San Marcos is located only 30 miles away from Austin, and it boasts plenty of green space, a historic downtown core, and the largest outlet center in America. There are plenty of trendy shops and welcoming cafes for visitors to enjoy, but nature lovers shouldn't despair; the nearby San Marcos River provides the opportunity to enjoy watersports like kayaking and fly-fishing. The city is worth more than a day trip from Austin, but no matter how long your visit is going to be, here are the best things to see and do while you're there.
1.Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force
© Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force
Founded to keep the aviation history of World War II alive, the Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force sits inside a vintage wooden airplane hangar built in 1942. In addition to a collection of historic aircraft, the museum features a military museum and a library with a large collection of military books. Visitors will also have the chance to hop into a real airplane from World War II, and actual flight experiences are available if arranged in advance. The museum is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays between 9 am and 4 pm, and admission is by donation.
1841 Airport Dr Blding. 2249, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-396-1943
2.Calaboose African American Museum
© Calaboose African American Museum
Located inside the building that was built to serve as the county jail in the late 1800s, the Calaboose African American Museum houses a variety of letters, photos, and other artifacts that tell the story of African American life in the early days of Texas. The museum boasts a number of permanent and temporary displays, but one of the primary highlights is a collection of memorabilia that formerly belonged to jazz musician Eddie Durham. Tours can be arranged Monday to Friday, and the museum is open to the public every Saturday between 10 am and 2 pm.
200 Martin Luther King Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-393-8421
3.Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos
© Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos
For visitors interested in Hispanic art, culture, and history, the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos is one of the town's must-sees. Even the building that houses the center holds historical significance; it served as a Mexican school back when education in Texas was still segregated. The center consists of a museum, a small library and free book exchange, and an art gallery, and guided tours are available upon request. There are also plenty of educational programs and interactive events for people of all ages, including children's art classes, accordion lessons, art receptions, and comedy nights.
211 Lee St, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-878-0640
4.Charles S Cock House Museum
© Charles S Cock House Museum
Built in 1867, the Charles S Cock House Museum is a beautiful stone home that happens to be the oldest residential building in the town. The home was built in the Greek revival style and it still retains many of its original furnishings, including a collection of beautiful antiques. Locals refer to the kitchen as the "Cottage Kitchen," and it hosts a hot luncheon almost every Friday between 11 am and 1 pm. Most of the home can be rented out for weddings and other special events; it has space for 40 people seated or 60 people standing.
400 E Hopkins St, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-392-4295
5.Dick's Classic Garage
© Dick's Classic Garage
Part of the Central Texas Museum of Automotive History, Dick's Classic Garage pays home to America's love affair with the car industry over the years. The focal point of the garage is a rotating collection of 80 classic cars; other things worth seeing include a certified replica of the 1966 Batmobile and a collection of memorabilia that traces the history of the automobile from the early 1900s to the 1950s. The museum is open 7 days a week, and it also offers a gift shop and a conference center that can be rented out for special events.
120 Stagecoach Trail, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-878-2406
6.Hill Country Flyfishers
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Hill Country Flyfishers was founded based on the idea that anyone can enjoy fly-fishing regardless of their skill level, and today the company offers a range of guided fishing trips and workshops that cater to individual needs and interests. The half-day and full-day guided tours take guests down the Llano River, the Blanco River, or the San Marcos River; all of the necessary fishing gear is provided, and food and drinks are included in the price of the trip. Both individual and group casting workshops are available, and the company is also proud to sell custom-tied flies.
Phone: 512 589-3474
© LBJ Museum
Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, attended and graduated from Texas State University with a history degree and a teaching certificate; the LBJ Museum is dedicated to preserving the legacy of his early years. The permanent exhibits include old photographs, original statues and paintings, fascinating artifacts like a sample voting machine dating back to 1930, and a wide range of other memorabilia from Johnson's time as president. The museum is open Thursday through Saturday between 10 am and 5 pm, and admission is free of charge. Guided group tours can often be arranged outside of regular operating hours.
131 N Guadalupe St, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-353-3300
8.Wonder World Park
© Wonder World Park
Wonder World Park is a unique theme park that holds the honor of being home to the only accessible earthquake cave in the United States. Guided tours first bring visitors underground, where trained guides provide information about the area's geological history and walk them past the cave's many unique formations. After spending some time underneath the Earth, visitors can shoot up to the park's observation tower on an exhilarating elevator. The park offers several other attractions as well, including a petting zoo, an anti-gravity house, and a trackless train that brings visitors underneath a waterfall.
1000 Prospect St, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-392-3760
9.Mama Kat's Restaurant
© Mama Kat's Restaurant
Family owned and operated since 1994, Mama Kat's Restaurant is known for its delicious comfort food and its incredibly friendly service. All food is prepared from scratch whenever possible, and the restaurant prides itself on serving locally roasted coffee and homemade baked treats. The selection of homemade pies is especially worth a visit; diners can choose from an excellent selection of cream pies, fruit pies, and traditional family favorites like lemon meringue or buttermilk pie. The restaurant is open between 6 am and 2 pm every day of the week, excluding certain holidays, and lunch is served from noon onwards.
950 W San Marcos Blvd, San Marcos, CA 92078, Phone: 760-591-4558
© Mamacita's Restaurant
Influenced by the cuisine and architecture of Persia, Spain, and Mexico, Mamacita's Restaurant is a warm, family-friendly restaurant that offers both lunch and dinner. The menu boasts a wide range of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, including chalupas, enchiladas, fajitas, hamburgers, a variety of seafood dishes, and plenty of options suitable for vegetarians. Lunch specials are offered Monday through Friday between 11 am and 3 pm; highlights include chicken-fried steak, shrimp scampi, and delicious enchiladas de mole. Large groups are more than welcome, and there is a special kids’ menu for children under the age of 12.
1400 Aquarena Springs Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-353-0070
11.Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours
© Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours
Offering interpretive glass-bottom boat tours, Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours allows visitors to explore the beauty of Spring Lake. While the guides share information about the lake's unique ecosystem and archaeological importance, visitors will get a close look at turtles, prawns, various species of fish, and other aquatic animals. Hours vary according to the season, but the half-hour boat tours run regularly from 30 minutes after opening until 30 minutes before closing. After their boat tour, visitors are more than welcome to browse the on-site gift shop, stroll through the center's grounds, and enjoy the educational exhibits.
201 San Marcos Springs Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-245-7570
© Middleton Brewing
Established in 2011, Middleton Brewing is a ten-barrel brewpub that specializes in brewing world-class beer inspired by the beauty of Texas Hill Country. There are 15 different beers on tap in the brewpub, including a Belgian amber ale, a robust porter, a green chile IPA, and a bourbon barrel-aged dubbel. The brewpub is open every day of the week except for Tuesday, and it regularly hosts trivia nights, live music, movie screenings, and other special events. A selection of branded merchandise is available for sale as well, including pint glasses, beer koozies, and baseball caps.
607 SE Everett Mall Way, Suite 27-A, Everett, WA 98208, Phone: 425-280-9178
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The San Marcos River is a wonderful destination for paddleboarding and kayaking, and Paddle SMTX offers a wide range of tours for visitors looking to get out and enjoy some time on the river. Daytime options include paddleboard yoga classes and customizable guided tours, while the Glow Light Night Tours are perfect for anyone looking for a unique experience after dark; the boards are equipped with waterproof LED lights that illuminate the water and create a colorful display. The company also offers equipment rentals, including kayaks, paddleboards, and a “supzilla” board that can hold up to 5 people.
602 N Interstate 35, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-203-0093
14.Paddle with Style
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Paddle with Style aims to introduce people to the joy of canoeing and kayaking, and they offer lessons, equipment rentals, and an excellent selection of guided tours. Customers can choose from single day or multi-day tours; all trips are led by experienced guides, and basic paddling and safety training is included. The tours range in length from 2 to 4 hours, and special options include nighttime paddles on the San Marcos River and wine tasting tours that end at the Three Dudes Winery. Both individual and group lessons are available, and the company runs a special paddling day camp for children in the summer.
307 Lockhart St, Martindale, TX 78655, Phone: 512-749-2350
15.Purgatory Creek Natural Area
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Encompassing more than 700 acres, the Purgatory Creek Natural Area is the largest dedicated natural space in the area around San Marcos. One of the most popular parts of the area is 9-acre Prospect Park, with walking paths and a learning center that offers educational opportunities for people of all ages. The area can be divided into two sections: Upper Purgatory and Lower Purgatory. Upper Purgatory features a limestone grotto and a series of trails popular with birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, while Lower Purgatory boasts 12 miles of trail popular with mountain bikers and trail runners.
307 Lockhart St, Martindale, TX 78655, Phone: 512-749-2350
16.Rhea's Ice Cream
© Rhea's Ice Cream
Specializing in locally inspired handcrafted ice cream, Rhea's Ice Cream is a quirky counter-serve ice cream joint with a nostalgic atmosphere. The small-batch flavors typically include unique, seasonal offerings like avocado coconut or caramel apple cider, and vegan options are usually available. Customers can choose to enjoy their ice cream in a dish, in a handmade waffle cone, or as part of a freshly baked cookie ice cream sandwich. Other offerings include espresso drinks and brownies made in the local Root Cellar Bakery, and the shop is open every day of the week between 12 pm and 10 pm.
318 N LBJ Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-667-7598
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17.Rio Vista Dam
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The Rio Vista Dam was badly damaged by a flood in 1998, but it has since been rebuilt and turned into a 13-acre park with artificial rapids and a deep swimming hole perfect for cooling off in the hot summer months. Tubes can be rented within the park by anyone who wants to float down the rapids, and the nearby Olympic Outdoor Center rents canoes and kayaks to those interested in journeying farther down the river. There are also plenty of amenities for visitors to use, including picnic tables, tennis courts, hiking and cycling trails, and even a city swimming pool.
© Courtesy of JJAVA - Fotolia.com
Not many people are aware of the fantastic snorkeling that the San Marcos has to offer, but Snorkel TX is happy to introduce visitors to its beautiful underwater world. Both self-guided and guided tours are available; the most popular option is the 1-hour Olympic Tour, which takes customers down a crystal-clear stretch of the river. Participants can expect to see turtles, sunfish, and plenty of other aquatic life, and student and veteran discounts are offered for all tours. Wetsuits can be rented for an additional fee, and personal videos are available for anyone who wants to relive their experience at a later date.
602 N Interstate 35, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 210-415-5115
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19.Texas State Tubes
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The San Marcos River is the closet river to Austin that allows recreational tubing, and Texas State Tubes prides itself on providing an affordable and hassle-free service for anyone interested in enjoying a day on the river. The company offers parking lots at both the beginning and end of the float, and a one-way shuttle service is provided so that customers can easily get to and from their vehicles. Private float trips are available for groups of at least 10 people, but the company also offers public beatbox floats. Both types of float take approximately 3 hours.
101 River Park Dr, Martindale, TX 78655, Phone: 512-638-7165
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20.The Longhorn Racing Academy
© The Longhorn Racing Academy
Boasting a collection of world-class sports cars, the Longhorn Racing Academy is a car enthusiast's dream come true. The company takes visitors to the nearby Harris Hill Raceway, where they can either join in on a ride-along with a professional driver or hop in behind the wheel to take one of the cars for a few laps around the race track. Insurance and helmet rentals are included in the rate, and both classroom and in-car instruction are offered for drivers. Another option is to take a high-performance driver's education class, which includes two classroom sessions and four track sessions.
2840 Harris Hill Rd, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-983-4976
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21.Three Dudes Winery
© Three Dudes Winery
Perched on the banks of the San Marcos River, the Three Dudes Winery is a relaxed winery that produces an excellent collection of red and white wines proudly made from Texas-grown grapes. The winery's tasting room is open every day of the week between 12 pm and 6 pm; in addition to sampling the wine, visitors can browse a selection of wine racks, handcrafted baskets, and other wine accessories. Customers are also more than welcome to enjoy a glass of wine on the beautiful terrace overlooking the river, which often hosts live music and other special events during the spring and summer.
125 Old Martindale Rd, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-392-5634
22.Vin de Vie Wine Tours
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The countryside around San Marcos is well-known for its abundance of excellent vineyards and wineries, and Vin de Vie Wine Tours is a locally owned company that brings groups to some of the best wine producers in the area. The professionally guided tours typically take between 4 and 5 hours and bring customers to three different wineries, and the company is happy to customize the tours to best suit their customers' preferences. The company's vintage short bus can hold up to 12 people, and groups of 8 or more can rent it out for a private tour.
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23.Wake the Dead Coffee House
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Wake the Dead Coffee House is much more than a simple cafe; it's a unique Tim Burton-esque space with a large wraparound deck and a stage that hosts regular live music events. In addition to coffee and gourmet espresso drinks, the joint offers a selection of wine, more than 55 varieties of beer, a variety of sandwiches and sweet baked goods, and even a rotating exhibit of works done by local artists. The coffee shop is open every day between 7 am and 12 am, and it regularly hosts evening events like movie nights, chair massage sessions, and improv workshops.
1432 Old Ranch Rd 12, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-754-9253
24.Wimberley Glass Works
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Known for its stunning handblown glass art and light fixtures, Wimberley Glass Works offers the unique opportunity to watch talented craftsmen create beautiful pieces of art using techniques that date back hundreds of years. Live demonstrations are held throughout the day Tuesday through Sunday; there is no charge to watch these demos, and the viewing area can accommodate up to 75 people. Group tours can be arranged for groups of ten or more people, and the gallery is happy to arrange a scavenger hunt to keep children entertained while their parents watch the demonstrations or browse the shop.
6469 Ranch Rd 12, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-213-4148
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© Grins Restaurant
Just up the hill from Texas State University, Grin's Restaurant is a favorite dining spot with students, alumni, locals, and visitors alike. The menu offers an excellent selection of appetizers, fajitas, steaks, chicken and fish dishes, sandwiches, hamburgers, salads, and vegetarian plates; popular choices include the world-famous hamburger, the Texas-sized onion rings, and the frozen strawberry margaritas. Steak specials are offered Friday through Sunday, and additional dinner specials are offered every Sunday. Guests are welcome to enjoy their meal outside on the shady deck, and two private dining rooms are available for no additional fee.
802 N LBJ Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, Phone: 512-392-4746
25 Best Things to Do in San Marcos, TX
- Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, Photo: Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force
- Calaboose African American Museum, Photo: Calaboose African American Museum
- Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, Photo: Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos
- Charles S Cock House Museum, Photo: Charles S Cock House Museum
- Dick's Classic Garage, Photo: Dick's Classic Garage
- Hill Country Flyfishers, Photo: Courtesy of Rob - Fotolia.com
- LBJ Museum, Photo: LBJ Museum
- Wonder World Park, Photo: Wonder World Park
- Mama Kat's Restaurant, Photo: Mama Kat's Restaurant
- Mamacita's Restaurant, Photo: Mamacita's Restaurant
- Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours, Photo: Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours
- Middleton Brewing, Photo: Middleton Brewing
- Paddle SMTX, Photo: Courtesy of chachanit - Fotolia.com
- Paddle with Style, Photo: Courtesy of nullplus - Fotolia.com
- Purgatory Creek Natural Area, Photo: Courtesy of patarapong - Fotolia.com
- Rhea's Ice Cream, Photo: Rhea's Ice Cream
- Rio Vista Dam, Photo: Courtesy of Bruce Blackwell - Fotolia.com
- Snorkel TX, Photo: Courtesy of JJAVA - Fotolia.com
- Texas State Tubes, Photo: Courtesy of Colin - Fotolia.com
- The Longhorn Racing Academy, Photo: The Longhorn Racing Academy
- Three Dudes Winery, Photo: Three Dudes Winery
- Vin de Vie Wine Tours, Photo: Courtesy of stokkete - Fotolia.com
- Wake the Dead Coffee House, Photo: Courtesy of Chee - Fotolia.com
- Wimberley Glass Works, Photo: Courtesy of wip-studio - Fotolia.com
- Grins Restaurant, Photo: Grins Restaurant
- Cover Photo: City of San Marcos TX - City Hall - Facebook Page