Texas is big – really big. Bigger than many nations throughout the world. Yet, there’s more to the Lone Star State than Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. With our Texas City Guides series, we’re going to explore some of the smaller and more far-flung parts of the state. We hope you come to appreciate the variety of local color you can find across Texas.
Our journey across Texas brings us to the famed little town of Marfa. A blip on the map in deep West Texas, it’s likely you’ll meet more New Yorkers there than Texans on an average day, as tourists head to this far-flung part of the state in search of art, unique culture, the spooky Marfa Lights, and big blue skies.
A town with only one stop light located in the high Chihuahuan desert, Marfa had seen its share of stardom, long before one of America’s most famed Minimalist artists from New York, Donald Judd, began its transformation in the mid-1970s.
In 1956, the town welcomed some of Hollywood’s most famous names of the day for the filming of the epic movie Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean.
But its modern-day transformation unfolded with Judd’s arrival, as he was attracted to the open space and light of the land. Judd purchased real estate in and around Marfa, and began what is now a little art mecca in the middle of nowhere.
What has followed suit in the years since has attracted both design enthusiasts and architects. The minimal and sparse adobe homes built throughout the town aren’t built with timber, as there are no trees out here. Art dealers and galleries support the art appetite of those who visit, while adventurous artisans, artists, and chefs brave the harshness of the land to live and thrive in this dusty little town of simplicity and uniquely Texas culture.
Pack your boots and bring your hat, as we take you into the must-do’s of Marfa!
Start With Art
Whether you’re an art lover or not, there’s not too many places in the United States where you’ll find some of the world’s finest Minimalist artwork hundreds of miles from a major city.
The Chinati Foundation is a contemporary art museum housing permanent installations of Judd’s work and that of his other famous art friends, including Dan Flavin. The foundation offers artist-in-residence programs and rotating exhibitions, along with guided tours to get the low down of Minimalism in a surely minimal place.
But Marfa isn’t only about minimalist sculpture in an austere setting. Ballroom Marfa hosts film festivals, live music, art exhibitions, conversations between artists and curators, and workshops. It’s always best to check the calendar before planning your visit, so you don’t wind up arriving in between events.
Around the town center, you’ll find a number of art galleries including the AYN Foundation, which holds a permanent installation of Andy Warhol’s “Last Supper.” And if you’re up for a 30-minute drive outside of Marfa to the tiny town of Valentine, you can find Prada Marfa, a replication of a real Prada store on a deserted highway. Sorry, no shopping for Prada purses at this one – this is art, after all.
There’s one thing you need to know about Marfa. The owners of restaurants choose their own hours, and if you miss their window of opportunity, you’ll go hungry. You also want to head to the ATM before you journey out west, as many places accept cash only.
For breakfast, we suggest you head to Boyz to Men for their delicious breakfast tacos. They’re only open on Saturdays and Sundays. We also encourage you to visit Marfa Burrito – it’s en route to the Chinati Foundation and open every day at 7am, except on Sundays. For a traditional breakfast with fried eggs and such, head to Buns ‘n’ Roses to find a fresh donut and pick up fresh flowers! They’re only open Thursday through Sunday.
Beyond breakfast, Marfa hosts a ton of tasty fare. Stop at Food Shark for fresh and hip Mediterranean-meets-Texas cuisine on wheels that’s only open from Friday through Sunday. Cochineal is one of the more finer dining establishments in the center of town, while Jett’s Grill, located inside the Hotel Paisano, delivers a jalapeno-fried sirloin steak alongside the best margarita in town! Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson stayed at the Paisoano during the filming of Giant, so you know it’s full of charm, history, and rugged glamour.
Engage the Culture
Art, food, the odd tumbleweed, and an influx of hipsters isn’t all Marfa has to offer.
The Marfa Lights, or the Marfa Ghost Lights, have been a strange phenomena of glowing orbs appearing in the desert and spooking people since the late 1900’s. A viewing center on Highway 90, just a few miles outside of town, has a nicely built area where you’ll find many people looking for these mysterious lights every night.
The Marfa Book Company is one of the best bookstores in the whole state of Texas. It’s bursting at the seams with great coffee table books on art, Texas history books, journals, fine design books, postcards, fiction novels, rotating art exhibitions, and more.
And lastly, if you’ve come this far and you don’t have a fine pair of leather boots, then head to Cobra Rock Boot Company, where custom boots are being finely hand crafted by Colt Miller and Logan Caldbeck. Using only leather grown in the USA, these boots are made in very small batches. And if you decide you want a pair, you’d better hop on the wait list. They’re that high in demand.
If you are ready to wrap yourself in the landscape of West Texas, then Big Bend National Park is about an hour and a half drive away. But you don’t have to go that far to step into this quietly romantic landscape.
Only 20 miles north is Fort Davis, where you’ll find the Davis Mountains State Park. It holds 2,700 acres of rugged beauty and hiking trails. Camping and horse riding are available, too. With Fort Davis near by, you can pick up your provisions for camping and day hiking in one of the stores there.
If nightfall comes sooner than expected, then take advantage of visiting the astronomical observatory, McDonald Observatory. Special viewing nights are held along with star parties. To make the most of your visit, check out the calendar and make your stars align for a night to remember!
As you can see, there’s more than just a post office in the small town of Marfa. Pack your bags and expect to spend more than a few days in Texas’ most out-of-the-way town, a haven for foodies and art lovers alike.
Up Next in our Texas City Guides series: McAllen!
Images courtesy of Ebony Porter.