Just to the south of Austin is the sleepy little college town of San Marcos, Texas. Although this city isn’t attracting quite the population growth that Austin is seeing, it’s still becoming a great place for a quick weekend getaway. Nestled at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, life here is a little slower and each day seems to pass with a relaxed ease that you sometimes miss if you live in a big city.
The Meadows Center
Formerly known as Aquarena Springs, at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment is on the Texas State campus. Although operating as a research station for students, the lake is open to the public where you can see the second-largest springs in Texas through the floor of a glass-bottom boat or glass-bottom kayak. Underneath the water, keep on the lookout for eight endangered species that call Central Texas home
, including the Texas blind salamander.
San Marcos River
Located near Texas State University, the San Marcos river offers two types of floats. One is a centrally located, kid-friendly option that meanders through the city without any rapids. The other route is geared towards grownups who are interested in sipping a cold one as they float for three hours downstream. Long, slow and flat, this Central Texas float is not as crowded as most, but it also tends to attract college students, so expect things to get a little rowdy. Families should check out the Lions Club Tube Rental
at San Marcos City Park while everyone else should head over to Texas State Tubes
. Cost: $10–$17 ($20 cash deposit for Lions Club). Shuttle included. Alcohol permitted on the river, but not in public parks.
The Downtown Square
By day, the true heart of downtown San Marcos is full of locally owned shops and restaurants, but by night things change markedly. Known affectionately as “The Square,” the heart of downtown is well-loved by college students and young adults alike, where bars abound and late-night activities are a dime a dozen. So if you want to go out on the town after a day on the river, make like the locals and head over to The Square.
Texas State University
You don’t have to be a student to visit Texas State University. Opened in 1903, the campus sprawls across 491 acres with the crystal-clear blue waters of the San Marcos river flowing through the center. Nestled at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, the gorgeous landscape is accentuated by some of the oldest buildings in the area. Take a guided tour to learn more about the environmental research that happens on the campus.
Purgatory Creek Natural Area
If you love the outdoors, be sure not to miss the 9.1-mile trail that makes up the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. Broken up into three sections – Prospect Park, Upper Purgatory and Lower Purgatory – each hike offers unique vistas by which you can admire the surrounding landscape. Prospect Park does have a 1-mile accessible area while the other two areas do not. Accessible as long as the sun is up, this free attraction is great fun
for the whole family.
Dick's Classic Garage Car Museum
Founded in 1980, the museum is dedicated to the history and preservation of the classic automobile. At Dick’s, classic automobiles come from the decades between 1900 and 1950, which it considers the golden years of American automotive manufacturing. Regardless if you’re a classic-car enthusiast or merely a novice, take a ride through the turn of the century to the Great Depression, through World War II and up to the rockin’ 1950s. Dick’s Classic Car Garage also has photo shoots, special events and tours available.
Wonder Cave was discovered in 1893 by Mark A. Bevers, a former cowboy and freight hauler who was drilling for water. Surprised, he discovered an underground cave on the Balcones Fault line instead of a well of water. Today, the cave has been outfitted for guided tours that run every 20 or 30 minutes. So if you’ve ever wondered what the inside of a cave looks like, now is your chance to find out. While you’re there, take a train ride over to the petting park or try out the anti-gravity house.