A woman wearing a mermaid costume with a large, colorful tail sits by the side of a bright blue pool

Photo by Josh Huskin

Michelle Kraft followed a meandering path to becoming a scuba instructor. After growing up in a military family and graduating from high school in Del Rio, Kraft moved to Arlington for college to study interior design. Back then, she was afraid of sharks and refused to go in the water. “I saw Jaws and was petrified,” she says. “I was the kid who they’d have to pry off the wall to dunk my head.” But she eventually conquered her fear after an interest in the Titanic got her to take a scuba class­. “After that, I was hooked,” she says.

Since then, she’s had one goal: to have a job that would pay for her diving trips. She started teaching scuba classes for the University of Texas at Arlington in 2008, and two years later, she got a call from Dive Shop San Marcos because they were looking for a manager. “I interviewed on Monday, got the job, and moved to San Marcos on Wednesday,” she says.

In 2018, the former owners decided to sell the shop, so Kraft took ownership. “I teach everyone from 10-year-olds to 70-year-olds,” she says. “It doesn’t matter your age; we’re all here to learn something and have fun.”

Twenty years into her diving career, Kraft is one of a handful of female technical instructors in the world. And eight years ago, she got into mermaiding when the dive shop’s pool was rented for a movie shoot with the mythical creatures—and they were short an extra. “I took to it like a mermaid to water,” Kraft says. She now teaches adult and kid mermaid classes in the heated pool at her dive shop.

After 14 years in San Marcos, Kraft can’t imagine living anywhere else. “People think that it’s only a college town and that everyone’s just here to party and drink, but there are a lot of families and people are outside all the time,” she says. “I’ve gotten back to nature being here.”

Kraft’s San Marcos Picks


The Meadows Center

Aquarena Springs was the home of Ralph the swimming pig and the aquamaids in the 1950s (see inside back cover for more). Now it’s a nature preserve overseen by Texas State University called the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. For years, visitors have enjoyed underwater views of the springs while on glass-bottom boat tours, but recently the center expanded its offerings to include snorkeling, paddleboarding, scuba diving, and glow-kayaking trips.

Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest

Each September, people from all over Texas descend on San Marcos to celebrate mermaids with a parade and street festival. “We have great food, the Mertini Shakedown competition, and crafts made by local artists,” says Kraft, who is a Mermaid Society representative
and helps with the event.

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Purgatory Creek Natural Area

There are nearly 30 trails in and around San Marcos. Kraft’s favorites are Purgatory Creek Natural Area, which has three trailheads for bikers, trail runners, and day hikers; and Ringtail Ridge Natural Area, which starts across the street from the dive shop. “If people aren’t hiking, they are kayaking,” Kraft says.


Alvin Ord’s

After a long day in the dive pool, Kraft relishes a stop at Alvin Ord’s, an old-school sandwich shop on University Drive. Its namesake was an Austin baker who later left the business to become a monk. (There are only a handful of Alvin Ord’s restaurants left in Texas.) “I always get the Salvation on French bread,” she says. “It’s good-sized, so I eat half and take half of it for leftovers.”


San Marcos Farmers Market

Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the San Marcos Farmers Market takes over San Antonio Street on the square. Locals and visitors shop for homegrown goods, like fresh sourdough, seedlings, and even a San Marcos-themed deck of cards that two Texas State students published a few years ago. After the market, hit up Cafe on the Square, which has served all-day breakfast with a view of the courthouse since 1999.

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