Just before Thanksgiving, my sister traveled to NYC for a few days on a work trip, and I decided to join her for a little girl time. Our sister trips to the Big Apple usually consist of staying Uptown and schlepping all over to our favorite spots. What we’ve realized, though, is that many of our fave haunts are in Lower Manhattan, far away from much of the hustle and bustle, so we switched it up this time. At the risk of sounding like SNL’s Stefan, I’ve put together a guide of our go-to places to eat, stay, shop, and play in lower Manhattan. I have no clue about “New York’s hottest nightclub,” but I’m well-versed in shopping and eating!
If ever anyone needed to choose an outfit for my caricature to depict what I truly love to wear, I’m positive well-fitting jeans and an embroidered top would be a safe choice. I just can’t turn down pretty embroidery! This top is by Tularosa, which has become one of my favorite lines for their lovely designs and approachable price point. (You can find another favorite Tularosa piece in this blog post.) I ordered this top online, and it came in just in time for my trip out west. A Palm Springs family wedding with my daughter serving as flower girl called for early arrival and a few days at Disneyland of course, but after checking out flights, we decided the best bet was to fly into Orange County and spend the day at the beach (natch) before heading to Anaheim. I like to wear jeans on planes to stave off the freezing air and disguise any spills my children inevitably cause, so topping my outfit with my Levi’s denim jacket was a no brainer. Once we arrived at the John Wayne Airport (honestly THE BEST airport ever if you’re heading to SoCal), I quickly changed into cutoffs, and this top served perfectly as a chic cover-up en route to Laguna Beach’s stunning Crescent Bay. This picturesque cove was the perfect playground for the kids, and I had a chance to read my book without interruption and execute some serious people watching behind my sunnies!
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!
Last year as spring break approached, my husband and I found ourselves with no plans a few weeks out. It was too late to try and piece together a beach trip or Disney vacay. Neither of us had ever traveled to Big Bend, and it was something we had talked about doing for a while. So we decided to take a last-minute road trip out west to see our great state’s only National Park and check out the neighboring towns of Marathon and Marfa. In hindsight, our kids were too young to enjoy the park (WAY too young!), but it ended up being the adventure of a lifetime! We are already planning a return trip when the kids are older.
Prior to this trip, I had never been that far west in Texas. Other than a single trip to Abilene and a one night’s stay in Lubbock, my Texas life had mostly been confined to East, Central, and Gulf Coast Texas, with several jaunts in the Hill Country. West Texas is a whole other world! It is what the Yanks think of when they envision the last frontier of Texas. It is dry, it is dusty, and it is VAST. Cowboy boots are more a necessity than a fashion statement. It’s the stuff Hollywood Western dreams are made of.
Since our trip was last minute, and I’m not too big on camping, we opted to stay outside of the park when visiting Big Bend. Marathon is only a 45-minute drive from the north entrance of the park. This sleepy town doesn’t have too much to offer, but as the gateway to Big Bend, it boasts one of the loveliest hotels in the state. Gage Hotel is a beautiful oasis in the center of this brown and desolate expanse. With its lush and colorful landscaping, the Gage makes you feel as though you have stepped into a Technicolor dream. Home to the famous White Buffalo Bar, the Gage is a must do even if you plan to lay your head elsewhere. I had a fabulous jalapeño margarita, and the bar snacks are nothing to scoff at. We also ate at the main restaurant, which was a meal to remember, but we found the bar area much more accommodating to children and opted to dine there the following night. They were obsessed with the white buffalo trophy hanging on the wall, and a cozy fireside table was the perfect setting for our family dinner.
The Gage is definitely the place to be if you are visiting Marathon, but you might want to ease on down the road if you are a fraidy cat. According to local folklore, there are at least three resident ghosts keeping company at the hotel, and Room 10 is allegedly their favorite haunt (pun intended!). I believe these sightings most likely came after too much time bellying up at the White Buffalo Bar!
The morning after our arrival, we picked up picnic supplies at The French Company Grocer and took off for Big Bend. After first stopping at the welcome center to get a packet for my son to earn his Junior Park Ranger badge, we were off to explore this beautiful park. Although we enjoyed most of the views from our car, we did get out to hike the very short and very manageable Fossil Discovery Trail. We were surprised to see so many bluebonnets already blossoming in mid-March, almost a full month before we spotted any blooms around Houston.
My children were two and four at the time, so you can imagine our options were quite limited. It was very fun, however, just to see the sights and point out all of the different landscapes and desert wildlife. We enjoyed lunch right on the Rio Grande River with Mexico a literal stone’s throw away, albeit across the rushing water. The kids threw rocks into the river, and we just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. The gorgeous river canyons, desert landscape, and colorful mountains are jaw dropping and not be missed!
We debated a second day at Big Bend, but mindful of our limitations, we decided to cut our losses and leave early for Marfa. The park and Marathon were great, but we were ready to see the art and culture of the most buzzed-about small town…perhaps ever! Get the scoop on Marfa in Going Out West, Part 2 — coming to the blog soon! In the meantime, if you plan to visit Marathon or Big Bend, here are some of my recs:
There is no question, Gage Hotel is where you want to rest your bones. Even if there were many other options, which there aren’t, the Gage is just an amazing, fabulous hotel. The majority of the rooms open up to a center courtyard with impeccable landscaping. If you find yourself with nothing better to do, you can always just sit in one of the many rocking chairs lining the doors to the rooms and take in the gorgeous view.
Again, the Gage Hotel is the place to be! You can dine at the chic and delicious 12 Gage Restaurant, which boasts an extensive wine list, including their own private label, and serves inspired seasonal dishes that would rival any of Houston’s own hot spots. As with most Texan restaurants, the menu is definitely beef heavy, but with steaks this good, you won’t find many people complaining! (Not to worry if red meat is not your thing – they offer several seafood, poultry, and vegetarian options as well.)
For a more casual option, The White Buffalo Bar at the Gage is top notch. A sampling of their Spring 2015 menu includes brisket tacos, Mexican shrimp and crab cocktail, and their famous White Buffalo Burger. You can sip a ranch water or prickly pear margarita while you chat with the locals, who seemed to make this their second home during our stay. The atmosphere was lively, but we never felt it was too much of a “bar scene” for our kids during the early evening hours. There were other children dining, and the ground venison sliders were perfect for the kids to share.
For breakfast, lunch, or just a fun treat, Johnny B’s Old Fashioned Soda Fountain is within walking distance from the Gage. This is a no-frills, greasy spoon kind of place serving hamburgers, fries, and old school stacked enchiladas, as well as homemade shakes, malts, and floats.
Marathon Coffee Shop also serves up a pretty legit morning meal, offering delicious breakfast tacos and enchiladas, as well as homestyle biscuits and gravy. If you’re lucky, you will time your meal to coincide with that of the local banjo player who enjoys picking and strumming for the patrons sitting on the porch!
The French Company Grocer is the local general store, and you can find simple groceries, produce, beer and wine, camping supplies, and even a few great souvenirs on its shelves. I scored a handsome Big Bend coffee table book to take home with us! (This is one of my favorite travel tips: Do not waste your money on cheap and cheesy tchotchkes or knick-knacks when you vacation. Instead, try to find something unique that you will actually wear or use in your home. Coffee table books are my favorite souvenirs. I always hate myself briefly when I’m lugging them around and paying extra baggage fees for their heft, but it is all worth it when I get home and have a beautiful memento to display.)
There are several local galleries and shops on the main drag in Marathon, and you can get the full experience in a few hours’ time. When you’re finished exploring on foot, I suggest taking a short drive along Post Road. This scenic route is about five miles long and ends at Post Park, which lies next to a pretty little pond formed by the Pena Colorado River. The path to the park is known for its abundant wildlife – wild turkeys, javelinas, deer, and the occasional fox can be found along Post Road. My children had a great time “hunting” for animals and, once again, throwing rocks into the river!
Although we were quite limited in our activities with two preschoolers, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Marathon and our journey to Big Bend National Park. The park itself is enormous, and I would love to spend several days exploring and hiking the trails next time. The Chisos Mountain views are drop-dead gorgeous, and the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert is unlike anything I’ve seen. I can’t wait to get a closer look! A fun fact about the Chisos: it is the only U.S. mountain range contained entirely in a national park!
There are a gazillion website and travel blogs that provide far more information about the various trails and routes in Big Bend than I am qualified to speak on. There are, however, a few must see places I have on my list for next time: 1) Big Bend Ranch State Park is adjacent to the National Park, and I think it would be worth it to check out some of the terrain in this less-explored wilderness. If you’ve seen Richard Linklater’s masterpiece Boyhood, the final “seize the moment” scene was filmed in Big Bend Ranch State Park. 2) The ghost town of Terlingua is fascinating to me. I have read so much about it, and I would love to explore this little gem, including the Starlight Theatre and La Kiva (temporarily closed for renovations). 3) In nearby Alpine, the Big Bend Brewing Company is a must if traveling without the babes. They are brewing some fabulous beer, and I think a tour and tasting would be a blast! 4) The Mexican town of Boquillas also borders the park, and cross-border access was reopened in 2013. You can rent burros to ride, and from what I understand, Boquillas is completely safe. I say cross at your own risk…you probably won’t see me there!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my adventures in the wild, wild west! Up next…Marfa!
With three little ones, spring break can sometimes be chaotic to the point where we need a vacation from our vacation! This year, we joined up with another sweet family of 5, whose children go to school with ours, and set off on a spring break adventure. With 2 ten year old girls and 4 boys ages four to seven, we knew we needed a place big enough to handle the action that comes from a house full of very active children. We found the perfect place in Seaside, Florida, and everyone managed to stay friends even after a week under one roof (oh, and no trips to the ER despite numerous attempts by four very precocious boys). When I first stepped onto the beach, I was immediately enveloped by calmness and vowed to stow the iPhone away for a week (easier said than done…). Seaside boasts not only white, sugar sand beaches, but also glorious biking trails and so many activities for all ages. We were in Heaven.
Founded in 1979 by Robert and Daryl Davis, this community exudes true Southern charm with quaint cottages, cobblestone streets, and picket fences. The town square is where you go for the action. Full of adorable shops and street vendors (not to mention amazing Airstream food trucks), Seaside is, by far, one of the most family friendly places we have vacationed. Families can enjoy outdoor concerts and movies under the stars, kids can attend theatre or adventure kids camp or a number of daily activities on the lawn (think face painting, games, stories by the sea and art classes), and adults love the art galleries, boutique shopping, and a plethora of delicious restaurants. A fun fact about Seaside is that the movie The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey was filmed in Seaside. See, even Hollywood knew that Seaside was picture perfect!
The beaches are truly a work of art. Pristine and beautiful cannot even begin to describe the sand and water (which would go from green to turquoise to azure blue depending on its mood). During our stay, the water was fairly calm, and the kids enjoyed paddle boards and kayaking, and sometimes, just digging enormous holes. They loved riding their bikes (which you can rent for the duration of your stay) and being able to walk to Duckies Shop of Fun and, of course, the famous Fired-Up (both in the Town Square) where they can create pottery masterpieces (great for a rainy day activity). They will even ship your creations to you so you do not have to worry about breakage during travel. There was never a dull moment with the kids because they loved everything Seaside had to offer. We did, however, venture out to Shell Island in Panama City (a 15 minute drive) to collect gorgeous intact shells and sand dollars. We got the surprise of a lifetime when a pod of dolphins begin swimming along side our pontoon boat and would surface every once in a while.
A trip to Seaside would not be complete without visiting one of the fabulous Seaside Shops (Seaside Classic, Seaside Beach, and Seaside Kids). By far the best gear in town, you can get the Seaside logo shirts, beautiful beachwear, and chic items for your home. My favorite is Seaside Kids (I may or may not have gone in more than three times). They have the cutest “Bud’s” t-shirts and sweatshirts along with the most fashionable swimsuits and rash guards for children I have ever seen. Sweet toys and kid essentials round out this amazing store. Their motto? “Kids Rule and Dogs Drool” — I love it! We also enjoyed strolling through the village where the cottages are nestled amongst the trees. The kids loved trying to find homes where the owners were from Texas. Each cottage has a plaque that shares the name of the house plus the hometown of the owner(s). Another great find was The Chapel at Seaside. This chapel is such a strikingly serene and breathtakingly beautiful structure that I can picture an intimate wedding or a motivational Sunday service inside those walls.
While we cooked at home for most of the trip (6 kids + 4 adults = restaurant’s worst nightmare), we did get to experience some of Seaside’s best food. The mimosa breakfast at the Great Southern Café will leave you in a state of euphoria. I would suggest the Grits à Ya Ya — you will not be disappointed. For a nice dinner, Bud and Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant is the way to go; however, if you want a more casual night, just head to Bud and Alley’s Pizza Bar or their taco bar. Even with a week in town and taking it all in, I still feel like there was so much more to see and do! This trip was the best kind: relaxing, lots of family time, sweet kid snuggles, no stress, and great friends to share this adventure with. To help you get yourself together to go to Seaside, I’ve chosen a few beach appropriate “Seaside Essentials” that you might enjoy — see below! These outfits and shoes that I have chosen to share with you with are crisp and classic pieces, and that makes me happy. These essentials can take you from a lawn croquet game to a sunset dinner. When packing, it’s always good to include things that can be re-purposed in a pinch. The color palette of the set below will allow you to mix and match and dress up or down the outfit depending on your activity. I can envision Seaside becoming a repeat vacation many times over — Seaside, we will be back!