An Insider’s Guide to Marfa, Texas

Marfa has transformed from a water stop to an international arts destination

July 2, 2024 6:06 am
Big Bend National Park offers panoramic views of the Rio Grande and Chisos Mountains.
Big Bend National Park offers panoramic views of the Rio Grande and Chisos Mountains.
Kayla Hui

Marfa has come a long way since its establishment in 1883. Initially, it served as a water stop and freight station for travelers, cowboys and ranchers. This humble beginning took a transformative turn when minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York in 1971. His presence attracted local and global artists, architects and creatives, establishing the small desert town as an international arts destination. 

Beyond railways and art, Marfa is also a great place to visit for outdoor enthusiasts. Its proximity to Big Bend National Park offers plenty of opportunities to hike and explore West Texas’s diverse landscapes, which include mountains, rivers and deserts. Adding to its appeal, Marfa is gaining recognition as an up-and-coming gastronomic hotspot — Alexandra Gates of Cochineal and restaurant Convenience West were nominated for the 2024 James Beard Awards.

Traveling to Marfa is no easy feat, requiring a seven-plus hour drive from major Texas cities and a three-hour drive from El Paso for those flying in. However, with Marfa’s unique history, vibrant art community, proximity to Big Bend and growing reputation as an epicurean mecca, the journey is worth the effort. If you find yourself in Marfa, here’s everything you need to see and do. 

Where to Stay

Hotel Saint George

A former accommodation for cowboys and railroad travelers, Hotel Saint George was reimagined as a contemporary luxury hotel. It boasts 55 rooms, which are spacious and feature reused industrial materials, minimalist furniture and local art, all of which pay homage to Marfa’s creative culture. Whenever you’re not lounging around, grab a cocktail at the bar or chill poolside to cool off from the Texas heat. 

105 S Highland Ave, Marfa, Texas, 79843

El Cosmico

El Cosmico’s 21-acre hotel and campground features a variety of housing options that are perfect for adventure seekers and those looking for unconventional lodging. Choose from a variety of tents, trailers, teepees and even a micro-home called the Cosmic Casita. Amenities include bathhouses, a communal outdoor kitchen, a hammock grove, outdoor stage and a community lounge where you can meet other travelers and nomads. 

802 S Highland Ave, Marfa, Texas, 79843

Casa 415 -- one of Marfa's finest Airbnbs
Casa 415, one of Marfa’s finest Airbnbs
Kayla Hui

Airbnbs Marfa

As of late, Airbnb has been getting some heat for its cleaning fees and long checkout checklists, but don’t let that deter you from staying at Airbnb properties in Marfa. Not only are they decked out in art, but they’re great options for families and extended stays. Some are unique, like this Quonset hut, furnished with Western and whimsical furniture and decor that also has jaw-dropping sunrise and sunset views. Other Airbnbs, like this funky container house provide a creative and artsy oasis just a mile from the town center. 

Multiple locations

Where to Dine 

the sentinel marfa taxas
The Sentinel is a quaint coffee shop that offers an array of specialty drinks and breakfast foods.
Kayla Hui

The Sentinel Marfa

Just because Marfa is a small town doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of coffee shops. A quaint and spacious spot for breakfast and lunch, The Sentinel is the perfect place to sip your cup of Joe while munching on barbacoa tacos. But if I’m being honest, the specialty lattes alone are worth the visit. Choose from golden milk, lavender or a Spanish latte, which is made with condensed milk and cinnamon. You can also find coffee table books, jewelry and homeware for sale, and proceeds support local journalism organizations, including The Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International. 

209 W El Paso St, Marfa, Texas, 79843

Convenience West's outdoor seating section, set beside their enormous smoker
Convenience West’s outdoor seating section, set beside their enormous smoker
Kayla Hui

Convenience West BBQ

It goes without saying, but when in Texas, eat barbecue — and lots of it. Recently nominated for a James Beard Award, Convenience West has made a name for itself with its brisket alone, known for being juicy and tender. It’s no wonder why this no-frills joint attracts visitors near and far. Some must-try menu items are the brisket tacos and brisket on a bun, which comes with hot sweet pickles and onions. And if you have any room for dessert, order the white velvet cake with butterscotch frosting, which constantly sells out.

1411 W San Antonio St, Marfa, Texas, 79843

Restaurant Cochineal

Helmed by executive chef and James Beard award nominee Alexandra Gates, Restaurant Cochineal fuses West Texas flavors with European bistro dishes. You can order food a la carte or experience the six-course chef’s menu: think wild-caught nilgai tartare, spring croquetta, tortilla española, wild-hunted Texas boar, free-range bison and rhubarb butter cake. We recommend making a reservation ahead of time to avoid waiting in line. 

107 W San Antonio St, Marfa, Texas, 79843

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Marfa Spirit Co.

A distillery and tasting room located on El Paso Street, Marfa Spirit Co. delivers specialty cocktails (think: Caipirinhas and Margaritas) crafted from their very own sotol and desert rum. The rum undergoes fermentation, distillation and approximately 17 months of aging in Wisconsin oak barrels, while the sotol is harvested, distilled twice in Mexico and aged in red wine barrels for a fragrant sip. You can also purchase the spirits as souvenirs to commemorate your trip. 

320 W El Paso St, Marfa, Texas, 79843

Locks adorn the fence beside Prada Marfa, a permanent art piece located in the West Texas desert
Locks adorn the fence beside Prada Marfa, a permanent art piece in the West Texas desert.
Kayla Hui

What to See and Do 

Visit the Chinati Foundation

By relocating to Marfa in the 1970s and founding the Chinati Foundation a decade later, Donald Judd put this small Texas town onto the national art scene. Nestled on a former 340-acre military base, the Chinati Foundation showcases Judd’s minimalist, large-scale art installations, as well as work by Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain, making it a must-visit spot if you’re in town. Discover concrete works, sculptures and colored fluorescent lights. To enhance your visit, consider booking a guided tour and reserving tickets in advance. 

1 Cavalry Row, Marfa, Texas, 79843

Big Bend national park
Big Bend National Park
Kayla Hui

Go Hiking in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is a must-visit for outdoor and hiking enthusiasts. From Marfa, it’s an approximately 1.5-hour drive to the park and an additional 30 minutes to most trailheads, but the trek is worth it. This desert park boasts more than 150 miles of trails, offering panoramic views of the Rio Grande, Chisos Mountains and wildlife. Because most trails lack restroom facilities, we recommend using them at the visitor centers and arriving early at the trailheads, as parking is limited. 

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Prada Marfa is a long-term land art project designed to deteriorate over time
Prada Marfa is a long-term land art project designed to deteriorate over time.
Kayla Hui

Prada Marfa

If you’re wondering what a Prada store is doing in the middle of the West Texas desert, it has something to do with two Berlin-based artists. The brainchild of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Prada Marfa is a permanent land art project that is perceived to be a response to high-priced commercialism that priced art dealers out of SoHo. The building is made of biodegradable materials that are meant to deteriorate over time, nodding to the ephemerality of Western materialism. While it’s not a real store where you can shop, you can take Insta-worthy photos or view real luxury goods from Prada’s 2005 fall collection, which were donated by the founder Miuccia Prada herself. 

14880 US-90, Valentine, Texas, 79854


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