T O U R

Who doesn't love a good ghost story? I love taking "ghost tours" in old cities. It gives you a bit of background on local legends. San Antonio is considered one of the most haunted cities in America, so I had to check out a ghost tour here! I took the San Antonio Ghost Tour by Bad Wolf Ghost Tours. The guide was dressed in costume, making her easy to spot. The tour was a combination of history intertwined with "ghost sightings." You will be disappointed if you are looking for a bone-chilling, scary tour. It's not very scary at all; it would be great for kids. But, part of the fun of ghost tours is having a guide that excels at storytelling. We sure did! It was fun to hear about the creepy side of San Antonio that isn't in the history books. This guided tour was also a great way to see the city lights at night.

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Along with the Alamo, there are four other missions that make up the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. You can reach them via vehicle or by taking the Riverwalk's Mission Reach. This is about a 10-mile path that follows the San Antonio River. It was extremely hot when we were there, so we drove to each site, but did explore the trail near each mission. It is beautifully laid out - such a great way to adventure! 

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We visited two missions - Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose. Entrance to these missions is free. Just like the Alamo, all of the missions offer an audio tour you can listen to on your cell phone (for free). It provides a comprehensive history of each establishment and workings of that mission. Mission San Jose contains the park's Visitor Center. Here, you can grab a map and brochure that gives a brief history of each mission. There is also a movie that shows every hour and a half. A museum also gives some insight into what life would have been like when the missions were active. 

Mission San Jose also has a park store that had some unique gifts. I got the cutest little llama ornament that was handmade by locals! Mission San Jose is the most complete of the missions in San Antonio, so if you can only take in one or two, I would highly recommend this one. To this day, it is still a functioning Catholic Church was regular mass. Mission Concepcion is also well-maintained and according to the park ranger, one of the oldest unrestored stones churches in America. The architecture is beautiful and the history rich. I would highly suggest taking in a few other missions after visiting the Alamo. 
What to eat Travel Guide: Houston, Galveston, + San Antonio, Texas

J U G O  J U I C E R Y

11858 Wurzbach Rd, San Antonio

After touring the missions, we wanted to escape the heat. We headed to Jugo and indulged in some delicious pitaya bowls. Mine was the best bowl I've ever had! There were so many great options on their menu that it was hard to choose. The service was a little slow, but everyone there was so friendly. The store was also very clean and had indoor seating (and did I mention air conditioning?!). They had the cutest ivy wall with a neon sign that is perfect for Instagram pictures!

R I T A ' S  O N  T H E  R I V E R

245 E Commerce Street, San Antonio

One of the places we ate at while exploring the Riverwalk was Rita's on the River, an authentic Mexican restaurant. They had some outdoor seating, but we opted to sit inside - I never quite adjusted to that Texas summer heat. The restaurant was packed, but the seating was spread out enough that you don't feel as if you are sitting with other people. Our table was right next to the docking station where you can charge your phone. The enchiladas were fabulous, and the Prickly Pear margarita was AH-MAY-ING. The meal was great, and the service was awesome (and very prompt), and the prices were very reasonable. I had a great experience at Rita's!
Where to Stay Travel Guide: Houston, Galveston, + San Antonio, Texas

E L  T R O P I C A N O  R I V E R W A L K

110 Lexington Avenue, San Antonio

The first hotel we stayed at in San Antonio was the La Quinta Inn, which I do NOT recommend. It was a no from me. For the last part of our stay in San Antonio, we stayed at El Tropicano Riverwalk. This cute boutique hotel is located in the riverwalk district. As its name implies, it has a very islandy vibe. We stayed in a standard room with two double beds. It was spacious and clean, and within walking distance to many nightlife activities. They also had a pool area that was pretty nice, but there were soooooo many screaming kids there that I couldn't stay for more than 10 minutes. Valet parking is required for an additional cost. Getting your car the next morning was a bit of a pain. You had to call down and pick a time. Our car was not available at the agreed upon time like it was supposed to be, and we were not given self-parking as an option when we checked in. Other than that, El Tropicano is a great hotel to give you the full San Antonio experience. 

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Galveston was my favorite of the three cities (including Houston, but we were only there for a few hours). I am an ocean girl at heart, so it made me really happy being right on the ocean! Galveston was a last-minute add-on to the trip. We intended to spend several days exploring Austin, but were willing to give up a few of those since I knew I'd be there all summer. We hit the road and drove a few hours to Galveston Island. 
The Best Activities Travel Guide: Houston, Galveston, + San Antonio, Texas
I guess I didn't realize Galveston was an actual island, but it is. The beach stretches almost 10 miles with a sidewalk along Seawall Boulevard. There is literally a giant wall separating the beach from the inland. After a hurricane in 1900, the Seawall was built to protect the shore from future hurricanes. It is hard to believe that water could ever go over the wall, but locals say that is just what happened during Hurricane Ike in 2008. 

N E A R  T H E  S E A W A L L

Seawall Boulevard provides easy access to attractions, restaurants, and the beach. If you are just visiting for the day, be prepared to pay for parking. The water near the shore looks brown, but it is from the waves crashing over and pulling in all the sand. Also, beware that at times the water is not safe to swim in. There are always signs posted though, so just pay attention to those. The sandy beach is fairly clean and has ample areas to sit. We enjoyed relaxing and cooling off here several afternoons. The only downside is that you have to cross a very busy highway to get to the beach. It seems that even with designated crosswalks and signals, traffic does not always stop. Be sure to look both ways, even if you have the walk signal, and hold on tight to your kids!

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B O A R D W A L K  +  P L E A S U R E  P E I R

2501 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77551

We walked down Seawall Boulevard from the hotel to the historic Pleasure Pier. We only wanted to go in and maybe do a ride or two, but that we quickly found out that was not an option. Even though it was only open for another hour, had we wanted to go in, we would have had to pay the $10 fee/3 hours for each person to just look around. To ride, the fee was $26.99 for adults. This may be a decent deal if you plan to spend the whole day there, but we were disappointed that there wasn't different pricing available that close to closing time. We did enjoy the walk along the beach at night and seeing Pleasure Pier jutting out into the water all lit up - it is a neat sight!

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M U R D O C H ' S

2215 Seawall Blvd, Galveston

There are plenty of cute little shops to take in along Seawall Boulevard, but my favorite was Murdoch's. In its day, it was a boathouse with hotel rooms. Now, it is a beautiful souvenir shop. There are two rooms with a pass-through deck and pretty ocean views. The store is constructed right on the sand, giving it no protection from the Seawall. Inside is a little history on how Murdoch's has been destroyed by each hurricane that has passed through, most recently Ike in 2008. The store was rebuilt after that, showing the "Spirit of the Island." You can sit in one of the many rockers and take in the sounds and sights of the gulf. You can even enjoy a beer while you relax here and overlook the most amazing view. It literally has something for everyone, from the shoppers to the non-shoppers in your party. Murdoch's is a must-do!

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D O W N T O W N  G A L V E S T O N

We also headed down to The Strand, which is the heart of downtown Galveston Island. There are many, many more blocks of shopping, dining and entertainment that we didn't have a chance to do. While we were downtown, we had an old-time photo taken at Buster's Old Time Photos (address: 2217 Strand St, Galveston, TX 77550). I haven't done one since I was a small child. It was a lot of fun getting dressed up and posing for the pictures! We got several shots that caught the personality of our group. We also enjoyed a quick stop at La King's Confectionery (2323 Strand St, Galveston, TX 77550). This shop has a retro 1920's soda fountain vibe and offers a huge array of sweet treats. We opted to sit in and have a shake and take some sweet treats to-go. You can even see taffy being made right in front of you! This is well worth the stop, even if you aren't planning on buying anything. We also were sure to stop and take photos at the iconic "Greetings from Galveston" mural located in Saengerfest Park, at 23rd and The Strand. I didn't even know this existed, but I was so excited to find it!

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History lovers celebrate - Galveston is home to several historic residences. The coastal Texas city is home to a big port that's been around since 1825. Historically, the wealthy planted their roots near the port, which is why there are so many beautiful mansions still standing today.  Prior to the 1900s, Galveston Island was known as the "Wall Street of the South". These several-hundred-year-old residences have survived terrible hurricanes and storms, like the Great Storm of 1900, that historically wiped out the island. Because they have been maintained so well over the years, tourists are able to walk through the homes today and feel like they are back in the 1800s. When we visited Galveston, we toured two beautiful mansions - Moody Mansion and Bishop's Palace. 

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M O O D Y  M A N S I O N

2618 Broadway Street, Galveston, TX 77550

This tour is so worth the $12 per person adult admission.  They also offer a behind the scenes tour for $30. I would have loved to do this, but it is only on the weekends, and we weren't still in Galveston on the weekend. Moody Mansion was completed in 1985 and boasts 31 rooms.

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On your self-guided tour, you can see 20 rooms and get a glimpse inside the life of the Moody family. This powerful Texan family got its start in cotton, and soon established a financial empire. It was amazing to talk to the locals that worked there - they gave us a lot of insightful information that wasn't included in the tour. A placard outside shows how high the water got when Hurricane Ike devastated the island in 2008. Moody Mansion could have suffered irreparable damage, but the mansion has many protocols in place to minimize damage as much as possible. It is remarkable what goes on behind the scenes to ensure this historical landmark is preserved for generations to come.

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B I S H O P ' S  P A L A C E

1402 Broadway Avenue J, Galveston 

We went on to tour Bishop's Palace, also known as Gresham's Castle. You can find this 19,082 square foot Victorian-style house on Broadway and 14th. You can take an audio tour for $12 that provides a thorough history of the home. This mansion was finished in 1892 and was home to Walter and Josephine Gresham, a railroad family. The inside was grand to say the least. The architecture and details in this home were stunning.

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What to Eat Travel Guide: Houston, Galveston, + San Antonio, Texas

T H E  R A I N F O R E S T  C A F E

5310 Seawall Blvd, Galveston

I like classic American food, so we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. The food was average, and the atmosphere was the typical Rainforest Cafe vibe. The fun part of this Rainforest Cafe was the log drop ride outside! This would be a great way to entertain kids after a day spent shopping or at the beach. There is a wait to be seated here more often than not. 

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R I T A ' S  I T A L I A N  I C E

6026 Seawall Blvd, Galveston

I. AM. IN. LOVE. WITH. THIS. PLACE. Rita's offers custard, Italian Ice, and a combination of the two. The Italian Ice was my favorite! It is made daily with fresh fruit. There are 40 different flavors to choose from. It was such a refreshing treat after a day in the heat. The atmosphere felt very summer-y and carefree - I loved it so much! Rita's has both indoor and outdoor seating. I'd suggest walking if possible, because parking is limited. I tried a few different Italian Ice flavors and loved every single one of them. 

N I C K ' S  K I T C H E N  A N D  B E A C H  B A R

3828 Seawall Blvd, Galveston

I could not for the life of me remember what this place was called, but the food was so amazing that I scoured the internet until I found it. You probably know I'm a burger fanatic, so I'm not saying this lightly - this burger is one of the best burgers I've had in my life. The service wasn't fantastic, but the food more than made up for it. They also have seafood for people who are into that (I'm not). They have a beautiful patio with views overlooking the ocean and Pleasure Pier. This is a must-eat place on your visit to Galveston! 

Where to Stay Travel Guide: Houston, Galveston, + San Antonio, Texas

H I L T O N  G A L V E S T O N  I S L A N D

5400 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77551

This hotel has an oceanfront location and is close to dining and shopping. Our room looked over the water, and we enjoyed sitting out on the deck. It's a little loud because of the traffic, but the view makes up for that. The room was clean and spacious, and the beds were comfortable. The staff was friendly and offered some dining suggestions. We really liked the pool area - it was spacious and clean. I could easily spend a whole day there! They also have real bathrooms inside the pool area, which would be super nice for families with small kids! 

H O L I D A Y  I N N  G A L V E S T O N  I S L A N D

5002 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77551

For a three-star hotel, this one exceeded our expectations. It was clean and the staff were friendly. Access to the beach was easy. We also had a view of the gulf from our room, and there was ample free parking. The rooms were great, and they had an amazing pool area! Madi and I got to hang out at the pool a few times, and it was so nice.

Both hotels were within walking distance of 90% of the activities we did while we were in Galveston, which was so nice!

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Last summer was my second time in Texas, and I fell in love with the state in the four months I was there. I'm so glad I got to explore San Antonio and Galveston with my mom and sister before they went back home. Texas is huge, and I'm so glad I got to explore more than just Austin. If you are able to, I definitely recommend renting a car in San Antonio and road-tripping to Galveston. It was so nice having a rental car in both locations, and the road trip was half the adventure!

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