15 Best Things to Do in San Marcos (CA)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Located just ten kilometers inland from the Pacific in Sothern California’s San Diego County, San Marcos is a city of about 90,000 residents that was incorporated in 1963.

Despite being between two of the state’s largest urban centers and the north-south interstates that connect them, San Marcos is mostly characterized by natural attractions and a relative lack of development compared to nearby cities.

The year-round weather in San Diego County is tough to beat, and outdoor activities like golf, biking, hiking, and fishing are perennial favorites.

Some of the state’s most scenic beaches are just a few minutes away as well, so finding ways to stay active should be easy.

Let’s explore the best things to do in and around San Marcos, California:

1. Discovery Lake

Discovery Lake, San MarcosSource: Imasillypirate / shutterstock
Discovery Lake

Once outside San Marcos city limits, it doesn’t take long to find yourself immersed in large tracts of wilderness that seem like they’re much farther away from civilization than they really are.

Discovery Lake is open year-round and includes lots of outdoor recreation options for athletic types, nature lovers, and sportsmen and women.

The paved path that runs around the lake is relatively flat and appropriate for most users, including those using wheelchairs. They offer amazing views of the lake from a number of vantage points.

Other amenities include ample seating areas, restrooms, and lots of easy shore access for those who’d like to do a little catch-and-release fishing.

2. Jack’s Pond Park and Nature Center

Jack’s Pond Park and Nature CenterSource: Wen Liu / Facebook
Jack’s Pond Park and Nature Center

For visitors of most ages interested in stretching their legs and engaging their minds, Jack’s Pond Park and Nature Center is an attraction that’s definitely worth a visit.

The nature center is spread across nearly 25 acres of varied environments that are home to diverse plant and animal species. Though many visitors choose to explore on their own, the staff offer interactive activities and guided tours.

The park’s entrance is located on La Moree Road in San Marcos. Its amenities include a playground, covered picnic areas, and many engaging exhibits that touch on science, wildlife, and oceanography.

3. California State University San Marcos

California State University San MarcosSource: Simone Hogan / shutterstock
California State University San Marcos

California State University San Marcos is a public university featuring a campus comprised of more than 300 acres, just a few minutes from the city center.

Founded in 1989, it’s one of the newest additions to the University of California system. Its yearly enrollment is about 12,000 students, who have more than 60 bachelor degree programs to choose from.

University campuses are great places for a stroll; they’re often abuzz with fun activities like theater performances, guest speakers, art shows, and collegiate athletic events.

Consider checking the university’s website to see what’s on their calendar of events before making a special trip.

4. Double Peak Park

Double Peak ParkSource: bonandbon / shutterstock
Double Peak Park

While visiting San Marcos, hitting the trails doesn’t necessarily have to involve time wasted behind the wheel driving to distant state and national parks.

Double Peak Park is a popular choice for hikers, bikers, and other outdoorsy types for its convenient location, amazing views, and abundant trails.

For those who choose to hike to the mountain’s peak, the climb will only be moderately strenuous, though there are rough and rocky portions.

The views from the 1,700-foot summit make it a worthwhile endeavor. On clear days, it’s possible to see Catalina, the San Bernardino Mountains, and San Diego’s skyline.

5. Rip Current Brewing

Rip Current BrewingSource: Rip Current Brewing / Facebook
Rip Current Brewing

Like many small brewing companies, Rip Current Brewing on Grand Avenue in San Marcos was founded by two amateur beer aficionados, who had an innate knack for turning simple ingredients into amazingly tasty intoxicating beverages.

Rip Current has been ranked as one of the county’s top ten breweries, which is no small fete considering the area’s abundant competition.

The San Marcos tasting room is the perfect place for an afternoon of relaxing, catching up with old friends, and sampling some of their popular brews.

Rip Current’s perennial favorites include everything from refreshing Czech-style pilsners and ales to malty ambers and dry stouts.

6. St. Mark Golf Club

GolfSource: Kati Finell / shutterstock

At just slightly over 6,400 yards, St. Mark Golf Club’s par-71, 18-hole golf course is right in the sweet spot for most seasoned players.

It’s long enough to be challenging, but generally doesn’t take more than about 4 ½ hours to play, which leaves plenty of daylight left for other activities.

The course is located on the grounds of the Lakehouse Hotel and Resort on San Pablo Drive in San Marcos and is set amid the scenic foothills around beautiful Lake San Marcos.

Other course amenities include group and private lessons by trained instructors, a driving range, putting and chipping greens, and a restaurant.

7. Sunshine Mountain Vineyard

WineSource: Chase Clausen / shutterstock

The mountains around San Marcos offer visitors amazing views of the stunning Southern California landscape; there’s really no better place to take them in than from the comfort of a scenic hilltop vineyard.

Sunshine Mountain Vineyard is spread across ten acres of prime real estate overlooking the Pacific coast; they offer visitors an array of wines in numerous colors and flavor profiles to suit most palates.

Hooking up with a staff-led tasting is a great and surprisingly inexpensive way to sample a number of distinct wines while learning how to appreciate their nuances from a trained professional.

They’re not open every day, so check their schedule online or give them a call before heading out.

8. Better Buzz Coffee

Better Buzz CoffeeSource: Better Buzz Coffee San Marcos / Facebook
Better Buzz Coffee

For some travelers, experiencing a better buzz is just part of the West Coast experience, and for many, coffee is the preferred delivery method.

For hopeless java junkies and casual coffee drinkers alike, Better Buzz Coffee on West San Marcos Boulevard in San Marcos tends to make a big impression.

Better Buzz has indoor and outdoor seating and a drive-thru window for those who prefer to enjoy their caffeine on the go.

Perennial menu favorites include a concoction referred to as ‘The Best Drink Ever.’ For those who’ve sworn off sugar and dairy products, they offer abundant substitutions like honey and oat milk.

9. Fish House Vera Cruz

OystersSource: Take Photo / shutterstock

Located on Via Vera Cruz Drive in San Marcos, Fish House Vera Cruz is consistently ranked as one of San Diego County’s premier seafood restaurants.

That’s quite an accolade in an area with so much competition! Their menu is chockfull of fresh seafood, including grilled snapper, clams, and oysters, crab cakes, and delectable Vera Cruz-style shrimp tacos.

The restaurant has been around for more than four decades and features a number of traditional entrees as well as contemporary ones, like swordfish sandwiches and fish kabobs – all of which feature the freshest seafood you’ll find anywhere in the area.

10. California Spirits Company

DistillerySource: Fotos593 / shutterstock

Southern California was ground zero for the massive microbrew craze that swept the country more than a decade ago. Since then, it’s also experienced a rebirth in distilling.

Located on Enterprise Street in San Marcos, the California Spirits Company is a unique local attraction combining science, cocktails, and good times into one unforgettable experience.

While on-site, guests will learn about how unremarkable ingredients are transformed into tasty intoxicating spirits and how to combine them to make out-of-this-world cocktails.

Sign-up for their all-day courses well in advance of your trip, because vacant slots tend to fill quickly.

11. The California Center for the Arts

California Center for the ArtsSource: Roaming Panda Photos / shutterstock
California Center For The Arts

Located on North Escondido Boulevard, just eight kilometers southwest of downtown San Marcos, the California Center for the Arts is spread across a dozen acres of tranquil parkland adjacent to City Hall.

The arts and live entertainment venue includes a concert hall that seats 1,500, as well as smaller theaters for other productions like dance and dramatic theater.

Throughout the year, the center also hosts a number of annual events, such as Independence Day and Day of the Dead celebrations, a summer jazz concert series, educational programs and workshops, and an ever-popular Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

12. San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

San Diego Children's Discovery MuseumSource: San Diego Children's Discovery Museum / Facebook
San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

The San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum is another Escondido attraction convenient for those visiting San Marcos.

Located on North Broadway, just 15 minutes from San Marcos, it’s full of engaging, educational and entertaining exhibits touching on a variety of topics, including archaeology, biology, literature, and geology.

The museum features both indoor and outdoor areas. Since the exhibits and items on display change frequently, there are often new things to experience, no matter how many times you’ve visited in the past.

The museum’s staff also hosts guided activities appropriate for kids of most ages, so check the schedule on their website to see what’s on the calendar for when you’ll be in the area.

13. LEGOLAND California Resort

LEGOLAND California ResortSource: Hayk_Shalunts / shutterstock
LEGOLAND California Resort

For those visiting the San Marcos area with kids, there’s one real standout when it comes to keeping them happy and occupied.

LEGOLAND California Resort is located just a 20-minute drive west of San Marcos on California Route 78. Though it was designed with little ones in mind, it often ends up being a lot of fun for adults.

The resort features dozens of amusement park-style rides, interactive exhibits, and a massive aquarium and sea life park full of amazing sea creatures from all over the world.

The park is also a popular live entertainment venue that hosts holiday shows and kid’s productions.

14. Daley Ranch

Daley RanchSource: Roaming Panda Photos / shutterstock
Daley Ranch

The Daley Ranch on La Honda Drive in Escondido a 3,000-acre conservation area that incorporates historical and natural elements into one attraction.

The ranch preserve was set aside by the city of Escondido in 1996 and comprises several distinct habitats, including grasslands, chaparral, and riparian areas that are home to a diverse array of plant and animal species.

It also has a number of historically significant buildings, including the original ranch house and barn.

Park rangers offer regularly scheduled tours a few times a month, and the area’s multi-use trails are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.

The ranch is located about 15 minutes southeast of San Marcos.

15. South Carlsbad State Beach

South Carlsbad State BeachSource: Sherry V Smith / shutterstock
South Carlsbad State Beach

For most visitors from landlocked parts of the country, visiting San Diego County and not taking advantage of its amazing beaches is an unthinkable misuse of valuable vacation time.

South Carlsbad State Beach is located on a particularly idyllic stretch of Pacific coastline about 20 minutes west of downtown San Marcos. It’s characterized by white sand beaches, dramatic bluffs, and warm water.

Though most visitors spend a day at the beach fishing, swimming, and sunbathing before heading back to their hotels, many choose to spend a night or two at one of the 200 campsites that include amenities like bathrooms, showers, Wi-Fi, and a convenient camp store.

15 Best Things to Do in San Marcos (CA):

  • Discovery Lake
  • Jack’s Pond Park and Nature Center
  • California State University San Marcos
  • Double Peak Park
  • Rip Current Brewing
  • St. Mark Golf Club
  • Sunshine Mountain Vineyard
  • Better Buzz Coffee
  • Fish House Vera Cruz
  • California Spirits Company
  • The California Center for the Arts
  • San Diego Children's Discovery Museum
  • LEGOLAND California Resort
  • Daley Ranch
  • South Carlsbad State Beach