I’ve lived in San Antonio for most of my life and have never been to ride the Aquarena Springs glass-bottom boats in San Marcos, less than an hour drive from the city. I wish I would have gone as a kid because apparently they had submarines, an underwater theater with mermaids and a famous swimming pig. But alas, Aquarena Springs as a theme park shut down in the ’90s and is now The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.
Located across the street from Texas State University at the headwaters of the San Marcos River, The Meadows Center serves as a living laboratory, a community center and an educational resource for central Texas. The biggest draw to The Meadows Center is the glass-bottom boats, one of the few remnants of the location’s time as a tourist destination.
My dad and I were planning to meet somewhere between Austin and San Antonio so I thought this might be good stop to get out and stretch our legs and visit a bit. I was pleasantly surprised with our experience and will keep this on my list of places to visit again.
Getting to The Meadows Center was easy as it is right off of Interstate 35 and across the street from the Texas State football stadium. There was plenty of parking available, though it was confusing whether it was free or a paid lot. I didn’t see the central self-pay parking meter until we were leaving, but according to the website we should have paid the $3 parking fee.
Admission to the center is free, but tickets for the glass-bottom boats are $9 for adults and $6 for children ages 3-12 (2 and under are free). The grounds include an aquarium, a wetlands boardwalk and the boat rides and can be explored thoroughly in a couple of hours.
The aquarium is housed on the first floor of what used to be the property’s resort hotel built in the 1920s. They use the term “aquarium” loosely as it’s a tight space with a few large fish tanks and reptiles. But in addition to the river creatures, they have some neat educational exhibits highlighting the research and archeological excavations that have been done at the site.
The exhibits are interactive and would be great for school-age homeschoolers as a science and history lesson. This part of the center got big points in my book because it is air-conditioned (a must for the summer!) and there are clean restrooms inside the building. We also enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of Spring Lake from the top floor of the aquarium building.
The glass-bottom boats run every 30 minutes and move from the headwaters down into Spring Lake exploring the plants, fish, aquifer-driven springs and history along the way. Our tour guide was a sweet, young Texas State student who was incredibly knowledgable about the area.
Along with the narrated tour, she pointed out interested sights and answered any questions we had. Gabriella loved looking down into the water and seeing the fish and looking out the windows at the birds and turtles. Thirty minutes was the perfect amount of time because just as we were pulling into the dock, she was saying she was easy to get off.
After our boat ride, we took a walk along the wetlands floating boardwalk. We saw some neat birds and lots of turtles out on the boardwalk and it was a great opportunity for Gabriella to run off some energy. The tour guide mentioned that university researchers often spend time in this area checking on the wildlife and natural habitat.
Plan to go on a day with nice weather, pack a picnic lunch and this would be a lovely day trip for the whole family.