San Marcos, nicknamed San Marvelous, is the seat of Hays County and a beautiful small city that’s welcoming, modern, and steeped with history and culture.
With many endangered species inhabiting its waterways and natural habitats, public art installations, and enticing shopping opportunities, this is a great tourist hotspot with many unique, one-of-a-kind sites to explore.
San Marcos is a fast-growing location that manages to push for technological growth while maintaining its legacy of historical sites, natural havens, and cultural centers.
No matter your personal interests, you’ll find things that you love in San Marvelous, whether art, food, sports, wildlife, or history.
Here are the 26 best and fun things to do in San Marcos, Texas.
1. Rio Vista Park and Rio Vista Dam
In 1998, the Rio Vista Dam faced serious damage during a Texas flood.
For years, the dam remained quite damaged and on the brink of failure.
That’s when the city commissioned Recreation Engineering and Planning to save the dam by removing concrete side walls, grading banks downward, and introducing artificial rapids, among other efforts.
The dam was reopened in 2006 as a recreational park now known as Rio Vista Park.
Rio Vista Park is a beautiful 13-acre expanse and one of the top San Marcos attractions.
The park follows the San Marcos River, which you can view from within the park, and is filled with artificial rapids and even a nice, deep swimming hole.
Visitors flock to the park to partake in a wide range of water activities, especially during summer.
They rent canoes and kayaks from the Olympic Outdoor Center near the park, rent tubes inside the park, and go for swims and relaxing basks in the swimming hole to cool off.
You can also enjoy other things at Rio Vista Park, especially if you’re not keen on getting wet.
Use some tennis courts, picnic at the provided tables, or explore the numerous cycling and hiking trails.
You can also bring your kids to the onsite playgrounds.
Better yet, there is no admission cost, making Rio Vista Park one of the awesome free things to do in the city!
Address: 555 Cheatham St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
2. Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment is an important Texas State University site dedicated to research, education, and conservation efforts related to freshwater ecosystems.
It primarily focuses on Spring lake, one of the planet’s largest artesian springs.
One of the best features of the center is the Meadows Center Glass-Bottom Boat Tours, which are among the most popular things to do in San Marcos.
These interpretive tours bring you around Spring Lake, where you’ll get to learn all about the habitat and marine life that thrives in the body of water.
You’ll be impressed by the diversity of aquatic life that you’ll view during these tours.
Native fish are to be expected, but you’ll also spot alligators, prawns, turtles, and waterfowl, and some of these animals are endangered, too.
Each tour lasts for approximately half an hour, and they run on schedule throughout the center’s opening hours.
The Meadows Center also offers several other ways to explore Spring Lake.
You can go on kayak tours, join special events and programs for people of all ages, and a self-guided trail across the Wetlands Boardwalk.
If you’re at the center this weekend, you can even go for a guided boardwalk tour.
The center is also home to an impressive Discovery Hall that boasts a 1,000-gallon aquarium filled with various native fish, such as San Marcos Salamanders, Texas Blind Salamanders, and Fountain darters.
There’s even a special aquarium for baby turtles and an exhibit dedicated to endangered species.
While at Discovery Hall, you’ll get to learn all sorts of information, including about the state’s water systems, and view interactive displays and multiscreen walls of video.
Address: 201 San Marcos Springs Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
3. Wonder World Cave & Adventure Park
Looking for fun vacation destinations?
Wonder World Cave & Adventure Park is a very unique, truly one-of-a-kind natural theme park.
It’s the site of America’s only accessible earthquake cave, and it’s also the very first show cave in Texas, opened as an attraction in 1903 after its discovery a decade prior.
It is also family-operated and family-owned, and it’s among the city’s most fun places to visit.
While there are many things you can enjoy at the theme park, its centerpiece is undoubtedly the Wonder Cave, which is the original dry-formed cave.
It was created naturally by the same earthquake that led to the Balcones Fault, and you can even see the fault in the cave ceiling.
Guided tours of the cave bring you underground, where you’ll learn about the many unique rock formations and the region’s interesting geological history.
At the end of your Wonder Cave exploration, you’ll be able to take the Stratavator from its base and travel up a whopping 120 feet to the park’s observation tower.
From here, you can clearly see the state’s geological features as you gaze out over the cave and the fault line, the uplift of Hill Country, and the diving points of the Gulf Coastal Plains.
After enjoying the cave, you can traverse the rest of the 70,000-square-foot amusement park.
There’s an Anti-Gravity House, a trackless motor train into a wildlife and animal park with its own petting zoo and a waterfall, and an exciting gem mining experience to try out.
Address: 1000 Prospect St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
4. San Marcos River
The San Marcos river is one of the city’s most stunning natural features.
Running 75 miles in length over a basin size of 522 square miles, this river is connected to the Blanco River and remains a lovely 72 degrees in temperature all year round.
It’s likely no surprise that the river is a common hotspot for water activities, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, tubing, snorkeling, fishing, and swimming.
The San Marcos River pours out of 200 spring openings in the base of Spring Lake from the Edwards Aquifer.
It runs through an impressive 130 acres or so of parkland and is home to a wide range of land and aquatic species of animals, including eight fish species that are either threatened or endangered.
This river is also fairly historic, as it’s one of North America’s oldest continuously inhabited locations with a 12,000-year history of human communities.
Those wondering what to do in San Marcos will be glad to know that the river is the host of many events throughout the year, such as the world’s toughest boat race, the Texas Water Safari.
Address: San Marcos, TX, United States
5. Commemorative Air Force Central Texas Wing
The Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force is a unique way to glimpse aviation history, specifically about the country’s air forces and their efforts during World War II.
The museum is built into an airplane hangar from 1942 and is packed from top to bottom with military and aircraft artifacts.
It’s one of the greatest San Marcos attractions for history buffs, especially thanks to its extensive military library.
The Commemorative Air Force museum is home to a large collection of genuine historic aircraft.
Its Ghost Squadron collection is especially impressive, boasting an operational and completely restored B-25 Mitchell Yellow Rose WWII bomber, among others.
There are a total of 35 vintage aircraft displayed.
If you book in advance, you can hop on one of them in a fun, actual flight experience!
Address: 1841 Airport Dr Blding. 2249, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
6. San Marcos Premium Outlets
The San Marcos Premium Outlets are essentially two large shopping centers combined into a mega-mall, boasting more than 240 stores, 145 of which are name brand shops.
Various luxury and designer brands sell their wares at bargain prices here, so it’s one of the best things to do in San Marcos for shopaholics of all sorts.
Among the brands, you’ll find at the San Marcos Premium Outlets are Prada, Nautica, Valentino, Ann Taylor, Lululemon, Tory Burch, Banana Republic, Gap, Nike, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vuitton, and J.Crew, among others.
When you’re hungry, stop for a meal at Johnny Rockets or TGI Fridays.
Bored kids will enjoy playing at Adventure Kids USA onsite, and if you need something to entertain you, the mall also has a 20-seat movie theater.
It’s fairly easy to get to the mall by car or taxi, but quite a few shuttle options stop here, too.
The city’s CARTS system passes the mall on its red route.
Address: 3939 S Interstate 35, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
7. Middleton Brewing
Middleton Brewing is a 10-barrel pub and brewery that has gained renown in San Marcos for its impressive selection and collection of ales.
It also offers lager, locally-made wines and ciders, and more, especially to guests visiting the taproom or stopping in for an event or food – including some really delicious burgers!
More than 80 retailers in the state carry the craft brews of Middleton Brewing, which you’ll get to sample onsite.
They offer beer options such as the Belgian amber “Garnet,” the New England IPA “Juicy Visions,” the robust porter “Black Lab Porter,” the Berliner Weisse “Mr. Weisse Guy,” and the Spiked Belgian Blind “Opal.”
Live entertainment is commonplace at Middleton Brewing, with music regularly serenading you as you sip and dine.
You can rest on the outdoor patio area to relax; the establishment is dog-friendly and welcomes your furry friends.
At night, you can participate in open mic events, which can often give you a discount for certain food or drink options.
Regardless of when you plan to go and what you plan to do, this is one of the most fun points of interest for adults seeking a good drink!
Address: 101 Oakwood Loop, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
8. LBJ Museum
If you’re looking for more stuff to do that will appease the history enthusiast within you, one of your best options is the LBJ Museum of San Marcos.
The late 36th President Lyndon Baines Johnson served from 1963 to 1969, but those aren’t the years that this unique museum focuses on.
Instead, the LBJ Museum commemorates the years that President Johnson spent as a college student, then a school teacher and how those years formed and played roles in the passing of the landmark Great Society legislation that continues to impact America today.
Permanent exhibits focus on eras as early as 1930, featuring sample voting machines from the era, old photographs, paintings, statues, and a range of memorabilia from the man’s presidency.
Viewing the LBJ Museum is one of the free things to do in the city.
Learn about President Johnson’s life and career through personal items, such as his Stetson hat and cowboy boots, and gain a glimpse into his Hill Country childhood.
Address: 131 N Guadalupe St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
9. Texas State Tubes
Located near San Marcos, just about 10 minutes to the east of the city, Texas State Tubes specializes in all sorts of tubing experiences on the beautiful San Marcos River.
The affordable company provides great, fun recreational opportunities with friendly service.
Tubing trips with Texas State Tubes last for about three hours and are the epitome of a chill and relaxing experience.
You also have the option to rent coolers and cooler floats or public beatbox floats, though some tours automatically come with them.
The tubing tour company also provides a number of non-tube tours to neighboring locations, where you’ll find many things to see and do.
An example of this is the enticing Taste & Tour: Texas Hill Country experience.
Address: 2024 N Old Bastrop Hwy, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
10. Calaboose African American History Museum
The Calaboose African American History Museum is a small but valuable specialty museum built into a structure that was once a late-1800s county jail.
It is home to a relatively large collection of photographs, artifacts, letters, and all sorts of other items that relay early Texas African American life.
It’s no surprise that this is one of the top places to go for history buffs, especially those in search of hidden gem attractions.
The Calaboose African American History Museum has numerous interesting exhibits in its permanent exhibit.
One of the most popular is the collection of Eddie Durham memorabilia: a selection of items that once belonged to the great jazz musician.
Other great displays include artifacts that once belonged to people like renowned chef Sammie Hardeman, noted blacksmith Ulysses Cephas, motel owner Victoria Wilson, grocer Miss Ollie Hamilton, and businessman John M. Toliver.
There are also exhibits focused on the state’s desegregation, the cotton industry, the KKK, the Buffalo Soldiers, colored schools, and the Old First Baptist Church.
Address: 200 Martin Luther King Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
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11. Bobcat Stadium
The Bobcat Stadium at Texas State University is an impressive football stadium that seats 30,000 audience members.
It is, of course, the home field of the Texas State Bobcats, and watching them play a game is definitely a highlight among San Marcos attractions.
Located in the city’s downtown area, the Bobcat Stadium is a thrilling and fun venue for sports fans and those seeking a little recreation.
Sometimes, the stadium plays host to other events, and it’s even been used as a set for various movies, such as The Ringer, and some TV shows, like Friday Night Lights.
Address: 1100 Aquarena Springs Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
12. Purgatory Creek Natural Area
Purgatory Creek Natural Area spans 700 acres and is the region’s largest designated natural space.
There are multiple smaller areas within the site’s expanse, which is divided into Upper and Lower Purgatory.
Regardless of where you plan to go, this is among the best things to do in San Marcos for nature enthusiasts and those seeking outdoor recreation.
The area is named after its creek, a relaxing spring-fed hotspot with lovely cool water.
Upper Purgatory is quite popular, featuring numerous trails that many wildlife spotters and birdwatchers enjoy.
Meanwhile, Lower Purgatory has a whopping 12 miles of trails suitable for trail runners and mountain bikers.
Trails in both locations range from easy to moderate in difficulty.
But the most popular portion of Purgatory Creek Natural Area is Prospect Park, a beautiful 9-acre space with a learning center and several leisurely walking paths.
Try and explore as much of the natural area as you can this weekend!
Address: 2102 Hunter Road, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
13. Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos
The Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos is an educational haven for Hispanic history, art, and culture, making it one of the top places to visit in this part of Texas for the subject.
The center comprises an art gallery, museum, and small library and book exchange that is part of the Little Free Library project.
There are also numerous programs, lessons, events, and workshops that you can join.
The building of the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos is just as historic as its displays.
Once upon a time, this was a Mexican School back when the city’s education was segregated.
Children of Hispanic descent or with surnames that sounded Spanish had to attend this school.
Locals who attended the school find the building very significant and have many stories to tell about the struggles of racism and segregation they faced.
Today, the center is a testament to the progress made toward equality and acceptance of cultures.
Address: 211 Lee St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
14. Paddle SMTX
With all of the water activities that the San Marcos River allows for, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of companies dedicated to the fun experience of traversing the river.
San Marcos is one of them, so if you’re wondering what to do to get onto the river, try dropping by and seeing what they offer!
Paddle SMTX offers a variety of different tours during both the day and night.
However, if you have some free time tonight, their Glow Light Night Tours are absolutely not to be missed!
Each paddleboard is equipped with LED lights that are waterproof, and that you can choose the colors of.
Most boards can seat two people, but special SupZilla boards seat an impressive five.
Address: 170 Charles Austin Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
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15. Charles S. Cock House Museum
The Charles S. Cock House Museum is a beautiful, stunning house built from stone in a modest Greek Revival, vernacular style.
It was constructed in 1867 and is actually San Marcos’ oldest residential building!
While here, you’ll learn about the Cock family and its influence on the town.
The Charles S. Cock House Museum is among the best tourist attractions for history buffs.
It’s also actually rentable for a variety of events, in case that’s something you’d be interested in!
The historic home is often called the Cottage Kitchen and contains most of the original furnishings, including several stunning antiques.
Address: Veramendi Park, 400 E Hopkins St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
16. The Wittliff Collections
One of the key things to do in San Marcos for art aficionados is to pay a visit to The Wittliff Collections, a gallery within the Albert B. Alkek Library of the Texas State University.
The beautiful museum was opened in 1936 and showcases a variety of works by Southwestern artists and creators, as well as numerous displays from Mexican artists.
Whether it’s literature, paintings, music, films, archives, documents, photographs, or manuscripts, you’ll find something in that medium here.
There’s always something new at The Wittliff Collections, thanks to its rotating temporary exhibits.
There are, however, also notable permanent exhibits to explore, such as Edward Curtis: Treasures of The North American Indian, Treasures of The Wittliff, and the Lonesome Dove Permanent Exhibition.
Viewing each display is a fun and educational experience!
Address: Alkek Library, 7th Floor, Talbot St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
17. Hays County Historic Courthouse
The Hays County Historic Courthouse is one of the key local points of interest for history buffs and appreciators of beautiful old architecture visiting San Marcos.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also one of the sites recognized by the Texas Historical Commission.
The majestic structure was completed in 1908 and boasts a gorgeous Classical Revival design, making it one of the town’s most photographed sites.
Situated in the downtown area, the Hays County Historic Courthouse is one of the state’s oldest courthouses.
Tours of the building are among the most interesting free things to do in the city, giving you information on the structure’s history and the well-known individuals who have walked its halls.
Its lower floors boast several exhibits in a small museum.
Address: 111 E San Antonio St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
18. The Longhorn Racing Academy
If you’re seeking even more fun places to visit in San Marcos, The Longhorn Racing Academy should be on your list!
The company is a haven for car enthusiasts, boasting an impressive sports car collection of world-class vehicles.
You’ll be brought to the Harris Hill Raceway, where you can ride beside a professional driver or get behind the wheel of one of these cars yourself.
No racing experience is necessary to enjoy the offerings of The Longhorn Racing Academy.
As long as you’re above 18, you can avail of a ride around the course.
But if you want to boost your skills, there are in-car instructions and special classroom instructions to guide you, as well as the ability to take a high-performance class for driver’s education.
The latter includes four track sessions and two classroom sessions.
Address: 2840 Harris Hill Rd, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
19. Mermaid March
One of the best, most one-of-a-kind things to see in San Marcos, Texas, is the Mermaid March, a quirky and vibrant experience.
This “march” is a collection of 10 eight-foot-tall statues of mermaids situated throughout the city, each uniquely painted and decorated to tell certain tales.
Many local folk tales feature mermaids, so it only makes sense that seeking out these statues and learning about what they represent is one of the coolest activities you can do in town.
The Mermaid March is a part-virtual experience, as you’ll go on a self-guided tour that brings you to each of the mermaids while providing you with information about their stories.
The base of each statue is identical, but none look alike, each holding different items and painted completely differently.
Some examples of the mermaids you’ll come across during your personal mermaid march are the Mirrachrome painted mysterious Liquid March by Darin Wood and a stunning mural of the local river’s ecosystem called Aqua Reina by Jamie Kimmel Shelton.
There’s also a mermaid covered entirely in intricate paintings of vegetation called Dianne by Morgan Egan and a tribute to the Coahuiltecan people called Before Us by Diana Weems.
Address: San Marcos, TX, United States
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20. Palmer’s Restaurant Bar & Courtyard
Palmer’s Restaurant Bar & Courtyard is one of the key places to go for Texas Hill Country cuisine, especially to pair with cocktails, wine, and beer in the establishment’s extensive menu.
The restaurant is housed in a historic building that dates back to the 1920s.
Palmer’s as it exists today has served the San Marcos community since 1978 and has been family-owned and operated since then.
They’re mostly open for dinner, serving meals like bacon-wrapped meatloaf, pecan-crusted chicken, pork tenderloin, and salmon.
They also have a great Sunday brunch menu featuring classics like french toast, low country shrimp and grits, omelets, benedicts, chicken fried steak and biscuits, and Migas.
The ambiance is upscale and warm without losing its fun side, so it’s perfect for a date night this weekend!
Address: 218 Moore St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
21. San Marcos Art Center
The San Marcos Art Center is one of the first San Marcos attractions you’ll spot as you enter the front of the downtown area of the city.
This community center is an awesome location filled with various local artworks in a lovely gallery space, with regularly rotating featured artists.
There’s no real limit to the kind of mediums that are used in the creations at the San Marcos Art Center.
There are clay sculptures, glassworks, handmade jewelry, paintings, and much more.
In case you’re interested, most of these items are for sale.
Address: 117 N Guadalupe St Ste. 101, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
22. Wimberley Glassworks
Wimberley Glassworks is one of the premier hand-blown glass studios in Texas.
It’s well-known for its gorgeous collection of handmade creations blown with hundred-year-old techniques.
There are vases, sculptures, plates, bowls, lighting fixtures, home decor, outdoor decor, garden decor, and jewelry for sale.
But what often draws people to Wimberley Glassworks are its fun and exciting live glassblowing demonstrations, which are free to watch.
They’re some of the most fascinating things to do in San Marcos, and after each session, you can tour the various art installations and even take some home with you.
Address: 6469 Ranch Rd 12, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
23. The Root Cellar Cafe
The Root Cellar Cafe is housed within a historic downtown structure known as the Donaldson building.
For years, the building has had many well-known faces and businesses before this cafe opened in 2005.
This is a surefire hit for those seeking unique places to visit for the best food San Marcos offers.
The Root Cellar Cafe offers a range of different dishes, with a different menu for dinner, breakfast and lunch, and tea time.
Each meal is made from scratch and can be enjoyed on the upstairs deck, underground dining room, or outdoor patio.
Address: 215 N LBJ Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
24. Rhea’s Ice Cream
Wondering what to do for a delicious dessert in San Marcos, Texas?
Check out Rhea’s Ice Cream, a stylish and quirky counter-serve, and window-service ice cream joint.
They offer various fun and unique flavors, made in small batches and served in freshly baked cookie sandwiches, on handmade waffle cones, or simply in a convenient dish.
Rhea’s Ice Cream sells classic offerings like Hill Country Vanilla, Pecan Praline, Belgian Chocolate, and S’mores, but they also serve more interesting choices like Circus Animal Cookie, Banana Pudding, Goat Cheese and Raspberry Jam, and Strawberry Nutella.
Vegan options are available, as is an extra-special flavor of the month that is typically made with a seasonal ingredient.
Address: 318 N LBJ Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
25. Cheatham Street Warehouse
Cheatham Street Warehouse is an iconic site in San Marcos and the rest of Hill County, hosting some incredible Texas-born music icons.
The music venue has become one of the premier tourist attractions for those hoping to catch some good entertainment mixed with nostalgia and modernity.
The lineups never fail to impress, even when featuring new or up-and-coming artists.
Cheatham Street Warehouse was opened in 1974 by singer and songwriter Kent Finlay and a business partner, Jim Cunningham.
Now, it is run by the non-profit charity Cheatham Street Music Foundation, which purchased the lot with the aim of preserving Finlay’s legacy.
Throughout its long life, it has been a stage for the likes of Marcia Ball, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, and Guy Clark.
Address: 119 Cheatham St, San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
26. Nature of the Waters
A unique, fun attraction in Texas, the Nature of the Waters is a plaque that is a part of the expansive worldbuilding and tales of the fictional realm of Kcymaerxthaere.
This unique project is created by Eames Demetrios and is a global effort of impressive and creative multivalent storytelling.
These plaques all honor various fictional events that take place in the parallel universe of these stories.
Over 140 plaques across 30 countries and six continents have been erected, and this is one of them.
Located in San Marcos Town Square, the Nature of the Waters tells the tale of Aocwatt Stciwne, the Marshal of Gravity of Kcymaerxthaere, who was shot to death tragically in a rare gun incident orchestrated by Lt. Mdeu Hayz.
For fans of the strange, hunting down this plaque is one of the most enjoyable things to do in San Marcos, as it gives you another glimpse into this unique and unusual set of stories.
Address: 122 North LBJ Dr., San Marcos, TX 78666, United States
Start Planning Your Trip To San Marcos
San Marcos is a beautiful city packed with fun things to enjoy, places to explore, and experiences to bask in.
Use our guide to plan out your must-visit spots, and your trip to San Marcos will be filled with thrills, recreation, and good times galore.