This past week, I went to a little town in the middle of nowhere Texas to look at art in the desert. It was awesome. If Marfa isn’t on your radar, it should be. It’s a fantastic little art haven in West Texas, spitting distance from Mexico, that’s the perfect addition to any road trip down I-10 or trip to Big Bend State Park. I went for a few days and stayed at the legendary El Cosmico. Here’s how to plan your trip and have the best time in this desert town.
Wake up and watch the sunrise at El Cosmico! El Cosmico is the ultimate glamping adventure. It was glamping before glamping was cool. You have the option to sleep in a safari tent, yurt, trailer, or teepee. (I went with safari tent because it was the cheapest).
You shower outside under the stars. People are camping in empty plots nearby. There’s an outdoor kitchen and hammock grove and the whole places has a very hostel vibe. You’re definitely *one* with the elements (rain, shine, heat, bugs), but the photo ops are fabulous. During the week, El Cosmico is pretty chill. On weekends, there’s a bit more people and activity—dogs running around, live music, etc.
After you’re filled to your Instagram stories memory with the breath-taking peach and fuschia sky over the indigo mountains, walk a block down to Marfa Burrito. Kevin Bacon and Matthew McConoughey ate there and so should you. The homemade tortillas and perfectly spiced salsa is worth every [very reasonably priced] penny.
Then hop in your car and beat the crowds trek out to Prada Marfa. This legendary art installation displaying the 2005 Prada collection in a permanently locked store (yes, analyze that comment on society) is located conveniently 37 miles outside the Marfa city limits. It’s awesome! Also, there’s a bit of Houston love scattered about. See if you can spy the Wiley Robertson LOVE through the city.
Once you’re back in the city town, grab a bike and explore. El Cosmico gives you a great map of the area with restaurant recommendations and every place of significance (art galleries, historic markers, shops, etc.) denoted. For $10 you can rent a bike for 4 hours, or $20 for the whole day. The town itself is pretty small and doesn’t take long to see, but it’s nice to get out and take some photos of the fun buildings and scout out where you want to eat next.
Be sure to check out the Chinati Foundation, which basically put Marfa on the map in terms of the art community back in the 70s. TLDR: a bunch of artists were tired of their collections getting broken up and displayed in museums and galleries outside of their initial vision. So, they bought a bunch of old buildings in Marfa, refurbished them, and installed all the crazy modern art pieces. (Full story here).
The Chinati Foundation offers tours at 11:00am and 11:30am, but I don’t think they’re necessary. We had a blast and half walking around and just seeing the art ourselves on our own time (first exhibit opens at noon). Plus, the Chinati staff is pretty anal about you not touching or taking pictures of anything so they pretty much stalk you through the exhibit and are happy to answer any questions you have – basically a private tour. We saw the 100 untitled works in mill aluminum inside an old WWII mechanic shop and the 15 untitled works in concrete outside by Donald Judd, the John Chamberlin Building sculptures inside an old wool factory, and the Robert Irwin light/dark house which is the latest installation that just opened in 2016. All of the artists are passionate about light and space, so when you walk into the buildings it’s a very immersive experience.
For lunch, grab a bite to eat at Squeeze and cool off in the shade of the courtyard (Marfa gets HOT in the summer). It’s a cute shop with overpriced sandwiches. Then, if you’re still on an art kick take a walk around downtown (can you call it downtown?) Marfa and check out the Marfa Ballroom (they commissioned Prada Marfa) and Marfa Contemporary. We popped into the Ayn Foundation to see the Andy Warhol Last Supper installation—yes, even Andy Warhol made it to this random spot in the desert.
If there’s still time left in the afternoon, grab a day pass for $10 and go to the Hotel George Pool. It’s a gorgeous oasis with a lovely poolside bar! While there, I tried a Big Bend Brewing beer that was on tap and the hotel staff really went out of their way to give us towels to sit on and make us comfortable.
Afterwards, walk across the street for dinner at Jett’s Grill inside the Hotel Paisano, which is a historic hotel from 1930 that James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor stayed at when they were filming GIANT. The hotel has a fancy, western vibe but everyone is dressed pretty casual. Cowboy boots fit right in. In general, the service in Marfa was phenomenal. Everyone was really sweet and at Jett’s Grill they even comped our drinks because the night was so “hectic” after they delivered our drinks in a very acceptable Houston time frame.
Note: We also dined at Mando’s during the trip where the salsa was good, but food was unimpressive.
If you’re looking for post-dinner drinks, return to the Hotel George Pool (it’s lit up at night!) or the adorable patio at Al Campo wine garden.
Finish off your evening hot tubbing under the stars in one of El Cosmico’s wood burning Dutch tubs. They’re awesome and heated from 6pm to midnight. There’s only three, so be sure to reserve one ahead of time so you definitely get a spot. It costs $85 and is totally worth it!
As they say…the stars at night are big and bright…deep in the heart of Texas 😉