As part of the Argentine recreational coast, tourism is Mar del Plata's main economic activity with seven million tourists visiting the city in 2006. Mar del Plata has a sophisticated tourist infrastructure with numerous hotels, restaurants, casinos, theatres and other tourist attractions. Mar del Plata is also an important sports centre with a multi-purpose Olympic style stadium (first used for the 1978 World Cup and later upgraded for the 1995 Pan American Games), five golf courses and many other facilities.
As an important fishing port, industry concentrates on fish processing and at least two large shipyards.
The area is also host to other light industry, such as textile, food manufacturing and polymers. There is a well-developed packaging machines industry, its quality being recognized in international markets. One of these companies was one of the pioneers in the automatic packaging of tea bags, exporting its original machine-designs abroad. Another company also exports its products and has sold royalties to other countries.
During the mid-1980s, Mar del Plata saw the birth of electronics factories, focused mostly on the telecommunications field, with two of them, Nexuscom and DelSat, succeeding in the international market. By the 2010s, a local technology company, PCBOX, was manufacturing and developing personal computers, tablet computers, smartphones and action-cams.
Also during the decade of 2010, the development of the software industry resulted in the formation of 92 companies and 440 microbusiness. One of these companies, Making Sense, opened offices at San Antonio, Austin and Boston, in the United States. Along with the American COPsync, Inc, the company developed in 2013 the software for VidTac, an in-car video system for law enforcement, and the internet landing page application Lander, bought by the Silicon Valley company QuestionPro in 2016.
Since the 2000s, a local company builds and develops oil industry equipment, with customers in the United States, Russia, Oman and Egypt.
Located southwest of the city there are quartzite quarries. The stone is traditionally used in construction. There is a huge area of farms in the rural areas surrounding the city, specialized mostly in the cultivation of vegetables. In 2012, Mar del Plata became a wine producing area, when a wine company from Mendoza province produced 20,000 lt from a vineyard at Chapadmalal beach from grape varieties such as Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Since then, the local winery turned into a tourist attraction. Microbeweries flourished during the 2010s, amounting by 2016 to one third of the national production.
Although the area had suffered from a high rate of unemployment from 1995 to 2003, Mar del Plata has seen 46,000 new jobs created from the third quarter of 2003 to the third quarter of 2008, representing an increase of 22%.
The 2008 Davis Cup Final was held in Mar del Plata and, after being shut for a decade the Gran Hotel Provincial (one of the largest hotels in Argentina) was reopened by the Madrid-based NH Hotels, in 2009.
Mar del Plata continues to lead Argentina's room availability: of 440,000 registered hotel rooms nationwide in early 2009, the city was home to nearly 56,000 (5,000 more than Buenos Aires).
Mar del Plata is served by Astor Piazzolla International Airport (MDQ/SAZM) with daily flights to Buenos Aires served by Aerolíneas Argentinas and Sol Líneas Aéreas and weekly flights to Patagonia served by LADE.
Highway 2 connects Mar del Plata with Buenos Aires and Route 11 connects it through the coastline, ending at Miramar, 40 km (25 mi) south of Mar del Plata. Route 88 connects to Necochea and Route 226 to Balcarce, Tandil and Olavarría.
The city has a bus and train station serving most cities in Argentina. There are two daily trains to Buenos Aires' Constitución station using new trains operated by Trenes Argentinos. These services are part of the General Roca Railway, owned by the government company Nuevos Ferrocarriles Argentinos.
Pre-Spanish era: The region was inhabited by Günuna Kena nomads (also known as northern Tehuelches). They were later (after the 11th century) strongly influenced by the Mapuche culture.
1577–1857: First European explorers. Sir Francis Drake made a reconnaissance of the coast and its sea lion colonies; Don Juan de Garay explored the area by land a few years later, in 1581. In 1742, during the War of Jenkin's Ear, eight survivors of HMS Wager, part of Admiral Anson expedition, and led by Isaac Morris, lived through a ten-months ordeal before being decimated and captured by the Tehuelches, who eventually handed them to the Spaniards. After holding the Englishmen as prisoners, they returned Morris and his companions to London in 1746. First colonization attempt by Jesuit Order near Laguna de los Padres ended in disaster (1751).
1857–1874: The Portuguese entrepreneur José Coelho de Meirelles, taking advantage of the country's abundance of wild cattle, built a pier and a factory for salted meat near Cabo Corrientes, but the business only lasted a few years.
1874–1886: Patricio Peralta Ramos acquired the now abandoned factory along with the surrounding terrain, and founded the town on February 10, 1874. Basque rancher Pedro Luro bought a part of Peralta Ramos land for agricultural production. First docks also erected around this time.
1886–1911: The railway line from Buenos Aires, built by the Buenos Aires Great Southern reached Mar del Plata in 1886; the first hotels started their activity. The upper-class people from Buenos Aires became the first tourist of the new born village. They also established a local government that reflected their conservative ideals. Build-up of a French style resort. On 19 July 1907, the provincial legislature approved a bill that declared Mar del Plata as a city.
1911–1930: The residents, mostly new arrived immigrants from Europe, demanded and obtained the control of the Municipality administration. The socialist were the mainstream political force in this period, carrying out social reforms and public investment. The main port was also built and inaugurated in 1916.
1930–1946: A military coup reinstated the Conservative hegemony in politics through electoral fraud and corruption, but at local level they were quite progressive, their policies viewed in some way as a continuity of the socialist trend. In 1932, the construction of National Route 2 was completed, which connected Mar del Plata to Buenos Aires. Before this, a dirt road connected Mar del Plata to Buenos Aires using a different route, required almost two days to travel by car. The seaside Casino complex opened in 1939, was designed by architect Alejandro Bustillo, dates from this period.
1946–1955: Birth of the Peronist movement. A coalition between socialists and radicals defeated this new party by a narrow margin in Mar del Plata, but by 1948 Peronism came to dominate the local administration. The massive tourism, triggered by the welfare politics of Perón and the surge of the middle class marked a huge growth in the city's economy.
1955–1970: After the fall of Perón, the socialists regained the upper hand in local politics; the city reached the peak in activities like construction business and building industry. Massive immigration from other regions of Argentina.
1970–1989: Slight decline of tourism demand, counterbalanced by the increasing of other industries such as fishing and machinery. General infrastructure renewal under the military rule. The centrist Radical Civic Union becomes the main political force after the return of Democracy in 1983.
1989–present: Though the Peronism replaced the radicals in central government amid a national financial crisis, the latter party continued to rule in Mar del Plata. Some resurge of mass tourism in the early '90s was followed by a deep social crisis in town, with an increase of poverty, jobless rate and emigration. By contrast, the first decade of the 21st century shows an amazingly quick recovery in all sectors of the ailing economy.
In November 2005 the city hosted the 4th Summit of the Americas.
Mar del Plata is the most popular destination for conventions in Argentina after Buenos Aires. Mar del Plata has a wide range of services in this sector. The summer season hosts over fifty theatrical plays.
The local Government sponsors a Symphonic Orchestra, as well as a two Conservatoriums (Classical and popular music) and a School of Classical and Modern Dance.
Mar del Plata has a wide variety of clubs located by district: the area of Escollera Norte (known for its quantity of pubs and nightclubs) and Constitution Avenue.
The development of the city as a seasonal summer resort in the early 20th century led upper class tourists from Buenos Aires to build a European-inspired architecture, based mainly on the picturesque and later on the art deco styles. This gave Mar del Plata the nickname of the Argentine Biarritz. The building industry became the main non-seasonal activity of the town by 1920.
During the '30s,'40s, and beyond, local architects and builders, like Auro Tiribelli, Arturo Lemmi, Alberto Córsico-Picollini and Raúl Camusso recreated and transformed the picturesque values into a middle-class scale, marking the beginning of a vernacular architecture, called Mar del Plata Style, consisting in small samples of the luxury-laden summer residences of high society, built for the summer visitor as well as for the local resident.
These chalets were built with stone façades, gables roofs covered with Spanish or French tiles, prominent eaves and front porches. This gives the town some distinctive urban character compared with other Argentine cities, despite the fact that the growing mass of tourists in the '60s imposed the construction of large apartment buildings and skyscrapers as the predominant architectural style downtown.
Mar del Plata has an oceanic climate (Cfb, according to the Köppen climate classification), with humid and moderate summers and relatively cool winters, although polar air masses from Antarctica are frequent. The average temperatures for January reach 20 °C (68 °F) and 8 °C (46 °F) for July. The West-Southwest winds bring down the temperature below 0 °C (32 °F), while the Southeast ones (the so-called Sudestada) are stronger, producing coastal showers and rough seas, as well as strong squalls, but the cold is much less intense.
The city's summer maximum temperatures fluctuate broadly around the average of 27 °C (81 °F): while there are many days between 30 °C (86 °F) and 35 °C (95 °F), strong on-shore or southerly winds can also keep temperatures closer to 20 °C (68 °F), and nights can sometimes be very cool even in midsummer (falling below 10 °C (50 °F) sometimes). Traditionally, Easter is seen as the "last" weekend to go to the beach in the Argentine Atlantic coast, and average maximum temperatures are around 23 °C (73 °F) at that time. While some years can have the last few days of 25 °C (77 °F) to 30 °C (86 °F) around that time, it is also entirely possible to experience daily highs of 15 °C (59 °F). Winter temperatures average 12 °C (54 °F) during the day and 3 °C (37 °F) at night; they sometimes climb to 18 °C (64 °F) for a couple of days, but there are also days where highs stay around 6 °C (43 °F) and temperatures fall a few degrees below 0 °C (32 °F) at night.
Spring brings the most variable weather, with heat waves bringing highs of 35 °C (95 °F) followed by highs of 10 °C (50 °F) to 15 °C (59 °F) and perhaps a late-season frosty night all perfectly possible in October and November.
There are about six days of frost each year in the city center, and almost 27 recorded at the airport. The average dates for the first and last frost are May 23 and October 4 respectively. Snowfall is not uncommon, but snow accumulation on the ground is rare, a phenomenon that takes place every six years or so, according to the last 40 year's data. Among the most best known such occurrences in the latest decades were the 1975 and 1991 snowstorms, but there were also snow accumulations in 1994 and 1997 in the highest hills area of Sierra de los Padres, in 1995 along the southern coast, and other two during the first hours of July 10, 2004, July 15, 2010, and again in Sierra de los Padres and the southern coast on 11 September 2015. There were flurries in September 1986, June 2007, July 2011 and August 2013.
There is fog in the last days of fall, and springtime is often marred by sea winds and sudden temperature's changes. There are some ten days of 30 °C (86 °F) each summer, certainly milder values than the rest of the pampas region. Usually, the summer nights are cool and pleasant, with values between 13 °C (55 °F) to 17 °C (63 °F). The record high is 41.6 °C (107 °F) on January 28, 1957 while the record low is −9.3 °C (15 °F) on July 6, 1988. The wet season occurs during spring and summer, especially in January, with values between 70 millimetres (3 in) and 80 millimetres (3 in). The average annual rainfall is 780 millimetres (31 in).
Mar del Plata is the head of the department of General Pueyrredón. The current Mayor of the city and department is Carlos Arroyo, of the Cambiemos party.
The town council has some legislative powers. The term of office for both the Mayor and council members is four years.
In 1919, Mar del Plata became the first town in South America to have a Socialist Mayor, a son of Italian Immigrants, Teodoro Bronzini. The Socialist Party would dominate the city political landscape for most of the 20th century.
Mar del Plata has had 109 Mayors and Commissioners from 1881 to the present.
There is an extensive but interesting work by the American sociologist Susan Stokes about the democratic process in Mar del Plata since 1983 in comparison to other regions of Argentina. One of the main thesis of her articles is that the social and economic development of Mar del Plata was quite atypical, with a strong prevalence of middle-class values that discouraged the policy of clientelism that is the common background in other urban environments of Argentina.
The area has many Schools and Universities, some of these are private or public. It once had a German school, Johann-Gutenberg-Schule.
Mar del Plata's most popular football teams are Aldosivi, Alvarado and Kimberley. Aldosivi plays in Primera division, Alvarado and Kimberley in the Torneo Argentino B.
Peñarol and Quilmes de Mar del Plata are the most popular basketball teams. Peñarol have won eight official tournaments (Súper 8, FIBA Americas League, five National Leagues, InterLigas, and Copa Argentina). Mar del Plata hosted the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship, where the city's basketball fans supported Argentina's national basketball team to win the gold medal. All games were played in the 8,000 seat Polideportivo Islas Malvinas.
Mar del Plata hosted six matches in the 1978 FIFA World Cup at the Estadio José María Minella, which was built for the sporting event.
The city also hosted the 1995 Pan American Games and the 2001 Rugby World Cup Sevens.
The city is home to Argentine Bandy Union.
In 2003 Mar del Plata hosted the 2nd Parapan American Games that featured 1,500 athletes from 28 countries competed in nine sporting events. This was the last Parapan American Games that was not tied to the Pan American Games.
The 20th World Transplant Games were held in the city from 23 to 30 August 2015.
Mar del Plata was the starting point for the 2012 Dakar Rally.