Things to Do in San Marcos

Tell everyone to get together in San Marcos, an easygoing university town in Central Texas with the added dazzle of an astonishingly clear lake


San Marcos perches on the border between Texas Hill Country and the coastal plains, only 26 miles from Austin. Natural springs are abound here, feeding Spring Lake and the beautiful San Marcos River. Archaeological evidence puts humans in San Marcos some 12,000 years ago, and today the town continues to attract attention. It's one of Business Insider's "10 Most Exciting Small Cities in America." With outdoor adventures and quirky fun, San Marcos makes an unforgettable family get-together location.

1. Water, Water Everywhere

Two thousand shining natural springs fill Spring Lake with water so clear you have to touch it to be certain it's there. Peer deep into the watery depths on glass-bottom boat tours run by the Meadow Center, an environmental research arm of Texas State University. "Ooh" and "aah" as you spot bluegill sunfish, channel catfish, soft-shell turtles and other rare fish, reptiles and plants that live in the 72-degree water. Or watch the sun set and the moon rise on a full-moon kayak adventure on Spring Lake. Landlubbers can hike the wetlands around the lake on the pedestrian boardwalk.

2. Splashing in the San Marcos

Spring Lake is the headwaters of the San Marcos River that winds through town, offering splash-and-dash opportunities for fun at every bend. This may be the cleanest river in Texas, so grab the gang and head out. Dive into the tranquil waters at Rio Vista Park, a section of the river roped off for family swimming and beginners' kayaking. For faster, splashier fun, rent inner tubes from the local Lions Club and hop on their shuttle to get to the river's best tubing areas. Or admire the rolling countryside as you all zip down the San Marcos River in rented kayaks or canoes.

3. Need for Speed

Put the pedal to the metal for an afternoon behind the wheel of a world-class sports car at the Longhorn Racing Academy. This treasure is hidden in the hills just beyond San Marcos. Your gang—well, those who are at least 18 years old—will screech around 11 turns as they drive the 1.8-mile Harris Hill Raceway in supercars like a Ferrari 430, C7 Corvette, Boss 302 Mustang or Porsche GT3. Longhorn provides the car, the gas and some racing instruction time as part of the bargain, but you make the thrills happen yourself.

4. Retail Therapy

You may never have considered shopping physically exhausting, but you might if you visit the enormous Tanger Factory Outlet Center for shop-until-you-drop recreational fun. Head south of downtown San Marcos to visit Tanger.  Your group can search for bargain-priced treasures at over 100 stores, including outlets selling clothing, shoes, food and specialty items. Be sure to stop at the office (near Subway) to pick up your coupon book for the best savings. Look for the free Tanger shuttle if anyone gets shopped out.

5. Dick's Classic Garage

Imagine rows upon rows of gleaming classic cars, beautifully restored and displayed. Dick's Classic Garage is a different kind of museum: a car museum with an exceptional number of vehicles from the turn of the century up through the 1950s, including small planes that dangle overhead, motorcycles, pedal cars and vintage autos. It's free for kids under 5 and half-price for kids 5 through 12. Low-cost tickets are also offered to students, seniors, military, teachers and law enforcement.

6. Tailgate Party Time

Cheer your hearts out in the company of other Texas football fans in beautiful Bobcat Stadium at Texas State University. Explore the campus first—the San Marcos River runs right through it—and then get in on the fun, food and laughter at your own pregame tailgate party in the parking lot a few blocks from the stadium. The police on duty are available to shuttle disabled fans into and out of the stadium in golf carts. Expect great views of your team's touchdown from anywhere you sit in the stadium. Completely renovated in 2012, the stadium holds 30,000 fans.

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