Combining access to high-end shopping and large events with a small town feel, San Marcos is the best of both worlds. Its proximity to downtown Austin makes it possible for the 54,076 residents to explore the city on a day trip, while avoiding most of the hustle and traffic within the Texas capital.
San Marcos is legally its own city, and its residents enjoy the opportunities this autonomy affords them. Located approximately 30 miles south of Austin's urban core, residents, including students and many families, are able to enjoy close access to many shopping centers and entertainment venues, making the sometimes tenuous commute to Austin well worth the price.
Restaurants & Nightlife
In San Marcos, the sky is the limit for food fare. Sandwiches play a big role in most of the area's more popular restaurants. Alvin Ord's, a vintage sandwich shop with a funky vibe and even funkier graffiti on its booths, will take you to Heaven with its Salvation sandwich.
But sandwiches aren't the only food that's big in San Marcos. Kent Black's BBQ is an offshoot of the famous Black's BBQ Restaurant, and from the delectable taste, you can tell that the recipes have stayed in the family. The only danger at Kent Black's is not planning ahead, because between their baby back ribs and their giant beef ribs, you're likely to eat a lot here.
Whether it be food or drink, Texas State University draws a lot of unique restaurants and bars near the campus population. While downtown Austin's infamous Sixth Street can't be beaten in terms of nightlife, locations like Cheatham Street Warehouse are well worth the visit. With drinks and live music nearly every night, this location has hosted appearances by stars like George Strait, Randy Rogers and Stevie Ray Vaughn, all before they were famous.
More traditional bars like the Barfish Lounge have televisions showing sports, along with relaxing conversation and a friendly staff.
History & Culture
Set on the location of several Spanish colonization efforts in the 1700s, San Marcos, which sits along a set of springs and a fault line that divides the state of Texas, is one of the longest continuously populated locations in the United States.
However, it wasn't until Texas State University was established when the city really began growing. San Marcos proudly displays its diverse heritage with many museums near its center. The Calaboose African American Museum, Mexican American Centro and the LBJ Museum of San Marcos keep the area connected to its history.
Texas State University provides many performing and visual arts opportunities, as well as hosting concerts and other community gatherings. Dick's Classic Garage Car Museum provides activities for vintage car lovers, and Texas State University holds year-round sporting events.
As a very condensed and relatively safe neighborhood, residents are perfectly efficient at walking or riding bikes from place to place. While there are some public options available, the distance from Austin makes public transportation much more limited. However, Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) buses do take San Marcos residents nearly anywhere they might want to go.
Fewer taxis are available in this area, but with quite a few college students, ride-sharing apps like Uber have begun to serve the area. Driving is your best bet in San Marcos, though public parking is not available everywhere throughout the city, but most areas do have free or affordable parking.
With its highly residential makeup, most areas are walkable, and biking lanes are increasingly available, although biking should still be avoided when possible near Interstate 35 and its feeder roads.
Those living in San Marcos do benefit from a cheaper cost of living than those living immediately in Austin's downtown area. With a median rent of approximately $820 for a one-bedroom apartment, students and families often find rates up to $400 cheaper than those living immediately in Austin's downtown.
At only $1 or less per ride, public transportation is plentiful within San Marcos. However, multiple connections are required to arrive in the city's core, which makes options like taxis or Uber (outside of peak travel hours) much more appealing to residents without cars. If you do have your own vehicle, you'll find that gas prices in the area are nearly 8 percent lower than the national average.
The local food and nightlife options vary greatly, but a beer at a local bar will cost around $4.
The shopping opportunities here draw quite a bit of Austin traffic. The primary attraction is the San Marcos Premium Outlets, which hosts a range of high-end stores like Calvin Klein, DKNY and Prada, along with numerous outlet and "last call" stores offering cheaper versions of classic high-end fashions, jewelry and other goods.
Many boutique stores dot the edges of the downtown area of San Marcos. At Second to None Upscale Resale, name brands and gently used clothing can be found for wonderfully affordable prices. Since it is a second hand shop, you're bound to find the offbeat treasures your thrifty heart desires. Nearby, the eclectic San Marco Sols sells many odd items perfect for your home or for a gift for a friend. Based out of a beautifully restored home, the shop reminds residents of the strength of local business in the area.
Farmers markets, such as the San Marcos Farmers Market, and co-ops provide a collaborative growing environment for residents. For those searching for a store where they can find their groceries and everyday items, chain and local stores like as HEB and The Cornucopia provide a wide array of options.
The natural beauty of the San Marcos area is proudly preserved at nearly all of the area's many parks, rivers and wildlife preserves. The famed Aquarena Center hosts glass-bottom boat rides, while the nearby lakes and rivers are lined with parks and play areas for children. Spring Lake Preserve on the edge of San Marcos contains numerous trails through varying landscapes, woods and meadows.
Many of the hosted activities and tours do charge small fees for access; however, the overwhelming majority of parks and public spaces are free of charge. Though excercise-centric parks aren't the norm in San Marcos, skate parks, playgrounds and dog parks are all within 1-2 miles of each other, which helps to keep residents and visitors healthy.
Along with a Sounds of Christmas celebration and a Juneteenth event near the city's center, there are numerous family-friendly events to attend throughout the year.