Amiable San Marcos, Texas Beckons with its Riverfront Locale, Friendly Residents, Collegiate Vibe and Diverse Culture
Cost of Living: Below the National Average
In central Texas, about 30 miles southwest of Austin and along the headwaters of the clear, cool San Marcos River, a tableau of gently rolling hills and prairie farmland stretches into the distance. Here, on the edges of the verdant Texas Hill Country, the amiable city of San Marcos (population 65,000) makes its home. Considered to be the oldest, continuously inhabited area in the Northern Hemisphere, this region was first home to a Paleo-Indian Clovis culture and then visited by Spanish explorers and settled by Mexican families. In 1846, the first Anglos arrived, and soon the fledging village of San Marcos (pronounced "San Marcus") prospered as a cattle-raising hub and cotton-producing center.
The 1903 addition of a college that would eventually become Texas State University (40,000 students) furthered the city's growth, and today this unpretentious metropolis receives great reviews for its easygoing pace and surrounding beauty.
The cost of living is 2% below the national average. Politics lean slightly to the right, and the crime rate meets the national average. Twenty-four percent of residents have at least a four year college degree, and thanks to the University (TSU), the population is young (28% of residents are age 45 or better). The city has grown by 30% in the last decade and is racially diverse.
The median home price is $390,000, reflecting a 37% increase since last year, and real estate is a smorgasbord, with everything from ramshackle ranch ramblers to handsome new Spanish Colonials. Many homes are built from brick, and most have mature landscaping, often with shady pecan trees and fragrant cedar trees. The city has a good selection of apartment complexes, but many of these are populated by TSU students. The Wellington is, however, an attractive 55+ apartment community.
When it comes to taxes and retirement, Texas is a good place to be (although real estate taxes and sales taxes are high). The state has no state income tax, so retirement income is not taxed. All homeowners receive a $25,000 homestead exemption, and people age 65 or better receive an additional $10,000 exemption. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in San Marcos is 2%. The annual taxes on a $390,000 home are approximately $8,100. The combined sales tax is 7.75%.
Despite its recent growth, San Marcos still has a small town ambiance. Friendly residents willing to lend a hand and old fashioned hospitality make newcomers feel welcome and a part of the community. In particular, lovers of BBQ, Tex-Mex food and tasty breakfast tacos will feel right at home here. And because San Marcos is situated between two big cities, San Antonio and music-loving Austin, amenities not found in town are never far away.
The historic downtown, primarily along Main Street, has been recognized by the Texas Historical Commission and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the town center, dating from 1851, has recently undergone revitalization. The Hays County Courthouse has been restored, and popular 19th-century commercial architectural styles, including High Victorian Italianate, Beaux Arts and Commercial Style, are common. Grocery markets, clothing stores, doctors' offices and banks also dot this section of town.
San Marcos, Texas
The Belvin Street Historic District is another interesting neighborhood and boasts fine examples of grand 19th-century homes along a street canopied by giant live oaks. Residences here are open to the public during each May's Tours of Distinction.
Much of the recreation revolves around the San Marcos River, the generally quiet body of water that rises from the San Marcos Springs. Caladiums and cypress trees line its shores, and locals say that the water is always 72 degrees, making fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving and canoeing possible nearly all year long. The river really brims with activity during lazy summer afternoons. Not to be missed is a ride in a glass bottom boat at TSU's wonderful Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.
Miles of trails traverse varied habitats and interconnect riverside parks, lakes and neighborhoods. Texas is often thought of as dusty, dry and desolate, but here in the middle of Texas, the landscape is often lush and green. A scenic drive up along a winding ridge route called the Devil's Backbone offers exceptional views of the Hill Country's amazing scenery. Pedernales Falls State Park, the Guadalupe River, Canyon Lake and the Lost Maples State Natural Area are all within 50 miles.
San Marcos has two golf courses, a nine-hole public course and an 18-hole public course. TSU basketball, football and baseball games give sports fans opportunities to root for the Bobcats year round.
Summerfest, Viva Cinco de Mayo and the Texas Water Safari are just a few of San Marcos' annual events. The University has theater presentations, public speakers and more.
When it comes to shopping, many locals (and tourists) spend time at Tanger Outlets and Prime Outlets, two huge outlet malls with nearly 300 name brand outlet stores between them.
AARP has a chapter here, and the San Marcos Activity Center hosts a variety of classes and actvities for people age 50 or better. These include luncheons, Monday game days, social clubs and a lifelong learning program. The Greater San Marcos Area Seniors Association operates the Price Center and offers classes on active aging and more. The San Marcos Library is well stocked and has book discussion groups, public computers and wireless access.
Central Texas Medical Center, established in 1960, is a 180-bed facility and is part of the Adventist Health System, the largest not-for-profit Protestant healthcare provider in the nation. Services include a 24-hour emergency center outpatient surgery, rehabilitation services, an MRI unit and a cardiac catheterization lab. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. Award-winning hospitals are in both San Antonio and Austin. For military retirees, San Antonio has a VA hospital, and Austin has a VA outpatient clinic.
Public bus transportation is provided by CART. San Marcos has a small airport, but the closest international airport is the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, 30 miles away.
The climate is hot and humid in the summer and mild and damp in the winter. Summer temperatures reach into the high 90s, and winter temperatures are in the 30s, 40s and 50s. On average, the area receives 35 inches of rain per year. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, the city is below the national average. The sun shines 235 days of the year.
San Marcos has a few drawbacks. With its growth has come traffic congestion. Texas State University is known as a party school. Most significantly, though, is the risk of flooding from three sources: the San Marcos River, the Blanco River and Purgatory Creek. Tornados are also a threat. This area was particularly hard hit by severe storms in May, 2015 and in October, 2015. Damage was extensive. As the city states, when floodwaters come, they "can cover many blocks up to three or four feet deep." Hurricane Harvey in 2017 brought some street flooding and downed trees but spared most of the town.
Despite these downsides, San Marcos, with its mellow character and friendly people, has a unique charm all its own. Between the easy pace here and the big city amenities just down the road in San Antonio and Austin, the best of both small city living and big city living can be had in San Marcos, making this pleasing Texas destination a great retirement spot!
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