In this work, bioconjugation techniques are developed to achieve peptide functionalization of poly(vinyl alcohol), PVA, as both a polymer in solution and within microstructured physical hydrogels, in both cases under physiological conditions. PVA is unique in that it is one of very few polymers with excellent biocompatibility and safety and has FDA approval for clinical uses in humans. However, decades of development have documented only scant opportunities in bioconjugation with PVA. As such, materials derived thereof fail to answer the call for functional biomaterials for advanced cell culture and tissue engineering applications. To address these limitations, PVA is synthesized with terminal thiol groups and conjugated with thiolated peptides using PVA in solution. Further, microstructured, surface-adhered PVA physical hydrogels are assembled, the available conjugation sites within the hydrogels are quantified, and quantitative kinetic data are collected on peptide conjugation to the hydrogels. The success of bioconjugation in the gel phase is quantified through the use of a cell-adhesive peptide and visualization of cell adhesion on PVA hydrogels as cell culture substrates. Taken together, the presented data establish a novel paradigm in bioconjugation and functionalization of PVA physical hydrogels. Coupled with an excellent safety profile of PVA, these results deliver a superior biomaterial for diverse biomedical applications.