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Daytripper: San Marcos

Floating Along in San Marcos
Written by Chet Garner. Photographs by Hogaboom Road, Inc..

Archeological evidence suggests that humans have inhabited the San Marcos area for 10,000 years or more. And to this day, it continues to lure visitors with its natural beauty, historic charm, and darn-delicious food.

9:00 a.m. It may be strange to start the day at a burger joint, but that’s what I did at Gil’s Broiler for one of their famous “Manske Rolls,” made here since the 1940s. This buttery, icing-smothered cinnamon roll was so good that I had no choice but to pick up a dozen more to bring home.

10:00 a.m. The Hays County square is the heart of town, but the city’s lifeblood is the San Marcos River, which emerges from San Marcos Springs at Spring Lake. I boarded a glass-bottom boat at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment (formerly Aquarena Center) to explore the depths of this spring-fed oasis. While “Ralph the Swimming Pig” no longer dives into these waters, I did see bass, sunfish, underwater flowers, and even a Texas river cooter (a type of turtle). The guide announced that the water is cleaner than drinking water, and I was ready to dive in. Sadly, swimming isn’t allowed at the center, but downstream is a different story.

11:00 a.m. I drove along the river to Rio Vista Park, which has three sets of man-made rapids perfect for learning a new sport. I met up with Ben Kvanli from the Olympic Outdoor Center and strapped into my whitewater kayak for a lesson. Knowing Ben is a former Olympian gave me confidence in his teaching and comfort that if I flipped over, he could save me from drowning. As I tried to master the waves, Ben definitely saved my life a time or two.

1:00 p.m. I drove to Grins Restaurant, which has been making people smile for more than 30 years. Seated on the outdoor patio, I felt like I was eating lunch in a treehouse. After devouring my monstrous green-chile cheeseburger and fries, I must say that I was definitely grinning from ear to ear.

2:00 p.m. I walked over to Texas State University to visit The Wittliff Collections, on the top floor of the Alkek Library. The public galleries of photography and literature celebrate the art of making art. My favorite part was the Lonesome Dove Collection, featuring costumes and props from the epic mini-series, whose screenplay was written by Bill Wittliff himself.

3:30 p.m. With the summer sun beating down, I was once again river bound. I rented a tube at City Park from the San Marcos Lions Club and jumped right into the middle of the action as I bobbed along with students, families, and even floating dogs. The float ended at the rapids of Rio Vista Park, and I boarded a bus back to the start.

6:30 p.m. Rather than re-tube the river, I opted to visit Root Cellar Cafe & Brewery. Appropriately named, this local bistro sits in the cellar of a historic building just off the square. And while the location may be old, the fresh, locally sourced food coming from the kitchen is anything but
antiquated. My pint of the house-made amber brew hit the spot, as did my plate of black pepper-crusted tenderloin topped with mushrooms, onions, and blue cheese.

8:00 p.m. With just enough room left for dessert, I walked to Rhea’s Ice Cream, where Rhea Ortamond whips up some of the most amazing flavors ranging from s’mores and animal cookie to avocado coconut.

With a cone of “Big Red” ice cream in my hand, I set out into the warm night air to walk the square and enjoy the last moments of my amazing day. So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.

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