“Let’s just get in the car and go to Marfa,” is an idea declared with regularity by Austinites these days. At one time, just knowing about the tiny West Texas town was enough for art-loving cool-seekers to identify one another. With a population of around 2,000, Marfa, Texas is a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” town. One traffic light sits quietly at it’s center on the intersection of U.S. Highways 67 and 90. In the middle of the vast Chihuahuan desert, Marfa is a true oasis — and not just because of the running water. The town boasts a world-renowned art scene, a thriving film community, and the most stunning views of wide open Texas sky. Against the backdrop of Rothko-esque sunsets and rugged plains, everything here looks like art. Beyoncé blew the doors off our little desert hideaway when she posted pics of her trip there back in 2012. And now that the secret’s out, we’re ready to spill the beans on our favorite things to do in this tiny Texas town!
photographed by jennifer rose smith
You don’t want to miss a visit to the Chinati Foundation, the museum that houses Donald Judd’s “15 Untitled Works in Concrete” along with large scale pieces from other artists. The late artist, who moved to Texas in the ’70s to escape NYC, is pretty much the parton saint of the Marfa art scene. The museum focuses on pieces that reflect Judd’s idea that art and the surrounding landscape are inextricably linked. And we totally get it — the desert is the perfect backdrop for his minimalist work.
Shop for amazing art and textiles.
For a town of about 2,ooo people, the shopping is crazy good in Marfa. Come home with an original piece of art, Mexican textiles, or a giant tumbleweed for your living room.
A few of our favorites:
Sip drinks in the courtyard of the swank Hotel Paisano.
The courtyard at the Paisano is absolutely the place to have an afternoon drink in Marfa — mingle with locals and tourists alike while sipping an ice-cold margarita.
Go alien watching.
While the town is most known for it’s art and design community, ET-loving tourists have flocked to view to the “Marfa Ghost Lights” for years. The mysterious lights (which appear as white, red, orange, and yellow spheres) can be viewed from the Marfa Lights Viewing Platform just east of town. Just someone’s headlights in the distance? Or paranormal activity? You decide.
photo by woodnote photography
Sleep in a teepee.
It’s hard to describe the out-of-the-box coolness of El Cosmico, Austin hotelier Liz Lambert’s project in Marfa. Choose from one of the refurbished airstream trailers, teepees, or pitch your own tent right on the campgrounds. Whatever you do, just don’t call it “glamping”.
If camping isn’t your thing, why not check into the Elizabeth Taylor suite at the Hotel Paisano? The iconic star lived in the elegant hotel (along with James Dean) while filming the movie Giant in 1955.
Cruise the square on foot.
Downtown Marfa is wonderfully walk-able, and you’ll find that many of the stores and restaurants on our list are within one square mile. So ditch the keys and hit the sidewalk to explore this small West Texas town.
Eat at one of the best trailers in the US.
The best restaurant in Marfa is actually a trailer parked underneath a pavilion right by the railroad tracks. Food Shark is open for lunch (between 11:30 and 3pm) and serves the most incredible Mediterranean fare including hummus, felafel, and lamb kabobs. Smithsonian Mag named Food Shark one of the 20 best food trucks in the United States — and we think this is one trailer that actually lives up to the hype. Definitely worth the wait in the sometimes lengthy lunch line.
Take a selfie at Prada Marfa (obviously).
If you thought Prada Marfa was an actual store, shhh — we won’t tell. It’s really an installation art piece created by artists Elmgreen and Dragset in 2005. The piece (which is located about 25 miles outside of town) has suffered almost constant vandalization since it’s inception, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most ‘grammable spots in the state.
Attend a great festival.
You may want to consider planning your visit around one of the annual music, film, or art festivals in Marfa. The energy of the town is fun during festival weekends and we had a blast at last year’s Trans-Pecos Festival of Music & Love which featured Bill Callahan, Girl in a Coma, and the Old 97’s among others. There’s also the Marfa Film Festival, and the Marfa Myth Festival which began just this year.
11. Swim with the fish.
Take a dip with the minnows in the spring fed pool at Balmorhea State Park. The famed swimming hole, which is located in the nearby town of Toyahvale, is one of the best in the state (and the only way to beat the intense summer heat in west Texas.)
photo by kristal armendariz
Hollywood has always had a thing for West Texas — and Marfa in particular. This is where James Dean filmed his last role in the movie Giant before his tragic death in 1955. The restaurants and hotels in town are still plastered with photos of the actor (along with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, who costarred with Dean in the film.) Since then, many directors have used the small Texas town as the backdrop for their films. Before you head out to Marfa, check out a few of our favorites:
photo by frank worth
What to take with you:
The desert is no joke, y’all. All that stark and stunning landscape comes with a climate that’s unforgivably harsh. So before you head into the dessert, you’ll want to make sure you’ve packed the following:
- a good hat
- a bandana
- paper road map (for places where you might not get cell service)
- a full tank (gas stations are few and far between in the desert)