Things To Do In Marfa
Before you start your trek to Marfa, Texas there are a few things that are good to know. Marfa is a small town, in the middle of no where, in the high desert of west Texas. This small town changed into a hub of culture when minimalist artist Donald Judd moved in and started buying space in 1971. Marfa currently has about 2,000 residents.
Because of Marfa’s location in the high altitude of the Chihuahuan desert, the city sees temperature ranges of 30 degrees in a day, dry air and hot sun. Be sure to bring chapstick and lotion to keep your skin and lips from dehydrating in the desert air. In the summertime, the high altitude sun can be hot and easily burn skin, be sure to bring lots of sunscreen and to wear long sleeve shirts when possible. Wearing clothing in layers is smart whatever time of year you visit Marfa. The mornings and evenings are often cool and the afternoons are hot in the blazing sun. It’s also important to note that Marfa is very near the border with Mexico. You should not need your passport while there, but do know that the border is heavily protected and that you should comply with requests from border officers.
Marfa is a great place to visit to get a feel for a high class version of the old west. The town still feels like a cowtown, there’s only one stoplight and you might even see a few cowboys walking around, but you can also get a garden fresh meal from a five star restaurant owned by a retired New York chef. Marfa tends to feel like New York City transplanted into the Texas desert. Many of the people you will meet while in Marfa are transplants from major cities looking for a quieter way of life. If you do meet a local, someone who was born in Marfa, you have found a rare being. There’s lots of culture, art and food to explore around Marfa. It’s also a great place to visit just to relax and enjoy the scenery of the high desert.
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When To Go
The weather in Marfa is almost always pleasant. During the summer, June and July are the hottest months, reaching highs of 91 Fahrenheit (33 C) and lows of upper 50s (14 C) at night. December and January are the coldest months with highs in 60s (16 C) during the day and lows of 20 (-6 C) at night.
The desert climate means that a temperature range of 30 degrees in one day is normal. Be sure to dress in layers, keeping you warm in the cold evenings or mornings and keeping you cool during the hot hours of the afternoon. It rarely rains in Marfa. Though there is no bad time to visit Marfa, Spring is one of the prettiest times of year. The wildflowers are blooming along the highways and the weather has not yet gotten hot!
What To Do
Though Marfa is a small town, it’s full of interesting little places to pop in and visit and lots of art to admire. If you’re worried there won’t be enough to entertain you for your entire stay, know that there are lots of little places to curl up with a good book and that there are other little towns to explore if you want to get out of Marfa for a day.
One of the reasons that Marfa became a place to visit was that Donald Judd, a minimalist artist from New York, bought the old, abandoned military base and converted it into an artists’ workplace. The Chinati Foundation is now home to artwork from many different minimalist artists, including multiple series by Donald Judd and Dan Flavin.
Be sure to take the tour, offered a few times a day to see the art. Only one series is open to the public, everything else must be seen while on a tour. If you don’t know much about minimalist art or the mentioned artists, be sure to take a few minutes to research before visiting. The ideas these artists were trying to challenge are abstract and sometimes hard to grasp.
Marfa Mystery Lights
Marfa is also well known for its mystery lights. The lights appear at night near the horizon and have never been fully explained.
There are many theories as to what the lights could be, but true believers think the lights come from extraterrestrials. Be sure to go out to the viewing area after dark to view the lights. Many people suggest that a beer or two will help in the viewing process.
Just outside of Marfa you’ll run into a Prada store. This sculpture (the size of a real life store) was put into the middle of the desert by some German artists and stocked with actual Prada items.
Be sure to stop by and take a picture with the Prada store in the middle of the desert.
Presidio County Court House
If you take a tour of the court house, be sure to climb to the top of the dome for the best view of the surrounding landscape from the highest point for miles.
The Marfa Ballroom, which is no longer a ballroom but an art museum, is a non-profit space dedicated to the exploration of ideas and an art gallery for film, visual arts, performances and music.
Tours are available and free, though donations are appreciated.
Places to visit near Marfa
Terlingua Ghost Town
This little ghost town was built up in 1922 but fell to disuse after WWII. The town only has a few dozen residents but boasts a lot of interesting roadside attractions and even a little shopping. You won’t find any Walmart, Starbucks, McDonalds or Dairy Queen, but you will meet the owner of every restaurant that you eat at in town.
Be sure to see the abandoned mining town, see the old mine shafts, meet some crotchety old locals and visit the Starlight Theatre, a fully functioning saloon. You’ll probably even spend some time in the jail, because that’s where the public bathrooms are.
The observatory offers up views of some of the darkest and most beautiful night sky for hundreds of miles around.
Be sure to stop in for one of the star parties on Tuesday, Friday or Saturday night.
Big Bend State Park
This is Texas’ largest state park and has lots to offer such as camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding or just seeing the countryside from your vehicle.
Balmorhea State Park
Balmorhea is a great place to stop on a sunny day for a dip in their natural, spring fed swimming pool. The pool closes at sunset, but is included in the park entrance fee which is only $7.
The pool was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Balmorhea is also home to restoredcienegas or desert wetlands with many species of endangered fish and animals. This is also a great place for camping.
Where To Stay
One of the most charming aspects of Marfa is its oddities. If you’re coming to visit Marfa, know that there are a number of places to stay and each will have its own unique charm. Marfa accommodations include a wide range of choices including sleeping in a yurt, using an open air shower, staying in a classy room with local art, having a room with your own private bath with water pumped from the local hot springs or a historic hotel formerly graced with the presence of movie stars.
Chinati Hot Springs
At this quaint hotel run by a husband and wife team, you have the option to rent a cabin with built in tubs hooked up directly to the Chinati hot springs. The water from the hot springs is believed to contain trace amounts of minerals that contain healing properties. When you rent a cabin from the Chinati Hot Springs you will get a small private cabin with queen bed, AC and heating, mini-fridge and some have spring fed hot tubs. Though not all rooms have private tubs, you can visit their public spring fed hot tub.
Even if you’re not staying with the Chinati Hot Springs, you can book a day to come and visit the hot springs, soak in the healing waters as you overlook the hills and maybe watch the sunset. On site there is also a public kitchen with modern appliances and two refrigerators. You’re encouraged to bring your own food and to cook while there because the property is isolated and there are no grocery stores or restaurants near by. As well, there’s no cell service, wifi or TVs on the property, so be sure you’re ready to really get off the grid. The Chinati Hot Springs give their guests the opportunity to return to nature and enjoy the isolation and peace of mind of the desert landscape.
Located in the middle of downtown Marfa, the Thunderbird hotel offers an ideal accommodation for those looking to walk around and explore downtown Marfa. The rooms offered at the Thunderbird are decorated with crisp, white linens, light wood and local art. The rooms are intended to give the visitor a sense of peace and quiet. Be sure to check out the restaurant located right around the corner of the building called the Capri Lounge.
The lounge offers great food and a nice courtyard for sitting and eating. If you’re staying in Marfa to get a little inspiration and soak up the creative vibes swirling around the city, be sure to check out Thunderbird Hotel’s packages. They offer room packages that include unlimited paper, vintage typewriters for composing your memoirs, a turntable and all the vinyl records you could desire as well as delivery coffee. Just image, coffee delivered to your door during the day while you work on that book you’ve always wanted to write. Marfa is a great place to get inspired and find the time to put the ideas on paper.
If you’re looking for a slightly more traditional place to retreat and stay, be sure to check out the Hotel Paisano. Located right in the heart of downtown Marfa, you’ll be within walking distance of the capital and multiple restaurants. Hotel Paisano was built in 1930 and was recently renovated to restore it to its former glory.
During the 1955 filming of the movie GIANT in Marfa, the cast members, including James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, all stayed at the the Hotel Paisano. Today, the Hotel Paisano boasts 41 rooms, a fitness center, a GIANT memorabilia room, a seasonally heated pool, a shopping center. meeting spaces, a ballroom and a restaurant. Each of the rooms offer amenities such as queen beds, mini-fridges, heat and AC and wifi.
El Cosmico is a hotel for the adventurer so if you’re looking for luxury, this is not the place to stay. When you book a room at El Cosmico you’ll first have to make the tough decision about where you want to stay. The room accommodations at El Cosmico include renovated 1960s campers, teepees, safari tents, a yurt or primitive camping. The most luxurious of these (and priciest) are the renovated 1960s trailers.
There are 8 trailers on the property and all have their own unique decor, are painted in fun, bright colors and include heating and air conditioning.They range in size, but all have a private, indoor toilet and sink and include a small space for food preparation. Most of the trailers include outdoor showers so be ready to brace yourself in the cooler months as you commune with nature while you bathe. If you’re looking to play a little more on the wild side, check out one of the teepees, the yurt or a safari tent. Each of these accommodations includes a queen size bed with heated mattress pad, fluffy pillows and down comforter to keep you toasty warm during the winter time.
Towels are provided but toilets and showers are communal. The bathhouse includes two separated rooms, each includes a toilet and shower and one has a bathtub. The bathhouse is screened for privacy but is not closed off completely so that you can see the open sky as you shower. If you choose to bring your own camping gear, El Cosmico has lots of space to set up your tent and well behaved dogs are always welcome on the grounds. Be sure to check out their website for details about each trailer and the different accommodations.El Cosmico is a great place to get away from it all and leave the world behind you. If you need to conduct some business, there’s wifi available in the lobby, but it does not extend to the rooms. El Cosmico also offers an outdoor communal kitchen with fridge and cooking supplies. Beware that the stove may not work and the utensils are few and far between. The fridge is a great place to store food for eating later. If you’re looking just to relax, grab your book and swing the afternoon away in the hammock grove. You can even rent a wood fired hot tub for the night on the weekends. Be sure to bring a flashlight for walking the grounds at night or just enjoy the darkest night sky some of you city dwellers will ever see.
Where To Eat
One of the charms of visiting Marfa is choosing whether you’d like a fancy 4 course meal or just a greasy grilled cheese. There’s a little something for everyone in Marfa and whatever you choose, it will be done with passion and quirkiness.
Padre’s is known for serving not only the best burgers in town, but also a great place to socialize and meet new friends.
Padre’s has an extensive selection of tequilas, a wooden dance floor and a game room that includes foosball, vintage shuffleboard, air hockey and pool. Be sure to stop by for the best live music in Marfa.
This local little beer garden is known as one of the best and only places for nightlife in Marfa.
There’s lots of eclectic art along the walls, a decent beer selection and live music. There’s a small menu to choose from but you’re encouraged to bring in food from elsewhere.
The Food Shark
The Food Shark is the only food truck in Marfa. It’s known for its fantastic Mediterranean food and daily menu.
The Food Shark is located near Padre’s and is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from noon to three.
Mando’s is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves delicious Mexican food.
If you’re looking to try traditional, local TexMex, Mando’s is the place to go. This is also one of the few places open for breakfast in Marfa.
Cochineal is the type of restaurant in Marfa that feels like it was transported from New York City and set down in the middle of nowhere Texas. With its small dining room, elegant outdoor space and daily menu, you’ll love Cochineal. The restaurant serves dinner every night and brunch on Sundays.
Cochineal was started in 2008 and is the sister restaurant of New York’s Etats-Unis. They offer an extensive selection of wines from around the world and menu items made from simple and fresh ingredients, many of which were picked from their own, personal garden.
Museum of Electronic Wonders and Grilled Cheese Parlor
This is one of the most quirky restaurants in Marfa and it is loved. This great late night spot for greasy food is not just a place to get grilled cheese. When you come in you will be bombarded by numerous classic TVs, mini speakers and 8 tracks on display in the Museum of Electronic Wonders.
This place has become well known for its interesting combinations and its famous Mother F**ker sandwich which has a combination of gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and brussel sprouts on it. Be sure not to arrive too late or the line may be long. Beware, they only take cash or check. There’s nothing better than a cheesy, greasy sandwich after enjoying a beer or two at one of the other local establishments.
The Capri Lounge
Located right next door to the Thunderbird Hotel, this is a lesser known spot to grab a bite to eat. When you come in, the kitchen and window for ordering will be directly there.
After that, just find yourself a spot in the shade at one of the tables and enjoy the water feature as you wait and your food will be delivered to the table.
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