More than 10,000 years ago, San Marcos was a river town. More than 10,000 years later, San Marcos is still a river town, with a present day population spoiled by the pleasures of spring-fed waters and an old Austin atmosphere. Necessities include a guitar, a case of beer, and a tube for floating the San Marcos River.
The only public transportation system is CARTS (taken from the local supermarket – bring a friend to push - kidding), a rural bus that runs throughout central Texas and is less than convenient for most residents. However, Texas State students can enjoy a very convenient intra-urban and interurban bus system, the Bobcat Tram. Most rentals, shopping, and activities are easy to walk or bike to, and traffic is never too terrible. The worst congestion is on Aquarena Springs Drive and Allen Parkway, being the two major routes to the Texas State University campus and the most frantic escape after classes let out.
San Marcos is a great city to be a tow truck driver. These guys are really banking, with plenty of students, tourists, and even some unsuspecting locals on which to prey. Never park in a shopping center around campus unless you are shopping there, and only there. Store owners and tow truck drivers keep a close eye on the parking lots, and they will tow your car without hesitation. Don't even think about walking next door or across the street without taking your car with you. Street parking, on the other hand, is less prone to predatory tow trucks, but more prone to parking tickets. Just a half of a millisecond over the stated time limit, and you can bet you'll be getting a ticket. Rumor has it that San Marcus meter maids have olympic sanctioned chronometers and zero sense of humor.
Having such a large student population, the culture as well as the rental market sways with the seasons, with most students moving out of apartments during winter and summer breaks. For the best availabilities, look for apartments in the off season, when classes are not in session.
The culture of San Marcos creates a very unique breed of happy river rats who spend most of their days fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, tubing, and simply relaxing along the San Marcos River. Guitar, mandolin, trumpet, ukulele, drums, and harmonica are often heard along the banks, as many lifetime locals and freshly transplanted Austin musicians like to play down by the water, especially at City Park near the top of the river, and at Rio Vista Park, downstream near the tube shoot. There are also lots of festivals and events on the banks of the San Marcos, with great local bands, Austin bands, as well as some big name acts. So, if you are new to town or have been living under a rock for the last 10,000 years (climb out - you're just being lazy and need a shower), then it's high time you get your built-in floating device to the river for some local company, dankmusic, and refreshing spring water.
West of I-35
The Texas State University campus is located here, at the top of a tiring hill that will literally take your breath away. Many students ride the bus less than a few hundred yards just to avoid taking on the steep incline, especially during the 100+ degree Bobcat days of summer. The scene on the west side is usually filled with backpack-wearing, bicycle-riding and hill-climbing students.. In the afternoons, you will witness a similar scene, except the people will be wearing swimsuits instead of backpacks.
Down the hill from the Texas State campus is where San Martians go to eat, drink, and shop. Numerous coffee houses provide caffeine as well as art and music. Alvin Ord's is probably the most popular sandwich shop, and rightfully so, with a short but divinely delicious menu, some really cool employees, good music on the radio, and thousands of doodles on the tables, walls, and booths (try the Salvation). There several bars and live music venues within walking distance, where you can hear just about every type of music alive, from jazz to drum circles, reggae to bluegrass, gypsy-punk, blues, country and funk... I can go on, but you get the idea.
Inexpensive rentals are available a bit further from campus, including apartments, trailer parks, tiny houses, and large, eclectically designed hillside homes. Here, there is a large population of fun-loving, music-making locals that come together for singer/songwriter circles at Cheatham Street Warehouse, as well as at nearby house parties and barbecues. Pricewise, the flatter the landscape, the lower the rental rates, with a few exceptions near the river.
Whether you choose to live on campus, around downtown, up in the hills, or in the less expensive flatlands, the west side has everything you could need within easy biking distance.
East of I-35
On the east side of town there is much less traffic, both in the river and on the roads. Life east of the interstate is a lot quieter, with mostly residential areas where people like to come home to sleep, not to have a party. The day time is full of outdoors activities, with plenty of river access points, including the enormous area with the mouthful-of-a-name, John. J. Stokes San Marcos River City Park.
Housing includes a few off-campus student rentals, plenty of affordable townhomes and plain-Jane apartments, as well as house rentals and trailer parks (it's Texas, after all)
On the farthest reaches of the city's southern boundary, you will find a huge outlet mall that will bring any shopaholic to their knees, and just a little farther you will find the Texas Ski Ranch, a general heaven-on-earth for wakeboarders, trick skiers, knee-boarders, skateboarders, BMX riders, dirt bikers, and everyone else that just likes to chill out and watch some extreme sports. Featuring an amazing skate park, a dirt bike area, a cable lake with rails and jumps that encircle a tiny island of grazing goats, and a full bar upstairs overlooking the water, this has got to be one of the coolest places in all of Texas.
Now is the time for the long, winding, hilly road to your new home. No matter where you land in this city, the river will always flow, and your cup will always runneth over.