Crystal Beach Texas + Galveston Island Port Bolivar Ferry

A long time ago, I was a Navy Wife in San Diego.  I spent a lot of time on the large sandy beaches, in the cold Pacific Ocean water and watching the California girls rollerblading in bikinis.   I’ve since moved to Texas and can tell you that the Gulf Coast is a lot different.  And, it could not be any better for the Big Kid Small City crew.

My kids and I spent one day during Spring Break at Crystal Beach.  Our perfect day included a ferry ride, playing in the sand, splashing in the water and dinner in Galveston.

My friend and I loaded up 5 kids in my mini van and made the 1 hour drive down to Galveston.   We arrived at the ferry and were excited to find no wait.

If you head down to Galveston, check the traffic map HERE.    You can also find the cameras of the ferry landings HERE.

The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry is the bridge between two segments of Highway 87.  The FREE ferry, run by the Texas DOT, is the only way a car can cross the water between Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island.   The 2.7 mile trip takes about 18 minutes.   The busiest time of year is Memorial Day to Labor Day

On our trip, the kids were very excited to drive our car right onto the boat.  About 70 cars crammed onto the ferry and everyone was able to get out of the van to enjoy the trip.  We took the kids up the stairs to the benches.  Here we had a good view of all the pirate boats (according to the kids).  When we caught sight of the Port Bolivar landing, we got the kids strapped back in their car seats and were ready to exit the boat.

We drove along Highway 87 for about 7 more miles until we reached Crystal Beach.  Crystal Beach is a small town with restaurants, a bank, a hotel, post office and supermarket.   As we drove in, we should have stopped at any of the shops for a beach parking permit.  They are $10 and are good all year.  (We did not get one but were able to purchase one on the beach when the Crystal Beach truck made their rounds.)

Crystal Beach is 7 miles long.  About midway through the town, we made a right hand turn and drove straight to the beach.  I was looking for a parking lot but was amazed at what I saw.  On Crystal Beach, you drive right up to the water.  I had never seen this in California.

I gave my van a pep talk, before joining the SUVs and trucks on the sand.  It turns out this was not needed because the sand is packed down and easy to drive on.  We found an empty spot, backed the van up to the water, opened up the tailgate, and looked like we had been doing this forever.  (Well, except for the missing parking permit that we bought later.)

Having cars on the beach is not pretty.  But it is fantastic for two moms with 5 kids and a whole lot of junk to haul.  We did not need to lug anything across the beach.  And we did not need to run back to the car when we forgot something.  Everything was right where we needed it.

The kids quickly got to playing in the sand and splashing in the warm water.  James played on a blanket and did his best to eat some sand.  There were a lot of families next to us and the kids built sand ditches and rivers and played all day.

One of the most entertaining parts of the day was the teenagers cruising the beach in big pick up trucks, with music playing and lots of girls in bikinis in the back. All day long the groups went up and down the beach. It made me feel like I was in the middle of a country song.

 

After a full day, we packed up at 6:00 and headed back to the ferry. Once again we were able to drive right on (but wait times had been up to 2 hours earlier in the day). Back in Galveston, we went to Joe’s favorite restaurant – Rainforest Cafe.

We really enjoyed our beach trip. What could be better than 2 ferry rides, parking on the sand, playing all day, living a country song and Rainforest Cafe? I love Texas.


Comments

  1. AlexandLillie says:

    We followed your post, and headed to Bolivar Island. Have to say that Crystal Beach proper was a disappointment. So dirty, covered with seaweed, and the cars were too much on a Sunday. overall, a bust with my toddlers…

    However, we found Fort Travis Seashore Park on the way back to the Ferry (it’s just after the Ferry exit on the right), and my kiddos loved that. we watched the ferry and other big boats, looked at the old forts, walked on the seawall, and they had a nice playground to themselves.

    Drove back “the other way”, ultimately via I10, to avoid the crazy ferry line/wait time…and found a stretch of beach cleaner and less traffic closer to the other “exit” off the peninsula.

    All in all, a great trip. thanks for sharing! Love your website. Thanks so much for sharing such great info.

    • Great! Thanks for the tips!!

    • STEVI GREGORY says:

      I am very sorry that our beaches were dirty, the residence and the Road and Bridge department have battled a lot with visitors leaving trash and not picking up after themselves, we have now placed and will be enforcing a $500.00 littering law. Believe me were tired of the trash too, But the beaches are beautiful now and we have been working very hard cleaning up after the tourist and you should find many beautiful spots to have fun on our WONDERFUL BEACHES. by the way if you see littering call it it and help keep our beaches clean.

  2. AlexandLillie says:

    oh! p.s. for future daytrippers, I wish we had brought some bread or crackers specifically to feed the seagulls off the back of the ferry boat! we gave the birds some of our peanut butter crackers – and they loved that.

  3. DONT FORGET TO PURCHASE YOUR BEACH PARKING STICKER BEFORE HITTING THE BEACH, THIS IS YEAR ROUND, THERE IS NO OFF SEASON STICKERS ARE GOOD 1 CALENDAR YEAR

  4. STEVI GREGORY says:

    HEY THERE VISITORS, COUPLE OF NOTES TO ALWAYS REMEMBER WHEN VISITING CRYSTAL BEACH,
    #1 STOP AT ANY STORE ON THE ISLAND AND PICK UP A BEACH PARKING STICKER THEY ARE 10.00 AND ARE GOOD FOR ONE YEAR JAN 1 TIL DEC 31. YOU MUST HAVE ONE TO PARK ON THE BEACH OR YOU WILL GET A HEFTY FINE THATS WELL OVER 200.00

    #2 BRING TRASH BAGS AND BE SURE TO ONLY LEAVE YOUR FOOT PRINTS, PLEASE TAKE YOUR TRASH WITH YOU OR PLACE IN CANS ON THE BEACH. THERE IS A $500.00 FINE FOR LITTERING

    #3 NO GLASS CONTAINERS OF ANY TYPE… IF YOU HAVE BOTTLES THERE IS A HUGE FINE. OVER $200.00

    #4 HAVE A GREAT TIME, WE LOVE HAVING YOU

  5. STEVI GREGORY says:

    CRYSTAL BEACH IS SUCH A WONDERFUL BEACH, WITH WONDERFUL PEOPLE AND BEAUTIFUL BEACHES. COME VISIT US….

  6. We looked at the beach closest to the ferry and it seemed packed down pretty good. How far does the tide come up? I think if the water came up around our motorhome we would sink in. We are planning on camping there very soon and it’s easier for me to ask than to wake up surrounded by water!
    Which beach is better? And how are they different (the one near the ferry and Crystal)
    Thanks!
    The beach was clean when we looked a few days ago and only 1 tent was there.

  7. This year Crystal Beach is NOT overrun with seaweed. There is attempt it would appear that the county is trying hard to keep the beaches clean for tourism. However, there are still a whole bunch of idiots who leave their trash for others to pick up. It's strange but I see more littering by millenials than any other group. i thought they were the ones who cared so much. hmmmm…. just my opinion.

  8. I wanted to drive the beach, but do not know if there is a speed limit. How do I find out. I have tried several web sites, and cannot find it. I want to drive crystal beach when my 2 boys come in from their posts in the
    Army during Christmas, and just want to know the rules.

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