According to historical legends, the San Luis Rey Mission flocks were robbed by a small band of Indians in the late 1700s. Fleeing the Spanish troops, the Indians escaped to the hills. While pursuing the Indians, the Spaniards came upon a fertile valley in 1797 which was named Los Vallecitos de San Marcos (Little Valleys of Saint Mark) to honor the day of discovery: April 25th, “St. Mark’s Day”. On April 22, 1840, Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado granted Los Vallecitos de San Marcos to his relative, Jose Mario Alvarado. In 1846 Indians killed Jose Alvarado, and the land was left to his wife; she then sold the land to Lorenzo Soto. In the late 1850s, Soto sold part of his land to Cave Couts and his family was soon raising livestock. Although Cave Couts owned the land, Major Gustavus French Merriam from Topeka, Kansas made the first permanent settlement. Merriam homesteaded in the north Twin Oaks Valley and began wine and honey production.
After Major Merriam’s settlement, German and Dutch immigrants began moving into the area in the early 1880s. Then in 1883 a few miles south of the settlement, John H. Barham founded the first town in the area. By 1884, the town of Barham had a post office, blacksmith, feed store and a weekly newspaper. In 1887 the San Marcos Land Company bought almost all of the San Marcos land formerly owned by the Couts family and promptly divided the land into tracts. Soon the beautiful hills began attracting home-seekers.
The original town of San Marcos was at the intersection of what is now Grand Avenue and Rancho Santa Fe Road. In 1887 the Santa Fe Railroad announced that it was going to lay tracks going through the valley, but to the disappointment of the citizens, the tracks were laid one mile (1.6 km) away from the center of the town. By 1896, San Marcos was a community with its own stores, post office, blacksmith and railroad depot. In 1903, the town appeared to be going downhill so the people of San Marcos picked up their homes and moved along the railroad tracks to what now are Mission Road and Pico Avenue. In 1905, the town had every convenience, including rural mail delivery and telephone service. The first school in the area, which had started in Barham in 1880, was moved in 1889 to San Marcos. Later that same year, the Richland School was built, being the second school in San Marcos. The main business in San Marcos in the 1800s and early 1900s was farming. Then in the mid-1900s, dairies and poultry production became a big part of the business in the town.
San Marcos experienced a period of growth from 1956 onward, when the first water from the Colorado River arrived. Several small businesses were founded and the population rapidly increased to 2,500. San Marcos became an incorporated city on January 28, 1963. In the 1970s, San Marcos was flourishing as the third fastest-growing city in the state with a population of 17,479 by 1980. The population continued to boom over the next two decades, reaching 33,800 in 1990 and 82,743 in 2000.
Palomar College is a public two-year community college. The Palomar campus is located in San Marcos, California, approximately north of San Diego. Palomar enrolls approximately 30,000 full-time and part-time students. Residents of California are charged only $20 per unit. At Palomar, students may choose from over 200 associate degree and certificate programs, complete the first two years of a bachelor's degree, or enjoy personal enrichment classes for lifelong learning.
California State University, San Marcos offers the ambiance of a small, personal campus with the unequaled value of the California State University. Students benefit from the latest equipment and facilities, a superb faculty that enjoys teaching, and a rigorous academic program that prepares students for a successful life.
Founded in 1989, CSU San Marcos is located on a hillside overlooking the city of San Marcos. It is fifteen miles (24 km) east of the ocean; just thirty miles north of downtown San Diego. Students are able to enjoy the resources of a major metropolitan area while escaping many of the stresses of urban life.
CSU San Marcos’s programs in teacher education are renowned for their school and community collaboration. The College of Business Administration receives national attention for the “Senior Experience” Program, which takes teams of students off campus for projects with companies and organizations. Programs in the sciences and in visual and performing arts are regionally acclaimed for academic rigor, innovation, and career preparation.
The campus is poised for continued growth, adding new academic programs and facilities over the next few years.
As of the census of 2000, there were 54,977 people, 18,111 households, and 13,221 families residing in the city. The population density was 893.4/km² (2,314.3/mi²). There were 18,862 housing units at an average density of 306.5/km² (794.0/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 67.39% White, 2.00% Black, 0.82% Native American, 4.67% Asian, 0.24% Pacific Islander, 20.39% from other races, and 4.48% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 36.87% of the population.
There were 18,111 households out of which 39.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.6% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.0% were non-families. 20.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.03 and the average family size was 3.46.
In the city the population was spread out with 29.1% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 32.3% from 25 to 44, 17.3% from 45 to 64, and 11.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females there were 98.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $45,908, and the median income for a family was $51,292. Males had a median income of $36,297 versus $27,015 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,657. About 7.8% of families and 12.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.5% of those under age 18 and 7.9% of those age 65 or over.
San Marcos has a diversity of races and ethnic groups common in suburban communities (not ranked, but for example): Irish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Polish, Russian, Afghan, Armenian, Iranian, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican, Salvadoran, Argentine, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Hawaiian, Samoan, and a small community of Jews.
San Marcos is known for having some of the best restaurants in North County. Old California Restaurant Row features a large concentration of restaurants offering a variety of cuisines.
San Marcos features several golf courses, notably Lake San Marcos, which itself is a recreational venue. Recently, the growth of Cal State San Marcos has led to great opportunities for youth (such as the high-tech sector) are increasingly setting up workshop in the city's robust economy.
San Marcos is home to a large population of retired persons and older adults. There are a variety of businesses offering services to this population.