Marfa: City Guide

There’s a quote floating around about Marfa that I couldn’t agree more with: A place tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get there, you get it. 

Marfa is the stuff small town life dreams are made of. Wide-open spaces. No stoplights, seriously, not even one- there’s a blinking ‘caution’ light in the center of town. Skylines that seem to stretch for miles. Remoteness.

Things feel less important when you’re in Marfa.

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The reward of spending time in Marfa is worth what it takes to get there. With a population just over 2,000, Marfa is in the middle of the West Texas desert. The shortest drive there is from El Paso, but still clocks ~3 hours.

Yes, it’s a long drive, but you’re driving through desert, mountains and blue skies with no traffic, so it’s not terrible. And once you get to Marfa, an art mecca filled with cool restaurants, fun shops and lots of installations, it feels worth it.

Wondering how a tiny town in Texas became known as an art mecca? In the 1970s, US sculptor, Donald Judd, bought several warehouse buildings in Marfa and filled them with his work, as well as the work of his friends. Cue a spectacular art exhibition that’s drawn interest for decades.

We spent two days and two nights in Marfa, which felt like a good amount of time. However, there were a few things we didn’t get around to doing, so if you’re able to spare another half or full day, that’ll be plenty of time.

Regardless of how long you’re there, try to relax and soak up the small town life. Marfa is the only place I’ve been, aside from national parks, where I’ve felt disconnected and content with just being.

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What to Do

  • Visit Prada Marfa: A Prada store in the West Texas desert that’s never open for business? Not a mirage. Art. Actually, an installation by Elmgreen and Dragset. Fun fact: The handbags inside are missing bottoms, and all of the shoes are for the right foot to prevent vandalism/theft
  • The Chinati Foundation: Widely known for the “15 Untitled Works of Concrete” by Judd placed across 1.5 miles of the desert, there are multiple collections to see. We didn’t have a chance to do one of the tours, but the experience has come highly recommended from friends
  • Ballroom Marfa: Cultural arts space devoted to contemporary art issues explored through arts, film and music
  • Marfa Courthouse: Climb three floors for a great view of the top from the top
  • The Marfa Lights: Ah, the mysterious Marfa lights. Also known as the Marfa ghost lights, they’ve been ascribed to paranormal phenomena (ghosts, UFOs). They can’t be seen every night, but there’s a viewing area at a rest stop about 10 miles east of Marfa. Come at night, pack snacks and wait for the show

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Where to Get Coffee

  • do your thing: Cutest coffee shop. They brew Blue Bottle, serve delicious artesian toast and pastries, have a roaring fire pit and make horchata lattes. Does it get any better?
  • Frama: A coffee/ice cream shop right next to a laundromat. Basically, my dream
  • Big Bend Coffee Roasters: Wholesale only, but man, does it smell good in there. If you brew your own coffee, stop by to take some beans home

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Where to Eat

  • Food Shark: A well-known Marfa staple. Gourmet mediterranean with a rotating menu. You can’t go wrong with the marfalafel- some of the best falafel I’ve had
  • Stellina: Before coming to Stellina, we were at The Capri enjoying a few cocktails and decided to come here because everyone we talked to recommended it. They described it as ‘Italian’, which none of us were really in the mood for, but I’m so glad we decided to go. It’s Italian, but not in the ‘pasta and breadstick’ sense. We loved everything we ordered. Please go and order a bunch of starters to share over a bottle of Malbec
  • Marfa Burrito: Cash only and you have to order in Spanish, but it’s so, so worth it. This place, a favorite of Matthew McConaughey by the way, is serving authentic tex-mex burritos the size of a forearm. Simple & ridiculously good
  • Squeeze Marfa: The best spot for a fresh, healthy breakfast (enter smoothies and juices)
  • Pizza Foundation: Yelp describes the pizza as ‘magical’
  • Jett’s Grill: We didn’t make it here for dinner, but I’ve heard the food is good, drinks are strong and the overall experience feels like stepping back in time
  • Cochineal: Hailed as the best place to eat in Marfa, Cochineal was closed while we were in town. Even if it was open, I’m not sure we would have checked it out. I’ve heard mixed things- mainly the food is more expensive than it’s worth from people who live in cities known for good eats
  • The Get Go: This adorable grocery store is stocked with tons of awesome food, drinks and snacks. I felt like I hit the jackpot when I discovered my favorite chips- Zapp’s Voodoo

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Where to Drink

  • Planet Marfa Beer Garden: Yes, a beer garden in Marfa. It’s awesome, come here for happy hour
  • The Capri: Such a lovely bar with great outdoor seating. My first drink, a hibiscus margarita was okay, but the next cocktail I had- a champagne and tequila based one was great. Stick to the basics here and you’ll be fine
  • Hotel Saint George: Lovely cocktails, with a great happy hour, situated in a beautiful hotel
  • Lost Horse Saloon: Amazing dive bar- cheap drinks, pool tables and locals abound. We spent a few hours here our first night in Marfa, talking with cowboys and learning how to two-step #TexasForever

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Where to Shop

  • Marfa Book Company: Great collection of art and books, inside the Hotel Saint George, so grab a cocktail and peruse the shelves
  • Cobra Rock Boot Company: This boot retailer uses grain leather techniques to handcraft beautiful footwear
  • Moonlight Gemstones: Small store, but a good array of gemstones and crystals
  • Wrong Marfa: Part art gallery, part shop, dogs everywhere. Loved everything about this place
  • Freda: Beautifully curated lifestyle shop
  • Mirth: Perfect for take-home keepsakes
  • Ranch Candy Marfa: Yes, the candy is good, but there’s also a small shop with accessories and clothing attached to the back where I found an awesome pair of gemstone earrings
  • Mano: Cute gift shop, we bought matching leather friendship bracelets, because #Marfa

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Where to Stay

  • El Cosmico: The most charming campground there ever was. Picture this: vintage airstream trailers, Mongolian yurts, teepees, hammocks and wood-fired hot tubs in the middle of the desert. From the owner: “The hotel’s aesthetic is more inspired by nomadic cultures than it is modern. There’s a strong influence from places like Mexico and India, which speaks to the spirit of the wanderer or intrepid traveler. Marfa, Texas, naturally inspires that feeling of slowing down and spending time looking at the beautiful expanse all around you. We built El Cosmico around that natural response to the landscape.” Oh, and El Cosmico has an awesome gift shop- pop by the check it out even if you aren’t staying there

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  • Hotel Paisano: A landmark hotel known for its architectural details, it’s quite literally an old world retreat
  • Thunderbird Hotel: Horseshoe-shaped and the epitome of vintage chic
  • Airbnb, specifically The Love House or Rock City House at Corte del Norte: Um, hello beautiful attention to decor detail. If you’re coming to Marfa with a group, I’d recommend spending a night at El Cosmico and the rest of your stay here- Corte del Norte’s location downtown is perfect
    • There are a couple other Airbnb options listed, a few of which have lots of great reviews and clock in under $90 a night

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What to Do Nearby

Marfa is cool enough to visit in its own right, but if you’re heading to the West Texas desert, there are a few other things worth checking out if you have the time.

  • Big Bend National Park: We didn’t have time to drive down for a hike, but definitely at the top of the list for next time. Straddling the border with Mexico, the park is full of breathtaking views
  • Alpine, TX: A mere 25-30 minutes from Marfa, Alpine is bigger than Marfa, but missing its charm. We stopped here to grab pineapple and jalapeño pizza one night (a few places are open later than in Marfa) from Guzzi Up- so indescribably good. Alpine is also known for it’s brewing company- Big Bend Brewing, which does tastings some days from 4-6 pm
  • Marathon, TX: About an hour from Marfa, Marathon is another West Texas desert town. We came here to check out The Gage Hotel, a hotel with a lot of character and history- soooo Texas
    • PS. If you make the drive from Marfa to Marathon, keep an eye out for the fake Target store (see Prada Marfa)

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EXTRA KNOW BEFORE YOU GO INFO

  • Language: English
  • Currency: USD, bring cash- some places (food trucks, small restaurants) are cash only 🙂
  • Getting There: The easiest way to get to Marfa is via flying into El Paso and then driving ~3 hours. You can also reach Marfa via driving from Dallas, Austin or Houston, but you’ll be looking at 6-8+ hours of drive time
  • Getting Around: Walk. We were surprised by how walkable everything was in Marfa. Even though we had a car, we walked just about everywhere downtown
  • When to Visit: We went in early March, which means daytime temps of 60, but chilly nights at 30/40 degree. As long as you bring a coat and clothes to layer, you’ll be just fine if you visit during the winter months of November-March. Marfa is best experienced Thursday-Sunday. The town basically shuts down otherwise
  • Wifi Access: Wifi is easy to find in Marfa- we had no service issues while in town. However, if you drive to Prada Marfa, the nearby town of Marathon or elsewhere, you’ll likely loose service at some point until you reach another town

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