Outstanding art, culture and food around every corner in San Marcos, Texas

San Marcos, Texas

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Inspiration in
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Inspiration inSan Marcos, Texas

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Outstanding art, culture and food around every corner

Before our youngest child—our daughter, Savanna—left for college, she told us she’d be back for plenty of visits, but just asked that we let her know what color to expect her room to be each time. My husband, Tom, told her that with us loose in the house, there was no way to know for sure, and he made no such promises.

Tom and I used to joke about the “freewheeling artist lifestyle” we would live after our three kids flew the coop—we both paint as a hobby. But when the day came, I found it easier to take on unnecessary busywork than to let the creativity flow. Luckily, Tom has a knack for breaking my artistic blocks. Eager to get his painting partner back in gear, he planned a brilliant getaway to make it happen. After his last visit to San Marcos for work, he knew the city had plenty of art, culture and culinary creativity—more than enough to bring back that artistic feeling.

Kick back and take in the scene from AquaBrew

Creativity to taste

Friday night, our first stop was dinner and craft beer at AquaBrew, just off San Marcos Downtown Square. Tom says creativity starts in the belly. We sat outside in the dog-friendly beer garden watching the locals and listening to live music. The sticky edamame and street corn pub snacks took the edge off our hunger while we waited for the main course—Scottish salmon with tzatziki for me, fried chicken with jalapeño gravy for Tom. For our beers, Tom went with AquaBrew’s Imperial Pilsner. I kept to my Scots theme by ordering their SMaSH IPA with Scottish malt. For dessert, we shared a cherry tart with toasted coconut. Our weekend was off to a sweet start.

Saturday morning, we took a post-breakfast stroll from our B&B through downtown. Even before most of the shops and galleries opened, there was a lot to catch our eye. I started noticing murals on the buildings near the Square. Some looked like vintage postcards, others in the style of modern graffiti. They were all beautiful.

Painting of heron with grapes on a wall at Blue Dahlia Bistro in San Marcos, Texas
A graceful touch of art at Blue Dahlia Bistro.

The variety of styles had me comparing and contrasting pieces here, as well as to one of my own that I had tucked away at home. It’s an unfinished acrylic painting I’d informally put directly on the firm cardboard backing that came with its frame. When I started it about six years ago, I’d intended to create a scene that was like controlled chaos—only, I put it down before successfully achieving the “controlled” part of the equation. In San Marcos, a cityscape on a graffiti mural featuring the Jetsons gave me an idea—a way to rein in the chaos of my painting with a cool-toned, smooth, rippling effect to keep the areas of harsh contrast in check.

“Your plan to get me painting again is working,” I told Tom while we waited for lunch to arrive at Blue Dahlia Bistro, in a quaint old building on the Square. I noticed cute paintings gracing the walls of the outdoor garden—like a blue heron carrying a juicy-looking bunch of purple grapes.

“I know,” he said with a little laugh. I raised my eyebrow questioningly, but let it go when appetizing food caught my attention. The culinary talent shone in both Tom’s hummus tartine featuring organic avocado, sprouts and tomato, and my Maryland crab cake salad with organic greens and a delightful roasted pepper aioli.

Raw, authentic and beautiful artwork

The art of fresh starts

After Blue Dahlia, we stopped in at 218 Co-op Gallery, the perfect browsing spot for creative-types like Tom and me. The cement flooring, and track lighting brought me the familiarity of artistic territory; and it’s no facade—this gallery is owned and run by the artists. I loved staring down into the artwork. In that way I borrowed another person’s creative viewpoint, and it was like getting lost for a moment in a new world—as with a good novel, play or movie. Sometimes it took a tap on the shoulder from Tom to ground myself again.

After the co-op, we took a stroll to follow the Mermaid March. The ten 7-foot-tall mermaids are placed in different locations around the city and each one is uniquely decorated to show off the local history, culture and wildlife. The mermaid has become the unofficial San Marcos mascot due to the rich history from the old Aquarena Springs amusement park and its underwater performances. Of course, we tried to pick a favorite mermaid, but each one was so unique it was hard to choose a single favorite! 

Bartender pouring beer from the tap at The Taproom in San Marcos, Texas
Tap into liquid flavor

After we found all of the mermaids, and of course took photos with each one, we found the cute Root Cellar Café and sat outside at a sidewalk table next to a beautiful ivy-covered wall where we could watch students and locals stroll by. My basil Swiss burger was huge, juicy and delicious on an incredible freshly baked bun. Tom's chicken prosciutto sandwich on ciabatta bread was tasty, too—complete with grilled bell peppers and goat cheese.

As we started out for an after-dinner stroll, we heard some low-key revelry coming from The Taproom, a welcoming-looking “pub & grub” joint. Tom said he could make room for half a beer, and suggested we stop in. With 102 different beers on the menu, 42 of which were on tap, it was hard to pick just one to split, so we each ordered one of our own and shared. It was such a great way to wind down the day—catching sports highlights on their array of big, flat-screen TVs, surrounded by friendly folks, and excited about the next stage in our lives.

While I didn’t feel ready to end our trip, I couldn’t wait to revisit my long-ignored painting.

Be still my art

The day after our return, I hadn’t touched the laundry, and there were a few dishes out of place in the kitchen, but I’d already put in hours at my easel and it felt like I had my priorities in order again. I was rinsing a brush when I overheard Tom on the phone with Savanna recapping our trip.

“Worked like a charm. I didn’t have to say anything,” Tom said, “It wasn’t two minutes outside the car before Mom was in her ‘spinning wheel of creativity’ stance.” He laughed.

“My what?” I called out.

“I told Tom we’d need to repeat the getaway, so I could verify this. In the meantime, my creativity wheel is back in gear!”

“Uh-oh. We’re found out. Talk to you later, champ.” Pause. “Uh, probably indigo on your ceiling.” Tom signed off with Savanna, and explained with lots of grins and a wildly exaggerated reenactment that I have a go-to posture as an artist.

Among other details, he shared that when I evaluate art, I cock a hip out, pop a knee up, lay one forearm across my tummy, rest my opposite elbow on its wrist, and stay weirdly still. That got me cracking up—I had no idea. I told Tom we’d need to repeat the getaway, so I could verify this. In the meantime, my creativity wheel is back in gear!

Find what inspires you in San Marcos!