Things to Do in Galveston during the Holidays

Galveston Dressed Up for the Holidays

For the past few years my extended family has spent the week of Thanksgiving at the beach house in Pointe West on Galveston Island. Aside from cooking and eating the usual holiday feast, here are the other things we like to do during that week and other times during the holidays on the island.

Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

Fun family holiday events and activities in Galveston

My kids can’t get enough of the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier – an amusement park that juts out over the water. It’s is a real thrill to ride the roller coaster over the Gulf of Mexico! I tend to stick to the less thrilling rides myself, but love hearing their squeals of terror and delight. Tickets for unlimited rides are $26.99 (48″ and up) $19.99 (under 48″). Walk on passes are $10 (48″ and up) $8 (under 48″) $7 Senior Citizens (must show valid I.D.) There are places to eat on the Pleasure Pier or great restaurants with in walking distance off the Pier.

Moody Gardens

The Moody Gardens Festival of Lights runs from November 14th – January 10th, 6-10pm each night. The display has more than 1 million lights and has over 100 animated displays with sound. Tickets are $10.95 and include admission to the skating rink. Skates available to rent for $7. Moody Gardens offers discounted admission to some of their other attractions after 4:30pm with a Festival of Lights ticket. It’s been a good time for us to take the kids late in the day. The walk around the complex is easy and slow. A visit definitely gets you in the holiday spirit and there are plenty of picture taking opportunities.

There is also a much acclaimed exhibit of ice sculptures returning to Moody Gardens this year. ICE LAND runs November 14th – January 10th. Tickets are $26.95 for adults, $21.95 for seniors and $15.95 for children. You can receive a discount of $5.00 Sunday through Thursday, Nov. 15 through Dec. 17, excluding Thanksgiving Day. The theme is “SpongeBob’s Christmas Party” and boasts 65 sculptures and figurines. The event is in a 28,000 square foot chilled tent, down to 9 degrees. Parkas are available for the visit, but be sure to dress warmly!

Beyond Thanksgiving: Dickens on the Strand

Dickens on the Strand is an annual favorite in Galveston. It’s a Victorian Holiday Street Festival December 4th-6th. The event features parades, entertainment, carolers, holiday food and crafts sold by vendors in full Victorian regalia. The event is sponsored by the Galveston Historical Foundation and this year will have a “distinctive historical theme that will add new attractions and cultural experiences,” according to GHF Executive Director, Dwayne Jones ( There are a lot of special events during the weekend that require RSVPs – including breakfast with Charles Dickens great grand daughter cooking a traditional English breakfast and a special tour of Bishop’s Palace that opens rooms that are usually off limits. Tickets in advance are $13 or $15 at the gate. Children 7-12 are $7 in advance or $9 at the gate. If you want to dress up in Victorian attire, you can get in for half price!

Check out for a complete listing of other holiday events.

Holidays at the Beach

Of course, as much as we love all the things Galveston has to offer, we can’t get enough family time at the beach. Most years the kids can run around in short sleeves, play football in the yard and event get in the water. Only once in the past 4 years, did we actually have to bundle up for our family beach walks. We have great memories from times there!

Thanksgiving at the beach - food, family and fun.

What’s your favorite island holiday tradition?


4 Tips for Planning Thanksgiving on Vacation

Coastal Holiday Planning

It’s become a family tradition to gather the extended family at Las Brisas, our beach house in Galveston, for Thanksgiving. My sister in law has a place in the same neighborhood, so there is plenty of room for the 13 + that celebrate together.

Planning Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, including the cooking timeline and a bonus example of a DIY craft - a gingerbread turkey!

Family togetherness – planning the gingerbread lighthouse.

Planning a large holiday meal for a crowd takes some forethought and planning for one in a vacation home, even more so. Here are a few tips for pulling it off beautifully.

1. Find out about the kitchen
Ask the owner about baking dishes etc. Our vacation homes sleep a lot of folks and are well stocked to prepare meals for a crowd. I set the kitchens up in Galveston and Port Aransas so I could cook a holiday meal in each of them – lots of pots and pans and baking dishes. Alternatively, if the kitchen you are in is limited in its cookware, use disposable foil baking pans.

2. Bring the turkey
I buy a frozen turkey and bring it with us. We are fortunate that the kids have the whole week off, so I buy the turkey prior to heading out of town and stick it in a cooler, still frozen, for the drive. If you are arriving on a Wednesday and expect to cook the turkey on Thursday, make sure it’s thawed before you get to the vacation home!

3. Decide the ‘must have’ foods
At home, I have a double oven, so cooking a wide variety of foods is easy. With the single oven at the beach house kitchen, things need to be a bit more streamlined. When we started this tradition, I asked the family members what they needed on the table for it to be Thanksgiving, to make sure the meal met everyone’s expectations. Luckily, some of the must haves overlapped! I list our typical menu below.

4. Plan the cooking of the meal
What time will the dinner be eaten? How long will the turkey take to cook? Plan the rest of the meal backwards from there. It’s easier to make a few things the day before if possible.

Every year I debate about cooking the pies the day ahead of Thanksgiving. I’m doing it this year 🙂 and if we dig in a day early, so be it.

Here is my usual timeline. I’ve saved an electronic version of this as well as a shopping list so I can access it every year. I use the large turkey instructions from The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry and the Dry Brine from Williams Sonoma. Can’t beat it!
Thanksgiving 2014 Plan – Eat at 4:30 pm

Roast Turkey
Dad’s Homemade Gravy
Steamed and Buttered Green Beans – 20 minutes, stove top
Sweet Potato Casserole – 45 minutes @ 350
Mashed Potatoes – peel, boil and mash
Broccoli Casserole – 45 minutes @ 350
Corn Bread Stuffing – 45 minutes @ 350
Crescent Rolls
Pecan Pie – 1 hour @ 325
Apple Crisp – 35 minutes @ 350

Pecan pie, Stuffing, Cranberries


10 am: Bake Broccoli Casserole and Sweet Potato Casserole
12 pm: Turkey in oven (3 1/2 to 4 hours plus 20 minutes rest)
3 pm: Start Mashed Potatoes
4 pm: Finish Gravy and reheat Casseroles
4:30 pm – Apple Crisp

I was thinking about Thanksgiving this weekend and couldn’t resist making some cornbread dressing. I stuffed a pork tenderloin with it. I admit, this is my favorite culinary season of the year. Although Summer BBQ runs a close second 🙂

Best of luck with your travel and holiday meal plans!!

Planning Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, including a cooking timeline and a bonus DIY craft - a gingerbread turkey