Austin

8 Reasons to Drive to San Marcos

From Hill Country beers and live music to splashy Schlitterbahn fun.

Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos
Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos
Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos

Sitting just south of Austin’s burgeoning metropolis, San Marcos might have built its reputation on being a college town, but there’s a reason so many students choose to keep calling the city home long after graduation. From numerous nature-based draws to vivacious afterdark action, there’s no shortage of fun to be had in the appropriately dubbed San Marvelous. Here are eight reasons to hop in the car, leave those big city cares behind, and make the drive out to San Marcos.

Shane Sullivan/Shutterstock
Shane Sullivan/Shutterstock
Shane Sullivan/Shutterstock

Dive into the Marcos River

When it comes to outdoor swimming holes, San Marcos is where it’s at. The San Marcos River runs through the middle of the city, complete with a handful of easy-to-find access points flush with greenery. Rio Vista Park and William & Eleanor Crook Park, two riverside locations stationed right off I-35 South, and are perfect for a casual day of swimming, some light hiking, and maybe even a little tubing if you’re so inclined (BYO-Floatie, of course). Farther north and slightly off the beaten path, Sewell Park is an ideal location for wading into crystal clear waters and sunbathing amid tranquil views.

Maroni's Pizza kitchen
Maroni’s Pizza kitchen
Maroni’s Pizza kitchen

Circle the Square for a night on the town

By day, San Marcos Downtown Square is a bustling shopping destination but by night, it transforms into a giant roving party, teeming with college students and locals alike as soon as the sun sets. The Square generally translates to four central blocks of unique storefronts, bars, and restaurants (though, depending on who you ask, it can also refer more broadly to adjacent streets with similar offerings). Regardless of geographical definitions, this is the place to go for catching a raucous drag show at Stonewall Warehouse, pairing cocktails with stunning panoramas at the Shade Rooftop Patio Bar, and finishing the night off with a life-giving slice from Maroni’s Pizza Kitchen. Totally walkable and always bumping, it’s basically a one-stop-shop for a choose-your-own evening adventure.

Schlitterbahn Waterparks
Schlitterbahn Waterparks
Schlitterbahn Waterparks

Beat the heat at a record-breaking waterpark 

While Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort is technically in New Braunfels, it’s only a hop, skip, and a splash away from San Marcos-AKA 25 minutes by car, give or take an obligatory stop at Buc-ee’s. Since it first opened in 1979, the game-changing amusement complex has been a quintessential summertime stop for folks of all ages, with numerous rivers, slides, chutes, and rides to keep you and the rest of your sundrenched crew occupied for hours. And now that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted throughout the Lone Star State, park-goers can make up for lost time by snagging a coveted reservation via Schlitterbahn’s website, with single day tickets or season passes both up for grabs.

Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos
Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos
Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos

Explore the watery depths from a glass bottom boat

San Marcos is all about the great outdoors, and Texas State University has a hand in maintaining a few of the city’s many open-air stretches for the public to enjoy. Spring Lake Natural Area, managed by the University’s Meadows Center, is known for its rich aquatic ecosystem and, most importantly, glass bottom boats providing attendees with a closer look at the fascinating goings-on under the water’s surface. Less than $10 gets you a 30-minute tour of the lake complete with priceless glimpses of its majestic plantlife, fish, and other rare native creatures like the Texas Blind Salamander, which has been an endangered species since the 1960s.

AquaBrew
AquaBrew
AquaBrew

Sample locally crafted beers in the scenic hill country

Over the last few decades, the craft beer revolution has swept through major Texas cities like Austin and Houston, and now, San Marcos has brought a slew of its own microbreweries to the table. Established in 2016, AquaBrew is one of the city’s most prominent sites for locally brewed creations, offering a wide selection of house beverages on tap or in cans. Menu highlights include the Skyscraper Mosaic IPA, the Ape-ricot American Wheat Ale, and the Swine Dive IPA-the bitterer, the better.

Charmingly rustic Roughhouse Brewing might be a tad out of the way, but its idyllic farmhouse locale and extensive drink menu make it well worth the trip. The family-owned and -operated establishment is a more recent addition to the sudsy scene, but has quickly developed quite a buzz (pun intended) thanks to a tasty and inventive lineup made with locally sourced water, Texas-centric ingredients, and wood barrel fermentation.

THE MARC
THE MARC
THE MARC

Rock out to a local band or touring musician at a historic venue

Like most college towns, San Marcos maintains a spirited music and arts scene supported and powered by students and townies alike, so it’s no wonder why more and more big names are opting to schedule a stop-off at one of the city’s excellent concert spots. Even after a year of pandemic-related closures and mandates, historic venues like The Marc and Cheatham Street Warehouse are bouncing back by booking national acts that span a spectrum of genres. Smaller, more niche spaces like Tantra Coffeehouse are also starting to get back to business, so keep San Marcos in mind when looking for live shows in central Texas.

Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos
Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos
Photo courtesy of City of San Marcos

Spelunk amid friendly goats at Wonder World

First established as a tourist attraction in 1903, the Balcones Fault Line Cave has long enticed Wonder World Cave & Adventure Park visitors from all over the state. Kick things off by marveling at fossilized prehistoric life forms and remnants of long gone geological eras on a thrilling (not to mention educational) cave tour. After taking a stroll underground, mix it up with a ride on the Stratavator, an elevator shaft soaring 190 feet in the air to reach the park’s observation tower overlooking the Texas hill country.

Wonder World also offers a number of other above-ground attractions, including an arcade, an anti-gravity house, a train ride, and a native wildlife petting zoo featuring an eclectic roster of goats, rabbits, emus, and colorful parrots.

Tanger Outlets
Tanger Outlets
Tanger Outlets

Shop ‘til you drop at the San Marcos outlets

Every major shopping holiday, the Tanger Outlets and San Marcos Premium Outlets are inundated with bargain-hunters in search of good deals, but these two outdoor malls see heavy foot traffic every day of the week. The neighboring complexes carry an assortment of stores from high-end designers like Gucci, Valentino, and Saint Laurent, to casualwear brands like H&M, PacSun, and Forever 21. Whether you’re in the market for a new pair of Levi’s or hoping to score upscale kitchenware from Williams-Sonoma, these outlets have you covered. And if you get a little peckish, a host of food stands and restaurants are on hand to fuel your continued retail therapy.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Polly Anna Rocha is a contributor for Thrillist.

Austin

Houston's Local Foods Opens its First Permanent Location in Austin

Local Foods' temporary pop-up goes brick-and-mortar in a chic and airy 2nd Street District space.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Great news: there’s no need to drive to HTX to get your fill of delicious overstuffed sandwiches (or wait for the pop-ups to come back), Local Foods is here to stay. The Houston restaurant finally opened its first ATX brick-and-mortar shop in the 2nd Street District, following overwhelming public demand.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Founders Benjy Levitt and Dylan Murray and partner Martin Berson have been peddling sandwiches since 2011. Their latest addition follows the company’s ethos of clean, locally sourced hyper-seasonal ingredients from local farmers and purveyors, with a subsidiary mission to give back to the community. Local collaborators in Austin include Fresh Tofu, Pure Luck Dairy, Antonelli’s, Joe’s Microgreens, Basic B Chai, and Dos Lunas. “We’re still getting our feet wet in the Austin market in a post-COVID world and seeing which local suppliers are a good fit. We’ve spoken to thirty or forty so far, and have another thirty or forty on our list.” Berson tells Thrillist, who adds that the bread, however, will continue to be sourced from Houston. “We partnered with Slow Dough since the beginning, helping each other grow, and we still believe the quality of their bread is unrivaled.”

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Menu staples and fan-favourites include the Crunchy Chicken Sandwich made with roast chicken breast, nut-seed crumble, salad, pickles, and buttermilk ranch, stacked high on a Slow Dough pretzel bun; and new for Austin is the roasted beef sandwich that shows up on the special’s board. “We’ve been crushing on the roast beef sandwich our chef Zack Sutton created,” says Berson. “He’s roasting a chuck roll from 44 Farms and serving on toasted ciabatta with Dos Lunas Black Pepper Cheddar and horseradish aioli. It will be around for a while.”

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Though their sandwiches are the talk of town, Local’s all-day soups, salads, sides, and sweets boast the same attention to detail. Good examples are the seasonal Harvest Salad that currently features leafy greens, organic veg, Pure Luck goat cheese, and Texas watermelon-basically a giant bowl of nutrients-and the Classic Chicken Posole, which though hot, soothes with a tangy broth topped with cilantro.

No weekend on 2nd street is complete without a stiff beverage, and Local’s booze cabinet plucks the best of local and regional. Wines hail from the likes of Southold Farm + Cellar, Wine For The People, and Pedernales Cellars, while an all-local beer list consists of Fairweather Cider, Live Oak, Hops and Grain, Pinthouse, and Independence Brewing. Those adult bevys can be enjoyed in the comfort of two floors of chic AC’d seating, or out on the streetside patio. “The space was designed by Micah Land, who designed the first few Snap Kitchens and the last couple of Local Foods before the Austin store,” says Berson. “We’re on an amazing corner surrounded by a dynamic mix of retail and restaurant neighbours, offices, hotels and residential buildings. There’s so much energy and activity around us all day, every day.”

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Berson and co. are currently scouting non-profits to benefit local communities. “In Houston, we’ve been a long-term partner with Pro-Vision Farm,” he says. “They’re an inner-city community garden teaching sustainable methods to at-risk youth in a self-sustaining business model. They have an amazing track record of helping kids forge a positive path during critical stages of their lives. And the produce is phenomenal.”

Local Foods is now open on 454 W. 2nd St, 11am – 8:30pm. Parking is free at the 2nd Street District AMLI garage on San Antonio St, weekdays before 5pm for two hours. A brunch menu and early morning takeout window for breakfast sandwiches, pastries, matcha, and coffee will begin this fall.

James Wong is a Libra who spends his time pretending to be a vegan, watching wildlife clips, and booking plane tickets. Born in London, lived in Tokyo, and now residing in Austin, his greatest achievement is giving Posh Spice a hug in 2016.

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