San Marcos

Hill Country Trail Region


A spring-fed river, the only university in Texas to graduate a U.S. president, and downtown and residential historic districts are just a few of the diverse attractions in this Texas Main Street City. In 2010, San Marcos was honored with a First Lady’s Texas Treasures Award for preserving its rich heritage. San Marcos was a stop along the Chisholm Trail cattle route, and thousands of head of Longhorns quenched their thirst in the river while driven to the railhead in Kansas. Today, the clear waters provide recreation for tubers, kayakers and snorklers, and environmental lessons as well. The Rio Vista Dam on the river created Spring Lake, home to the Texas State University’s Aquarena Center, where archeological investigations tell the story of the region’s earliest inhabitants and glass-bottom boat tours showcase plant and animal life unique to the area.

The University overlooks downtown San Marcos, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1909 restored Classical Revival-style Hays County Courthouse is the centerpiece of the town square, surrounded by period buildings filled with shops, service businesses, restaurants, cafes, and entertainment venues. The LBJ Museum, located in a former downtown movie theater displays news clippings, photographs, memorabilia, and oral histories relating to President Lyndon Johnson’s college and teaching years and their impact on his drive to pass landmark legislation.

A humbler downtown building of historic importance is The Calaboose: The Johnnie Armstead African American History Museum. Constructed as a county jail in 1873, the “calaboose” (from the Spanish word meaning dungeon or local jail) was enlarged in the 1940s and used as a World War II USO center for African American servicemen. The Heritage Association of San Marcos holds Friday “Cottage Kitchen” luncheons in the 1867 Charles S. Cock House Museum in Juan Veramendi Plaza park. The popular park also features the restored 1847 cabin of one of San Marcos’ founders, Dr. Eli T. Merriman, and a tree-lined pathway to the city’s Riverwalk. Don’t leave town without driving through the leafy Belvin Street Historic District, an enclave of Victorian homes that open for tours in May.

Watch the following video to learn more about San Marcos's historic downtown. This video was produced for inclusion in the Town Square Walk Around mobile tour, more information about which you may find on the Historic Downtowns page.

San Marcos