Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in San Marcos, CA

  • Published 2021/11/06

On the foothills of San Diego’s northern part lies a small city of San Marcos.

San Marcos is full of opportunities and beautiful attractions worthy of your precious time.

It has everything that makes an excellent travel adventure despite its compact size.

Its nickname, “Valley of Discovery,” is a testament to the adventure that’s waiting for you.

Explore its natural wonders, man-made attractions, and delicious food.

San Marcos is completely accessible since it’s just a 35-minute drive from San Diego‘s city center.

With the lovely weather around San Diego County, the best things to do in San Marcos are mostly related to outdoor activities.

But there are more to it, so let’s explore the 15 best things you should definitely do when you’re in San Marcos, California.

Explore the Trails and Summit of Double Peak Park

View of Double Peak Park

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If you want to get a vantage point of the entire San Marcos, climb its famous Double Peak Park.

It is a trendy place to explore nature and the outdoors. It has several trails and access points that you can traverse for more adventure.

However, the ultimate goal to do there is to climb its 1,646-feet peak.

View of Double Peak Park

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Upon reaching the peak, you’ll be rewarded with a scenic view of San Marcos and its neighboring towns.

If you want more adventure, the trails surrounding Double Peak Park are perfect for rugged hiking, jogging, or off-road cycling.

View of Double Peak Park

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Appreciate the Beauty of Nature at Jack’s Pond Park and Nature Center

Jack’s Pond Park and Nature Center is an excellent place for people to engage in exciting activities or perhaps for relaxation.

The place is entirely worth a visit because of its 25-acre land teeming with diverse species of plants and animals that you can freely explore.

In addition, the nature center has full of activities related to nature as its primary purpose is to promote and appreciate its beauty.

This place offers primarily educational tours along with interactive nature studies for kids and families.

To get to Jack’s Pond Park and Nature Reserve, it is at La Moree Road in San Marcos.

Chug Down Craft Beer at the Rip Current Brewing

Paul Sangster and Guy Shobe, two friends who love to share their passion for beer, established San Marcos’s famous Rip Current Brewing.

Fortunately, their hard work paid off tremendously when their brewing startup grew big; it became the “Top 10 Breweries in San Diego County”.

The Rip Current Brewing is known for its craft beer which has already won numerous awards for its quality and distinct flavor.

Today, they offer guided tours of their brewery to give visitors a first-hand experience of how they make their world-class craft beer.

So, when you’re in San Marcos, don’t forget to visit Rip Current Brewing’s tasting room to experience the city’s best-tasting beer.

Plus, don’t forget to try their famous Deep Reef Dry Stout, the Black Lagoon, and their Choppy Surf Pilsner.

Rip Current Brewing has numerous branches around San Diego County.

The branch over at San Marcos is at 1325 Grand Ave.

Collect Exotic Plants at the Buena Creek Gardens

If you’re into collecting exotic plants and flowers, head to the horticulture Mecca of Southern California, the Buena Creek Gardens.

The place located at 418 Buena Creek Rd. in San Marcos is home to more than 5,000 ornamental plants, flowers, and trees.

For over 30 years, the Buena Creek Gardens became the top destination for those who love growing and collecting plants in San Diego County.

The 4-acre property used to be an iris flower farm and nursery.

It eventually turned to San Marcos’s top place for retailing rare plants.

Apart from being the best place to buy plants and flowers, Buena Creeks are famous for visiting a tranquil and happy site.

Over the years, the gardens propagated and have grown Southern California’s most comprehensive selection of familiar and exotic flowers and plants.

The place is also teeming with wildlife while the gardens’ staff offers guided tours.

Wander at the Scenic Discovery Lake

San Marcos is home to numerous natural attractions, and one of them is Discovery Lake, that’s known for its scenic view of the lake and its outdoor recreations.

If you want to immerse yourself in the city’s wilderness, don’t miss going to Discovery Lake, where you’ll find what a nature lover seeks.

The lake offers numerous outdoor activities such as hiking, jogging, fishing, and picture taking.

It has a smooth paved path wherein seniors on wheelchairs can easily walk on it.

The place is also perfect for a weekend stroll to breathe fresh air and listen to the calming sound of nature.

Discover Campus Life at California State University

View of California State University

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San Marcos is the home to the 300-acre California State University-San Marcos.

This public university founded in 1989 plays a vital role in developing the University of California system.

Annually, the university enrolls 12 000 students who study across 60 bachelor degree programs.

Everyone knows that university campus strolling is very popular for its relaxing nature.

View of California State University

Simone Hogan /

So, when you’re in San Marcos, don’t forget to stop by at the California State University-San Marcos.

Strolling there is more than just simple relaxation since the campus is usually packed with athletic competitions, art shows, and theater performances.

A tip of advice, you should check the university’s website first to see their calendar of events before heading there.

Score a Hole-in-One at the St. Mark Golf Club

The St. Mark Golf Club boasts a 6,400-yard 18-hole, par-71 golf course, challenging enough for both experienced and newbie in golf.

For those who have tried playing at this golf course, the technicality is purely based on papers.

On average, playing golf there takes about five hours, which leaves you a lot of time for other activities in San Marcos.

But you might want to stay longer there to get a better view of the scenic foothills of San Marcos.

To get to St. Mark Golf Club, it’s at the Lakehouse Hotel and Resort along San Pablo Drive.

Uncover Hidden Gems at the Antique Village

If you have a taste for antique collectibles, then head to The Antique Village at 850 Los Vallecitos Boulevard in San Marcos.

This 10,000 square-foot facility houses a vast collection of antique merchandise ranging from furniture, tools, glass, and pottery.

You’ll likely spend your entire day strolling around 60 booths that have various collections.

If you want to score a precious souvenir from your San Marcos trip, make sure to visit The Antique Village.

Taste an Exquisite Bottle of Wine at the Scenic Sunshine Mountain Vineyard

San Marcos offers a lot of natural attractions with amazing views of the Southern California landscape.

To make your sightseeing more unique, head to the Sunshine Mountain Vineyard, where you enjoy both a good bottle of wine and the vineyard’s scenic hilltop.

The entire vineyard covers about ten acres which have a scenic view of the Pacific Coast.

Primarily, the vineyard offers visitors a nice collection of wines that have distinct flavor profiles perfect for any occasion.

If you want to taste all that the vineyard offers, they also have a wine-tasting for visitors that you can ask with their friendly staff.

But, always drink in moderation and don’t drink and drive to keep you safe always!

Dine at the Fish House Vera Cruz

For thirty years, the Fish House Vera Cruz has served the people of San Marcos fresh and delicious seafood.

Because of its mouthwatering seafood dishes that locals and visitors love, it was named the “Best Seafood in San Diego County.”

Aside from that, Fish House Vera Cruz is also a well-respected culinary institution in San Diego County, wherein many food lovers from around California visit.

You will get overwhelmed with their vast array of seafood menus, most of which are grilled, but they offer a lot more.

The restaurant is famous for its swordfish burger, fish kabob, shrimp tacos, clams, lobsters, and crabs.

Score a Strike at Bowlero Bowling Alley

If you want to showcase your bowling skills, head to Bowlero bowling alley, which is San Marcos’s best place to knock down pins.

Bowlero in San Marcos is one of the numerous bowling alleys owned and operated by the Bowlero Corporation.

The place boasts 40 modern bowling lanes while having numerous billiard tables and an arcade to further entertain yourself there.

Also, the place holds local bowling tournaments, which you can join if you have what it takes to score a strike or a turkey, perhaps?

If you’re hungry, you can order food through its lane-side menu and choose from sinful comfort food such as lamb chops, pizza, spring rolls, and sandwiches.

Eat Delicious Pie at Mama Kat’s Restaurant

If you’re craving comfort food and a nice place to eat, head to Mama Kat’s Restaurant at 950 W. San Marcos Boulevard in San Marcos.

Mama Kat’s menu mainly serves breakfast meals making it the best place for brunch.

Plus, they serve delicious coffee, pancakes, and their specialty, pies.

Mama Kats serves various types of pie, from the traditional apple pie to whiskey apple pie and strawberry rhubarb pie.

If you want more, the restaurant also serves freshly baked muffins.

Mama Kat’s is a must-visit place in San Marcos, not just for its delicious menu.

The restaurant’s boutique vintage interior design is also trendy and a perfect setting for Instagram photos.

Have Fun at the Invasion Laser Tag

Surprisingly, San Marcos is also home to numerous indoor entertainment attractions, and one of them is the kids’ favorite, Invasion Laser Tag.

The place is equipped with modern laser tags, perfect for laser tag games featuring different themes.

The management strictly requires players to wear protective gear before playing laser tag for safety precautions.

The place is famous in San Marcos for birthday celebrants and other occasions.

It’s also a very trendy place for locals to hang out during the weekends or holidays.

There are also other amenities such as arcade games for those who seek a different kind of entertainment.

To visit Invasion Laser Tag, head to 1290 W San Marcos Blvd #101, San Marcos

Other Things to Do Nearby

Once you’ve completed visiting San Marcos’s best attractions, there are nearby places that are also exciting to go.

Bring Out the Child in You at LEGOLAND California Resort

View of LEGOLAND California Resort

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The LEGOLAND California Resort is just a stone’s throw away from San Marcos.

It’s a 20-minute drive west of San Marcos through California Route 78.

If you’re a huge LEGO fan, you will geek out with the resort’s attractions that will surely bring out the child in you.

View of LEGOLAND California Resort

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It features theme-park style rides, LEGO building interactive exhibits, and a large aquarium filled with exotic sea creatures.

The excellent time to head to LEGOLAND California Resort is during holidays for its magical live entertainment, mainly for children.

View of LEGOLAND California Resort

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Unwind at the South Carlsbad State Beach

View of South Carlsbad State Beach

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Since San Marcos is a landlocked city, you need to drive 20-minutes west to reach South Carlsbad State Beach along the San Diego County coast.

The beach is a top-rated destination for San Marcos’s locals who crave the salty sea breeze and fresh air.

The beach is also known for scenic cliffside that towers over the beach and shoreline.

View of South Carlsbad State Beach

Sherry V Smith /

The best things to do there are, of course, swimming, sunbathing, while some go surfing and fishing.

You can engage in dozens of fun-filled activities at the beach.

Plus, it is teeming with hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that you can stay for the night while there are tons of different campsites you can choose from.

View of South Carlsbad State Beach

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Final Thoughts

Regardless if you’re a Californian or coming in from much further, the city of San Marcos will captivate you with its peaceful suburban feels.

But don’t be deceived by its unassuming appeal.

This small city is packed with attractions like what we’ve listed above.

San Marcos is the destination you should go for a short excursion that mainly focuses on relaxation to set your expectations straight.

Suppose you want to divert your mind from stress.

In that case, San Marcos should be your top destination, especially if you’re from California.

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