Last spring, I texted my friend Lauren and asked, “Wanna go to Marfa?” She immediately replied, “Yes. When and for what?” I really needed a mom vacation and I wanted to photograph the Tiny Target just outside of town, so a girls’ trip seemed like the perfect opportunity for it! I visited Marfa while on a road trip with my husband back in 2014 and I always knew I wanted to go back. There’s just something about this tiny West Texas town with its weird, artistic, desert vibe. So, Lauren and I picked some dates and I started planning! Here is my Ultimate Guide to Marfa, Texas!
The Ultimate Guide to Marfa, Texas
What is Marfa?
Marfa is unlike any other town I’ve been to. The town seems almost … deserted. You hardly see any people outside. Everything in town appears Instagram-ready and it is such an unlikely art scene in the middle of nowhere. And based on the name or architecture of a building, it’s often difficult to figure out if you’re walking into 1. a shop, 2. a restaurant, 3. an art museum, or 4. an art museum/shop that also serves food.
How to Get to Marfa, Texas:
Marfa is a pilgrimage. Marfa’s slogan is “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.” Marfa is difficult to get to, but half the fun is in the journey. Your options are to fly into either El Paso or Midland/Odessa, rent a car, and drive the 3ish hours to Marfa, or make the 6.5-hour drive from Austin.
Lauren and I flew from Los Angeles and San Francisco into El Paso and rented a car. Before leaving El Paso, we stopped at a (real) Target and stocked up on a couple of cases of water, snacks, and a bottle of sunscreen. Be sure to use the restroom before you start your drive, rest stops are few and far between. And be advised that you will likely have to pass through a Border Patrol stop along the way.
If you’re driving in from El Paso, you will drive past Prada Marfa on your way into town. The Prada Marfa art installation is not actually located within Marfa, but instead, it is located 37 miles outside of town near the itty-bitty, tiny, “blink and you’ll miss it” town of Valentine, Texas. But Prada Valentine didn’t have the same ring to it or the art scene clout that Marfa had already established, so the artists went with Prada Marfa.
If you’re driving in from Midland/Odessa, you can go out of your way just a little bit and drive past the Tiny Target on your way to Marfa. It’s located between the towns of Alpine and Marathon.
Where to Stay in Marfa, Texas:
You have a few options on where to stay in town. Because I knew I would be writing this post, I decided we would stay at two different locations during our trip. We did one night at El Cosmico in one of their trailers and then checked into the Hotel Saint George for two nights and I was more than ready for a hot shower, clean bathroom, and plush bed.
El Cosmico: It’s kitsch, it’s hipster, it’s Instagram. Stay for the aesthetic, not for comfort.
You can also book a 2 bedroom, 2 baths stay inside the Brite Building located in a more central downtown location.
I’ll add my full review of El Cosmico in a post right here. (Coming soon).
Hotel Saint George: It’s the newest, modern hotel in town. I would definitely stay here again, but I thought it was a bit pricey and could have been just a little bit cleaner for the price. Also, the pool was shut down on our planned “pool relaxing day” (Monday when there is nothing to do in Marfa) due to too much chlorine and chemical levels, so that was a huge letdown.
Thunderbird Motel: I stayed here 7 years ago and it was great! Back then, I described it as “jail room chic.”
- The Hotel Paisano: I haven’t stayed here, but it’s historic, and the lobby is beautiful!
- 105 Lincoln AirBNB: I haven’t stayed here, but it looks cute, and it’s located right in the middle of town.
Where to Eat in Marfa, Texas:
Boyz II Men (aka Bad Hombres): Cash only. Most of the Yelp reviews complain about the rude service, the different pricing for tourists and locals, and how expensive it is. Honestly, the customer service was perfectly nice and polite for us, I totally understand the different pricing for tourists vs. locals (reward your loyal, repeat customers!) and I would honestly charge more for breakfast tacos if I owned the place, so I don’t know why reviewers say it’s expensive. Lauren and I both enjoyed our breakfast tacos! We both got half orders (2 tacos each) and it was MORE than enough.
Jett’s Grill: Located at the El Paisano Hotel, I’ve eaten dinner here twice (both times had excellent service and food) and we stopped into the bar once for an afternoon drink to cool off. I highly recommend a stop into the El Paisano Hotel sometime during your trip!
Marfa Burritos: Cash only and Matthew McConaughey is obsessed. You order through the window in the kitchen door, possibly to the owner who only speaks Spanish. Burritos are HUGE! Lauren and I split one.
Cochineal: Arguably the chicest, most gourmet restaurant in town. Reservations may not be required depending on the day/time of year, but definitely highly recommended as they allegedly only order enough food for their estimated guests. The food is excellent!
Pizza Foundation: I didn’t make it to Pizza Foundation on my latest trip, but I was there back in 2014 and it was awesome pizza! I would definitely visit next time!
Bar Saint George: We ate at Bar Saint George for a late-night dinner after taking sunset photos at Prada Marfa. Honestly, we weren’t starving for a large meal, we were tired, and we were staying at the hotel, so we just decided to grab some quick food there in the lobby. It was just okay.
Do Your Thing Coffee: The cups are so cute, how can you not? Unfortunately, the cute cups are the best part of this place. My cold brew coffee was burnt-tasting and undrinkable. Lauren wasn’t highly impressed with her coffee either. Maybe it was the new barista … or maybe it was the actual coffee. The cinnamon sugar toast was good, but I’ve had better. Other people rave about the place, so maybe it was just an off day.
Frama: The nitro cold brew was excellent! Oddly enough, the same new barista over at Do Your Thing was also working at Frama, but since the nitro cold brew is basically just push a button and pour, he couldn’t fuck it up! Plus, they have the cutest Greetings from Marfa, Texas postcard-style mural outside. And they serve ice cream!
There are several other places in town to grab some food. Unfortunately, there are so many we just couldn’t get to them all, or they were closed (gotta check those hours and plan ahead), or on vacation, but here’s a quick list if you want to explore:
- Al Campo, La Playa, & Bar de Jugos: I was really bummed. They were on vacation.
- Food Shark: They have NEVER been open when I’m in town. Always on vacation. Maybe next time.
- The Sentinel: It’s the region’s newspaper office. But also serves food and cocktails. That’s Marfa for you.
- Mando’s: Where the locals allegedly eat. I’m definitely putting it on my list for next time.
- Bun n Roses
- The Waterstop
- Convenience West
Where to Drink in Marfa, Texas:
Well, what do you do when you find out the night before you go to Marfa that you’re pregnant? Not check out any of the bars in town. Sorry. With only one of us ladies drinking, and both of us tired moms in desperate need of a relaxing vacation, we didn’t do the bar scene. But here’s a list for you to explore:
- Bar Saint George
- Lost Horse Saloon
- Planet Marfa
- The Sentinel: As I said before, it’s the regional newspaper, but also serves food and cocktails.
- The Capri: I can’t tell if this is a daily open bar or only an event space. You’ll have to explore and find out.
- La Playa: The website still says it exists, Yelp says it’s permanently closed. This is peak Marfa. You never really know if something is open or not until you try to open the door.
What to Do in Marfa, Texas:
Between all the art, shopping, eating, drinking, ‘gramming, and relaxing, there’s a reason why Marfa is such a perfect girls’ trip! I initially visited Marfa with my husband back in 2014, and he enjoyed it; however, I don’t think he has any desire to go back. On the other hand, Lauren said it was her favorite vacation ever and we’re already planning to go back in 2022.
Prada Marfa: Prada Marfa is 100% the entire reason I visited Marfa back in 2014. I love weird, roadside art and Prada Marfa is one of my favorites! No, Prada Marfa isn’t a real store, it’s an art installation. It was created in 2005 by the artists Elmgreen and Dragset and while the products are real Prada, it only contains the right-sided shoes and the bottoms of the handbags are cut out to deter vandals.
On my latest trip, Lauren and I stopped for photos on our way into town, we drove out to it for golden hour sunset photos one night because you have to see it light up, and then we stopped again on our way out of town when it was getting repaired.
I’ll update my blog post on Prada Marfa and link to it right here (coming soon) with all my recommendations and photos.
Tiny Target: My entire reason for this trip was to visit the Tiny Target art installation aka Target Marathon and it almost didn’t happen. I’ll explain more in a full Tiny Target blog post here.
I think it is a genius bookend to the Prada Marfa installation. Surprisingly, no one has claimed credit for it! It’s located 41 miles outside of Marfa (the opposite direction from Prada Marfa), closer to the town of Marathon.
Giant Billboards: If you like old movies, you’re planning a trip to Marfa, and you have 3 hours to spare, I recommend a viewing of Giant. It’s one of James Dean’s only three films and it stars a very skinny Elizabeth Taylor after she had allegedly just given birth to boy/girl twins in the movie. Yeah right.
After I started planning our trip to Marfa, I started seeing the Giant movie pop up everywhere. It was such weird synchronicity. I saw the “making-of” book at the library and the soundtrack record at an antique store. My husband and I watched the movie before my trip (over several nights because a 3-hour movie as toddler parents just doesn’t happen anymore) and it was awesome to see these huge mural billboards on our trip.
Surprisingly, there’s also a solar-powered rock playing music for James, Rock, and Elizabeth. The billboards are located between Prada Marfa and Marfa on land where part of the film was shot.
The murals are by John Cerney.
Judd Foundation Tour: The reason why Marfa is such an art town is because of Donald Judd. I honestly didn’t know who he was before visiting Marfa the first time, but he is considered to be a significant figure in American Minimalist Art and he basically turned Marfa into the town that it is today. The Judd Foundation Tour is of his personal living spaces while the Chinati Foundation tour (more below) is of his and others’ artwork.
I haven’t done the Judd Foundation Tour, but I would like to do it next time. Just know there are two different tours which are nearly two hours each which will take time away from some of the other things to do in Marfa which are only open for a short period of time. I feel some people come to Marfa and only do Judd and Chinati tours (because the tours are so long) and don’t really get a chance to explore or experience the town which is a shame.
Chinati Foundation Tour: Back in 2014, my husband and I did the self-guided tour of Donald Judd’s 15 Untitled Works in Concrete along with a self-guided tour of his 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum.
On my most recent trip, Lauren and I were going to do the Guided Selections Tour, but I started getting really anxious right before the tour started. It’s a two and a half hour tour. A lot of walking. You can carry water, but I guestimate that you walk at least a half-mile out from the water refilling station. Since it was a really hot day, it was a little bit too much for this pregnant lady to endure, so we simply changed our tour into 2 self tours of Judd’s 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum and Dan Flavin’s Untitled Marfa Project (the neon lights in the rooms below). It was too hot for me to walk down to the 15 Untitled Works in Concrete during this trip, but I insisted that Lauren walk down and see them while I sat in the car guzzling water with the A/C blowing full blast.
Ballroom Marfa: If you’re in need of more art after a stop at the Chinati Foundation, then be sure to visit the Ballroom Marfa art gallery and see what they’re currently exhibiting.
Marfa Lights Viewing Station: I absolutely love the folklore and myth surrounding the Marfa Lights. They’re mysterious, unexplained orbs that float above the horizon. If you’re in Marfa overnight, plan to go out to the Marfa Lights Viewing Station to try to see them!
My husband and I saw nothing back in 2014 (except for a silly tin foil hat on the floor in the men’s restroom), but on this girls’ trip with Lauren, we definitely saw something out there! You’ll know them when you see them!
30 Most Instagrammable Spots in Marfa, Texas: The town is just super photogenic. We felt like we were on an Instagram photo safari! I took over 5,000 photos!
Other things to do in town:
- Rent Bikes (from El Cosmico or the Thunderbird) and explore the town.
- Check out the architecture at the courthouse (pictured above) or climb to the top for a panoramic photo.
- Get a facial at Mira Marfa or a massage at The Well.
- Go shopping … which leads me to …
Where to Shop in Marfa, Texas:
Marfa Brand Soap Company: I loved this store! I purchased some soap, soap caddies, a brass cowboy hat, and an agave fiber washcloth. It smelled great! It was beautiful inside! It’s eco-friendly! Go!
Moonlight Gemstones: If you like rocks and crystals, then be sure to stop in. The owner can also make you custom jewelry if you’ll be in town for a few days.
The Marfa Store: One of the more affordable shops in town with touristy shirts and tchotkes.
Cactus Liquors: If you’re staying at El Cosmico and you want some liquor or Lone Stars for around the campfire, make a pitstop at Cactus Liquors. You can also hold a chicken because … Marfa.
The Get Go Grocery: If you’re staying at El Cosmico and you want to make your own dinner, make a pit stop at The Get Go Grocery when you get into town. They also have premade sandwiches, cookies, toiletries in case you forgot something, Big Bend Coffee Roasters coffee (makes a great gift for those you left at home), and be sure to purchase what I consider to be the quintessential Marfa souvenir, The Get Go Tote.
Cobra Rock: Looking for leather boots? This is the place. Maybe I’ll get some in 2022 on our next trip and hopefully my pregnancy feet will stop growing/shrinking and decide on a final size.
Se Vende: A vending machine gift shop open 24/7 and stocked with local Marfa treasures ranging from affordable to downright expensive.
Ashley Rowe: Honestly, not my type of fashion, but I got a pink Marfa, Marfa, Marfa, Marfa bag, even though it’s one “Marfa” too many.
Hotel Paisano Gift Shops: If you’re looking for souvenirs to take home as gifts, the gift shops at The Hotel Paisano will likely have it. I purchased a book about a sleepy sloth for my kiddos.
I didn’t actually get into the following shops because they were either closed or I didn’t have the time, but I totally would check them out on a future visit:
- Big Bend Coffee Roasters: FYI, you can also purchase their coffee from The Get Go Grocery where I got a bag of the Cattleman’s Cup to take home to my husband as a gift.
- Sister Gaiya: I have no idea what this shop sells, but the outside is cute.
- Pure Joy Marfa: a combination art studio and museum gift shop which looks housed in a former industrial plant of some sort.
- Ranch Dressing: western wear with a cute name.
- Garza Marfa
- Wrong Marfa
What to do Beyond Marfa, Texas:
If you’re going to Tiny Target, keep going to the town of Marathon, Texas to visit:
- The colorful and eccentric Eve’s Garden B&B
- The French Co. Grocer
- Gage Hotel with the photogenic skull wall
The town of Alpine, Texas. We didn’t stop in town aside for this moment with Cow Dog, but next trip, I will definitely plan for a day to explore Alpine and Marathon in full.
McDonald Observatory: for star gazing! There isn’t a lot of light pollution in West Texas, so the skies are filled with stars! I’m definitely making the trek to the observatory on the next trip.
- Marfa is actually at an elevation almost a mile-high, so the same recommendations that they make for visitors in Denver or Salt Lake City apply here. Be sure to drink lots of water, apply hand lotion and chapstick, go easy on the alcohol. Also, Marfa can get HOT in the summer and the sun is unrelenting, so be sure to apply and reapply sunscreen often.
- Monday through Wednesday/Thursday, most of the town is closed. It’s truly a weekend town for tourists. If you’re planning a trip, plan to stay the weekend, preferably Thursday or Friday through Sunday. There are some places that are open during the week, and I will post an entire blog post on What to Do in Marfa on a Monday, but if you can plan around the closed days of Monday-Wednesday, do it!
- Some places have a lack of cell service, so be sure to plan or map your day in advance. We didn’t have any problems, but I did read about other travelers having issues when I was doing research for this trip.
- Bring cash with you. Marfa only has 2-3 ATMs, none are major banks, and some restaurants or shops only accept cash.
- I think Marfa is a great trip with friends you don’t see very often. Between the long road trip to get to Marfa and the many meals, it’s great to be able to catch up with an old friend!
- Because our flight from El Paso back to Los Angeles was in the morning, we didn’t want to risk missing it with the 2.5-3ish hour road trip between Marfa and El Paso (oversleeping, flat tire, car trouble, whatever), so we drove back to the El Paso area the day before our departing flight and actually stayed at a very nice Courtyard Marriott hotel in Las Cruces and drove out to White Sands National Park just before sunset. The next morning, we only had about a 40-minute drive to the airport, compared to the 3-hour drive from Marfa.
Have any questions? Leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them!