I grew up in Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the country with over 2 million people. On the other hand, Marfa, a little town in West Texas known on instagram by its Prada store “art” is a desert city with under 2,000 people. After a much doubt, I finally gave in and took a 7 hour road trip to venture to this place that has only 5 hotels, 2 grocery stores, about 15 restaurants (which are all basically all closed on Sunday by the way) several art spaces, and tiny shops. The drive actually flew by. Once you pass Johnson City, you start getting into the “mountains,” plateaus, greenery, wide open spaces, cows, cacti, and roads and vegetation that just goes on for miles uninterrupted. Which by the way means, make sure your gas tank must be half full at all times because about the last two hours on your way to Marfa, there isn’t much in sight.
Marfa is the definition of a slow vacation where you can escape. This walkable town offers art culture, dive bars with live music or nice hotel bars with great cocktails, enough good restaurants to serve you throughout the weekend, and nice people just slowly doing their thang. You’ll know the entire town after two days because the locals all straddle 4-5 jobs and the guests are all visiting the same museum exhibits and coffee shops you are told to. It’s like the twilight zone, but in the desert. Marfa kind of gave me a complex. Am I still in Texas? There are New York artists giving me my tour at the Donald Judd and simultaneously Texas cowboys ordering a giant breakfast burrito next to me. I’m sleeping in a tailer, and also drinking a vegan, caffeine free latte made with date syrup. How do they all fit in one place and also just a 60 mile drive from the border of Mexico!? This is why this place worked for me, it caused me to think, allowed me to relax with its small perimeters, and got me chatting with the locals to find out everything and anything I could about them. Below is my guide on Where to Stay, What to Do, and Where to Eat in Marfa Texas which is also only a 2 hour drive from Big Bend National Park.
WHERE TO STAY:
We went for it and stayed at Liz Lamberts’ famous El Cosmico trailer park. Yes, we paid to stay in a “hotel” which is actually a trailer park with tepee, yurt, tent, and a newly added casita option. Our tricked out, extra large trailer fit 3 of us: two in the king bed and one on a full at the other end. I felt like I was on tour for the weekend and loved the colorful striped comforter that matched the San Jose style robes. We had a full bathroom, stove, and even an outdoor shower. The hotel store cannot be called a gift shop because it is so awesome and full of local and national beauty products, sunglasses, hats, books, nice jewelry, blankets, that calling it a gift shop would be an insult. The 25 acres sits right in front of the Chinati museum, next to a “real” trailer park, and just a 10 minute or less walk from the center of town. We scarfed up the extra $90 for the outdoor hot tub which runs from 6 p.m.- midnight. I ended up meeting one of the founders from Torchy’s Tacos and his family naturally, but the tub is so hot we had to add 4 bags of ice and wait an hour to even get in. Once we got in, it was super pleasant and peaceful to be one with nature.
WHAT TO DO:
It’s all about the art and outdoors here, folks. I recommend to make reservations at Judd Foundation the first day for the 4:30 p.m. guided visit called The Block. You’ll see the famous New York artist, Donal Judd’s, private living quarters where he relocated his family and home to Marfa first before seeing his work at the Chinati exhibit. It’s a permanent collection and his craftsman ship on the outdoor dinner tables, fire pits, all placed over rocks are woo-ing. I found out that the foundation does make custom furniture at request. I’ll remember that. He also has 60 acres of ranch land that has been untouched and unpreserved which will be exciting to hear about in the future. His libraries here are full of books from travel, math, science, art and all organized by region and theme. He has day beds in each studio next to his art work which are a lot of boxes that play with angles and the mind. He loved orange-red color and is so specific on where he placed everything according the architecture of even the airplane hanger buildings that everything is placed in. The tour is $25 for an hour and a half and the guide is fantastic. You can’t view this without the tour FYI.
I’m also embarrassed that after living in NYC for 8 years, I didn’t know he had a gallery on Spring Street. MISSED THAT OPPORTUNITY.
The Chinati offers more artwork in different houses by Judd and his best friend Dan Flavin who is famous for his work with light bulbs and neon. This tour is two and a half hours and $. If you want to do a self-guided tour, you can view Judd’s outdoor cement boxes on the land for free but you’ll miss all the indoor exhibits. Judd was such a heavy thinking and all the aluminum boxes placed so carefully in front of the shed full of floor length windows looking onto the desert terrain is almost more beautiful than actually being outside looking at the land. He framed it perfectly. The museum is open Wednesday- Sunday.
Hiking is my all time favorite activity but we were too far from Big Bend to head there for our short, long weekend trip. We took a drive to Alpine which you pass coming into Marfa and attacked the 2o min uphill “Desk Hike” right behind Sul Ross University. The story goes that a few students walked hiked up with a desk and a chair to find a quiet spot with the best view to do some work. I will say we kind of had a hard time finding the desk, but we sure found it! It’s a beautiful view overlooking the peaks, valleys, mountains, and sunsets into Marfa and West Texas. The sunsets in this part of the country are unbelievable. Always, gorgeous, cotton candy pink with hues of purple and peach every single night. To get there take the Entrance 4 by the school, and drive up the hill to park by one of the dormitories. Then hike straight up and keep to the right whenever there is a fork or follow the white spray paint on the rocks.
There is a yoga studio called The Well in town that has classes on the reg. Vinaysa on Saturday at 10 a.m. if you are there on a weekend.
WHERE TO EAT:
My favorite restaurant was Stellina. This hip restaurant with no reservations can be a wait on a Friday night but chug down some red wine and the wait is always half the time anyway. I’m so impressed with this dressed up menu. You’d never think that being in the middle of the desert you’d have access to such creative and trendy dishes. This is not Phoenix, y’all. I loved the Sweet Potato Sope which was like a sweet potato latke/pancake almost but firmer with lamb birria, queso fresco and cabbage. All the textures of soft, braised, crunchy, here create happiness in your mouth. The enchiladas are a must with braised tongue, potato, peas, queso fresco, salsa verde, rice and beans. All the flavors that night seemed to pay a nod towards Mexico.We did have a more Asian style broccoli with spicy peanut sesame salsa macha. Things to note: Closed on Sunday’s, and food will run out so head there at least by 6/6:30 pm. before they close at 9:30 p.m.
Lunch at The Water Stop was also delightful. Known for their rotisserie chickens this is right on the edge of town which feels like your last resort for lunch especially when other spots are all packed like The Food Shark trailer down the road. I got the Pomegranate Chicken Salad with strawberries, feta, almonds, balsamic and traded in a slice of that awesome rotisserie chicken for the grilled chicken that it came with. They offer Fried Chicken Sandwiches,Biscuits + Gravy, Migas, Cheeseburger Jalapeno Mac ‘n Cheese (which they had run out of by the time we got there naturally). Stop by the rock shop on the other side of the road on your way back.
Cochineal reminded me of a lodge in Utah or Colorado with the taxidermy on the walls and the dim lighting. I loved the vegan board with roasted and grilled vegetables paired with an herbed vinaigrette, but was a bit dissapointed by the Miso Sable fish with rice, seaweed, and baby bok choy. The Mushroom Ancient Grain Pasta looked amazing as did the CastIron Roash Pheasant with stone ground polenta and cherries. Do make reservations here.
Do Your Thing is a cute coffee shop right by the Marfa Soap store. Lots of outdoor seating, all kinds of morning toasts, and one of the best and most creative drink menus I’ve seen. Again, I’m still in Marfa…. They have a Nero Latte with date syrup, activated charcoal, milk; a Turmeric Latte with date palm, cardamom, vanilla bean ashwaganda, black pepper, milk; a Horchata Latte; a Minty Matcha Latte with green tea, agave, peppermint and milk.
Frama Coffee is the best smoothie I’ve actually ever had– ANYWHERE. The green smoothie made with spinach, pineapple, banana, ginger, and almond milk was so smooth, well blended, creamy, and gingery all at the same time. I loved it and got two. Costing under $7 also helped. They also sell homemade ice cream and are open daily. Thank goodness.
Convenience West BBQ was the only restaurant open on SUNDAY night! (Besides Cochineal which we had gone to on Saturday). The line out the door and the views with the magical bright sun setting over the back patio with wide open spaces surrounding the BBQ sign really made me feel my Texas roots. Sunday BBQ was a tradition growing up in my family and I couldn’t have felt more like a Texan in this moment waiting in line to order some ‘cue with the rest of the town including our tour guides, waiters, and friends we had seen all over Marfa the last two days. The moist brisket melted into my heart and I loved the creative veggie sides that weren’t just potato salad and slaw. Go for the carrot dip with fritos for an appetizer and the green beans for a side. I love the colored paint cans they used for cactus decor pots outside. I luckily read Texas Monthly’s review about this spot two weeks before we went!
WHERE TO DRINK:
Capri at Thunderbird Hotel. This place kind of reminded me of Ocho in the San Antonio Hotel Havana. Beautiful teal bar stools, wooden tables, and back brick bar with purple lighting entrance you. Go for the hibiscus margarita stat.
The Lost Horse Saloon is a total Texas dive bar with grungy interiors and live music. Can’t beat $1 draft all day Thursday!
WHERE TO SHOP:
My favorite stores were Mira Marfa with great skin care products made in Marfa and beautiful ceramics and the Marfa Book Company located inside Hotel Saint George. They have the best coffee table books from Donald Judd and other famous artists around the world as well as Aesop and Marfa face spray products.
Overall, yes, Marfa is worth the 7 hour drive from Austin for a weekend getaway to explore your inner peace, love for nature, and the quiet and easy desert life.
***Due to all the crazy hours and specific timing of everything, we didn’t make it to Ballroom Mafa, the star party to star gaze, or to the Crowley Theater where they have theater, film, read poetry, and music. Chihuahuan Desert Research Center was closed on Sunday when we went to Alpine as well as the Big Bend Saddlery Hats. Those will be on my list for next time!