Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, talk of the tiny West Texas town of Marfa, has likely crossed your radar with increasing frequency in recent years. I believe we have the hipsters to thank for its most recent ubiquity, but its staying power is due in no small part to the artistic efforts of the late Donald Judd, who almost singlehandedly put this desert art village on the map in the 70s.
For a while, it seemed that every magazine I opened featured a spread on Marfa, and my interest was piqued years ago. The art, the high-desert, the Marfa Lights, the faux Prada store… it is all so intriguing. The mystique of this artist’s haven was magnetizing, even to a novice like me. When we decided to make the trip west to Big Bend for spring break last year, spending a few days checking out nearby Marfa was a no-brainer. Once we were there, we loved it so much, we extended our stay and ended up playing in Marfa for almost a full week!
My first order of business was, of course, to find lodging to accommodate my husband and me and our two children. After hours of online research, we ultimately decided to go with a private home rental, as opposed to the local hotel options. I’m so glad we did! We stayed in the amazing La Mistica, a property designed by Garza Design + Build.
Filled with an abundance of natural light and boasting mile-high vaulted ceilings, this airy and spacious property provided the perfect home base for our stay in Marfa. I was instantly inspired by both the minimalist design of the space and the attention to detail throughout the home. Just look at those amazing orange steel casement windows!
The steps on the wall to the left in the photo above lead to a loft area, which provides the “second bedroom” and boasts built-in bookshelves filled with reading materials appropriate for getting you in a West Texas state of mind. The full kitchen is stocked with anything and everything you could possibly need, and the laundry room is accessible to guests. This was a much-needed amenity due to the impressive amount of dust we brought home on our clothes each night!
Perhaps our most exciting surprise was the inclusion of a movie projector in the great room. Frozen was released on DVD during our stay in Marfa, and a quick trip to the Red Box provided my children with perhaps their most memorable activity on the trip!
For me, however, the awe-inspiring scenery and majestic sunsets provided the highlights of this West Texas road trip. It is no wonder so many Hollywood cinematic crews find their way to this small town. The prettiest scenes were found on the drive to Fort Davis and Davis Mountains State Park. It was truly breathtaking and a must-do if you find yourself in the area.
You never know what you might see in this town. While exploring one afternoon, I saw this couple presumably on their way to say their vows in the courthouse. They were alone, so I imagine this is the only image of them “walking down the aisle.” I was delighted to capture this special moment!
Although we were traveling with two preschoolers, who are admittedly not the most patient museum or gallery patrons, we couldn’t come this far without checking out some of the country’s most innovative art installations. Our first stop was the Chinati Foundation, established by Donald Judd in the 70s and opened to the public in 1986. This contemporary art museum features several of Judd’s permanent collections, mostly untitled. Among them are the artillery sheds and 15 untitled works in concrete. With our rowdy littles, we opted to explore the outside exhibits only. We were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day, and the kids loved exploring the vast area.
The remainder of our time in Marfa was spent exploring the shops and galleries, sampling the local culinary offerings, and burning off our energy at the playground near the Marfa Ice House. We also made the drive to neighboring Valentine to check out Prada Marfa and take the obligatory photos. Yes, this installation has probably been featured one too many times on Instagram and has lost a little of its freshness, but its genius can’t be denied. Seeing it in person was more moving than I had imagined. The irony of this faux store is brilliant, and I can’t help but wonder what future generations will think about a pretend luxury shop in the middle of nowhere! Sadly, the landmark was vandalized the week before our visit; you can see the blue paint and torn awnings in the photo below. I believe it has since been cleaned up and restored…thank goodness for the local art lovers and their dedication to preservation!
A trip to Marfa is certainly like no other. On its surface, this desert town seems old and sleepy and just a stop on the road to somewhere else. But if you dig only a tiny bit further, Marfa reveals its true flare as a vibrant art community wholly honoring the minimalist legacy left behind by Donald Judd. Marfa has served as inspiration for artists and designers across the country. Once you know what to look for, you’ll spot its influence in many designs by major retailers.
Although Marfa’s hipster invasion brings with it a certain pretentiousness that can be a little off-putting, the majority of the residents we encountered just seemed like cool people who were happy to be living the dream. I certainly enjoyed it for the week I was there! Read on for more of my recommendations on Marfa!
Without hesitation, I would no doubt book La Mistica on any return trip. This place is JUST SO MARFA! But in the event you need more space or it is booked, there are plenty of other options for lodging. For a group, a fun option would be the Marfa Boarding House. This two-story adobe dwelling sits on three acres and sleeps 16 with its seven bedrooms and optional casita rental. This adorable house would be the perfect place to rent for a girls’ trip!
Perhaps the most famous of the lodging choices, the historic Hotel Paisano is centrally located and is the social hub of the town. The Paisano is known for housing the cast and crew of the 1956 movie Giant. If it’s good enough for Elizabeth Taylor, it’s good enough for us all!
The Thunderbird Hotel, with its mid-century architecture and contemporary styling, is one of the hippest hotels around. Although the rooms are small, they are well-appointed, and they all display works of local artists. Guests have access to record players and an extensive vinyl collection, as well as bicycles, an outdoor fireplace, and a pool at this sleek boutique hotel.
If the Tbird feels reminiscent of Hotel San Jose or Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, it’s because they were all painstakingly remodeled by Liz Lambert, hotelier extraordinaire. She has also recently put her stamp on Marfa’s own El Cosmico (discussed below) and San Antonio’s uber cool Hotel Havana.
If you are looking for something in the vicinity of Marfa but wanting more of a true West Texas ranch experience, definitely check out Cibolo Creek Ranch. Located about 45 minutes south of Marfa, in the Chinati Mountains near the Mexico border, this luxe hotel is like summer camp for grown ups. Among the activities offered are guided Jeep tours, skeet shooting, horseback riding, fishing, and a fabulous spa for a great massage at the end of the day.
For the more adventurous free spirit, El Cosmico is an upscale “nomadic hotel,” offering renovated vintage RV’s, teepees, safari tents, a Mongolian yurt, and tent campsites. I can’t confirm, but I suspect El Cosmico is responsible for the term “glamping”! Although the facilities are a bit primitive for my taste, I certainly see the allure of this glam trailer park. I’ve heard it compared to a Wes Anderson movie set. You certainly can’t get any more chic than that!
Although Marfa is a teensy village with just over 2,000 people, the restaurant scene is impressive for a town of any size. Be prepared, however, because this is a place that prides itself on its laid back vibe. There is no hurry, and there is no rhyme or reason as to the hours some of these places keep. Your best bet is to stop by the visitor center on arrival and pick up a list of the restaurant hours. This is not, however, set in stone and you’ll want to call ahead, but it will at least give you a good idea of what to expect.
The food truck scene in Marfa is quite respectable, with Fat Lyles taking my personal top spot. Their Korean burger is to die for! Food Shark, with their cleverly-named Marfalafel wrap, is the local favorite, and the brisket tacos at Boyz 2 Men are definitely worth trying.
Upscale Cochineal is the place to be for innovative and fresh cuisine. This little gem changes its menu each week, and a sampling of their offerings includes pan-seared duck, cheddar cheese soufflé, and border-inspired chilaquiles. It is one of the few restaurants open daily (dinner only), and they also serve Sunday brunch. The other foodie haven in town, Maiya’s, serves fun handcrafted cocktails and delicious pastas. It is generally open Wednesdays–Sundays for dinner only.
During our stay in Marfa, we dined at Hotel Paisano’s restaurant, Jett’s Grill, several times for dinner. It is one of the few places that was truly kid-friendly but still served delicious cocktails and pretty solid food. It was my goal on this week-long road trip to avoid fast food restaurants if at all possible. Traveling over 1,200 miles roundtrip with two small children made this no small feat, but we succeeded in eating just two meals from a drive-through the whole week. This was partly thanks to Jett’s! We were able to secure patio seating each time, and the kids enjoyed throwing coins into the fountain. The live music from the adjacent hotel bar floated out and provided a truly lovely dining experience!
Although it appears to be temporarily closed due to a landlord issue, it is worth mentioning Pizza Foundation. They are usually only open on the weekends, but this pizza was actually worth the wait! We were all big fans of the New York style thin crust slices, and I sincerely hope they are able to reopen by their projected July date.
For an authentic, real deal breakfast burrito, look no further than Marfa Burrito. Yes, it feels a little sketchy as you walk into what appears to be this family’s home. And yes, you must place your order in Spanish. But let me tell you, it is worth it!! The homemade tortillas. The salsa verde with just the right amount of kick. It was all just right on point. Do try it!
The many art galleries are no doubt the biggest draw in Marfa, and no trip is complete without visiting the Chinati Foundation, Ballroom Marfa, and Marfa Contemporary. Other notable stops include the Greasewood Gallery at Hotel Paisano and the Wrong Store & Gallery with its shockingly eclectic goods!
With our niños needing to hit the hay shortly after sunset, we decided to forgo chasing the Marfa Lights. We did, however, stop by the observation deck (which also serves as an incredibly nice rest stop!) during daylight hours to read up on the phenomenon. Pretty interesting stuff!
We did get the kids to stay up late one night, though, and we drove to the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis for one of their star parties. It was awesome! We gathered in an outdoor amphitheater where a guide pointed out each constellation and visible planet with a massively powerful laser pointer. My son is still talking about that laser pointer! Telescopes were available, and guides help point out what you should be looking for. It was such a special night!
When in Marfa, the options for places to choose a really great souvenir are many. A few of my favorites include:
- Freda is an adorable shop featuring on-trend fashions, apothecary items, jewelry, vintage clothing, and its own Marfa Brand soap scent created exclusively for the shop. I was excited to pick up a few of of their soaps and a Rodarte hoodie that I have worn TO DEATH ever since!
- Marfa Book Company is one of the coolest and most carefully curated book stores I’ve ever shopped, and of course, I wasn’t able to leave without picking up a few books to take home. Signs of Marfa (only a collector’s edition is currently available online) and Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd are beautiful books now on display in my home.
- The Get Go is Marfa’s version of very small Whole Foods. Marfa Brand soaps are for sale at the Get Go, as well as Marfa Maid Goat Cheese, Big Bend Coffee Roasters, Jeni’s Ice Cream, organic produce, a very nice cheese selection, and decent wine options. Most interesting to me was the massive volume of Topo Chico in stock. I do believe hipsters have found themselves a new drink!
- The gift shop at Hotel Paisano has an extensive selection of gift ideas to fit any budget.
- For a very special treat, check out the Cobra Boot Company. These handmade boots featuring American leather are exquisite, and a wait list is around eight months long.
- If unique furniture is what you’re looking for, Garza Marfa has you covered. Their saddle leather and steel chairs, ottomans, and benches are AMAZING and on my wish list for sure! I hope you find what you’re looking for in Marfa!